“What Have We Learned?”
Psalm 119: 33-40
September 17th, 2017
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words from the Psalmist, Psalm 119, verses 33 thru 40.”
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain. 37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways. 38 Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you. 39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good. 40 See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.
“May our hearts be opened as we consider what this ancient scripture has to say to us, today, in the Twenty-First Century”
Throughout my journey, it seems I am continuously learning new things. When I was a young lad, my grandfather, The Pastor, was always looking for new ways to teach me things. One of his most noteworthy quotes was a simple one: “never turn down a teaching moment”. I think he felt this goes both ways. Meaning of course that the student ought to jump at the opportunity to be taught. Likewise, the teacher must never overlook the challenge to teach the willing student. I guess I have internalized this quote, as I am often accused of preaching my upcoming sermons to my family and friends, all week long, before you hear them!
As a youngster I was very impressionable, meaning of course sensitive, which I still am, and easily influenced, thus making me a good student. Of course, most teachers would rather have an ambitious student whom is ready to learn and truly motivated to learn! I think I acquired these traits much later-on, but not in my early years. With this being the case, my grandfather used every available opportunity to teach me something. He loved games and taught me many. I did learn that once I learned how to win… he would move on to another game. He was an understanding man and was very tolerant and kind to me as I often rode around with him; of course, ‘I now realize’ he made various pastoral calls, as he looked after me for my mom.
By the time I got out of the military and started to go to college via the evening program, night school. I was lead in the pathway of the willing student who became motivated to at least learn how to make it through the pile of books I was assigned. Unlike the military, where I was ordered to learn or be forced to keep doing things over-and-over again. In college, I learned that knowledge was my friend; although I struggled with my writing skills and was a terrible public speaker. Later, as I learned more about the proper ways to read and write, I found new freedoms and insights as instructor after instructor, taught me more and more about these critical skills. Clearly, it was because of good teachers that I learned how to be a better student. From there – I began to learn more and more. I am truly blessed that there were those who were willing to teach me, leading me into new opportunities and adventures to be sure! Looking back, I can see how my education turned my life around. I would not be who I am had this not been true.
Living in Florida has taught me many things I never knew. The school of ‘hard knocks’ seems to be one of the schools of learning which we Northerners must attend – before we learn to take hurricanes seriously. It is sad really, that it took storms like Andrew, Harvey, Wilma and now Irma to force us to learn how to build better and stronger houses, so that we might be better prepared when one comes our way. I put up most of my shutters for my home on Tuesday morning, before I really got to work on this sermon. Of course, at this point in my writing, I had no way of knowing as to what the extent our lesson would be and where it would take us. I pray we haven’t had to pay too high a price for these teachings this time! I pray that our families, friends and neighbors have weathered this tremendous storm. It is now Saturday, Irma is still a real threat to Florida. It appears that it will hit the south west side of our beautiful state as a strong category 4 hurricane. We are being told, that we, on the east coast, will be spared the worst of Irma, being battered by a mere category 1 or 2 storm. It is hard to rejoice over this news knowing many of my neighbors evacuated to the west coast.
In our lesson, this morning, the Psalmist is first and foremost expressing the belief that God is the teacher. Thereby, acknowledging this understanding of God’s role in our lives! /Cameron Howard/ Just like the storms, the hurricanes which hit land, God has also been striving to teach us some things we need to know as well. In our lesson, today, the Psalmist has laid out some steps or concepts for us to learn. There are seven principles, seven values being acknowledged regarding the ways of God. /Rolf Jacobson/ Each having its own verse, each worthy of a twenty-minute sermon! Do not fear, I plan to keep this down to only one sermon this morning. The last verse affirms the psalmist desire to follow the ways, follow the will of God. Yet another sermon worthy of discussion on another day. What we must not do is make these into more rules, as from the ancient Ten Commandments. These teachings are to be viewed as more instructional; better viewed as guidelines to knowing God better.
