February 24, 2013

My Sermon Today at Van Hornesville United Methodist: The Lord’s Level Path

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(This window at Vans Hornsville United Methodist Church in New York was presented by Civil War veterans.)

The Lord’s Level Path

Psalm 127

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked advance against me
to devour[a] me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
3 Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
6 Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path (or level path)
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.
13 I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

This Psalm magnificently describes the confidence we are to have in The Lord no matter the adversity. Psalms are traditionally ascribed to King David, who was both saint and egregious sinner, a warrior and a poet, who was plucked as a boy from obscurity by God’s prophet to become the greatest king of God’s chosen people, creating the Kingdom from which would emerge God’s only Son and the Savior of the whole world. The Psalmist reflects David’s own continuous adversity battles and sufferings, alongside his great triumphs. They reflect his agony, his longing, his hope, his coldly realistic expectation of unending attacks against him, and also his endless faith that His Lord alone offered true protection, true comfort, true love amid the hatreds of this world. Only the Lord’s level, straight, holy path leads forward to life abundant and life eternal. Here the Psalmist, i.e. King David, speaks not just for himself but for all of God’s people, both the ancient Hebrews, and God’s eventual Church, and he speaks even for God’s only Son, who in His ultimate moment upon the Cross, felt forsaken yet knew His Father watched over Him and was leading Him forward, even then in His utter agony, on the true level path.

Genesis 15: 1-12

15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,[a]
your very great reward.[b]”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi[e] of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—

Here The Lord offers the original patriarch of His chosen people a tremendous promise regarding the providential destiny of Abraham’s descendants. Although he was a childless old man seemingly without a country or a future, God spoke down from the Heavens to this obscure nomad of ostensibly little importance and told him that his people would become God’s own most cherished people, a great nation, whom God would use like no other, who would be tormented and enslaved but ultimately delivered gloriously in a rescue that would be recalled for all eternity. And in the sacrifice The Lord asks Abraham to perform, there is a dim but unmistakable foreshadowing of Abraham’s most momentous descendant, who would be God’s own Son, whose own sacrifice and shed blood would remit the sins of the whole world. What a stupendous level and straight path The Lord set before Abraham his servant! God was going to honor him by making him a partner in the redemption of humanity, by making Abraham in effect an in-law to God, as both would be fathers of sorts to the coming Redeemer, Jesus Christ. The Lord promises Abraham long life and a peaceful death, but this promise seems almost anti climatic compared to the far more incredible promises and prophecies that are revealed by God to His blessed servant.

Luke 13: 31-35

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[a]”

Here the Pharisees are trying to intimidate Jesus with threats from Herod. Jesus, the descendant of King David and Abraham the patriarch, of course is not intimidated. He knows well the level, straight path that His Father as prepared for Him. It is not a pleasant path but rather is strewn with sorrows. Yet Jesus unhesitatingly keeps to it, never swaying from His Father’s purposes, and knowing fully that the destiny and salvation of all humanity rests upon His faithfulness. He knows He will die and where He will die, and by whom. Yet he mourns for the people of Jerusalem who will soon call for His death. He would prefer that they gather to Him and His love. Instead, they will torment Him, just as David and Abraham were tormented, but Jesus’ sufferings would far exceed what any of His ancestors ever experienced. All of their sufferings merely foreshadowed in a small way what Jesus would endure by the rejection of His own people, His passion and crucifixion, and most painfully of all, the rejection of Him by His Father while He became a sin offering on the Cross, substituting Himself for the sins of all, that all might have life.

Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

In this final Scripture for today, Jesus’ greatest apostle is himself on the Lord’s level and straight path. That path is strewn with trouble and persecutions, as it was for Abraham, David, and Jesus Himself, but Paul knowns it leads unerringly Heavenward. Unlike Abraham and David, and like His Savior, Paul would follow the Lord’s path straight to his own martyrdom at the hands of Rome. As a man, Paul must have at times trembled. But as an apostle of The Lord Jesus he refused to step away from the path before him, determined to finish the race, knowing the things of this world will pass away, and that the citizenship of all saints is in Heaven. He also knows that this earth will ultimately be reclaimed and transformed by Jesus Christ, who will establish His Heavenly city on earth in the last days, and who will raise all the bodies of His saints to a glorious resurrection, just as Jesus Himself was resurrected. Paul admonishes and encourages us at the same time, as fellow followers of Jesus, who are Paul’s dear friends, and his joy and even crown, to STAND FIRM!

Are we prepared to stand firm, to keep to the Lord’s level and straight path, no matter the troubles ahead, even persecutions? Can we have the confidence, hope and love that Abraham, David, Jesus and Paul lavishly, faithfully demonstrated, trusting in the Heavenly Father even as they each suffered far more than any of us will ever likely endure?

Remember that King David, the Psalmist, speaking also for Abraham, Jesus and Paul, sought only one thing from the Lord, that he would dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, forever, and forever. This promise to them we have also, of eternal life with Him, and life more abundant, if we keep to His level and straight path. Amen.

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