Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Word of God is Our Light and Strength” (Psalm 119:129-136)
July 30, 2017
Two Christmases ago, we visited my family in New York. During our visit, my mother informed me the reckoning had arrived and I needed to “claim my junk” she had been kindly holding since I moved out of her house, almost ten years ago. Thankfully, I didn’t have much left. Some old jerseys and trophies, some embarrassing photos from high school, and some books. The box of books was an odd library of my entire life. The first book I ever read on my own was in there, a boxcar children mystery, books from high school and college, and a couple of Bibles. One caught my eye because I honestly thought I lost it. It’s this Bible in my hand. It was part of the evangelical subculture of every age, stage, and demographic gets their own Bible. This is the “Adventure Bible” New International Version. The inside page reads, “Are you looking for adventure? Are you eager to discover God’s Word and apply it to your life? Then the Adventure Bible is designed especially for you.” As I sat thumbing through this Bible from my childhood, in my mom’s musty basement surrounded by other tossed aside relics from my youth, I broke down into tears. I cried because I found the date of when I was given the Bible, December 18th, 1993. A few months later, my parents would divorce and I would experience my real first taste of spiritual darkness and weakness. We’ll come back to me sobbing in the basement shortly.
I need to lay a little foundation before we proceed into the sermon. The Psalms are unique amongst the books of Scripture. They are not laws, wise sayings, systematic doctrines, or historical narrative. They are poetry. They are less concerned with doctrine and more concerned with shaping how we should feel about whatever subject the Psalm is addressing. Here you are invited into feeling what the biblical authors are saying. As C. S. Lewis put it, “Poetic language often expresses emotion not for its own sake but in order to inform us about the object which aroused the emotion.” (“Language of Religion” in Christian Reflections, 132.) The Psalms shape us because they are prayers the people of God have prayed for centuries. They form us in our view of God and how we are to live and believe not what we are to live and believe. Further, Jesus loved the Psalms quoting them more than any other book of the Bible. So let us see how God is shaping our view of his Word in today’s Psalter passage.
God’s word is a light to show us Christ
Throughout Psalm 119 there are comparisons between the Word of God and light. One of the more famous ones is from verse 105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” In our passage today we said, “When your word goes forth it gives light…” This language of going forth is translated in multiple other versions as “unfolding,” so “The unfolding of your words gives light.” The Hebrew that gets translated as “goes forth” is referring to a “door” or “opening.” We can envision it this way, which is really what the Psalmist is inviting us to do. We are invited to not just ponder a proposition but meditate on poetry. We should envision being in a dark room. We fumble around for the light switch, a flashlight, maybe some matches but find nothing. Finally, growing scared of the darkness and unknown around us, our hand catches something. We grab onto it and twist, a door gives way and light floods into the room. As it does, we see where the switch was and how we had gone right pass it multiple times. The Bible, according to the Psalmist, is like our door. As we open it, the light of God’s word floods our hearts and minds and we learn more about God, Jesus, the world, ourselves, and others. We learn about the great acts of redemption that God has always been working in our world. We learn about our sinfulness and Christ’s work on the cross. Very important for Episcopalians, we learn about how God wants to be worshipped.
Without the light of God’s Word we would not have our much beloved Book of Common Prayer. Our liturgy is broken into two parts, the word of God and Holy Communion. But Holy Communion isn’t absent of the Word of God. It takes everything we just read and heard and now give it to us to touch and taste. The words of institution where the Priest tells us of the bread and wine are taken from the gospel accounts and Paul’s teaching on the last supper. Part of the Holy Communion liturgy is reciting the Lord’s Prayer, which of course is from Scripture. Let us be comforted that the way we worship here every Sunday is in the light of God’s word and that we are moving from a place of darkness to light each and every Sunday as we hear God’s word in our services.
God’s word is our strength when we are weak.
