Sunday, October 9, 2011

Psalm 119:17-24

"God's Word & Push-Back"
MasterPiece Church

Apple founder, Steve Jobs, died on Wednesday. And the social networks were instantly flooded with tributes -- some elaborate, pictures, artwork, and personal stories.

Google, Apple’s chief competitor, however, had the simplest and perhaps best tribute on their primary search page. It was one small link in simple 10-point Arial font -- Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011.

Google is minimalist in approach to many things -- especially design.

There are two primary approaches to expression. Minimalists say more with less. Think Scandinavian furniture. Apple computers are minimalist in design.

Maximalists on the other hand tend to believe that if something is important you want to lay it on thick. You want to make it elaborate and highly detailed.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is one of the best examples of Maximalism -- symbolic gaudy vestments, gold, incense -- lots and lots of incense, complex liturgy... I mean, why would you say, “Lord have mercy” -- one or three times -- when you can repeat it 28 times to make the point that you are seriously recognizing God’s mercy.

That is how a maximalist thinks.

We have been studying Psalm 119 -- which is a maximalist poem in honor of God’s law or word. The psalmist really lays it on thick to make his point. It is elaborate and elegant language.

For example, last week we read:
“I rejoice in following your statutes”
“as one rejoices in great riches. (rejoice? wow!)
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees...”
Then today,
  • Vs. 18 -- “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” That is, grant me insight to this great truth. Give me the kind of depth of understanding that can only come through divine explanation.
  • Vs. 20 -- “I am always overwhelmed with a desire for your regulations.” He just goes on and on throughout the whole psalm extolling the virtues of Gods law, his rules, his regulations, his word, his instruction...
It’s almost as though he can’t find enough words to proclaim its wonder -- how important it is, how beautiful it is, how helpful it is, how he will cling to it all. It is very maxmimalist in the way that God’s law is described.

The psalmist is painting this beautiful elaborate picture of God’s word -- intricate detail -- panoramic beauty -- set in a gold gilded frame. And in the way he tells the story there is nothing -- absolutely nothing more impressive and persuasive in life than this.

And that’s why our section this morning is so intriguing. It’s almost as though, after painting this beautiful picture -- he takes a wanted poster and glues it into the beautiful picture. It does not seem to belong in the context. It is a sign of ugly and evil -- an indicator of failure and dysfunction -- dropped right smack in the middle of this maximalist description of beauty.

This is the stark reminder that NOT EVERYONE APPRECIATES GOD AND HIS WONDERFUL WORD. (Key Point)

Even while the psalmist is begging God for a fuller dose of insight into his message he recognizes that some people just don’t get it -- that the word of God itself actual seems to stimulate push-back from some people.

And he identifies four signs or indicators of push-back.

First of all he identifies himself as a MISFIT.

Look at vss. 19-20.
“I am only a foreigner in the land. Don’t hide your commands from me! I am always overwhelmed with a desire for your regulations.”
The Word of God creates aliens and misfits -- people who don’t fit in because they are molded by a foreign culture -- God’s culture.

Last Sunday afternoon I had the privilege of worshipping with the new South Sudanese church that we have been supporting. The service went for 2½ hours -- lots of singing, lots of testimonies, lots of liturgy -- mostly in the Nuer language -- some of which I understood -- well, actually, just the part when they said “Alleluia!”

Those people have been through so much -- and they are so poor. I mean, it’s not like they all decided that it would be a wonderful thing with great economic advantage to move the US. They didn’t come here because they thought our country was the ultimate land of their dreams. They came because they were forced out of their own by war.

They came here because they were running for their lives. And they are so happy to be alive and to be together.

And I was thinking as I was with them Sunday -- you know, these people will never totally fit in. At some point their children will, but the adults can’t make a complete transition. They are and will be cultural misfits. (And I'm not saying that is a bad thing.) But they’ve been shaped by war (these people have seen and experienced things that are indescribable), and the experience of immigration, and a culture that was significantly different from ours to begin with. They are misfits. And in that sense they are the perfect illustration of what the psalmist is saying.

When the law of God -- his word -- his culture and agenda -- shapes us we end up as misfits in relation to the dominant culture. Our values and objectives are so different -- formed by a God-centered reality rather than an individual centered reality -- that push-back of some kind is inevitable. It is the kind of push-back that immigrants experience when they are living in a foreign place -- misunderstanding, suspicion, exploitation...

And the psalmist seems to embrace that,
“I am only a foreigner in the land. Don’t hide your commands from me! I am always overwhelmed with a desire for your regulations.”
If you are feeling like a misfit because your life is being shaped by a foreign book and a foreign God -- don’t sweat it. Embrace it. Rejoice in it. Feed off it -- desire it -- “I am always overwhelmed with a desire for your regulation,” says the psalmist.

Jesus talks about this phenomena quite frequently and says in Matthew 5:10 -- “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”

The second sign of push-back is ARROGANCE.

