Psalm 34: 1-5, 11-22
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 14, 2018
I remember my mother, in my childhood, often telling me: “Don’t hope for much. It’ll save you a lot of disappointment.” Out of a loving concern for my happiness, she meant to spare me from some emotional risks; but I have since learned that the Bible encourages me to take such risks out of a wiser loving concern for my happiness.
In the middle of Psalm 34, David asks what might at first strike some as a ridiculous question: “Which of you desires life?” After all, doesn’t everyone wish to live and stay alive a long time?
David isn’t however asking who desires to extend their days and keep living as they have. He is asking who has the courage to hope to find a better life and to live it to the hilt. For David, that better life means trusting and obeying God, while reveling in His gracious rescue of us for a life of radiant happiness.
Do you believe in the possibility of radiant happiness, and dare to pursue it? Or do you prefer to play it safe and protect yourself from hopes that might bring you disappointment?
A wise old saint once said, “Faith is spelled ‘R-I-S-K’.” To have faith is to take risk, to seek what you have no certainty of attaining. It is to dare to desire a still better life and to hope to obtain it by betting on God’s steadfast character and gracious action.
The Bible claims that a better life is available to all who are willing to trust and obey God – who keep their tongue from evil, do good, bless the Lord at all times and keep looking to the Lord.
By that reorientation of life, the Bible says, anyone may become radiant with happiness. For, when we fix our gaze on God in humble awe and high hope, we step into God’s glorious light. Thus, verse 5 invites us to “look to Him and be radiant.”
On a clear night the moon, which has no radiance of its own, illumines the earth with brightness and beauty. It does that by stepping out from the shadow of the world’s darkness, taking the sun’s beams full bore, and shining with the sun’s brilliance. In the same way, when we step out from the shadow of the darkness of sin and face the glowing glory of God in worship, Bible study, prayer and loving acts of service, we receive and reflect a light from beyond ourselves. By its luminescence we brighten and beautify our life and our world.
As we draw close to God, and look at Him, up close and personal, we take in something of Him and take on some of His characteristics and conduct.
It’s similar to what happens to two people who have been married a long time. The attitudes and attributes of each rub off on the other, and they start to look and act alike. Abiding with each other with openness of heart, they absorb something of each other’s essence.
Likewise we absorb something of God’s joy, peace, righteousness, and caring by spending time with Him with openness of heart, soaking up His perspectives and passions and becoming irradiated with His light.
We thereby do ourselves a favor, but not just ourselves. We end up blessing those around us as well. We open their eyes to a God who can brighten and beautify life. We actually fill in the portrait of what God is like and what God does.
At the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, there is a portrait wall of the heroes of the battle. One painting bears the following inscription: “James Butler Bonham –for whom no known portrait exists. This painting is of his nephew Major James Bonham who was said to greatly resemble his uncle. It is placed here by the family that people may have some idea of the appearance of the man who died for freedom.”
No portrait of Jesus exists. But people can have some idea of the appearance of the God-Man who died for their freedom, to pursue life at its best, from looking at those who shine, at least at times, with His light.
Once after his early morning run, Joe Stowell, then a seminary student, stopped at Starbucks for a latte. He got in line behind a customer who was engaged in a tense and loud argument with the barista. In hot anger, the customer was, while waving a $50 bill in the air, demanding the right to purchase a copy of the New York Times. The barista was refusing to sell it to him on the grounds that he could not use up all his change on a $50 bill and have none left for other customers.
Seeing that neither was going to back off from this Mexican stand-off, Joe – in an inspired gesture of generosity and diplomacy – announced, “Put the paper on my bill; I’ll buy it for him.” This immediately defused the tension, and the grateful customer walked out past Joe saying, “Thanks a lot. All I have is yours!” – which evidently did not include giving him the $50 bill.
When Joe stepped forward to place his order, the barista said, “Mister, that was really nice. Things would be a lot better if more people were like you.”
The comment caught Joe off guard. Joe was keenly aware of his shortcomings, and he also wanted to direct praise to God; but he couldn’t find the right words. So he muttered a self-deprecating remark and walked out, haunted by the thought he’d missed a chance to highlight the shining radiance of his Redeemer.
As he continued down the sidewalk, what he should have said finally came to him. He should have said: “Things would not be better if more people were like me; but things would be better if more people were like God’s Son – and He’s behind my doing what I did.”
So Joe turned around to re-enter the Starbucks and share that message with the barista. But by the time he returned, the line was long, the barista was busy, and cutting ahead in line to deliver a religious speech struck him as a bad idea for giving God a good name.
As he slumped out of the store feeling defeated, Joe happened to catch a glimpse of himself in the glass door – and smiled when he noticed what he had forgotten: He’d been wearing his school baseball cap, the one on which was written in big letters Moody Bible Institute!
Joe prayed that the barista noticed and read his hat, and would think about how Bible people act and how things would be better if more Bible people were around.
May we who seek to be Bible people remember who we are, dare to desire life at its highest and happiest, keep looking to God, and grow more and more radiant with His reflected light, for others and ourselves!