Sunday, May 13, 2012

Psalm 119:89-96

"The Beyond Perfect Word"
13-May-2012 (Mother's Day)
MasterPiece Church

Survey time -- a little sanctified pride is allowed.
  • Who among us has bowled a perfect game? (What did that feel like?) 
  • Pitched a perfect game? 
  • Shot a hole in one? 
  • Cooked the perfect roast? 
  • Got a perfect grade on a spelling test -- 100% 
  • If I remember right when Mei was a student in my Christian Doctrine class on Guam she got a semester score of something like 110% because of all the extra credit work she did. Of course, the better than perfect score was still a 4.0 on the transcript -- the same as if she got a 90%. But she did it to lear -- which made her a perfect student.
Bunny Lee, like the children of so many Korean immigrants, excelled in the academic realm. It was strongly encouraged at home and she worked hard to please her parents. She was a perfect daughter. During high school she took every class her parents suggested -- and then some -- AP chemistry, AP biology, AP English...

And when she graduated with nothing lower than an A she had a weighted GPA of 4.85. (Each AP class is weighted 5.0.)

She was also admitted with a full scholarship into the prestigious BEE program at MIT -- the best in the world (although I’m sure Stanford and Cal would probably claim that distinction for themselves).

Again, she excelled -- and graduated with a perfect 4.0, a fantastic internship under her belt, and several academic awards.

She had been a perfect student. But when it came time to start her engineering career the economy was in the tank and no one was hiring -- not even perfect students from the perfect schools. She couldn’t even land an imperfect engineering job. So she landed at Starbucks until she could figure out what to do. Sometimes perfect isn’t enough.

I was out in my garden early this morning -- thinking how clever I was putting up all that sunscreen fabric over the vegetables. (It took me a few summers to figure out that tomatoes will stew on the vine.)

I had already worked on the soil -- lots of improvement there.

I was admiring how well the fig tree is doing -- and the moringa bush -- and there are grapes on the vine -- and huge grapefruits developing -- and the jujube (Chinese date) is blossoming for the first time. Zucchinis are blooming. And there are going to be lots of tomatoes this year -- huge bushes.

Slowly but surely we’re inching toward the garden of Eden -- the perfect garden -- right there backing up to 51st Ave in Laveen.

But then it dawned on me that as perfect as the Garden of Eden was -- it didn’t last. The whole thing unraveled. Adam and Eve got the boot and there was no one to care for it -- and, well, now no one really knows where it was. Sometimes perfect isn’t enough.

In Asian philosophy -- particularly in Eastern Asia -- China, Korea, Japan -- life is all about the pursuit of perfect balance. Ying and yang. Light and dark. Hot and cold. If you can get everything to line up in perfect harmonious balance you have perfection that can sustain itself indefinitely.

But the problem is, whether you’re a Taoist or practitioner of Zen -- nothing seems to stay balanced indefinitely. That’s a big problem for the Taoist and Zen Buddhist. The environment changes. The hot grows cold and the cold gets hot as the weather changes. Sometimes perfect isn’t enough.

Now, it’s not my intention to pick apart someone else’s way of thinking. But I’m saying that we all struggle with the same thing. Even perfection isn’t enough. It is inadequate to sustain. The perfect sunset always fades away. The perfect rose dries up. The perfect moment is but a moment. The perfect job that you’ve worked so hard to develop suddenly vaporizes when the company hires a new boss that doesn’t understand how hard you’ve worked to get there.

So, if you’re like me you’re wondering -- if perfect isn’t good enough -- what hope is there? And at the risk of slipping into nihilistic despair -- what’s the point of it all anyway? Nihilism is a philosophy which says that there is no intrinsic meaning or value to life. There is no room to hope.  So quit chasing the meaning of life. It doesn't exist.

And if you only hear part of what the psalmist is saying you could slip into that kind of Nihilism. But the psalmist isn’t trying to depress us. His point is that perfect isn’t good enough and that even perfect doesn’t last. But that there is something which is without limitation -- something which goes beyond even what we call perfection -- that being, the word of God.

Vs. 96 -- “Even perfection has its limits, but your commands have no limit.” That’s the New Living Translation. The Common English Bible puts it this way.

“I’ve seen that everything, no matter how perfect, has a limit, but your commandment is boundless." When the poet here in Psalm 119 speaks of commands or precepts or rules or laws, all of that is another way of saying “God’s Word.”

Thus, vs. 89 -- “Your word, Lord, stands firm in heaven forever!”

That is, God’s self revelation. God speaks and lets us in on what he’s thinking -- what he’s doing -- what he expects?

Through his word we become privy to his mind -- and participants in his agenda.

And while everything else unravels at some point, the Word of God stands firm. It’s steady -- without limit.

The prophet Isaiah echoes the psalmist: (Isaiah 40:6-8; CEB)

“A voice was saying: ‘Call out!’ And another said, ‘What should I call out?’ All flesh is grass; all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field.  The grass dries up and the (Mother’s Day) flower withers when the Lord’s breath blows on it. Surely the people are grass. The grass dries up; the flower withers, but our God’s word will exist forever.”
Nothing else is as reliable or durable as God’s Word.

