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Psalm 112

 

Standing Steady             Psalm 112:1-9, (10)     February 6, 2011
Introduction: Jesus’ parable of the house built on sand, or house built on rock. Where we stand is important.

Doug Sterner of Alexandria, Virginia, set out to compile a database of recipients of the military’s top decorations. In one case, Sterner realized something was suspicious about a certain Marine’s Navy Cross citation, even though it looked real. It used the right font and the right seal and was even signed by the Secretary of the Navy. But it said the president “takes pride” in presenting the prize, and Sterner knew that “pride” is normally used only when the recipient is dead. This recipient was alive.

Also, the citation was dated 1968, but the Secretary of the Navy who supposedly signed it was Paul H. Nitze, who left that office in 1967.

Seeing that, Sterner knew he had found a wannabe, a pretender. In this case, the imposter had been bragging of his heroism for years — and even had loaned his awards to a veteran’s museum for display.

Unfortunately for this man — who has since admitted he never served in Vietnam, never earned the Navy Cross, never saw combat and, in fact, never was a Marine — claiming an unearned military decoration is a federal offense. He may be prosecuted. Meanwhile, he admits, “This was just a stupid, immature thing that took on a life of its own. Then it becomes a question of ego, and you don’t want to admit you screwed everyone, so you keep the lie going.”

This guy had falsified his faithfulness. He had built his house on sand.
We cannot be happy if we’re faking our faith. Happiness is linked to right living

Happiness can be an elusive thing, but the author of Psalm 112 declares, “Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.” (Build on rock)

It’s helpful to hear the psalmist link happiness to the fear of the Lord (loving God) and the keeping of his commandments (serving God).  For sometimes Christianity, with its “thou shalt nots,” is assumed to be too restrictive to be a source of happiness. The psalmist, however, connected happiness with holiness (holiness in the sense of right Christian living). So you want to be happy? You start by doing the right thing.

Our psalmist was actually on to something.  The General Social Survey of 2004 asked people to identify themselves as religious or secular and then asked if they would say they were “very happy, pretty happy or not too happy.” Religious people were twice as likely as secular people to say they were “very happy” while secular people were nearly three times as likely as religious folks to say they were “not too happy.” Not that there are no unhappy religious people, but clearly, happiness and holiness are correlated.

Sarah Heaner Lancaster, a professor of systematic theology at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, examined a number of John Wesley’s sermons and found that he “explicitly spoke of happiness as the goal of Christian life.” She found that more than 70 of his sermons include some reference to happiness, and some of them are devoted solely to that subject.

Like the psalmist, Wesley linked happiness and holiness. Lancaster found that one of Wesley’s recurring themes is what constitutes “true religion.” Religion isn’t real when it’s just an outward show, such as wearing an unearned military medal.

So why am I unhappy if I’m living right?
As in most of the psalms there is a clear division between the godly and the wicked. This, too, is a teaching technique to clearly contrast good from evil. Hebrew poetry uses parallelism to compare similar and contrasting thoughts.
As one commentator warns us, "There are(, however,) aspects of Psalm 112 about which we should exercise caution. Several verses speak of the well-being of the righteous as though material blessings will (automatically) flow to the one who reflects the character of God (lives right)..." (The Old Testament Readings: Psalm 112. Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia. )
1   Praise the LORD!
          Happy are those who fear the LORD,
          who greatly delight in his commandments.
2   Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
          the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3   Wealth and riches are in their houses,
          and their righteousness endures forever.
If taken only at face value, these verses can be a ticket to unhappiness and even guilt. Imagine a conscientious Christian sitting in church, aware of deep sadness and sorrow, wondering where happiness is since they have been faithfully living right. That person might conclude: “I’ve failed God. I’ve got to redouble my efforts to please him.” That’s a formula for more guilt and more unhappiness.

To say it differently, if your relationship with God is intact, there’s an underlying balance in your life that provides a solid place to stand, even when life itself is rocky.

Most of us wouldn’t use that as a definition of happiness, because no one’s life can be a constant stream of ecstasy. No one is spared some trouble in this life, and a solid place to stand is a happy thing. Not giddy excitement, but happy in the older meaning of the word, in that it’s fit or suitable for the situation.
The King James uses “Blessed” rather than “happy”, which captures more of the depth and significance of this kind of happiness. Some call it joy. If our lives have the balance that comes from a solid connection with God, then that’s a happy situation, one that fits the circumstances of our lives.

The late Alan Paton, a South African author and Christian who worked to end apartheid in that country, gives us a window on that solid place to stand. He tells that one year, a friend wished him a happy Easter. Because Paton’s wife was gravely ill at the time, Paton replied that he didn’t think it would be a very happy Easter.

That response must’ve bothered the friend, who later sent Paton a letter saying no Christian should be unhappy at Easter. What had happened at Easter was of an eternal order, whereas our griefs are limited to earth.

