“The Beginning of Wisdom”

Psalm 111:1- 10, January 31st, 2021.

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“Hear now the words of the Psalmist of Old, from the Book of Psalms found in the Old Testament, chapter one hundred and eleven.”

Psalm 111

1 Praise the Lord!  I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.

3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.

5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.  Holy and awesome is his name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.  His praise endures forever.

“Having hear the words of this Psalm with our hearts, let us now open our hearts to it’s meaning in our lives today.”

“The Beginning of Wisdom”

Verse ten begins by telling us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” The first time I read this, many years ago, I was perplexed by the use of the word ‘fear’ in the context of one’s relationship with God, and the beginning of wisdom.  The confusion which the use of the word fear does, to the novice, or the first-time reader of like passages, as-well-as, a great many long-time followers of the Bible, is huge.  To fear, literally means terror, dread and even alarm!  Consequently, in many verses of scripture that use this fear reference toward God – most of us get confused and seldom acknowledge this to others!  Thankfully, Dread, Fright, and Alarm are not the intended uses of this word fear.  Rather we need to introduce a whole new set of words if we are to gain access into what it means to ‘Fear’ the Lord!  Respect, reverence, and awe, these are excellent replacements for this ancient translation of this phrase.  Consider replacing our phrase with these, instead of using the word fear. 

“The respect of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” “The reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” “The awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” Now let us soften how we reference our Creator by substituting God for Lord, as the word Lord denotes the tone of one’s relation with God.  Yes, Christ is the ‘Master’ of my salvation, in that I need to follow in a devoted manner to be a disciple, a follower of Christ.  Yet, the Master relationship, the servant relationship we share with our Creator through Christ, is only one aspect of a complete and deep connection with God.  Our relationship to our Savior, the Lord, our God, is a reference to the Spirit, the divine Divinity, and our Deity.  The ‘Spirit’ of God moves through us and with us carrying and compelling us to be and do many things.  Thus, as we continue our journeys of faithfulness, to strengthen our relations with the Holy One, let us not get bogged down by overuse of one noun to describe the “power’ of the universe, which none of us, no world religion, nor individual has come close to fully grasping our compassionate, everlasting, and loving, multifaceted Deity!  In our reading the psalmist was encouraging a conquered people to continue to lift-up their understanding of the God Head by offering praise and adoration.  We ought to do the same!

Our reading this morning, Psalm one hundred and eleven, was written as a hymn of thanksgiving.  This ancient Psalm is a writing meant to motivate we the listeners… to be grateful and thankful for all which God has done, is doing, and shall do, for all the people of God, who walk humbly with God.  We are being encouraged to thank God with all our heart and to do so in community, not just in our private and personal lives.  We are called to raise up all the great works of God, as written in scripture.  Our passage points out how gracious and merciful the God of old has been, and currently is!  Even the abundance of food is credited to our Creator.  Those that heard the words of this Psalm knew of the ancient stories and understandings of how God reached out to their ancestors in Egypt, when they were in bondage and under the rule of harsh task masters!  The psalmist wanted his listeners to remember all that God had done through the work, the leadership of Moses.  We too have our ‘Moses’ for whom we ought to give thanks!  Take a moment to reflect on how you have seen the grace of God come through the life and actions of another.  As we ponder God’s movement in our lives and the lives of others we have encountered or known of throughout our life journey’s, let us glean what we can from our writing for today’s lesson.

The Psalm begins the conversation of all the that which God has accomplished and achieved since the beginning of time.  That is a lot of territory to cover.  We can look back into the ancient writings of the Hebrew tribes, the Israelites of old; there is a lot to be learned of their conceptions of God – as we peer into these ancient societies through these inspired holy writings.  Most of us know a story or two.  Thanks to the actor Charlton Heston, who played Moses in the movie “The Ten Commandments”, millions of believers and nonbelievers as well, know the story as passed down through the ages.  Sure, the movie took many liberties of the ancient writings which unquestionably enhanced our viewing.  It also helped spread the awareness of what has been written about the ancient people of the Bible.  Can we name a few of those old stories and traditions which so strongly display the power, the faithfulness, and the mercy and compassion of God?  Perhaps you could share a story or three of what God has done for you? 

