25 November 2012
I’ve really enjoyed it but we’ve come to the end. Yes, we’ve managed to work our way through the longest and perhaps most unique chapter in the Bible -- Psalm 119. So, let’s briefly review again. Tell me what you know about this chapter -- and the pattern throughout. What have you picked up along the way?
[Time for people to share]
Who wrote it? It doesn’t say -- and that is important. It tells us something. Because if he were someone famous they would have likely stuck a label on the psalm. As you have perhaps seen, there are phrases at the top of some psalms. For example,
- “A psalm of Asaph” -- Psalm 82 & 83
- “For music leader. Of the Korahites.” -- Psalm 85
- “For the music leader. According to the ‘Silence Dove of distant Places.’ A miktam of David when the Philistines seized him in Gath” -- Psalm 56.
These descriptors were not a part of the original biblical text. They are more like the chapter and verse numbers which were added later to help readers navigate. (You realize that the chapter numbering system was not developed until the 13th century and the verse numbers until the 16th century -- AD!)
The notations at the top of the psalms reflect the traditions that grew up around the psalm after it was in use. Maybe it accurately reflects the events noted (and my default is to naturally assume some connection to it.) But it could as easily just reflect someone’s theological speculation.
When there are these notes at the beginning of the chapter, we know that the chapter was associated with the famous person mentioned. But when there are not notes at the top, that means that there wasn’t even a legend about who wrote it.
The author was totally anonymous -- most likely an unknown more ordinary person. It was written by an ordinary person moved by the Holy Spirit.
And in Psalm 119 the absence of the top note tells us that there wasn’t really even any speculation about who wrote it. As far as anyone knew, it didn’t come from some super saint Bible hero but from an ordinary person like you or me struggling along to make sense of the chaos in his life.
And as I look at this awesome acrostic poem -- truly a masterpiece -- I see verse 172 as a kind of summary sentence or thesis statement for the entirety of Psalm 119.
Vs 172 -- “Let my tongue declare your word, because all your commandments are righteous.”
The word translated as “declare” in the CEB can also be rendered as “sing” or “speak” (as in public speaking) or “shout” or even “yip.” And different translations render it differently.
- NLT -- “Let my tongue sing about your word...”
- The various NIV translations - “May my tongue sing of your word...”
- KJV -- “My tongue shall speak of thy word...”
- I haven’t yet found a translation which renders it “Let my tongue yip of your word...” -- but you can look for that in the soon to be released BABS (Boydston’s Accurate but Strange Bible Version.)
The CEB, which I grow more fond of everyday, has a fine middle ground rendering -- “Let my tongue declare your word...”
And my key point this morning is: EVEN THROUGH THE CRISES OF LIFE WE FIND RENEWED LIFE AS WE DECLARE GOD’S WORD.
We declare God’s word -- his law -- his instructions -- his message -- his good news.
Many of you are aware that the church of Jesus Christ is currently growing at a phenomenal rate around the world -- a rate never before seen in history. Most of this growth is occurring in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
I have an African friend who is a part of the Anglican tradition -- what we’d call Episcopalians in the US. And the Anglican churches throughout most of the world, like the Lutherans, and Covenant churches are vibrant and alive -- including Africa -- more so than in Europe and North America.
My African friend was very proud of his Anglican bishop and how godly of a man he is. So he was telling a story of one time when his bishop visited the United States.
At the port of entry the US customs officer asked him, “Do you have anything to declare?”
“Yes,” answered the African bishop in a very official purple clergy shirt -- which is what Anglican bishops wear.
The agent trying to figure out which form to fill out asked, “Well, how many things are you going to declare?”
“One,” said the soft spoken bishop.
“What, then, do you have to declare?” asked the customs agent.
The bishop in a loud and enthusiastic voice stated so that everyone in the whole terminal could hear: “I am declaring that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead! That is what I have to declare.”
This is the vibrancy of the word “declare,” here in Psalm 119:172. And while the psalmist does not yet know that Jesus, the Word of God, is going to be raised from the dead... That’s perhaps a good 800 years in the future for him... he does know that the word of God is worth declaring.
And he spends 176 verses in 22 acrostically tied stanzas telling us how the Word of God is greater than all the adversities he is facing.
The message of God is worth singing about, yipping over, shouting -- declaring. God’s Word gives us something worth talking about. EVEN THROUGH THE CRISES OF LIFE WE FIND RENEWED LIFE AS WE DECLARE GOD’S WORD.
So, this morning I want us to be asking the question -- What does an effective declaration of God’s word look like in 2013? Specifically, what does it look like in our current context?
And by effective I am saying that it is declared in such a way that people connect with the message.
In Isaiah 55:11 God says,
“It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” (NLT)God’s word is effective in and of itself. As it is sent through the mouths of messengers it is always fruitful -- that is, effective.
But there are times when the messengers fail to send the word in ways that people understand. So it’s not really sent. Not really declared.
For example, consider the American who walks into the central market in Algiers, Algeria -- steps up on a box and in a loud voice recites John 3:16 -- in English.
He steps down and then walks to a nearby internet cafe. He then sends an email to his people back home, “I declared the word of the Lord in the capital of Algeria today. The people are hard hearted and unresponsive. They ignored me. I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Has he really declared the Word in this country which has very few English speakers? Was language the only issue?
This morning, instead of me telling you what it means to declare the word of the Lord in 2013, I thought we might brainstorm a bit together. And you’ll see on the message guide that there are two lists.
One says, the top ten ways to NOT declare God’s word in 2013 and the other says, the top ten ways to declare God’s word in 2013. And I’d like you to take two minutes, jot down a few ideas -- and then we’ll brainstorm together. [Brainstorming session follows]
The fact is that we aren’t all going to agree on what an effective declaration of God’s word looks like. And perhaps that’s okay.
If there are enough of us ordinary people -- not just official clergy preacher-types -- declaring God’s word in whatever form the Spirit leads -- the more likely it is that it will in some form connect with someone who truly needs to hear that in spite of the craziness of the world -- things are not spinning out of control -- and that God loves his people -- in spite of the chaos and sin -- and that he sent his Son, the living Word of God, into the world to connect to the people of the world in an unprecedented way.
And not only that but he took upon himself the sin of the world -- of each man, woman, and child -- and through his death and resurrection crucified that sin and the eternal consequences of it. In a sense the world is TRANSFORMED by the word.
So we are now free to choose to live according to the God’s word -- and in a way that the psalmist never imagined to join in with God and his mission to transform the world.
So I want to invite you to join the psalmist in overcoming the adversities of life by declaring -- by speaking, singing, chanting -- even yipping the message of God.
Maybe you’ve been reluctant to trust God and his word because you’ve had too many problems. You just can’t get on top of life. Well, the psalmist is suggesting that the way to overcome the woes of life is to speak God’s word into the situation. That’s what he was doing and he lived to write about it -- beautifully so.
So, I want to declare God’s message to you. That is, we are now free to choose to live according to the God’s righteous word.
And that is the good news.
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