What we do need to keep in mind is an understanding that following this set of principles, will ultimately give, or cause us to strengthen our connection with the Psalmist’s idea of God’s role in one’s life. Perhaps, one might even find this to be true for oneself. Therefore, be aware that this lesson may have an effect upon you, it may influence you, if you take it to heart, even causing you to make some adjustments in your understanding of how your destiny shall be implemented! This is true based on our understanding of how imperative it is to form relationships – as we journey through life. It may not be needed to even say this, yet it is worth saying; because it is when we strengthen a relationship with one person or another, this is when it has a high probability of being a true influence on our attitude of and for life! And a strong likelihood it will also alter our methodology for living life. Consequently, these verses, which the Psalmist shares with us this morning, may truly alter our lives, especially if, we allow it to change our relationship with God even just a little bit!
The really good news is that we can become willing students at any age and at any stage of our lives. While I was in seminary a woman, age sixty-eight, graduated in my class. She later went on to serve her Church and was ordained in the Episcopal Church. I have also witnessed adults, whom having raised their children – putting them through college, then went on to finish their own educations. With this in mind, as we consider the things we may still need and or desire to learn about the ways of God, it is never too late. We are never too old if we are ready to become willing students.
In verse 34 of our lesson we are urged to ask God: “Give me understanding.” It seems evident that most of us, as we reach adulthood, have learned some elements of what it means to have understanding. Yet, we perhaps could all use a refresher course from time to time. And, who knows, we might even learn something new. So, we may want to add this simple prayer into our daily times of meditation. Also, it may be prudent to consider the depth of meaning in this simple word – compassion. As we seek to be truly compassionate we can take a simple survey at how considerate we are for the needs of others. For example: Do we take with us a proper level of concern for the wellbeing of those around us, or do we get caught up in our own needs first, neglecting the feelings or even the real needs of those we are interacting with? An attitude of kindheartedness can go a long way in a scenario of this type. Surely, we all want to come across as sympathetic rather than aloof or coldhearted! It is always important to work at grasping the other persons feelings or needs. Here again is an opportunity to pray to God for a deeper perception of another’s needs.
It is always important to ask for directions. My wife is always pointing out my unwillingness to ask directions. I have been told this is a man problem, yet, I do not believe it is truly only us men whom do not ask directions when lost or are losing our way. During the days of preparation for the storm named Irma, we the people in her way, were being lead and told when to evacuate as this hurricane’s pathway was predicted. The problem with this, is storms of this nature are very much like us: as typical Christians; unpredictable. (Of course, this comment applies to all of God’s children.) We do not like to be lead or told what to do! Therefore, our leaders in governmental posts, like Majors and Governors and chiefs of police and Fire departments, along with Utility chiefs and managers, are constantly trying to move, push even, us unwilling citizens into doing what is best for ourselves and the safety of others. It is no wonder God struggles so with us Christians as well! We are all human!
Our tasks, as good Christians, and as good citizens, and good neighbors is to work at not being selfish in times of chaos, mayhem or crisis. It is at these times, whether it be during preparations for a major storm, or for a simple event like a fund raiser or dinner; it is times like these when we need to put on our community hats; and act in concert with others for the greater good of all! Easy to say, hard to do. You know how hard this can be, if you have ever taken the time to evaluate your own behavior during such events. If we learn nothing else… let us at least learn this! God expects it of us. Our families and friends expect it of us. And most certainly our neighbors will be easier to live with if we worry a bit more about their needs than our own!
The biggest hurricanes to threaten our coastline, and the first one to be on the verge of hitting our great state of Florida in over a decade, may be bringing us many lessons. One of the biggest lessons which may be being offered, for those willing to still learn, is that we need to be humble. Humble in the presence of Mother Nature’s power and unpredictability and humble in the presence of God’s grace and mercy! All we need to do is ask God to keep our big-headedness, our egos in check and know that we all have the potential capacity to work as a team, and with others, for the safety and wellbeing of all! I do not believe God sends storms upon us to weed out the weak and helpless amongst us like a predator stocking their pray. Yet, like my grandfather, I believe God stands at the ready, willing to use any circumstance to teach us something new or something which we have been unwilling to learn!
I pray we shall not have paid too high a price for the lessons learned during this storm. Yet, we all might pray that once the price is paid we shall heed the lessons presented to us. Let us pray we shall honor those whom have lost a lot, and those who paid the ultimate price during this huge storm! With respect and love let us sort through all the possibilities which have been presented to us. May their lessons teach us, to turn more fully to the guidance that God has offered us today, through the words of the Psalmist of old!