Sermon: January 29, 2012
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Psalm 111 is a hymn of praise to God – for God’s majesty, God’s wonderful deeds, and God’s holiness and righteousness which lasts forever.
Great are the works of the Lord…. Full of honor and majesty is God, whose righteousness endures forever…. God feeds those who fear him…. God has shown the power of God’s works, which are faithful and just…. God has sent redemption and covenant forever.
These words were meant to evoke Israel’s prayerful and grateful reverence, and to call forth the people’s praise.
Like our hymn Holy, Holy, Holy, or this morning’s anthem A Splendor of God’s Glory Bright, these words describe a God of majesty, mercy and might; a God who cares for justice and keeps Covenant with humankind.
This God is known from the first page of the Bible:
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep. Then the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters; and God spoke: “Let there be light.” And there was light.
This God is also at the end of the Bible:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…. I heard a loud voice saying: “The home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them, and they will be God’s people…. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for these things have passed away.
Our majestic, holy and merciful God.
There is a phrase in a Communion liturgy in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: Lifted into the light and peace of God’s presence. That is, I believe, a true statement of what might happen to one who follows this God – in worship, in prayer, in communion, in the deep sharing of one’s faith.
That phrase in the liturgy describes a person who has experienced what Psalm 111 talks about – the glory and majesty, the holiness and righteousness, of God.
And with due regard for the symbolic nature of that language – I know, from conversations with some of you over the years, that you feel that has happened to you.
Of course, there is not much in our culture that prepares us to recognize divinity and transcendence, the holiness and majesty of God. And unfortunately, there is not much in some churches these days, either.
With singing empty praise choruses, people grinning happily at their good buddy Jesus, and praying to a God who issues blanket pardons and never judges or condemns anything;
Where grace is so cheap it costs literally nothing;
Where the Cross is banished and forgotten –
When churches are like that, even many Christians don’t know what it means to talk about the holiness and righteousness, the majesty and glory of God.
God’s majesty, beauty and goodness get lost in the soft, pillowy vagueness of nebulous spirituality and confused worship.
But the Psalmist knew. The person who wrote Psalm 111 knew that God’s majesty was beyond the heavens, and that God’s righteousness, truth and mercy endure forever.
And I believe the Psalmist also knew that if God’s reality were ever concentrated and focused in one human being on earth, it would literally be a game-changing experience.
Nothing would be the same. Everything would be up-for-grabs – now and forever.
He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes…. A man was brought to him with an unclean spirit…. And Jesus said: “Be silent, and come out of him.” And the unclean spirit, convulsing the man and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
When the glory and majesty, the holiness and righteousness of God are concentrated in one human life, we see things we have never seen before.
The Word becomes flesh and in our very midst. Teaching is with divine authority. Unclean spirits are cast out and sent away.
Now, I know … unclean spirits – what in the world does that mean?
In this church’s expenses, in the midst of all our other mission giving – and not even counting our prison ministry work – we budget about $4000 a year to help local people, individuals who call or come in off the street.
With additional gifts and other financial finagling (please, don’t tell treasurer Rich) – we spend over $5000 a year just on this direct support of local individuals.
Through your generosity, there is a woman we are helping right now to stay in a methadone treatment program. We’ve helped her with gas and once with rent about half-a-dozen times over 7 or 8 years.
I suspected she was dabbling in drugs, and one of the social workers we work with told me once he suspected the same thing. Evidently, in the last couple of years, her dabbling became a full-on immersion.
But now, through a Methadone treatment program, she has quit. She wants to be done with drugs. But with normal living expenses and her limited income, she can’t afford this particular medical care right now.
She is scared to death she will fall off the program. And nobody else in Madison wants to help a “druggie” pay for that treatment. So we are helping her.
That woman is dealing with unclean spirits I can’t even dream of in my worst nightmares. And we and the Methadone clinic together are giving her the support she needs, to let Jesus find a way to heal her. Because the best program in the world will do nothing for her if God in the Spirit of Christ doesn’t intervene.
Every healing is done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Every casting out of an unclean spirit is accomplished through Jesus. Every time the truth is taught with authority, God is with us – teaching,… healing,… caring.
What I have just said may sound like symbolic language. But it is the truest thing I know how to say.
We believe and understand … by following Christ – worshipping God in the Spirit of Christ. We know … by acting as the disciples acted. Even when they didn’t understand, they followed.
Even when they didn’t know what Jesus was doing, they did as he commanded.
It is hard to follow Jesus in a world in which secular rationality seems to explain everything. But it doesn’t explain everything.
I believe this with my whole being: God is filled with honor and majesty. God’s righteousness endures forever. Here is more: The Lord is gracious and merciful. The works of God’s hands are faithful and just.
And still more: He taught as one with authority, and not as the scribes. And this also, to the unclean spirit: Be silent, and come out of him.
The love of God in Jesus Christ is the central and animating truth of the universe. It is the most real thing there is. The holiness and majesty of God endure forever. Christ says to the unclean spirit – Be silent, and come out of him.
Because we believe in Christ, we worship in joy and truth. Because we believe that, we pledged over two million dollars to maintain and enhance the witness of Jesus Christ on the corner of Breese Terrace and University Avenue in Madison.
Because we believe that, we go to prison,… we feed people at Thanksgiving,… we spend hundreds of dollars to maintain a woman we don’t know in a Methadone treatment program,… we provide worship at nursing homes and care facilities,… we build houses with Habitat for Humanity,… we work for justice and peace in this crazy world.
I’m not asking you to believe that what we do is rational, or logical, or safe,… or even always successful.
All I’m asking you to believe is that it’s true to God in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is God’s grace for you,… and for me,… and for this crazy and needy world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.