Sunday 19th August 2018

Psalm 34:9-18

Proverbs 2:1-5

The Rev’d Matt Lehmann

Good evening everyone, if we haven’t met my name is Matt and I’m a minister at Trinity Church Colonel Light Gardens. In God’s kindness we were able to take a group of people from Holy Trinity on North Terrace five and half years ago and planted this church in the Colonel Light Gardens RSL.

What most people don’t know is that no one is more surprised that I went into the ministry and planted a church than me. For many years as a young Christian I scorned the idea of going into ministry and proudly said I’d never do it. As I found myself at the Bible College of South Australia studying theology in my early thirties, I said to people, well maybe I’ll go into ministry but I’ll never plant a church, I’m not interested. I became a Christian when I was twenty-one and I didn’t learn until my mid-thirties that it was very unwise to say never to God. So, as a 42 year old I don’t do that anymore, except for occasionally praying, may I never plant a church by the beach in Vanuatu.

I was very much encouraged this week as I read our Archbishop’s reflections on his recent trip to London to explore church planting. I heartily agreed with his conclusion that we need many different types of churches to reach many different types of people. Diversity in our Anglican Diocese is a wonderful thing and its great pleasure to be with you here tonight. At Trinity one of the many differences you might find as you visit is that we express our desire for Christians to be taught the whole counsel of God not via the lectionary, which is a great gift. But rather by setting a program to teach in depth across the many genres and books of the bible year in year out.

This year I took the challenge of preaching a series from Proverbs, which I discovered is the least preached on book of the bible. In its opening few verses Proverbs sets up its thesis that knowledge and wisdom to live a good life, come from understanding and adjusting our world view to know what it means to fear the Lord.

Now that turn of phrase “the fear of the Lord” almost universally makes us uncomfortable as Christians, so it has dominated my prayers and study of the bible this year. So, imagine my surprise when on a randomly chosen evening, on Jenny’s very kind invitation to preach. That I would find the lectionary presenting us with the most proverbial of Psalms centered on the fear of the Lord.

My hope is tonight that you would each leave deeply encouraged and if possible, it would be great to have your bibles open in front of you at Psalm 34:9-18 which is on page 395 of the red pew bibles. In the subscript we are told this is a Psalm of David reflecting on the time when he narrowly escaped with his life from King Achish. Otherwise known as Abimilech, by pretending to be insane.

David doesn’t take credit for this escape pours out praise to God penning this Psalm where he begins by extoling God’s name and invites us the reader to experience God’s goodness v.8

O taste and see that the Lord is good;

  happy are those who take refuge in him.

 Then where we begin tonight’s reading in verse 9:

O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.

 One of my observation from Proverbs was that collectively we’re that uncomfortable with the term “the fear of the Lord”. That nearly every book, every sermon on it immediately seeks to explain it away with a few dot points on what it is and what it isn’t. In the initial draft of my first sermon on Proverbs I did the same. Until I felt prompted to go back and read Proverbs again, and it only took until chapter two to realise my mistake. If you want to turn to it, it’s on page 455 but I’m happy to read it to you, have a listen to Proverbs 2 verses 1-5.

 1 My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
4 if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures—
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.

 This concept of the fear of the Lord is something that needs to be worked at to understand, sought after with great diligence. Simply reading it as awe or holy reverence or explaining it away with a three dot point summary clearly will not do.

We’re encouraged to be attentive to the word of God, treasuring God’s commands, crying out for insight, seeking for it like silver. The first nine chapters of Proverbs do a great sale job extolling the many benefits of seeking such wisdom from God. We’re told God bestows great reward on those who do, it brings us security, joy, contentment, purpose, the ability to persevere through hardship. God loves those who seek him, he delights in them.

But Proverbs also warns us of the disaster that comes to those who hear this call to pursue God’s wisdom and who choose not to orient their whole life around it, which is the biblical definition of folly. For those who reject God, the joys of this life are thin, they are fleeting, satisfaction is elusive, trouble abounds and the wisdom of this world promises much yet ultimately it leads only to death. And David our Psalmist makes exactly the same very strong contrast here and urges us to pursue God in Psalm 34.