Paton replied that he didn’t expect to be unhappy at Easter and that he was prepared to face whatever the future might bring. He went on to discuss the many people who have had to face trouble with courage. He said of such people:
“They do not show the outward signs of joy, but they have an inner fortitude, a kind of inner equilibrium. . . . I think that such an inner equilibrium might possibly be called joy.”

7   They are not afraid of evil tidings;
          their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD.
Their hearts are fixed, in the King James Version, like the root of a tree.

Psalm 112 ties happiness (blessedness) not only to ‘fear of the Lord’ but also to “delight in his commandments.” The psalmist probably had in mind the Mosaic Law in general, but the heart of that law is the Ten Commandments. On first glance, with their “thou-shalt-not” language, the commandments don’t seem to be a formula for happiness.
But think again. God’s commandments focus on fundamental issues of what it means to live in harmony with God and other people. Behind the commandments is the recognition that keeping a certain order to life and protecting all people from abuse and exploitation are of primary importance if there is to be happiness in our lives. Respecting God and each other fosters peace and harmony which bring happiness in our life.

. . . their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD.
8   Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; . . .
A  life completely unfettered by commandments is likely to crash and burn. The blessedness of Scripture refers to a long-range optimism that come what may, God will make things come out right in the end. Praise God!
Psalm 112 is an alphabetic psalm. The first letters of each line are the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in order, 2 lines each for v. 1-8 and 3 lines for 9 & 10. This alphabet psalm may give fun and excitement to all ages as they memorize it. There are nine acrostic psalms of which Psalm 119 is probably the most familiar to us. Its 176 verses are broken down into 22 segments of 8 verses each, with each of the verses in each section beginning with its respective Hebrew letter.  
Acrostic, or alphabetic, psalms are a learning tool for content and can be important throughout a learner’s life. The teaching function of the acrostic psalm matches the way many churches teach the Christian faith through the catechism. The word ‘catechesis’ means instruction by word of mouth, especially by questioning and answering.
The basis of the psalm as instruction is grounded in Wisdom literature with the admonition to “fear the Lord.” The word ‘fear’ doesn’t adequately describe the positive connotation of respect for the one we know is the Creator of the universes and every living thing.
The content of Psalm112 begins with ‘alleluia!’ followed by the trademark of Wisdom literature: “happy are those who fear the Lord.” The joy and delight are expressed in this duty, and we are asked to follow in action. … The teaching of the psalmist and the community is presented in a perfect form of a word game that portrays the perfect character of the one who fears the Lord.
Barbara S. Braisdell, Feasting on the Word, has attempted to approximate the acrostic of one of the nine psalms in one of her sermons. She says it’s a “very crude sense of what the Hebrew poetry does far more elegantly. She took the first seven letters of the English alphabet to begin seven lines of the first few verses of Psalm 112—
A--Alleluia!
B--Blessed are those who live in deep awe of YHWH.
C--Contentment and delight in God’s commandments are theirs; and their
D--Descendants will be mighty in the land.
E--Each generation of the upright shall be blessed.
F--Fortune and abundance shall undergird their homes, and
G--Goodness and righteousness shall endure with them forever.
With apologies to the great Hebrew poets, this gives us an idea how acrostic psalms were used to memorize. Both the acrostic form and the poetry remind us that the Psalms are not simply to be read over quickly.
They are to be committed to memory, so that the words form part of our own faith-based consciousness. This is how spiritual formation and transformation take shape.
Within the traditional church year are special seasons where our worship service focuses on the works and life of Christ. Advent is preparation for Christmas. Lent is preparation for Easter. Christmas and Easter season focus on Jesus’ life and ministry.
The time between special celebrations is sometimes called Ordinary Time and this is the time in the church year we are to reflect on our behavior and heart. Are we living what we say we believe? Walking the talk? Is the instruction we receive accompanied by right action?
The teaching is not limited in practicing learning exercises; right teaching prepares the learner to make beautiful music by doing justice and being righteous in playing the Lord’s commandments with duty and delight. 
A musician learns by playing the notes up and down on the scale. … With most instrumental music… this helps them memorize the finger movements and coordination of the body for the key in which they will be playing.
In a similar way, the psalms’ alphabetical acrostic layout helps the reader to memorize Scripture and increase his or her awareness of the length and breadth and height and width and depth of God love for those who believe.
Memorization internalizes God’s word. Only when God’s word is planted in the deeper consciousness of our mind and heart does obeying Gods commands bring fulfillment and delight. The objective of the psalmist is to encourage learners to make a rightful choice in everyday life.
Things we can do:
--Scripture memorization, The Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed are useful for learning God’s Word, defining what we believe, and guiding our decisions.
--acrostic psalms are tools for learning; right teaching prepares the learner to make right choices.
--Try your own acrostic psalm or prayer.
Learning can be fun. Use your creativity to build up your faith and grow in your spiritual journey. Amen.
 
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