Righteousness Endures - Sermon for Epiphany 5A (Psalm 112)
Back in the day, when I was in high school, we often sang this happy song at Bible Study. It goes like this:
It’s a happy day and I thank God for the weather.
It’s a happy day and I’m living it for my Lord.
It’s a happy day and things are gonna get better,
Living each day by the promises in God’s Word. (Gary Pfeiffer)
There’s a second verse to the song that talks about having a grumpy day because we’re living it for ourselves instead of the Lord. I’m going to forgo singing that verse and stick with the happy verse. I will say this, both verses talk about the weather, which leads me to believe that the songwriter lived in Southern California near the beach.
The Psalmist has called on us to “Praise the Lord” because “happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.” So, are you happy?
There’s another happy song that you may have learned at some point in time. That song invites us to clap our hands if we’re happy and we know it. You can also stomp your feet and a bunch of other things, if you’d like, but you might want to wait until later!
The Psalmist connects happiness to the fear of the Lord. That declaration builds off the previous Psalm that closes with the words: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10) So, here’s my question: what do you make of this linking of happiness and wisdom with the fear of the Lord? Can you clap your hands to that revelation?
Like me, you might have a problem with the word “fear,” especially since we live in an age of fear. Fear often leads to polarization and even violence. It can put up walls between people. When fear takes hold of us, we tend to circle the wagons and embrace an “us vs. them” mentality. The other becomes the enemy. So, is this the pathway to happiness? Of course, when Scripture speaks of the fear of the Lord, we should probably hear the words revere, respect, and awe.
The Psalmist also connects our happiness to delighting in God’s commandments. In case you’re wondering, I think we can start with the commandments to love God with our entire being and love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). If the command to love is the key to the life of faith, we might want to bring into the conversation this word from 1 John 4, which reads: “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18). If 1 John is correct, then perhaps we can say with confidence that happy are those who revere the Lord and delight in the commandments of God, which call on us to make love our priority.
Psalm 112 is categorized as a Wisdom Psalm. The very first Wisdom Psalm is Psalm 1, which opens with the words:
1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper. (Ps. 1:1-3).
This is the way of God’s wisdom. It is the way of happiness. So, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
There is a refrain that marks this Psalm. It declares that “righteousness will endure forever.” This morning’s reading ended with verse nine, which declares that “their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.” Since the word “horn” is a bit confusing, we might want to go with the Common English Bible, which translates that last line as “their strength increases gloriously.” That’s a good way to end a song that speaks of happiness. If you walk in the way of righteousness---if you live a life of justice, of love, and humility (Mic. 6:8) ---then your strength will increase gloriously.
While the Psalms and other Wisdom texts often speak of the material blessings that come to those who embrace the way of Wisdom, in reality, that doesn’t always happen. There is a presupposition present in many of these texts that suggest that if we do the right thing, then good things should follow. There is some truth here, but it’s not the complete truth. Unfortunately, sometimes the wicked do prosper and the good folks suffer. Nevertheless, this is a word of hope. According to the Psalmist, the way of righteousness will, in the end, bear fruit. As the Psalmist puts it: “For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.” Therefore, they’re not “afraid of evil tidings,” because “their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord” (Ps. 112:6). So, put your trust in the Lord, because “righteousness endures forever.”
When it comes to the wicked, their path will not succeed. That is the message found in the tenth verse of Psalm 112. The lectionary creators left this verse as an option, and I wavered back and forth about whether to include it. In the end, I decided to have us end the Scripture reading on a happy note. Nevertheless, the tenth verse makes an important point: “the desire of the wicked comes to nothing” (Ps. 112:10).
So, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
During this season of Epiphany, we’ve been hearing the message that God’s light is shining into the world. While the Psalm only mentions light briefly, the appointed reading from the Gospel of Matthew goes into more detail. Jesus says to the audience gathered around him:
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Mt. 5:14-16).
May our lives be a sermon to the world, so that it might experience the light of God.
Last week I spoke about the way we might use social media in a way that brings light to the world. This morning, I thought we might reflect on our relationship with God’s creation. For a number of years, we observed Evolution Sunday, which lifts up the relationship of science and faith. I’ve even published a book titled Worshiping with Charles Darwin that explores that relationship. Although we’re not listed among the Evolution Weekend participants this year, the Psalm does give us an opportunity to consider our relationship with the created order. The Psalmist calls on the worshiping community to care for the poor. Climate scientists tell us that the poor of this world will be the first to experience the effects of climate change, as the temperature rises, glaciers melt, the sea level rises, deserts expand, and crops fail.
This month’s Troy-area Interfaith Group meeting invited us to consider the relationship between our faith and the way we treat the earth. We watched several short videos that highlighted ways in which people of faith are addressing this challenge. They range from installing solar panels on church roofs to distributing energy-efficient light bulbs. We also heard from different faith communities about how their tradition honors the earth. We were reminded of the challenges that human activity poses to the earth. Our leader for the evening, who is a recent college graduate, told us that by 2050, the median temperature in Troy will rise by over five degrees. That will make the climate in Troy the equivalent of Southern Illinois. So, if you like your current weather you might want to think about migrating north to the Upper Peninsula. The good news is that righteousness endures forever, but this will involve action on our part.
The Psalmist tells us that happy are those who revere the Lord and delight in God’s commandments, including that command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In doing this we can be a light that shines into the world so that the world might see the glory of God through our works. So, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
February 9, 2019