Making an Agreement with God (and One Another)15th Sunday after Pentecost
What drives you? How are you led? Is your motivation primarily internal or external? What keeps you grounded? Again, is that primarily internal or external?
Psalm 119, the longest Psalm with 176 verses, is the basis for our call to worship today, Lord teach us how your orders direct us to live. It’s unfortunate that we cannot hear that each of the 22 stanzas begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Psalmist celebrates the law, for he has found the law to be his source of strength and understanding.
We view the law as rigid, a written code for conduct and behaviour. We see the law as external rules to be followed, not as our internal motivation. Listen to these verses 33-40 from Psalm 119 that reflect the Psalmist’s prayer,
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.
Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.
See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.
The Psalmist uses different terms to describe the law: God’s statutes, God’s law, God’s decrees, God’s commandments, God’s ways, God’s promise, God’s ordinances, and God’s precepts. How does this movement from external to internal happen for us? Throughout the Psalms, we find some of the ways.
“… on his law (we) meditate day and night.” 1:2
“I bless the Lord in the night…I keep the Lord always before me…”16:7-8
“In my distress, I called to the Lord, to my God, I cried for help.” 18:6
“I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry.” 40:1
“I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord. I will remember the wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work and muse on your mighty deeds.” 77:12
These become the ways we find God as the internal component of our life and faith that grounds us. The Matthew passage we read reminds us of the external conflict that often diminishes or upends our inner strength. Matthew 18 begins with an instruction about protecting the vulnerable: a child in their midst, not being a stumbling block to other people, the lost sheep who have gone astray, and reclaiming those persons. Then we come to that one who causes conflict. Matthew details a process that talks to follow to restore a person, a relationship, and even a community.
Matthew’s passage ends with “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst.” This is not about a worship service that’s poorly attended which is how the situation might be interpreted. It is instead an affirmation that even two or three are worth reclaiming and protecting. Conflict often derails us, and we lose sight of the internal strength and wisdom of God that leads us to restore relationships.
Is our heart like a newspaper that is full of conflict, advertisements, filled with human interest stories, or is our heart like a treasure chest where we find the courage to face our fears and the wisdom to find God’s love as the internal component of our life and faith?
In Romans 13, we return to Christ’s insistence that the law is about love. This chapter begins with “Owe no one anything except to love one another. One who loves has fulfilled the Law.” When the law of love becomes internalized, we find our true source of strength.