May the Words of My Mouth….

Psalm 19

September 16, 2018

The Rev’d. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, MA

 

1 The heavens declare the brillianceof God, *
and the firmament shows thehandiwork of its Author.

2 One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3 Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,

4 Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.

5 In the deep has the divineset a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its warmth.

 

7 The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8 The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight,
O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

Every Sunday, at least every Sunday when I am preaching, this last verse from this morning’s psalm 19 precedes my sermon. Every time. I always begin this way because it frames my fundamental hope for every homily. It says that the message to be offered from both my lips and my heart is offered on behalf of God; God’s wordis the word that matters. Because God is the rock on which we stand, and the redeemer who lifts us to our fullest stature. Everything we are, we are because God brought us into being to do God’s work in the world. And so, my mouth belongs to God and my prayer is that every utterance will be to God’s liking.

This short prayer is the foundation upon which I build every sermon. Regardless of the topic. And it is a good short stand-alone statement. But a couple of times a year, when Psalm 19 is appointed in the lectionary, we get to hear this pithy little mission statement in its context. And for me, that amplifies and expands its power exponentially.

C.S. Lewis call Psalm 19, “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”  It is short. It covers roughly all of the bases generally addressed in the five books of the Pentateuch. And it is jam-packed with theology.

It is divided into two almost distinct parts. The first 6 verses address Creation. The glory of God in the created world. In this section, the word for the divine in the Hebrew is el, as in Elohim. God the giver of Creation. But beginning in verse 7, the word for the divine in the Hebrew changes to YHWH, God the giver of the Law. And the subject changes from creation to torah, God’s Law, God’s Wisdom.

And so this short 14 verse psalm is a microcosm of the torahitself, the five central books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Like Genesis, this psalm begins with God’s creation. The heavens as the firmament. The day and the night. The sun and all that is warmed by its rays, which is to say everything; for nothing is hidden from the warmth of God’s sun says the psalm. Just like Genesis. And then the psalm turns to the glory of God’s Law and God’s power of redemption as in the books of Exodus and Numbers and Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Psalm 19 could be characterized as a micro torah.

And from my lips to your ears, and acceptable in God’s sight, it is well worth keeping on speed dial!

The first six verses set the stage. They remind us in no uncertain terms, that God is bigger than we are. That God is capable of anything, and the proof is in the pudding. Don’t trust my word, says the psalmist, just take a look at the world in which you exist. God created that.  And despite God’s big picture handiwork, God neverloses track of us individually, personally. Nothing escapes the warmth of God’s sun.

And that is the Good News in this psalm. That in the dankest regions of our darkest nights; in the places where we are hard pressed to find our faith or maintain our hope; when we feel overwhelmed, underprepared, out of our depth, deep in the weeds, thoroughly discouraged, enveloped by despair, afraid, ashamed, a failure, a fraud, alone. When we have no idea how we will get through this night, the psalmist reminds us that both the day andthe night belong to God and once this night is over it will befollowed by another day. And in that day, the warmth of the sun will find us. Where ever we are. However far we have strayed.

The first six verses of this short, short psalm are a sort of pastoral panacea. They remind us that we are the miraculous work of God’shands; the same hands that created the heavens and the earth the night and the day, and the ever rising sun.

I invite you to close your eyes now (if you like) and to unburden your heart;  hear these first six verses in the context of whatever weight you are carrying this morning. It is poetry for your soul.

The heavens recount the glory of God, *
and the sky declares our Creator’shandiwork.

2 One day pours out the word to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3 Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,

4 Their sound has flowed out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.

5 In the deep has the divineset a place for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its warmth.

 

I especially like that last part:

 In the deep has the divinest a place for the sun…. nothing is hidden from its warmth

I hear that phrase “the deep” as the depth of my own suffering. In the deep of my own angst the Creator has set a place for divine healing and warmth by way of a celestial orb that will never burn out.

This is the context in which I hope to set every sermon. In this context that God’s Word might flow with or without my words.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight.

From the beginning of this psalm is the clear declaration that all of creationis witness to the brilliance of its Creator; the gloryof God. The heavens recount the glory of God.

I confess that the word glory (overused in my mind in many Christian circles) never really moved me. That is until I read Frederick Beuncher’s interpretive definition. He writes in his small gem of a book “Wishful Thinking,”: Glory is to God what style is to an artist. A painting by Vermeer, a sonnet by Donne, a Mozart aria each is so rich with the style of the one who made it that to the connoisseur it couldn’t have been made by anybody else, and the effect is staggering. The style of artists brings you as close to the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes as it is possible to get this side of actually shaking hands with them.[1]The gloryof God is the quality of God’s handiwork; and so it could only have been done by God. Glory is God’s signature style. It is the thing that makes the works of God indubitably, unquestionably, absolutely from God….alone.

And so in this psalm creation itselfsings of God’s glory.

Weneed not prove that there is a God says the psalmist. God’s creation is proof enough; witness enough that only God could have created it. The heavens recount the brilliance, the glory of God.

Weneed not convince each other that every day is both brand new and bigger than our own imaginations, our own conversations and cares. One day pours out God’s word to another.

Weneed not talk about God’s consistency or abundance or ability to find us where ever we may try to hide. In the deep has the divine set a pavilion for the sun….and nothing is hidden from its heat.

This psalm lets us off the hook with respect to proving that there is a God….but then in the second part it puts us onthe hook, holds our feet to the fire, to live according to the law of the one who created us; the one who created everything. Creation proves God’s existence and the character of God’s Word, and the Law tells us that we are born to live according to that Word.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8 The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.

9 The awesomeness of the Lord is clean and endures forever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, *

This psalm suggests a powerful corrective force in this world; a force that yearns for, and arcs toward, and insists on integrity. A world that is made by God and belongs to God should act in ways that are acceptable in God’s sight. The heavens do. The day and the night do. The sun does.

And so, then, must the rest of God’s Creation, including God’s featherless bi-peds.

Someone once said that wisdom is knowing the right path and integrity is taking it. Psalm 19 offers us the wisdom and then beckons us to the integrity. It says: look around you and then live as though you were part of the plan, the plan that includes the heavens and the rhythm of time and the eternal rising of the sun; live as though you were intended for such beauty and marvelousness…..because you are. Each one of us a piece of God’s outrageously creative Word.

And so in the very last line the psalmist cannot help but pray for the integrity to live as she was created to live:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart

Be ever acceptable in your sight

O God my rock and my redeemer.

Amen.

 

© September, 2018, The Rev’d. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

[1]http://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2016/9/18/glory?rq=psalm%2019

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