Thus the psalmist has come to the conclusion that his only hope is to lean into that word -- to take God at his word -- to trust him. Look at this section of the psalm and the progression of his thinking -- his celebrating.

Vs. 89 -- “Your word, Lord, stands firm in heaven forever!”

Then vs. 90 is elaboration on “forever” --
“Your faithfulness extends from one generation to the next! You set the earth firmly in place, and it is still there. 91 Your rules endure to this day because everything serves you.”
It’s all about you, God -- everything serves you. That’s why God’s rules endure when everything else degenerates. God is forever faithful to his word.

Then in vs. 92 the psalmist starts to personalize his insight.
“If your Instruction hadn’t been my delight, I would have died because of my suffering. 93 I will never forget your precepts because through them you gave me life again.”
You feel like everything is unraveling around you? Well, it is -- almost everything. But don’t despair. There is an anchor in the storm. “And I’m not going to forget what you’ve said -- what you have taught -- because, Lord, through your teaching you gave me life again.”

Then in vs. 94 he recommittes his life to the Lord. He re-ups his trust.
“I’m yours—save me because I’ve pursued your precepts! 95 The wicked wait for me, wanting to kill me...”
Here is his paranoia again -- undoubtedly justified. But notice how he finishes it off.

“The wicked wait for me, wanting to kill me...” 
  • So I’m going to fret about it. 
  • I’m going to complain about how hard it is. 
  • I’m going to wallow in the misery of the rejection. 
  • I’m going to despair over my inadequacies...
Is that what he says? No, not at all!

“The wicked wait for me, wanting to kill me, but I’m studying your laws.”

"My solution is to study your laws -- your Word!"


Is he saying that he is distracting himself from the trouble by immersing himself in his study? I don’t think so. Rather, he is saying that the solutions to his despairing situation are in the Word -- the Message.

That’s where he finds his hope. All other possibilities -- as good or even perfect as they are -- have limitations. Only God’s commandment -- his Word -- is truly unlimited -- unbounded. Remember, you can’t limit God. You can’t thwart God or his purposes. Ultimately he comes out on top.

So, that's why he is studying God's Word with a passion.

And that brings us right back to vs 96. -- “I’ve seen that everything, no matter how perfect, has a limit, but your commandment is boundless.”

I’ve been chewing on this passage all week. And I’m truly struck by the paradox of just how limited perfection is.

Of course, the fact is that most of us don’t have to worry about too much perfection. Some of us have trouble with perfectionism. We act like we’re perfect and have perfect expectations of those around us -- or maybe even ourselves. We feel that anything less than perfect is unacceptable and we’re not going to lower our standards -- because they are -- well, our standards.

But the fact is that in spite of the show -- once you start peeling back the layers -- none of us live up to our own standards -- let alone God’s standards. There are no perfect people.

We may try hard. We may have perfect moments -- but if we’re truly paying attention -- even those perfect moments and achievements have limitations. Perfectionism merely draws attention to our imperfection.

The fact is that the only way we can really make the grade is to recognize that WE can’t make the grade and that we are totally relying on God’s grace -- the grace revealed in his word.

One of the reasons I love Psalm 119 so much is that it is SO real life. The psalmist is noodling over real life dilemmas.

The other reason I love it so much is that it so perfectly sets us up for the good news message of the New Testament.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” according to John 1.
“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”
To all who believe in the Word -- to all who welcome or accept the word. They are tapping into the grace that has been given and which has been there from the beginning.

Back in Psalm 119 -- vs. 94 -- the psalmist prays, “I’m yours—save me...” And that is the exact same response that we make to God’s Word -- the first time that we turn to him and everyday thereafter.

“I’m yours--save me.”

You see the psalmist isn’t just thinking about all those commandments and precepts and laws. In his distress he gets it -- these are a part of God’s Word and the perfect -- 100% response to that Word is to embrace it -- lock stock and barrel -- without reserve.

For the Word didn’t just come into the world -- but he came to give up his own life to save us. And we each turn to him saying “I’m yours -- save me.”

Sometimes we sing a song that Cheryl wrote about nine years ago -- Your Perfect Love. And I want us to sing it together as an affirmation of our faith this morning.

As we do so I would challenge you to use this song as your own personal prayer -- marking your own turning to the living Word of God -- perhaps for the first time or as a part of the ongoing moment by moment process of welcoming him into your life. You see, the only thing which is truly perfect and which truly lasts is God’s love.
Your Perfect Love
Jesus Christ, God's only Son,
Word become flesh, Anointed One.
Your perfect love removes my fear,
And boldly I draw near.

Perfect your love in me.
Perfect your love in me.
Your perfect love removes my fear,
And boldly I draw near.

©2003 Cheryl A. B. Boydston

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