Light is not the only poetic device employed in this Psalm and shaping how we view the word of God. Verses 133 and 134, describe protection and redemption as functions of God’s word. The great German biblical scholar Franz Delitzsch translated verse 133 this way, “Establish my steps by Thy word.” Psalm 119 is shaping our hearts and minds to love God’s word more. It shapes us here to trust that the word of God is there for us in times of trouble or temptation, by being steady, established in the word of God. We see this modeled in the life of Jesus. After his baptism, Jesus goes out into the wilderness where he gets in a showdown with the devil. The devil gets into a Scripture reciting competition with the living word of God and no surprise, he loses. When Satan offers him food, Jesus reminds him that the word of God is all he needs. When he offers him to test God, Jesus reminds him the folly of testing God. When he offers him power in exchange for worship, Jesus quotes back Deuteronomy 6, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
When your day of temptation comes, will your feet be established in the word of God? When trials come, do you know to turn to the Bible for comfort, hope, and direction? J. C. Ryle the famous 19th century Anglican Bishop encouraged others with these words, “I want people to fill their minds with passages of Scripture while they are well and strong, that they may have sure help in the day of need. I want them to be diligent in studying their Bibles, and becoming familiar with their contents, in order that the grand old Book may stand by them and talk with them when all earthly friends fail.” I want us, notice I need this as much as you, to be grounded in God’s word so that when trials and temptations come, we are saturated in the living and active word of God so that we will be strengthened and encouraged to endure in that day.
One brief comment, since this is a sermon about a doctrine of the Bible I think I need to say something about how the Bible is used. In our culture, we see many use the Bible inappropriately. In the 2010 movie “The Book of Eli,” Denzel Washington’s character, Eli, is carrying a Bible, possibly the only one left, across post-apocalyptic America. He is trying to get it to the last existing library in the world. He gets stuck in a town run by a corrupt and power hungry man played by Gary Oldman. Once, Oldman’s character discovers what the book is, he puts all his resources into getting it. When Eli escapes, Oldman is yelling at his gang for not understanding the significance of what they just lost, “IT’S A WEAPON! A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them. If we want to rule more than one small town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they’ll do exactly what I tell ’em if the words are from the book. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. All we need is that book.” The Holy Word of God is described as a weapon. Paul calls it a sword (Eph 6:17), the author of Hebrews says the word of God is, “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). The word of God is a weapon, but not of oppression. It is not meant to beat you into submission, it is meant for your flourishing. In the passages just mentioned, it is a weapon against darkness, sin, spiritual battles, and Satan’s attacks. It can hurt when it exposes our sinfulness but it heals by telling us of the one who forgives sins, Jesus Christ. If you are here today and haven’t picked up a Bible in years because you were beaten with it instead of comforted by it, I am sorry. Know that here we love the Word of God too much to use it so poorly. We love Jesus too much to distort the Scriptures he loved. We love you and I would invite you to meet with Fr. Dave or myself to go through it and hear the healing, gracious love of God found in Scripture.
There I am crying in my mother’s musty basement surrounded by the relics of my youth. I am holding the Bible I got when I was seven and reflecting on everything that had gone wrong in my family. I felt sad, angry, and weak because I was a remembering what it was like to be a kid and not have any control about what was happening in my life. On the inside cover are my mom, dad, and grandma’s favorite Bible verses. Throughout the pages are random highlights, sloppy underlining, and notes in the illegible handwriting of a seven year old. Halfway through the Bible, in Psalm 119, there is a verse that is highlighted, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (v. 105). Light and Strength, this sermon has been how the Word of God is our light and strength. My childhood wasn’t all darkness and weakness, my church taught me to love and value God’s word. I memorized it in Sunday School classes and youth group. I learned to love spending time in it from my mom and grandma. When I was messing around with alcohol and drugs in high school, I still ran to it for light and strength. It is a book filled with people who have been depressed, wicked, weak, wounded, scared, and lost. They are always met with light and strength to endure, be made righteous, healed, comforted, and guided by a loving God who gives us his word so that we can love him more. If you want to learn more about the Christian faith, pick up a Bible and dive into the story of God’s redemption of the world. In it you will find unpleasant things because the great story of the Bible is messy like most of our own stories. But you will find the God who loves messes. You will find the God who is our light and strength in trials and temptations and whose sole purpose is to love you and make you his.