The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
July 9, 2023
Joe Stowell writes, “Our flight was making its way into the Newark airport. The two seats next to me were open, so I thought I’d slide over, look out the window, and catch a glimpse of the Big Apple. I did, and there standing was the great lady in the harbor [the Statue of Liberty]. Only this time she was shrouded with scaffolding. There they were scurrying around the scaffolding: welders and polishers and repairers and people maintaining her. … But she was empty … ”
Joe then writes, “My mind drifted to the fact that I know a lot of Christians just like that lady in the harbor, who’ve become accustomed to living with scaffolding, who are hollow on the inside … In my own life and ministry, if my walk with God is not carefully maintained, there is that subtle drift to hollowness, where my Christianity becomes something of a heartless habit, often moving into some forms of hypocrisy.”
Psalm 15 reminds us of the importance of staying close to God, and not becoming spiritually hollow or shrouded by protective ‘scaffolding’. It is a psalm that was often used by early worshippers as they came to worship God and sought admittance into the courts of the Temple. It is relevant to our worship in this day and age, as well as to our seeking to dwell with God each and every day of our life outside of formal worship. It begins with two questions:
- “O Lord, who may abide in your tent?”
- “Who may dwell on your holy hill?”
These two questions amount to our question: “Can we stay close to God?” Psalm 15 gives us tips how we can.
Tip #1 comes in the first part of verse 2 — walk blamelessly.
Being blameless is not about being sin-free (which none of us can be); but it is about being focused on the pursuit of holiness. It is about being blameless in our intention to put God first and to be obedient to God’s precepts and principles. It is about holding on to God and not letting go.
When Anne Graham Lotz and her husband, Denny, attend football games at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina, thousands of people cram in the parking lots, and she can’t see where she’s going. However, her husband, a head taller at 6’7″, can look over the crowd.
She says, “The way I get from the car to my seat is just by holding his hand and following him closely through the crowd.” She follows the same procedure with the Lord. “I just try to faithfully follow the Lord step by step and day by day,” she says. “Ten years from now, I just want to look back and know that to the best of my ability I have been obedient to God’s call on my life.”
Just as Anne holds on to Denny’s hand and doesn’t let go, we can be blameless in holding on to the hand of a gracious God who will lead us into holiness.
Tip #2 comes at the end of verse 2 — speak the truth from your heart.
What we think inwardly should match what we say outwardly, what we say should match what do, and what we do should match our secret intent. Honesty is required to grow ever closer to God—the relationship needs to be rooted in the truth. We must be honest with ourselves, with others and with God. We are called to dare to accept ourselves and others as folks in a process of transformation, to be ‘real’ and to be open about who we are, to seek forgiveness when we need to be forgiven, to forgive others when they need our forgiveness, and most of all to seek forgiveness from our God for our words and actions that have separated us from his will.
Tip #3 comes from verses 3—5 — exhibit gracious holy living.
Worshipping God and staying close to God isn’t just about ourselves being in relationship with God, it is also about us being in community — living rightly within our community and being gracious to the members of that community. Gracious holy living involves speaking and acting in love towards our neighbor. To act in love towards our neighbor is to speak kindly and respectfully, to listen carefully and attentively, to support them in their griefs and challenges, to confront them gently when they go off track, to keep our promises to one another and to not take advantage of any of them.
Gracious holy living requires us to ask ourselves: How can I lighten the burdens of those weighed down and share in others’ sorrows and pain? How can I be an agent of God for healing and helping someone else to become the best version of themselves? How can I encourage and upbuild those around me?
We have to monitor our degree of caring about others and express genuine concern for their well-being. For we can easily drift into callousness or indifference — as a woman named Pat, who worked in an emergency room as an intake processor for five years, did. Pat, without noticing it at first, had become insensitive to the people she was meant to serve. She noticed that she hadn’t been crying over their pain when she got off work and could think about them. Pat tells how God intervened and turned her around 180 degrees at one intake. She writes,
“I was taking information for registering a young woman who had overdosed on drugs and had attempted suicide. Her mother sat before me as I typed the information into the computer. The mother was unkempt and bleary eyed. She had been awakened in the middle of the night by the police to come to the hospital. She could only speak to me in a whisper.
“Hurry up, I said to myself, as she slowly gave me the information. My impatience was raw as I finished the report and jumped to the machine to copy the medical cards. That’s when God stopped me—at the copy machine. He spoke to my heart so clearly: ‘You didn’t even look at her. He repeated it, gently: You didn’t even look at her.’
“I felt his grief for her and for her daughter, and I bowed my head. I’m sorry, Lord. I am so sorry.
“I sat down in front of the distraught woman and covered her hands with mine. I looked into her eyes with all the love that God could flood through me and said, ‘I care. Don’t give up.’
“She wept and wept. She poured her heart out to me about the years of dealing with a rebellious daughter as a single mom. Finally, she looked up and thanked me. Me the coldhearted one with no feelings.
“My attitude changed that night. My Jesus came right into the workplace in spite of rules that tried to keep him out. He came in to set me free to care again. He gave himself to that woman through me. My God, who so loved the world, broke that self-imposed barrier around my heart. Now he could reach out, not only to me in my pain, but to a lost and hurting woman.”
To stay close to God, we need to let God in to love us as God loved Pat and return us to be genuinely caring about others.
Walk blamelessly … Speak the truth from your heart … Exhibit gracious holy living — Do these things and you will stay close to God and to the members of the family of God.