Vs. 21 -- “You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed, those who stray from your commands.”

When we are arrogant enough to do our own thing -- apart from God’s directions (and doing our own thing really is a form of arrogance) we end up cursed, so to speak. Things malfunction because in our arrogance and self-confidence we are operating in ways that are contrary to God’s design.

If God tells us in his message that caring for the poor is important -- and we build a society which ignores them -- are we then surprised when things unravel. And there is unrest.

If God tells us that we’re to love the Lord God with our whole heart and soul -- but then we relegate him to the back of the bus in our lives-- are we surprised that we end up driving off the cliff -- so to speak?

Yes, it is a struggle to follow God’s directions and instructions. But that’s not what the psalmist is grousing about. The real problem comes when we give up the struggle -- and just kick back and take the path of least resistance -- the path that the culture of the world sets out for us. That is the kind of arrogance that he is bemoaning.

In other words, don’t arrogantly give up the fight.

The third sign of push-back is TRASH-TALK.

You know that you are seen as a serious threat -- that you’ve hit a nerve -- if the opposition starts the trash talk. But for some reason that reality is eating at the psalmist and he pleads with God. “Don’t let them scorn and insult me, for I have obeyed your laws.”

Now, if I were God, I’d respond back to him and essentially tell him to get over it -- to get a thicker skin. And that is indeed what Jesus tells his followers. Back to Matthew 5.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things about you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be glad!”

The fourth indicator of push-back is BIG SHOT INTIMIDATION.

At some point the resistance to God’s word works its way up to the power-brokers -- the people who have the power to do more than trash talk.

Vs. 23 -- “Even princes sit and speak against me, but I will meditate on your decrees.”

In 1524 William Tyndale's new unauthorized Bible translation went to press on a newfangled invention called the printing press. On October 6, 1536 -- 475 years ago last Thursday -- he was burned at the stake for his sin.

In San Juan Capistrano, California, Chuck and Stephanie Fromm were recently fined $300 for holding Bible studies in their home because they didn’t have a zoning permit. I think that one will probably unravel in the courts -- and the city will end up having to rewrite its zoning codes.

The early Covenant church people in Sweden, the mission friends, had similar problems trying to hold home Bible studies. It's not a new issue.

Often there is push-back centered around God's word.

It may not turn out so well for Yousef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor in Iran, who has has been sentenced to death for turning his back on Islam.

One news story this past week put it this way, “After a series of appeals, the Iranian Supreme Court agreed that the death penalty should be carried out, on the basis that Nadarkhani—the pastor of a Christian church of approximately 400 members—had encouraged others to abandon Islam
The point is that even in the midst of this incredibly complex and elegant poem proclaiming the wonders of God’s message -- you can never get far from the daily reality of push-back.


And if you take Psalm 119 seriously -- if you take Jesus, who is the living word seriously -- you will at some point hit a nerve and you will experience some push-back.

But the good news is that the message of God is so powerful and so extraordinary that the maximalist psalmist can go on and on about it for 176 verses and still not exhaust its wonder.

And when we add into that mix the fact that the word became flesh -- the message of God took on meat and bones and set up housekeeping in our midst -- there is no end to the praise and adoration.

You may have someone in your life who just doesn’t get it -- perhaps even to the point where they are hassling you over it.

But to borrow the words of C.S. Lewis from The Last Battle -- this is simply an invitation to leave the shadowlands and to go “further up, and further in.” That is, instead of allowing the push-back to keep you back -- to intimidate you -- to create hesitation -- to drag you back into the shadows -- use push-back as impetus to dig in deeper and to mine even more out of the depths of the message.

I really like the NIV rednering of vs. 24 -- “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.”

Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done or gone through -- it’s not too late for you -- and I want to invite you to find your life’s delight in the word and message of God. And to start now.

Steve Jobs died young -- 56 years old. We really have little control over the number of days left. So make the most of them. It’s not too late, if you start today.

Last Sunday we read together from John 1 where it says the word became flesh -- that is, Jesus is the living word.

There is a verse in that whole discussion that is worth highlighting this morning. That is, John 1:12 -- “But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children...”

The invitation then is to welcome the living word of God into your life -- to find yourself in him -- to make him and his message the delight of your life.

Let’s pray:
Lord, be good to your servant so I can go on living and keeping your word. Open my eyes so I can examine the wonders of your Instruction! I’m an immigrant in the land. Don’t hide your commandments from me! 
I’m worn out by longing every minute for your rules! You rebuke the arrogant, accursed people who stray from your commandments. Take all their insults and contempt away from me because I’ve kept your laws! Even if rulers gather and scheme against me, your servant will contemplate your statutes! Yes, your laws are my joy— they are my most trusted advisors! Amen.
Let’s join together in affirming our faith using words from John 1:9-14 (CEB)
The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. 
The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God. 
The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.