Sermon for March 10th, 2013
1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
6 Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
7 You are a hiding-place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah.
8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Psalm 32: Let All Who Are Faithful
I'm going to try something. I'm about to take us on a convoluted journey back in time that will reveal to you all just how nerdy your pastor is. That's not really the main point, of course. And yes, there actually will be a main point to this journey, but I wanted to give you fair warning. Some of you know this about me already, but I love etymology--the study of the history of words, their origins, and particularly (for me) the point at which ancient words from other cultures *first* collide with the English language and culture...and especially if all that happened before the year 1066.
Our journey--actually our *word*--begins long before 1066 and the English language. The word, of course, is Faith. Faith has a lot of different meanings and uses even today, and we'll eventually come back to those. The further back in time you follow this word, and the farther away you roam from English culture, the more muddled it gets.
We'll start somewhere around 1,000 B.C. in Ancient Israel in the Hebrew language. In the Old Testament, there are about 9 or 10 different words that we translate as "faith," each one with slightly different shades of meaning. In today's passage, Psalm 32, the word we see as "faithful" is the Hebrew word חָסִיד "hasid"(from חֶסֶד "hesed") which, confusingly, is also sometimes translated as righteousness, goodness, mercy, or...love. Take your pick (but remember that one for later).
Things are a little bit more straightforward in the New Testament. Moving forward to sometime around the first century A.D., the language of most people in the Mediterranean is Greek--and the letter to the Hebrews (where our New Testament scripture passage comes from) is considered by some scholars to be the most beautiful example of Greek writing in the Bible. Pretty much anywhere you see the word "faith" in the New Testament, it is a translation of just one Greek word: πίστις. This is the word Jesus uses when he calls Peter "O ye of little faith (ὀλιγόπιστος)" and when he talks of faith (πίστιν) that can move mountains.
Still with me? Now we're going to jump forward to the present for just a brief moment before jumping back into the history again. Ok, in Modern English the word faith is a noun (faith), an adjective (faithful) an adverb (faithfully) but never a verb. In other words, you can have faith, you can be faithful and you can faithfully do something, but if you try say to someone "I faith you" they'll just think you have a lisp. In Greek πίστις shows up often as a verb: πιστεύω. We translate that with a whole different word: Believe. I don't faith you...I believe you.
Let's jump back into history again. Greek eventually gave way to Latin, and the word πίστις in the Bible was generally translated as fides (where we get the words fidelity and confide, the expression "bona fide" and why "fido" is a good name for a faithful dog). Incidentally, Latin had the same problem English does, and so πιστεύω (I believe) has its own separate Latin verb, too: Credo (as in the Apostle's "Creed" which begins, "I believe...")
The word Fides gets shortened to "Fe" in Old French, and then when the French invade England in the 11th century, they bring the word "faith" with them. But by then the English language is already middle-aged. Hundreds of years before that, backing when the Bible was brought across the English channel for the first time and translated for the first time into a very young, very German sounding English (remember the Anglo-Saxons came from what is now Germany) the words "Fides" and "Credo" somehow found their way back together, and were both translated by the Old English word "liefan." This is where we get the word "believe" from (and believe can do double duty as a noun: belief). So faith is belief, but it is also something more. The word "liefan" had its own history even before it was used to translate faith in the bible. It came from an old Germanic word "gilōbian" which is also the root for "leofian" which became in modern English the word "love." And we're right back where we started in the Ancient Hebrew: The word for faith is related to the word for love, in our own language and in the earliest language of Bible. I wanted to take us on this crazy journey in order to make the point that Faith and Love are two sides of the same coin. To believe is to love, to hold something dear.
And with that straightened out, let us turn finally, to Psalm 32. The psalms are there to be guides for us, examples in our worship and in our personal lives. And at the very heart of Psalm 32, in verse our word "faith" shows up: "Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them." That sounds to me like an amazing faith. How can we find and live that kind of faith? What does Psalm 32 have to teach us about faith?
Well...at first glance, not much. Psalm 32 is what's called a penitential psalm--a psalm of penitence. Reading through, it seems like it has more to say about confession, repentance, and forgiveness than about faith. Which is great for Lent, a season of reflection and repentance...but is there something else here?
Remember, to have faith is to believe. To believe is to love, to hold something (or someone dear). To have faith in God is to have a relationship with God. Think about how hard it is to have a relationship with someone you don't believe in, someone you can't trust, someone who is not faithful. Faith, belief, trust--these are the most important building blocks of any relationship. And yet, they are the blocks over which we are most likely to stumble. Many of us have probably been on the receiving end of that--someone let you down, broke your confidence, or betrayed your trust. And though we may not like to admit it, chances are we have been on the other side too: No matter how hard we try, all of us sooner or later break our promises, let down the ones we love, and don't live up to our better nature. Whether it is in our relationships with God or with one another, Psalm 32 offers us a model of how to restore that faith, how to make things right again.
It starts, perhaps counter-intuitively, with a vision of the end goal: Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. In other words, it sure feels great not to carry around that 300 pound luggage anymore. How do you get rid of the burdens and baggage that weigh down a relationship? Well, for starters, verses 3 & 4 tell us what *not* to do:
"While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer." Don't keep silent. Don't bury and hold your shame and your guilt inside of yourself--they will devour you from the inside. Guilt and loneliness are not good playmates.
The answer of course, is communication: "Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin." We do a confession of sin as part of our worship service every Sunday morning, followed by an assurance of pardon. But you know, it works pretty well on the other days of the week, too. When we confess our shortcomings to God and to one another it creates two golden opportunities: On one side, the opportunity to let go. On the other, the opportunity to forgive (which is another kind of letting go).
It is only after we clear our conscience, after we forgive and are forgiven that faith is restored, that we are called upon as faithful (or beloved) to offer a prayer and receive in turn the promise of safety, protection, and joy. Verse 7: You are a hiding-place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
This seems like a good place for a happy ending, but the psalm continues...just like life and relationships continue, even after reconciliation. There's always plenty of opportunity for us to mess things up again. That's what makes the next part important--although it is now God who speaks, verses 8-9 are a continuation of the promise began in verse 7: I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. In other words, there's always more to learn in relationships, always room to grow. Education is important, and so is attitude. Verse 9 is the psalmists very beautiful and poetic way of saying...don't be a jackass. Literally.
Because "Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord." And there it is right there at the end--there's the love, which is faith...restored.
The Psalmist closes with words more beautiful than any I could write, so I will let him have the honor:
"Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright [or...faithful!] in heart."