This written sermon has had additional information of interest added to illustrate the points made in the oral version. WNG
This morning I am going to attempt a short sermon. The late Peter Marshall, who was once chaplain of the United States Senate said, “No short sermon is a bad sermon.” Well, from one perspective that is true! Short is short. A short sermon gets you out of church on time! To quote Monroe Bowles, “The Preacher quits talking before the people quit listening.” From another perspective Marshall’s statement may not be true. The fact that a sermon is short does not guarantee it is worthy to be heard. Short sermons and speeches require more careful preparation than longer ones. President Woodrow Wilson was know for his speeches. A member of his cabinet asked him how long he needed to prepare a speech. He said, “It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for thou art the God of my
salvation; for thee I wait all the day long.
I want to lift up the word truth, for truth is the key word in our text. The Psalmist rightly assumes that it is not possible for him to know God’s ways and follow God’s paths unless he learns the truth that God want to teach him—and us.
God teaches us truth in many ways—ways far too numerous to count; but all these ways take just two forms.
I. Having given us eyes to see with, and ears to hear with, and the additional senses of smell, taste and touch, God teaches us through the world around us. This is Revelation in Nature, and the Bible affirms it. In Psalm 19, King David wrote, “The heavens and telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” And in Romans 1, St. Paul says that, “Ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” If you read Paul’s letters you know that his personal theology is worked out with his head in the Hebrew Bible and his feet planted firmly in the experience of this world, including his experience of the risen Christ.
The Psalmist “waited” on God’s truth. It is well he did. Patient observation is the key to learning the truth of nature’s revelation. Let me give a few examples.
A scientist—whether an astronomer or a physician, gathers the data, then sits with humility at the feet of the facts and watches and waits until the truth of things emerges. Likewise, philosophers, sociologists, psychologist and the like study people in our environment. They try to determine those factors that make for happiness—(Aristotle!) and success and those that make for heartbreak and failure. In the same way, a poet studies the world entire, and all its relationships and tries to discover and express in an economy words some small truth about the mystery that binds everything living thing together in harmony.
Ultimately, the truth that these seekers after truth discover is set down as a working hypothesis, which they call, “true,” and it remains true, until it is proven false. The wisest and best among us, know that it is not enough to know the truth—like the Psalmist, we must be “lead” by it.
Now the good news is that you don’t have to be a scientist or a philosopher to profit by the truth. My Grandmother Stout, my mother’s mother, was a prime example. She had eyes that could see, and ears that could hear, and she thought long and hard about what she saw and heard. She had the rare capacity to learn by experience, not just her own—many people can do that, but the experience of others. She never met anyone from whom she could not learn something, if only by way of a negative example. My Granny had a fourth grade education, worked for twelve dollars a week, and had a husband that was away much of the time hauling produce coast to coast, yet she raised six remarkable children. Two of them were the valedictorians of their high school classes, one of them had a distinguished career in the Air Force, one of them went to work at Western Electric, and became the only person ever to win two top awards for improving the efficiency of the plant where he worked, another traveled the world as a tour guide, and another raised two successful children of her own, and added immeasurably to the life of her nephew. My grandmother may not have known a lot by some standards; but she knew what she knew, and what she did not know; and she knew what was true, and what was false, and she lived by the truth she knew.
II. The first way that God teaches us by Revelation in Nature; the second is by the Special Revelation of Scripture. But most human beings are not satisfied with what we can see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and touch. We live in what Bonhoeffer called “the anxious middle.” We don’t know where we have come from or where we are going. Our lives are bound on one end by the womb and on the other end by the tomb and we want to know what is beyond both. We cannot see beyond the dark places that bracket our lives using telescopes, x-rays and cat scans. If we are to see into the darkness, the God from whom we have come and to whom we are going must reveal it to us.
Now the hymnist is right when he says that God is “…immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.” Yet, by faith, we believe that the immortal, invisible God who is hidden from us, has made God’s Self known. The written record of God’s revelation of God’s Self is found in the Bible. In the Bible God speaks and acts. God acted at the Red Sea, when he caused a strong east wind to blow all night, and the waters stood in a heap, and the children of Israel passed over on the dry ground. God spoke when he called Moses up to the top of the Mountain and gave him the Law.