10 The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

  • Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
    12 Which of you desires life,
    and covets many days to enjoy good?

Then we receive some very proverbial instruction on how a person who fears the Lord shall live, keeping our tongues from evil and instead doing good, seeking peace and pursuing it. Followed by a reminder that Gods eyes are on the righteous, he hears their cries, but that also he sets his face against all who do evil and brings not only death to them. But cuts off even their remembrance from the earth. Which creates for us a problem …

Because not one of us can lay claim to being righteous. I wonder if David could bring himself to sing Psalm 34 after he committed adultery with the very beautiful Bathsheba, or when he killed her husband after failing to cover up getting her pregnant. Even for those of us who do claim allegiance to God, we display an astounding ability to try to use him to meet our needs, rather than seeking his glory, following his agenda, clinging to him alone.

We each think things we’re glad other people don’t know, we are well practiced at being selfish and putting a socially acceptable wrapper around it, whether Christian or not. As a society we speak of having compassion for refugees, we lament our decreasing foreign aid budget. Yet politicians know they’ll get voted out if the soften our borders or take away our ever increasing middle class entitlements, and pursue being generous to those who truly need it here and abroad.

In short, we each fall well short of the two most basic commandments to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and we fail to love our neighbour as ourselves. So what hope do we have in laying claim to the title righteous and experiencing God’s many promised blessings from our Psalm.

I can’t lay claim to knowing king David’s mind but through God’s word we can see he was a man who knew his relationship with God required God to be gracious and merciful to him. And as David penned this Psalm, by God’s Spirit he wrote much better than he knew, when in verse 20 just a few verses on from where our lectionary reading ends. Writing of God’s righteous one’s that God protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

Easy to read over for us as a general statement of God’s protection, yet this turn of phrase has some history to it. We read in Exodus that as God gave Moses the instructions for the Passover meal, not one of the lamb’s bones were to be broken. In the book of Numbers as Israel first celebrate the Passover in freedom we’re told clearly that Moses made a big point about this. The lamb’s bones are not to be broken. David writes of it here in Psalm 34 and its not until centuries later. As the Apostle John writes of Jesus death in chapter 19 of his gospel that John ties it all together for us.

The Roman’s often broke the legs of those crucified like Jesus was, so they couldn’t hold themselves up on the cross so that their death would be a little quicker but mostly a lot more painful. Pointing out not once but twice that Jesus bones were not broken. And that these things happened so that scripture would be fulfilled referencing our Psalm, Exodus and Numbers directly.

Because Jesus alone is the only one who can lay claim to the title of righteous, who cried out on the cross and was heard by God. And in a miraculous turn of grace and mercy, that you can spend your whole life plumbing the depths of, Jesus through his death on the cross as our substitute paid the penalty for our sins. And he takes our unrighteousness upon himself, and gives his status of righteous before God to all who come to him in repentance. A foundational action that begins a whole life a whole world view. Built on the fear of the Lord.

Yet as we do so we are welcomed lovingly, great joy fills our hearts and we can sing as we so often do in the most famous of Hymns, it was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. We can gather together and eat the bread and drink of the cup, knowing that because of Jesus work alone, all who trust in him are considered God’s righteous ones and rejoice deeply.

And not only are we promised eternal life, but we are swept up into, together as one people, God’s work in our world. We are all called to participate in the greatest, most diverse, most significant cause in history – the building of God’s kingdom. All Christians compelled by the love of Christ, are witnesses to his life, death and resurrection.

Diversity in the Anglican church, I’m all for it. Our city desperately needs Jesus and all sorts of churches to reach all sorts of people. But whether it’s in a school hall, an old local church building, an RSL or in the grandest of Cathedrals such as this. When people come in, they can find many different expressions of church life but at its heart what must be common to all.

Is that people might find a community, large or small, accepting God’s words, treasuring His commandments, Crying out for understanding, asking God for insight, searching for it like hidden treasure. A people who know that Christ alone is righteous, through his work on the cross, dying a sacrificial death for us, he now gives that righteousness to all who come to him in repentance and faith.

Let us pray that God would do that great work among us.