Proclaiming God’s Glory - A Sermon for Pentecost 18A (Psalm 19)
Today is World Communion Sunday, and in my theology of the Table, Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, encounters us in this meal. Psalm 19 speaks of other encounters with God, both in the silent voices of the heavens and in the words of Scripture. Together the heavens, Scripture, and the Table proclaim the glory of God. So, what word from God are you hearing in these voices?
The Psalmist declares that “the heavens are telling the glory of God.” Or as Michael Morgan’s version announces:
The heav’ns unfold your glory, Lord/ In every realm of space/ The outmost bounds of all that is/ Resound your wondrous grace [The Psalter for Christian Worship, p. 29].
The Psalmist also declares that the “Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” Or, in the words of Michael Morgan: “Your Word is sure and perfect still, a source of light and life.” The lectionary’s Old Testament reading for today comes from Exodus 20, which reveals the commandments of God, which the Psalmist declares are more desirable than fine gold and sweeter than honey in the honeycomb. In keeping them there is great reward.
So what is God saying to you today?
What word are you hearing from the silent witness of the heavens? John Calvin suggested that “when we behold the heavens, we cannot but be elevated by the contemplation of them” [Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, Kindle loc. 5406]. In reflecting on the words of the Psalm and Calvin’s interpretation, my mind goes back to the time I worked on property up in the mountains east of Klamath Falls. During those weeks spent in the mountains alone, the closest humans lived about ten miles down the road. So, when I looked into the sky far from any source of light, it seemed as if the moon and stars were close enough that I could reach out and touch them. It was as if the heavens resounded with God’s glory, so I think Calvin was on to something.
When it comes to listening to Scripture, what do you hear? Thomas Aquinas wrote concerning the message of the Psalm that “human law draws (man) away from exterior things, but the divine law turns the heart to God; and so he says ‘it converts’, not only exterior acts, but souls as well.” [St Thomas Commentary on Psalm 19-18]. In other words, human laws can deter inappropriate behavior, but divine law, which we find in the Torah or Scripture, changes hearts.
When it comes to hearing words of wisdom from God in Scripture, I found Sandhya Jha’s recently published devotional book, Liberating Love, intriguing. She begins each day’s reflection with an excerpt from Scripture and then offers a reflection that is placed in the mouth of God. In doing this she follows a pattern we find throughout Scripture, with prophets using the first person singular to speak for God. It’s a bit audacious but effective.
While she doesn’t make use of Psalm 19, I thought I might share the reflection for October 4 that’s taken from Matthew 5. In this passage, Jesus encourages us to be reconciled with one another before bringing our offering to the altar. This is how Sandhya interprets that passage for us:
My Son was reminding you, and the generations before and after you, that an offering to me is of little value if it comes amidst conflict and hostility. When you right the wrongs you have created, when you restore relations with someone you have harmed, that in and of itself is the offering I desire, and then I will be able to celebrate your gift to me. Know that this can be a lifelong journey. Know that I am with you at every step you are in that process, and I will keep carrying you forward. [Liberating Love, p. 278].
That is truly a word of wisdom for our day, and in it we hear the converting glory of God present in a word of grace.
When we come to the Lord’s Table, whether it’s World Communion Sunday or the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, these simple elements of bread and juice reveal the presence of Jesus to us. In the act of consecrating the elements and in our partaking of them, the service of Holy Communion proclaims the glory of God by reminding us not only of Jesus’ death on the cross but his resurrection as well. When we gather at the Table we encounter the Living Christ.
When we come to the Table we encounter the one whom the Gospel of John calls the Word of God incarnate. It is the Word of God revealed in Jesus that revives our souls and makes us wise. It is this same Word of God that the hymn we find in Philippians 2 celebrates. After acknowledging that Jesus humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, and taking a path that led to the cross, God “highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:6-11).
This is the one whom we encounter at the Table today and every time we gather at the Table. So, what is God saying to you and to me this day? What Word is being proclaimed in the heavens, in Scripture, and at Table?
As we ponder this question, may “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Dr. Robert Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Pentecost 18A/World Communion Sunday
October 4, 2020