Rev. Charles Svendsen
Scripture: Psalm 90; Matthew 13:1-9
God, Our Home, Jul 16, 2017
Today we are continuing our Summer Psalms Sermon Series. We began last summer looking at a few of these lovely and insightful hymns of Israel's and our faith. Two weeks ago, we resumed Summer Psalms with Psalm 19: "The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork," and we learned of "God, Our Creator." Elder Aubrey Grey preached last Sunday - remarkably, thoughtfully. Thank-you Aubrey on "the meaning of agape", love from 1 Corinthians 13 and John 13. (Every elder should have a sermon up their sleeve.)
Today's psalm is beloved as well. We sing an Isaac Watts paraphrase as our hymn of praise: "O God, Our Help in Ages Past." It's the 90th. "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations." "God, Our Home" Speaking of homes, I'm suggesting to our Pastor Nominating Committee looking for Westminster's next Pastor that they consider the option of our trailer in the parking lot as an option as a parsonage. This lovely cottage is available for the new minister. It's close by, just a few steps to the church office. It features a deck and even an air conditioning. What's your home like? Here's my 704 square foot 1926 bungalow in Silverlake. So today we're looking at Psalm 90, and we're thinking about "God as our home" from this ancient hymn.
Psalm 90 is the oldest of the Hebrew collection of hymns and songs and prayers. The Psalm is attributed to the leader and liberator of the new nation of Israel: the man Moses. Yet, this Psalm 90, possibly being 33 centuries old, speaks in such a timely fashion today to us at Westminster.
You remember that Israel had been miraculously delivered from a bitter slavery under Egyptian pharaohs. With Moses and Aaron, they had left their home since the days of Joseph, having spent 400 years in Egypt, and were now heading toward the land of promise. Hopes were high that a better life was ahead, but difficulty struck. The wandering nation began to go hungry... the Sinai desert was not like the fertile Nile River Valley, the leadership of Moses and Aaron was challenged. Despite the commandments, the nation started false worship. What was expected to be a journey lasting a few months went on some 38 years. Most everyone who had left Egypt two generations before were now dead. And in the concluding chapters of Deuteronomy, the people of God were with one voice, desperately crying out against Moses: "Why? Why did you bring us out here? We're starving; we're discouraged. Surely, Moses, God has forgotten our cause and the very covenant of the Lord!" And in this desperate setting, Moses speaks for God in a prayer.
The first lesson Moses gives us in this moving prayer is that to a wandering, lost Jewish nation, and to the friends of Jesus Christ today in Westlake Village, we are reminded that God is our home, Psalm 90:1,2: "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God."
Not "Egypt" ... not "Sinai," not even the "Land of Promise" was Israel's home. Their home, and our home as Christians, is in the "Presence of God." Those times when we worship and pray or when we are quietly thinking or reflecting or walking on the trail or street, those times when we know the "Presence of our Gracious Lord," that is our Home.
We get that one turned around today, too. We buy a home in Los Angeles or Westlake Village or Thousand Oaks. We furnish it, maybe even pay for it, and we say that it is our home, and fire comes one day and destroys it. For years I have been sitting in our choir rehearsals writing sermons, and I'll not forget that night I pulled Neta out of rehearsal to walk with her through her burned out home in Brooklyn Heights.
Or maybe we have a husband or wife, a mother, or a father, and we say that they are our home, and one day our loved one is taken from us. But it's not me! My mind, my strength, that is home, and then our health breaks down. The Psalmist says: "Lord, you are our dwelling place."
I trust today that you and I will remember that our true and sure home is "with God" and I hope that your moments of communion with God in prayer, privately or in community, will be your "dwelling place." I visited a church, years ago, in Changdu China founded by Methodist missionaries 100 years ago. I found out as I sat, reflected and prayed in that church, I was "at home." Perhaps you have had the same experience visiting churches near and far.
Secondly, Moses prays to remind us that "life is like a dream," verses 5-6, "You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers." The recurring dream of the minister, or at least this minister, is that the worship service gets messed up somehow. I've had vivid dreams that I was conducting a worship service (not here, of course) and everything went wrong! First the organist's prelude went for 15 minutes into the worship hour. Then someone begins to pay a radio, dance music! So I have to tell them to shut it off. Then my hand gets caught in my gown, and that takes 10 minutes to undo. Then the ushers drop the offering, and money rolls everywhere, and kids start stashing the coins in their pockets. And then the Session files out for a special meeting! That is never good! The dream is endless.
During our "lifetime," life seems endless. But when we wake from our dreams, we can hardly remember them. After breakfast they're all but gone. So prays Moses, that like eternity, life will seem like a distant dream. We see a picture of eternity when we speak with older people. Invariably they say, "Where did it all go? The time went so fast."
