Sunday, August 12, 2007

Fear's the Way You Die, Part I

Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Our youth minister, Roger, presented a fantastic sermon a couple of Sundays ago. Here is the bulk of it. Great stuff! We've been studying the Psalms this summer and Roger was preaching on Psalm 37.

…In studying the commentaries about this psalm, I was surprised at how many of the writers found this psalm to be a bad psalm, or at least a lesser psalm. Psalm 37 was described as an unsatisfactory “pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye” response to the question of evil. Do not fret about evildoers getting away with their bad deeds – God will get them in the end and will reward you, too, by the way. It is presented as a whiney, petulant, life’s not fair, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix kind of way.

All of the commentators point out that Psalm 37 is one of the nine acrostic poems in the Book of Psalms… The commentators complain that the verses are therefore contrived, are lacking in theological structure for the sake of the poetical structure (which they further discount as a mere memory aid), and are at best a random collection of wisdom sayings of some old guy probably attached to Solomon’s court.

I was frankly stunned. The criticisms reminded me of the arguments folks have made about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – that Matthew merely gathered a large collection of Jesus’ teachings and threw them together with minimal thought of how they might provide a cohesive sermon.

You’ve heard the arguments – “No one can live up to the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount! These are surely teachings for the coming reign of God or when we all get to heaven or at least until we all join a convent or monastery and not longer have to interact with this world!” As you know, I find these arguments unconvincing given Jesus’ wrap up the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says,

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Clearly Jesus intends us to put these teachings into practice. Glen Stassen’s book, Living the Sermon on the Mount is subtitled, A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance. He clearly doesn’t think these teachings are impractical for us and apply to monastic folk alone.

I often quote Michael Westmoreland White, who says he can’t imagine being in heaven and having to deal with folks striking him on the right cheek, or suing him for his clothing, or forcing him to carry a military pack for a mile. I do however think the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount have to do with the coming reign of God. I believe the reign of God is here all around us and the teachings of Jesus show us how to participate in God’s reign.

By Roger, but wait! There's more!


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