The final words of Psalm 19, if nothing else, should cause us to fall into silence more often than we do. How does one speak in a way acceptable to God?
For about 5 years I have regularly used the words of the Psalm as the opening prayer for my sermon.
A plea to God that the words I say, the words I have crafted, the word I have considered and prayed over may be acceptable to the One who made me.
Yet despite praying these words each week I usually describe my preaching, a little cheekily, as a different heresy each week.
The words of my sermons are limited by my human frailty yet become unlimited in possibilities because of what the Holy Spirit can and might do as I seek to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
Whilst this is the way I use the words of this Psalm most often these words are not simply meant to be applied to a sermon delivered by a minister. These words are a plea to God that in all our speaking we might find ourselves using words and language acceptable to God.
Imagine for a moment that during the times of anger or frustration before blurting out those grating and hurtful words you asked yourself, ‘are these words I am about to say acceptable to God?’
Imagine for a moment that during those times filled with pride in a personal achievement before shouting out and boasting of your success you asked yourself, ‘are these words I am about to say acceptable to God?’
Imagine for a moment that during those times of darkness and depression before moaning about life or degrading yourself you asked yourself, ‘are these words I am about to say acceptable to God?’
Words – spoken quietly or loudly.
Words – full of colour, rich with meaning.
Words – trite or serious.
Words – building up.
And words which destroy.
Words are such powerful things.
Of course the reality is that the words which we speak day by day moment by moment are most likely to be not acceptable to God.
Whether the words are spoken in ignorance or the words are spoken wilfully it is not hard for us to know so many of them, in fact probably most of them, do not give honour to the one who gave us our voices.
So where is our hope?
Paul in writing to the Philippians reminds them of the relationship between the law and faith
“If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”
What is being suggested here by Paul is that even if we were able to form each word and thought perfectly these would be meaningless in terms of our relationship with God because of Jesus Christ.
Yes, Jesus who walked among us and gave voice to God’s own thoughts in human words.
Jesus: who in his life, death and resurrection made us right with God!
Jesus: who promised the sending of God’s Holy Spirit, to make us one with God and each other.
Whilst our words may not be acceptable to God Jesus words were. To quote Peter in John 6, in the midst of our imperfect and incoherent babblings, we go to Jesus because he has “the words of eternal life.”
It is in listening to Jesus that we can listen to one whose words are acceptable to God and we can learn how to speak again. To borrow a phrase from Stanley Hauerwas we can learn to speak Christian: to speak of the good news knowing that whilst the words we might say will be inadequate expressions of God’s grace to trust that the Spirit will help us in our weakness as we both articulate and listen to the words of hope.
We trust that the Spirit will transform our fumbling attempts to speak Christians and to proclaim God’s love for us in Jesus day by day into a meaningful and purposeful witness. We pray that through the Spirit our words will transform others and so become acceptable to God.
To learn to speak Christian takes time and energy, the same time and energy we would put in to learning another language and another culture.
To learn the language of prayer as we read the Psalms. To discover how to tell stories as we read the parables. To discipline ourselves to prayer and meditation aware that before a word is formed on our lips God knows it.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians Paul compares himself to an athlete pursuing a goal – the prize being the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.
When I think of the finely tuned machines of modern day athletes with their training programs and rigorous discipline, with their vitamin supplements and diet regimes I think we begin to get a picture that what Paul was talking about was throwing ourselves head long into learning the way of grace.
Disciplining ourselves to prayer and worship, committing ourselves to reading the scriptures and serving others, not to earn our salvation but to pursue with thanksgiving in our hearts the one who has saved us and maybe as we do these things to learn to speak Christian, just as Paul did, who said:
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”
Let us meditate on what God is saying to us on this day. Amen.