08 January 2011
Sam had grown up watching the Saturday afternoon Westerns in the Heights Theatre in his Columbia Heights neighborhood of northeast, Minneapolis. And he knew that someday he’d go west to where the cowboys roamed.
But someday never seemed to come. He got a great job as a fireman and even got to drive one of the old white engines before he ended up as a fire inspector.
He eventually retired from public service -- still thinking that he’d go west to cowboy land. But by that time he was also thinking warm and west and south -- at least for the winter.
And when his wife, Gail died of an aneurysm, he knew that he couldn’t spend another winter in Minnesota on his own. And in spite of the pleading from his kids he bought an airplane ticket for Phoenix, Arizona, lined up a rental car, and room at the Snow Bird Budget Inn.
On his second day in Phoenix Sam decided he needed to drive out to the wide open spaces he’d seen in the old Westerns -- the cactus and the tumble weeds.
Someone had told him about a great spot where they used to film old Westerns. You take the second dirt road off the main highway -- go east for 8 miles and you’re there. You can’t miss it.
As soon as he turned the Buick Enclave onto the dirt road that feeling of free wide open spaces flooded his soul. This was the life!
He drove the recommended 8 miles but the old Western movie set-up was nowhere to be seen. He turned on another dirt road. Then another and another.
“It’s got to be around here somewhere,” he kept telling himself.
That feeling of wide open space freedom was quickly turning to panic as he realized that he didn’t know where he was or how to get back. Everything kind of looked the same out there.
Fortunately he had a good size tank of gas -- so that wasn’t a problem -- yet. But along about sunset he was beginning to think that he’d have to spend the night in the desert.
He stopped the car in the middle of the rutted road -- turned off the engine -- stepped outside hoping to get his bearings.
Now, since this IS a sermon, I should probably tell you that he started to pray and that God sent an angel to point the way out of the desert. But that’s not how it went down.
He wasn’t out of the car for 30 seconds when he heard the rattler that couldn’t be more that five feet away. He darted back into the Enclave and slammed the door.
Sam -- heart racing -- decided that he needed to eat something. He opened the glove compartment door where he had shoved three candy bars earlier in the day.
And much to his surprise, sitting under the Twix bar was a map left there by the rental company.
He carefully unfolded it and found the dirt road where he had turned off the highway. And he could see how the roads twisted around the arroyos and small rock hills.
He could see where he had to go. And with his new found bearings his sense of wide open space freedom began to return.
He unwrapped a Twix bar, fastened his seat-belt, cranked up the radio, turned the car around -- and within 20 minutes was back at the highway.
The freedom of wide open spaces is only free when you know where you are -- and that you are safe there.
In our passage this morning the psalmist makes just such a point.
He says in vs. 45 -- “I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.”
We tend to think of commandments and regulations as restrictive -- as anti-freedom. But the psalmist celebrates the freedom that they bring. The Word of God is the map which gives us our bearings -- and guides us through the open wilderness. Free and confident.
I mean, it is a bit of a paradox that we find freedom in direction and guidance -- specifically from the ultimate director and guide.
Here is vs. 45 in the CEB, which is a bit more literal -- “I will walk around in wide-open spaces, because I have pursued your precepts.”
To feel secure walking around in wide open spaces is to feel free and secure -- confident that you are not vulnerable to attack -- even though you’re out in the open.
Open spaces can be quite freeing or quite dangerous -- depending on the context. And the psalmist feels free and confident.
Think of it this way -- The 15-year-old with a learners permit is convinced that he can drive without a lot of guidance. “You just press the pedal, the brake, and turn the wheel.” He’s been watching people do it all his life. He knows.
So why does he have to sit through driver’s training classes and why all the restrictions about who can ride in the car with him for the first couple of years?
He sees the traffic rules and requirements as restrictive and unnecessary -- until he gets on the freeway for the first time or until he comes to a four-way stop with four cars all arriving at once.
Then, with experience, he begins to understand that there is freedom and confidence in guidance.
Having a map along is often more than helpful. It’s essential. And the psalmist is celebrating that fact -- throughout all of Psalm 119 -- and in particular the Waw section we’re focusing on this morning.
So, in vss 41-42 he requests a measure of God’s love for himself -- then confidently boasts that in trusting in God’s word he’ll be able to confront his enemies.
41 Lord, give me your unfailing love, the salvation that you promised me. 42 Then I can answer those who taunt me, for I trust in your word.He is free and confident.
Then he becomes even more impassioned about the value of God’s word and guidance.
43 Do not snatch your word of truth from me, for your regulations are my only hope. 44 I will keep on obeying your instructions forever and ever.He is hitting his stride -- strutting his stuff. He knows that in God’s promise and message he is free and confident.
45 I will walk in freedom, (wide open spaces!!!) for I have devoted myself to your commandments. 46 I will speak to kings about your laws, and I will not be ashamed.Catch it! In a world of competing ideas and demands -- he is committed -- so much so that he will not be ashamed -- even if he’s standing in front of celebrities. He will not be ashamed even if he’s standing in front of kings. He will not be ashamed even if he’s standing in front of the power-brokers.
He is free and confident trusting in God’s Word!
47 How I delight in your commands! How I love them! 48 I honor and love your commands. I meditate on your decrees...The lovers read their letters over and over again -- cherishing each word. Each communication is validating. The very fact that someone so amazing would actually share such dear words with them. It’s amazing -- confidence building -- freeing -- no matter what our situation.
Perhaps you’re lost in the desert these days -- trying to get your bearings -- figure out who you are -- where you are. Well, there’s a message here for you.
We are free and confident in the wide open spaces because of God’s word to us. KEY POINT
And the “word” or message is not just a bunch of dusty books in the Bible. It is communication from God to us -- to you. And that communication is found in the Bible but even more than that -- Jesus is the word of God in the flesh. God in person -- communicating.
Again, the psalmist when he was writing Ps 119 probably had no idea that the message of God would come so fully in a person -- a person that would be the light to the world -- even dying for the world -- setting us free -- “if the son sets you free, you are free indeed.” Talk about interactive maps!
The point is, whether you’re from Minnesota or California or China, the word of God may not be the first thing you think of as you’re trying to figure things out. It may not even be on your radar. You may be thinking of it all as a bunch of restrictions that you don’t really need.
I want to invite you to see God’s Word as more of a map than a rule book -- a map that frees you. Something which guides you to freedom -- something which you hold so dear that you’d meditate and memorize the very words so that you might inwardly digest them -- internalize them.
In case you hadn't noticed, there is a map in the rented car. It’s there in the glove compartment -- under the Twix bar.