October 28, 2018

Proper 25

Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34: 1-8; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10: 46-52

The Rev. James M.L. Grace

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

How many of you all have ever heard a sermon preached on a psalm before?  You are about to hear

One!  Every Sunday at this church we read, or perhaps sing, part of a psalm, but it seems we don’t often talk about them, and their words, and the wisdom they might impart, are forgotten as soon as we move on to the next part of the service.

            Today’s psalm, as you all know, is psalm 34, and we actually don’t have all of it today, we just have eight verses of the psalm.  But if you were to look up psalm 34 in a Bible, you would see that it actually has 22 verses.  This number, 22, is important. 

            Would anyone care to guess how many letters are in the Hebrew alphabet?  That is correct, twenty-two letters.  So in Psalm 34 we have 22 verses, there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, is this some coincidence?  It actually isn’t.  See, Psalm 34 is called an acrostic psalm, which just means that each verse is associated with a letter in the Hebrew alphabet. 

            Verse 1 of the psalm, which we hear today begins with the word “I will bless” in Hebrew, that word is pronounced “ah-bar-ah-kah” which begins with the letter aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Verse 2 begins with the phrase “I will glory,” which pronounced in Hebrew is “ba-donay”, a word that begins with the letter beth, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  This pattern repeats for the rest of the psalm. 

            Scholars figure that acrostic psalms were utilized because their alphabetical structure helped people to memorize them.  This design of the psalm is also characteristic of a peculiar genre of writing in the Bible called “Wisdom Literature.”  Wisdom literature, which includes a number of psalms, and other books in the Hebrew Bible such as the book of Job, which we hear the conclusion of today, and it also includes books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  Great, rich, poignant books in the Bible which if you haven’t read yet – you really should.  They are worth your time.

 At its heart, the purpose of these books in the Bible which are identified as wisdom literature, they function to instill wisdom upon the reader.  This is not always easy to do, especially for a rather naïve reader of these books, such as myself.  Wisdom, as many of us probably have learned the hard way, comes not necessarily from books as much as it does from experience.  At least that’s the way it has been in my life.

Nevertheless, I believe that these books, and this psalm, can teach us wisdom, because at their very heart, they instruct – and this is the point of this whole sermon, so if you hear this, this is it – the fear of the the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.  Now what comes to mind when you hear the word “fear”?  Things that make you afraid, right?  In Hebrew, the understanding of the word “fear” is different – the word for fear is yare (yah-rey) and it is used in this psalm.

If you look at verse 7 of the psalm, when the author writes “The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him,” the word fear does not mean “afraid.”  The word fear/yah-rey, means to revere, to trust, to be completely dependent upon God.  Trusting God, absolutely relying upon God, that is the beginning of wisdom, and that is the point of this sermon. 

But I will not end there, at least not yet.  I feel the need to say that complete reliance upon God in all things is of course absolute and necessary.  It is the only way I know to live my life.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t also add that reliance upon God, or as the psalm says “fear of the Lord” naturally produces gratitude. 

And gratitude – that just seems to be in real short supply in our world today.  We hear so much negativity, so much anger, so much cynicism.  We don’t hear much gratitude.  I want to challenge each of you to write down and name five things you are grateful for.  That will be called your gratitude list.  And when you are distraught, frustrated, or confused, I hope you will have the wisdom to return to that list and see all that you really have to be grateful for.  I keep mine on my phone, and I read it daily, because I’m not a very wise person, and I easily forget all the things that I should be grateful for. 

So that’s it – true wisdom is reliance upon God in all things.  That reliance produces gratitude, something all of us could use a bit more of.  AMEN.