God gave the Law that it might be “a lamp unto our feet. and a light unto our path.” It was the way to health, and wealth, and happiness and long life. Thus in Psalm 1 we read:
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; 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.
For the better part of 1,000 years the Law was the best word we had from God. But the Word of the Law was not the last word. In Galatians 3:24 St. Paul says that the Law is just the schoolmaster God used to lead us to Christ, that we might justified by faith in him. Revelation in Nature is progressive, or at least progressively understood. Stephen Hawking knows more about the night sky than King Davie, the author of Psalm 19. S God’ special revelation is also progressive. However, God’s Special Revelation reaches its apex in Jesus Christ. In Romans 10:4, St. Paul says that he is the “telos” of the Law, meaning he is both the goal of the law and the end of the law. Jesus t Christ is the last and best word about God and humankind and the about the truth God wants to teach us. Thus in John 1 we read, “The law was given through Moses, but Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Law tried to teach us the truth about life and how to live it. It did that. Unfortunately, in teaching us right from wrong and how to live, the law simultaneously condemned sin and failure. The Law has the power of condemnation; but it lacks the power to save those who sin and fall short of the glory God intended for us. The author of Psalm 25 prayed that God would not remember the sins of his youth; but he had no guarantees. Jesus Christ is the answer to his prayer, and the best guarantee we can get. In Romans 8:1 we read, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and death.” When you fall down, and can’t get up, “Who are you going to call?” Jesus alone guarantees us grace and truth, and the freedom of new beginnings. He meets us where we are, restores our feet to the path of life, and helps us beyond what words can tell. Many of you know what I am talking about.
Now let me return for a minute to the Psalm. The Psalmist asked God to make him know his “ways” and he asked God to teach him his “paths.” “Ways” and “paths,” both plural. There is in a sense in which we walk in multiple ways and and follow multiple paths. You path and my path may differ.
A member of the Renewed Church once said to Zinzendorf, “Is not this the greatest unity—to agree that (believing) souls think differently.”
“Yes,” the Count replied, “that is the real bond of unity.” “Nature is full of different creatures of different inclinations,” said Zinzendorf. “It is the same in the spiritual world; we must regard variety of thought as something beautiful.”
There are multiple ways and paths, and believer may enjoy a variety of choices, but there is only one Truth to lead us on those ways, and this truth is not a proposition but a person, the Person who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Jesus is is the way that encompasses all ways, the truth that sums up and takes into himself all truth, the life that never ceases to renew itself, and spread as by a divine and wonderful infection, from person to person. He is our Divine Companion!
We are talking about truth, let me leave you with this thought. I believe that God taught it to me, not from the Bible, but while I was watching Perry Mason on Netflix. In one episode, the greatest attorney who never lived considers a client who has been lying to him and says, “There are two people you must always tell the truth, your doctor and your lawyer; if you lie to either, it could cost you your life.”There is one other to whom we must not lie. That one is not God, we cannot lie to God, rather the one to whom we must not lie is our self. Unfortunately, we often do. It was Roger Ailes who co-founded Fox News who said, “The truth is that people don’t want to be informed, they just want to feel informed.” That is scary. The fact that we feel informed without really being informed, is the thing that threatens our future in this world more than anything else. If I have some disease like cancer, or diabetes, or heart disease, and don’t want to know the truth about it, I am at risk. If we live in the world and believe what we want to believe about our carbon footprint and global warming, and plastics in the ocean, and urban sprawl, and mass migrations of people, and ignore the real truth of these things, then our whole world is at risk. In the same way, if we belong in a church, and we celebrate its mediocrity and boast like the church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:17) that we are rich, and need nothing, know knowing that we are pitiable, poor, blind, and naked, then our church is at risk. There are two errors we make about the church. The first is that we can love it so much as it is, that we fail to work toward all that it might be. The second is that we work for what it might be so much, that we fail to love it as it is.
But don’t get hung up on these examples. Remember the main thing, which is “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” The truth frees us from error and heartbreak and empowers us for successful living. The only question for most of us is, “Can we handle the truth?”
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.