Saturday, November 03, 2012

B, Post-Pentecost 23 Proper 26 – Psalm 119:1-8; Hebrews 9:13-14 “Teaching & Promise”

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The Israelites lived with the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is a picture of rolling green meadows, the verdant green of a spring that's sprung out of a wet winter. A show of flowers not just looking pretty, but providing the bees with sweet sweet honey! This is a picture of excess, the best the land can offer, the cream of the crop, foods to not only fill the body but to fatten and gladden the heart.
We know the land of milk and honey was Canaan and it was promised to the people chosen by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And as they marched across the Jordan led by Joshua it became a reality for them after a lifetime of wandering in the wilderness with Moses.
But during their sojourn in the Sinai the Israelites were called not to focus on the promise but he who was making the promise. They were commanded to teach what they had been taught. To tell it to their children and to bind his teaching on their heads and hands, and on the doorposts and gates of their homes! God wanted Israel to remember that "The Lord our God, the Lord is one." (Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV) He is the only one they needed to concern themselves over. Not the milk, not the honey, not their need in the wilderness, nothing but him.
It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you — for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 6:13–15a ESV)
So what is it that God promises you and me today? What is our milk and honey? What is being given to the church of God in these days?
In Israel's time it was the land of Canaan, today it is not so much land but rather fellowship with the Father. It's being with the Lord, the only true God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, being with God comes at a cost. God needs us to be as holy as he is holy, for us to be in community with him, and to celebrate the eternal feast with him, which promises greater things than earthly lands producing milk and honey. When we are holy then we know we are truly blessed.
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! (Psalm 119:1–8 ESV)
Psalm 119 begins by saying those who are blameless are blessed. But there's a problem here straight away. Who of us is blameless, who of you seeks God with your whole heart, walking only in God's ways, doing no wrong? Who of you is willing to sell everything, giving it to the poor and then follow Jesus? This is a hard teaching, how are we to deal with it?
This then is the crucial thing, how do we deal with God's teaching and promise? But first, what is God's teaching and how does the promise function effectively in your life?
The Lord is your God, he is our God; he is the only one true God. All who hear this are called to believe it. But it is not only this we are called to believe, we are also called to believe we are sinners in nature and deed. And because of this there is only one God who can do anything about it. Lest God be like all other gods of milk and honey sought after in this life!
Moses by his very nature knew the Israelites were sinners; after all he himself was only allowed to see the Promised Land from afar and not enter it. Why? Because he misused God's power by adding to the word, striking the rock, from which water poured, rather than just speak to it as God had commanded. Moses too was a sinner.
So we return to the Psalm of the day 119:1-8. How do we deal with this piece of God's word that states only the blameless will be blessed? Only those who remain steadfast in the teaching will receive the promise! Even the Psalmist exclaims, I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!
Notice the need for teaching as the Psalmist learns or is taught God's righteous rules or teaching. Notice this teaching will result in future praise, uprightness of heart, and keeping of statutes. Yet he who proclaims that only the blameless will be blessed, cries out not to be utterly forsaken. It must be that something happens in this teaching; that much learning about God and the self happens in this classroom of life!
There are a couple of ways to become blameless, but only one that's effective for the eternal run.
If one does not hear the teaching, how then might he be to blame? So many who have heard the word of God's teaching and promise decide not to listen to it anymore in the hope they will be without blame. But too late! They've already heard it, you've already heard it, and know it's the truth, the whole truth, the only eternal truth.
Then some seek to discredit the one who casts blame. They do this by vilifying him, or rejecting his reality. Such are the primary motives for atheists and evolutionists. If then they can dismiss the source of truth then they can dismiss everything they believe to fictitiously have come from a non-existent God.
However, for most of us there are two ways we generally react and they both occur as a result of guilt and shame. We see we are not blameless, but rather we are full of blame. A shiver of coldness runs through your bones, the heart misses a beat and then thumps hard, you've been caught out, you're to blame, exposed, guilty, ashamed!
Can I really be this bad! Why do I keep doing this thing? If only I could stop sinning then it would be better. We can be crushed by the truth of God's teaching of who we really are! Loathing the sins we do, wanting them to just go away forever. Then the milk and honey will flow, if only I can say no to sin.
Or the other way is the way of denial. This is the oldest way in the world; it's the way of Adam and Eve. And it's also the way of us in the church too. Hide it! Hide from God! Deny it, and act as if it's not true! On being exposed, appeal to your blamelessness by blaming someone or something else. He made me do it, she made me do it, and in pleading innocence, adding to the list of lies, trying to side step the teaching and believing we still have a right to the promise.
We hear in Hebrews…
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13–14 ESV)
Defiled persons, sanctifying, purification of the flesh, blemishes of the conscience needing purification from dead works and serving a living God all teach us about ourselves and much about God. Sin defiles us: and our efforts to work off sin or to ignore it defile us even further. What does our guilt and shame tell us other than we have been unfaithful and others around us have been unfaithful to God and caused us suffering? It shows our very nature to be sinful.
We kid ourselves; we let the devil pull wool over our eyes, when we think "if only I could stop sinning." If we had the power to stop doing sinful things we would no longer realise we are sinful and then forget all about God. For all intentions and purposes we would be just like the Israelites living in the land of milk and honey, forgetting God and glorifying the self and using all God's gifts of milk and honey in the worship of ourselves.
Therefore, don't take comfort in your sin and your nature to sin, rather take comfort in the fact that God has not utterly forsaken you, when he shows you to be a sinner, but that he is teaching you with your very own wrong to turn you so you trust him more and more. Rather than hid sin, hear his word, search his word, let it search out the sin in you, so you can see the depths of destruction in you, but also the greater deeds of Jesus' death for you, and the continual work of the Holy Spirit to keep you in Christ.
Jesus has made us one with the Father, he is the Lord our God, one God, the only One. You now live with the promise that the kingdom of God is not far away. Let the Son and Spirit personally show you how close the kingdom of God is, that salvation is for sinners who allow their sin to be exposed and forgiven.
Jesus' way is blameless! His way is our only way! He together with Father and Holy Spirit is our Lord God! Our one true God! Lord, sustain us, keep us steadfast in your word; sanctify us in your word, Jesus please bear our shame; lead us to persevere in your blamelessness.
Be a sinner! Better still, be and believe you're a sinner being forgiven! Believe and rejoice in Jesus Christ more boldly for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. See your sin, your death, and the milk and honey of your earthly desires. See Jesus daily shining the brightness of his resurrection over you. Jesus is our teacher; he is our teaching and promise, he is our milk and honey. Amen.