I preached on Psalm 23 last Sunday--the Lenten psalm of the day. I’m guessing some folks might have thought “Why would a seminary president go out of her way to preach on such a nice, mother’s milk and apple pie psalm?” The worship leader even said as much when she opened the service.
Niceness is hardly what attracted me to Psalm 23. It was the darkest valley--the valley of the shadow of death that pulled me in. Not because I have a macabre imagination. Not because I’m prone toward depression. Nor because we’ve had an interminably long winter.
I was drawn there because of the astonishing lack of fear the psalmist experiences in that threatening place. The psalmist sits at table (in the presence of enemies mind you), exhilarated by overflowing goodness and mercy! And no fear of evil!
As we all know too well, it’s not only in some metaphorical dark valley where evil bedevils. Evil lurks in the most unsuspected places. It can even masquerade as a righteous cause--dressed up to appear noble and pure.
When I woke mid-dream this morning, I realized I was angry. I prayerfully scanned my spirit for the focus of my anger. The best I could do was to name it EVIL: an insidious, invasive, arrogance that has us so sure of our own rightness that we stop listening, stop wondering if we might be doing more harm than good, stop acknowledging that we might be wrong.
Jesus clearly got angry at those who thought they had a lock on the law, on the Scriptures, on the righteous institutions of the day: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith…. You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”
Jesus also wasn’t a marauding libertarian with no regard for the law. He addressed that misguided notion directly: “Do you think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill [the law].”
"You have heard it was said to those of ancient times…but I say to you….”
Jesus takes the prevailing assumption about the law and reinterprets it. Over and over again, he shows the way to a realignment of interior desire with a desire for God. He shows the way to reinterpret the law so that love of God and neighbor is paramount in interior affections and external actions.
In these roiling days some persons seem highly anxious because, in their view, biblical authority is at risk if we change our views on sexuality—or alternatively, others seem eager to ignore the biblical witness altogether.
I have the amazing opportunity to work in a learning community that has a profound respect for the Scriptures and their authoritative ability to reveal God in Christ to us. We are unafraid of the hard questions. We have no fear in what to many seems like a dark valley of confusion about how to interpret the Scriptures.
Our freedom to discover how it is we’re called in our day to fulfill the law--to fulfill, as Jesus says, “the weightier matters of the law--justice, mercy and faith” is exhilarating!
There is an abundance of goodness and mercy for all—with cups overflowing. The Good Shepherd who said, “I know my own and my own know me” has prepared the table.
Now that will preach!