Moses reminds us in this 90th Psalm that "our lives are like a dream." And God will soon sweep us away. You know what that tells me? It tells me to minimize the trivia, and to focus on eternal matters: God, my Savior Jesus Christ, needy people, the church, life and death. I heard a wise person say once, "Charles, don't count the paperclips." Yet, I do. Moses said, "Life is a dream."
Thirdly, Moses reminds us to "get a heart of wisdom," verse 12, "so teach us to gain a heart of wisdom." How do we do that? The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Greeks who were seeking just that: wisdom. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1, "Wisdom is found in the foolishness of God." The foolishness of God! Where was God foolish? Verse 23 of 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul writes "Greeks seek wisdom."
So, here it is! Says Paul, "We preach Christ crucified! That God should love the needy people (like you and me). That God lays down the life of the Beloved Son." What utter foolishness to us. But by believing in this crucified and risen Christ and by walking in his ways, "We get a heart of wisdom!" Are you wise? Am I?
We answer that one by asking this: Upon whom do we trust for life and death?
And that is the Gospel, is it not? That through faith in Christ we gain the eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison. Says the Apostle Paul, "For we look not to the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen: for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." What a wonderful lesson for us as we live through these months of transition. Gain a heart of wisdom. That needs to be our prayer.
The final lesson we learn from this Psalm 90 is that only "the work of God is eternal." God establishes forever God's work, verse 17: "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands - O prosper the work of our hands."
The preaching of the Gospel, the teaching of the Scriptures, the prayers with our families, and not only these church responsibilities, but the work for true justice in the world, the day-to-day honesty and integrity, that way we treat spouses and children and neighbors, these are eternal works, established by the firm hand of God.
Maybe this prayer, "God establishes our work," is the most important prayer we could offer in today's service.
I would commend this Psalm 90 to you this day that God is our Home, that life is brief, that Christ is our wisdom, and that divine work is eternal. All that we may no longer be strangers and sojourners but fellow citizens with the saints, members of the household of faith, those who dwell in the presence of God.
Just a brief word about this story of Jesus called the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-9. The Ministry of Jesus at this point of the Gospels, from a numerical analysis, is a "runaway success." Jesus walks out of the house, sits by the sea - the crowds coming to hear him are so large he has to get into a boat, pull off shore, and preach from his "floating pulpit" as the immense crowd stood to listen on the beach. Jesus tells a story. It's a parable of a sower throwing seed around, and that seed falls on four types of ground: hard, rocky, thorny, and good soil. And Jesus later interprets this parable to his disciples to say that the seed is the "Word of the Kingdom." That God has come near in Jesus of Nazareth, but this coming of the good news is met by various human responses. Hard ground represents people that don't understand, and the evil one snatches them away. Rocky ground represents people who at first receive the Gospel with joy, but the seed has no root, and the first whiff of persecution they give it all up. Thorny soil represents people whose seed gets choked out by the cares of this world.
First observation: the disciples' tendency and our temptation is to look around and think "Oh, that's why that other person sitting next to me in the pews (look at them) doesn't live a faithful life. That's why my neighbor doesn't go to church or vote the way I do or is unkind to others. They must have a hard or rocky or thorny heart, "now I know!"
Jesus didn't let his disciples get away with looking at others' response to the Gospels. He said in verse 18, "You hear the parable of the sower." You Peter, James, John, Kathy, Janet, Charles, you hear! Remember Peter trying to shift Jesus' attention to John at Galilee after the resurrection? "Lord, what about him?" And Jesus said to Peter, "What is that to you? You, Peter, follow me!" That's real freedom isn't it?
Jesus in this parable of the sower frees us to let go of wondering about motives and intentions in the hearts of others (which the writer of 2 Samuel 16 says 'only God can know). In this story Jesus "frees" us to look only within our own hearts to find, by God's grace, the "good soil," believing, receptive, fertile soil. That's the first observation of the parable, "Look to your own heart." And finally, what sticks out about this parable is that the increase of the harvest in good soil is nothing short of miraculous! Historians tell us that a 7-10 fold harvest would have been average growth in a first century crop. Fifteen fold would have been unheard of, but thirty fold, sixty fold, even a hundred fold?! So "the final scene of the realm of God" is as Walter Brueggamann writes is "not a picture of birds snatching away seed sown on the path, nor of rootless plants on rocky ground wilting in the blistering heat, nor of spindly stalks crowded out by weeds, but of a full and bountiful harvest. Though the numbers are small, the opposition painful, and the rejections many, the remarkable size of the harvest is a reminder of God's blessing, the assurance of a grand and glorious conclusion."
Go, therefore, and believe!
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the promises of God abide forever.
Westminster Presbyterian Church