Psalm 119, selected verses
October 22, 2017
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths! Psalm 119 celebrates this gift in an acrostic poem made up of 176 verses, 22 strophes that focus on God’s word. It is the longest chapter in the Bible. Each of the 22 strophes (sections of the poem) use a different letter from the Hebrew alphabet so that those of the oral tradition could easily remind themselves of the power of God’s word by simply recalling a letter in the alphabet. And to make sure that the reciter knows where the word, the law, the guidance comes from, God is mentioned in each verse. It is a great doxology!
The first strophe in Psalm 119 starts with aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Listen now to the first strophe.
Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.
Happy are those who keep his decrees, 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.
O 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 ordinances.
I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.
To some, the entirety of Psalm 119 seems redundant, “If you read three or four strophes, you’ve got the basic message of the entire Psalm.” To others, “Psalm 119 is overwhelming and breathtaking.”
When I was preparing for this sermon, the more I read Psalm 119 in its entirety, the harder I found it to pull out verses to focus on, for the Psalm as a whole transported me into the awesomeness of God, like going around a bend on a mountain road and being overwhelmed with the beauty of a canyon and mountainsides covered with orange, red, and yellow leaves displaying splendor. I invite you to read Psalm 119 in its entirety, but be sure to give yourself enough time—it is about an 8 minute read when reading aloud.
The Psalmist understands God’s word to be the rule of life. Engulfing oneself in it, leads to being grounded in hope. Claus Westermann writes in The Psalms about Psalm 119, “God’s word is no longer the word which confronts a person directly to comfort, instruct, judge or warn … . The word of God is … a living entity for the person who prays this psalm.”
Eugene Peterson, in the following story, helps us to better understand the living word of God. “At age 35 [Eugene writes], I bought running shoes and began enjoying the smooth rhythms of long-distance running. Soon I was competing in 10K races every month or so, and then a marathon once a year. By then I was subscribing to and reading three running magazines! Then I pulled a muscle and couldn’t run for a couple of months. Those magazines were still all over the house, but I never opened one. The moment I resumed running, though, I started reading again.
“That’s when I realized that my reading was an extension of something I was a part of. I was reading for companionship and affirmation of the experience of running. I learned a few things along the way, but mostly it was to deepen my world of running. If I wasn’t running, there was nothing to deepen.
“The parallel with reading Scripture is striking. If I’m not living in active response to the living God, reading about his creation/salvation/holiness won’t hold my interest for long. The most important question isn’t “What does this mean,” but “What can I obey?” Simple obedience will open up our lives to a text more quickly than any number of Bible studies, dictionaries, and concordances.”
How do we get our hearts into simple obedience?
Verse 10 With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. — Seek God
Verse 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. — Delight in God’s leading
Verse 37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways. — Focus on God
Verse 97 Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. — Meditate on God’s law
Verse 164 Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances.” — Praise God
Seek … Delight … Focus… Meditate … Praise – This all sounds good, but “You can’t be serious, God?” that I need to do all this to get my heart into ‘simple obedience’ with you — really praise you seven times a day? That isn’t easy or simple! How can I do all this and keep up with the demands of life? I don’t live in a monastery or convent … I am not in seminary … I don’t just have myself to care for—there are friends, family … I have responsibilities … Don’t get me wrong God, but… Seriously?!
Verse 130 states that “the unfolding of God’s words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”
Let’s follow a busy mother of three and wife through her day to see how she succeeds in seeking … delighting … focusing … meditating … praising.
- The alarm rings at 5:30 a.m. Time to get up and drink that cup of coffee before the world closes in.
- Before her feet hit the floor, she thanks God for another day and asks God to watch over her family.
- She heads to the kitchen to get her coffee that awaits her (because she actually remembered to set the timer the night before).
- She lingers over that coffee while reading a scripture passage that was on the scripture calendar on the kitchen counter Psalm 119:114—You are my hiding-place and my shield; I hope in your word. She thinks about these words and how they might guide her. She takes delight in knowing that God would be her shield throughout the day—no matter what will come her way.
- With that, her husband comes in the kitchen for his coffee and they talk over how they slept and what the day will bring.
- She finds herself thanking God for her husband and that they can share in life together.
Before they know it, the alarm clocks are going off and their three children are up and busily getting breakfast and ready for school — The day moves into high gear.
- She goes to get ready for work, herself—wishing she could spend more time on putting herself together, but realizing that what is important is that she looks professional and kept, not needing to be perfect because more important things were pressing—getting their three to school on time, with lunches and completed homework in hand.
- As she and the her kids piled in the car, she caught herself thanking God for getting it together yet another day.
- Once in the car, she tried to encourage her two girls and boy to look for ways to be nice to everyone at school and be sure to pay attention in class. She didn’t want another call from the teacher about being disruptive.
- The three piled out of the car and mom took off to work, turning on the radio for a quick traffic update and then sought out some of her favorite Christian artist ,Chris Tomlin’s music for the drive.
- It was going to be a hard day at the office and she knew that she needed all the help she could get from God to stay on top of things—she needed to stay hopeful and remind herself that God was her shield.
- As she entered her office, she again thanked God—this time that He was with her throughout the day and she didn’t need to face it alone.
- As her day unfolded, she met the demands as they came to her fully aware that God was by her side.
- Though she was exhausted from work, she was able to get dinner on the table, listen to everyone about their day, oversee homework and debrief with her husband about his day and hers.
- As she lay her head on her pillow, ending her day with prayers to God, she realized that what she thought was impossible to achieve, was actually achievable. She had sought God with her whole heart; she took delight in God’s leading; she tried to focus and keep the main thing the main thing; she thought about her scripture of the day, meditating on it if even only for a few seconds at a time throughout the day—in so doing, being reminded how God really was her shield and hoping in his word was life-giving; and she had praised and thanked God many more times than seven.
It hadn’t been easy – but keeping God at the front of her mind and alive in her heart had made her day simpler than it might have been otherwise. Ways to maneuver through the day were clearer.
She didn’t have to go out of her way to be with God; just be intentional.
We might want to say, “You can’t be serious, God!” but God is serious about a rich relationship with him and wants to help us along the way to build that life-giving, hope-filled relationship. Small things can make a huge difference in realizing that God is serious in his desire for us and in us seeking him.
Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington is best known for his roles in Glory, The Preacher’s Wife, Remember the Titans, and Training Day. Washington has publicly stated that he reads his Bible every day and that he strives to consistently “get up and speak of what God has done for him.”
“At a November 2015 church banquet he urged his listeners to live in a constant attitude of gratitude for God’s goodness: Give thanks for blessings every day. Every day. Embrace gratitude. Encourage others. It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time. I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed at night, so that when you wake in the morning you have to start on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, say “thank you.” A bad attitude is like a flat tire. Until you change it, you’re not going anywhere.”
The simple placement of slippers under the bed leads Denzel Washington to acknowledge God and to praise Him daily.
Live Psalm 119. Seek … Delight …. Focus … Meditate …. Praise … Celebrate God’s word and invite God into your thoughts and actions, looking for the small and not just the large ways to encounter God. Surrender your all to Him. In so doing, “You can’t be serious, God! will change before you even know it to “I am serious about you, God!”