During these past thirty years, since entering this journey of becoming the pastor I now am, I have had many occasions and opportunities to look back at the power and the majesty of God.  When God touched me with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, I was not trained nor prepared for the journey.  At least I did not think so.  I did not realize I would never again work in the secular world.  How was I going to pay my bills and survive?  How could I possibly be worthy of such an honor?  The scriptures are filled with such stories.  What is most important about my own journey and for a great many of us, is not I, but rather who God sent to mold me and form me so that I would be capable of the work which God envisioned.  It is important that we each look to our own faith journey’s and recognize the hand of God reaching out to us in so many, diverse and varied ways.  Most frequently, we hear of how it is not just the people, places and things which alter the course of our journeys.  Rather, it is the attitude by which we respond.  Even successful entrepreneurs and business folks, of all types, often refer to the belief that everyone is exposed to opportunities which can alter one’s life and enhance the lives of others; yet a vast majority of such opportunities seemingly pass us by, mainly because we could not grasp the right ‘frame of mind’ to engage the moment!  The question for us is this: “Are we willing to trust the “Force” the “Spirit’ of God to change our lives?

It is important that we know who we are listening to – before we start discussing what attitude we ought to take in our discussion.  Why would anyone want to do otherwise is baffling!  Our lesson is attributed to the Psalmist.  This author was many different writers.  It is believed that Moses himself wrote one.  Even during the time of King Solomon a few were written.  Many of these poems, originally used as hymns to be sung, were written, and attributed to Kind David.  The key is to realize these writings were written to enhance and improve the ‘spirit’ of the scattered remnants of God’s people – through difficult times, and good times.  Helping folks to be lifted-up as the words gave them new hope.  The Psalms also helped enhance the worship experiences for those seeking to praise God from their hearts.  The psalmist’s writing today was clearly meant to help us raise up the majesty of God and cause us to remember and reflect on those powerful moments when God was there for us, even when all else had failed!

I suspect that many of us have been struggling to fill that emptiness each week as we were forced to first shut down our worship services entirely.  It was a transforming experience for many, as we were forced to reflect what is crucial to worship and what is not!  Consequently, we learned how to enhance how we worship through social-media and technologies of all sorts.  I am particularly pleased that we are blessed with talented and gifted folks on our staff, as they have kept our music ministry alive.  Mariana’s gift’s as our Music Director has kept us on track, thereby allowing us to continue having meaningful musical selections, brought together to enhance our worship experiences.  In these difficult times it has been a blessing to have several talented volunteers, as well as our staff, whom have been able to enhance our music ministry.  With Eddie’s skills at the keyboard and Tyler’s skills at managing the broadcasting of our worship services, we have developed a following on social media.  Let me not forget Cathie’s work at keeping our website current and the sending out of e-mails to members and friends to help us stay connected. Thankfully, and ultimately, after eleven long weeks, with much prayer and discussion, we came to reopen our live worship services, with safety guidelines, and volunteers like Phil and so many others to help us, in safety, to worship in a live setting while continuing to expand our capabilities ‘On-Line”.

Ought we be praising God today?  Are you in agreement with the attitude, the thrust and purpose of the Psalms and the words of the psalmist?  Each of us whom have come to be uplifted with worshipful music, surely therefore we understand, and we are in line with the purpose of the psalmist.  Even modern Christian music is meant to enhance times of worship while lifting-up the spirits of those who participate.  And yes, even in the time of this world crisis we have found that the rudiments, the basics of worship have carried us through.  Discussions of what type of music is best for worship, have fallen to appreciating the basic needs to having music present in our times of worship – at whatever level we are capable of.  Being reminded today by the psalmist of old that Praising God is the essence of good worshipful music.  Open-up your hearts and allow the rhythm of this poetic Psalm to uplift your thankful hearts to God Almighty!  Let your hearts sing out!  “Praise the Lord!  I will give thanks to the Creator of Heaven and Earth, with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.  Great are the works of the Master, studied by all who delight in them.” /Psalm 111:1-2/ “Full of honor and majesty is the work of God, and the righteousness of the Holy One – endures forever.” /Psalm 111:3/

When was the last time you gave the Holy One credit for all the good things going on in your life?  Go ahead – lift one of those memories in your heart!  Where have we seen these wonderful events in history, events which we give credit to our Creator?  Can you now allow yourself to consider why the psalmist was and is urging folks to praise God in such superb language?  How can we, how can you and I, how shall we respond to this writing?  Shall we allow God to reopen our hearts to the true ‘Spirit’ of God in our times of worship!  We know the psalmist wrote for the needs of the people of that time so long, long ago – we are sure of this.   Do we now realize that the psalms are ‘timeless’ and that we are included in the ‘who’ the psalmist was writing too?  Consequently, the words read today are words for us to take to heart – in the here and the now!

“Let us all respect with reverence and awe, of the Majesty of our Creator God – this is the beginning of wisdom.” /Psalm 111:10a/

Amen

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