Sunday, January 27, 2019. Rev. Scott Ramsey, preaching.
Scripture Readings: Psalm 19; Luke 4:14-21
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Woo buddy. Today we have been given Psalm 19 and Luke 4 – two great texts that taste great together. I know that you all must be getting tired of hearing me say this – because even I feel like I say this all the time – but we have two marvelous Scripture passages today. Either or both of these would be worth having on a list of your Top 40 Scripture texts.
Luke 4 is set at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. For the Gospel of Luke, this passage is sort of Jesus’ inaugural address, laying out the main themes that will govern his life and death – service to the poor, being filled and penetrated by the Holy Spirit, having a particular connection and concern for people who have been beaten down by life. If you want to know what Jesus cares about, it’s laid out here in Luke 4.
Psalm 19 is one of the better-known psalms in the Psalter. CS Lewis referred to it as “the greatest poem in the Psalms, and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” Not bad praise.
This morning, I want us to reflect on the way that one of the things that the Spirit of God is doing to people in our time is drawing people into community. After generations of emphasizing the importance of individualism, it may well be that the Spirit today is seeking to balance this by leading people to community. As Lewinsville is asking, “What is God calling us to be about in this new chapter of our lives together?” I believe that one of the key things is to be a community for people who are broken and hurting, just as you and I are broken and hurting. In our age of isolation and alienation and loneliness and hostility, the Spirit of God is leading people into community.
And if we take Psalm 19 and Luke 4 as a guide, we may imagine that it is not just any kind of community to which the Spirit is leading us. It is a community marked by love for creation, love for Scripture, and love for the poor.
Psalm 19 breaks down nicely into two parts. The first part, verses 1-6, describe how creation, the natural world and universe, tell of God’s glory. “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” Creation, in a very real sense, is God’s first Bible, where we learn deeply about the Creator. The first part of Psalm 19 is the kind of poem that you would read on a mountaintop, or out in a field under the stars. These words were written by someone who loved creation, who loved the earth, and who knew that the natural creation could tell you a tremendous amount about God. Romans 1 tells us the same kind of thing. Words like these are part of why Lewinsville is becoming an Earth Care congregation, because we know that respect and care for the creation is one key part of being God’s people.
Verses 7-13 is the second part, which directs our attention to God’s law. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes.”
The word that is here translated as “law” is the luminous Hebrew word “Torah.” I say “luminous” because Torah is a word that shines with meaning and significance. Torah can indeed be translated as “law,” but it is much more than a simple rule. Torah also contains the meaning of “teaching,” so that the law is given to teach people how to live. The Torah is given to teach them about the priorities of their God, and how they are to organize themselves around those priorities in real-time on the ground, in their neighborhood and community.
And you can tell that the person who wrote these words did not resent the commandments of the law as some crushing burden that had been cruelly laid upon their backs. The person who wrote this psalm loves the law, loves to spend time studying the Scriptures. They are more to be desired than gold, even 24 karat gold.
The community to which God is summoning us will spend a great deal of time studying the Bible. We will do this, not because we have to, not because we’ll get in trouble if we don’t. We do this because this book, this strange book, conveys the presence and the living word of God in a way that no other book does. Now we’ve got to work at this, and we’ve got to help each other learn how to understand the book, how it’s organized, how it’s arranged, we’ve got to argue about what this book means and what it wants from us, but the fact of the matter is that we will not only spend our time meditating upon the wonders of creation as in verses 1-6, we will spend our time meditating upon the mysteries of the Bible.
And when we turn to Luke 4, we see that the community of the Holy Spirit will not merely be concerned with creation and with Scripture, but with the pain of the world. Jesus goes to synagogue, stands up, unrolls the scroll to what we know as Isaiah 61, and he reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Every time you hear those words, you should feel the liberating power of God surging forth, the energy of God for healing and freedom being given. Jesus claims those words as being particularly relevant to him and to his ministry. “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
If you want to know what Jesus is about, there it is. Jesus’ chosen scripture names four groups of people: the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed. Jesus’ inaugural address focuses on people without resources, people in captivity, people who cannot see, people who are being held down by political and economic forces. Jesus is passionately concerned about people’s real, living conditions. Wherever people are hurting, Jesus is concerned about that.
Jesus – and the church that follows Jesus – always moves towards the places of captivity and pain and blindness in our world. He always moves there. If you are in one of those places, Jesus is moving towards you. If someone you love is in one of those places, Jesus is moving towards them. He is moving towards them, and he is bringing good news, he is bringing freedom and release, he is bringing new and renewed vision.
In our day, the Spirit of God is leading people into community. Now because of the profound polarization in the midst of which we are living, it may not seem like that. It may seem as though hostility and alienation and the unraveling of the social fabric is all there is. But underneath all of the yelling and the screaming and the manipulation, the Spirit of God is doing a new thing, doing it in small, modest ways and places. Leading people into community that has a three-fold shape: love for creation, study of the Bible, and attention to the pain of the world. To the triune God be all the glory, now and forever. Amen.