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Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Psalm 112; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Mark 5:22-43
A Sermon on Psalm 112
How would you describe a good person? What behaviors would they practice? Psalm 112 is one of wisdom, a psalm for giving direction on living a holy life, like the proverbs or ecclesiastes, and praising God for the existence of the righteous person.
The psalmist begins by declaring that there is blessing for those who fear God and obey him, because they love the goodness God’s law directs them to. The righteous person is not someone who just does good things. A righteous person is one whose life has been changed by the love of God, and because of that God’s life flows through theirs. When God loves us and we love God back, our lives will begin to be conformed to the divine pattern, looking more and more like God’s life. We are not saved by obedience, but saved by grace, which is then given life and expression through obedience.
This Psalm tells us what the redeemed life will look like: an embodiment of God’s life. The previous psalm, 111, is almost identical to this one in pattern; the only difference is in subject. 111 speaks of God and the way he is; 112 speaks of the righteous person, and the characteristics all are embodiments of the divine righteousness, practicing them in the world.
The psalm begins by exclaiming the goodness of God in blessing the one who obeys. But obedience to God needs to be understood properly; we think of following laws as avoiding harm: obey the law or be punished. That is not primarily what God intends when he gives us commands, though; God’s intention is that we desire to follow the laws laid out because they are of benefit for us. The psalmist says they are blessed who “delight” in God’s commandments, seeing them as freeing rather than restricting.
It is our desires, then, that are misdirected, and our desires that must change, or living in obedience will be impossible. Every good thing that this psalm says about the righteous person is true of God first, directed towards us. God is merciful, loving, and righteous; God gives to us, who are poor; God is steadfast.
Because God is all of these things, we are able to turn to him. God has been gracious to us and shown us mercy, so we are able to believe in God, trust God, fear God properly, not because he seeks to destroy us, but the fear of loving respect. When we embrace the way God has loved us, we are able to see that his commandments are good, and we are able to live them out in our own lives.
How is this possible?
First, through Jesus Christ who is righteous, who perfectly fulfills this psalm. It is he who makes it possible for us to live righteously, because we, united to him, sharing in his life, have our hearts and desires transformed by the Holy Spirit.
When we experience mercy, we are enabled and even empowered to show mercy ourselves. When someone shows us love, we can show love back, and to others besides.
Kids, I want you to imagine the first day of school. It can be a bit scary, especially when you begin at a new school, or go from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school, or when your class changes. One of the hardest parts is making new friends. When you start, it can feel very lonely, but then, you find someone, maybe two, who show you kindness. They don’t ignore you, or make fun of you, but they talk to you and play with you. That makes you feel valued, and cared for. And that makes it easier for you to talk to someone else who might be lonely, to show them that they matter too! That is how we should feel when we understand that God loves us, more perfectly than anyone else ever could. Because God loves us, we can love others!
Our obedience, according to this Psalm, looks like the character of God. Living righteously means we have to reject the sinful things our flesh may desire. We have to say no to manipulating and using power over others, to spending our lives on frivolous wants, to seeking our vices. Living righteously means showing mercy instead of anger. That includes those who disagree with us politically, those who may have wronged us, and those who mock our faith. Living righteously means giving generously to the needy because you too are needy! Do you have much? Do you have little? Either way, be generous as much as you can, because God has been abundantly generous with you. The righteous person does not have to be afraid of evil news, whether pandemics, political upheaval, economic downturn, or war. The righteous person is steadfast, because God is trustworthy, and no matter what happens in this life, the abundant riches of heaven is our inheritance.
Our world tells us that we should desire our own freedom above all else, meaning that nothing will stop me from what I want to do. Scripture, and this Psalm, tell us that obedience to the commands of God is true freedom, because when you know you have promises that are are forced, it isn’t choice.
One of the most poignant moments in all of literature illustrates this. It is early in the book Les Miserables. The main character, Jean Valjean, is just released from 19 years of hard labor because he stole a piece of bread when he was young. He is bitter, hardened, angry, and violent. Sleeping on the streets, he is taken in by a priest for the night. Valjean proceeds to steal his silverware and run. When he is caught and brought back to the priest’s house, the priest does not condemn him to the police, but rather pretends that he gave him the silverware, and even says “ah, you forgot the two silver candlesticks!” This moment transforms Jean Valjean. Having experienced mercy, he goes on to be an honorable man, who exemplifies mercy, righteousness, and charity, even when persecuted for his criminal past.
It will not be easy to be righteous. As the psalm ends, it points out that the wicked will see and be angry; but whatever they can do to us is ultimately only a gnashing of teeth, because evil with wither away, and our “righteousness will endure forever,” and “our horn exalted with honor.”
I will summarize to conclude.
- You are not saved by obedience, but by God in Jesus Christ.
- God’s mercy and generosity, when fully grasped and received, is the empowerment for you to live righteously as God is righteous.
- Living righteously is to be steadfast through struggle, gracious, merciful, and generous. It is to see that God in Christ has given life for you, and therefore your doubt, your fear, your anger, and your greed all died on that Cross with Jesus, and now leave you truly free, free of the bonds of your flesh and of worldly power.
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