Psalm 15 Coming Home February 2, 2014
Those of you who can remember back to the very first weeks of Christine’s and my ministry here, back in the summer of 2007…if you plumb the recesses of your memory deep enough, and if you remember details like this, you might remember that in those early days, I would dress up for Sunday morning worship.
And what I mean by ‘dress up’ is, I would wear a shirt and a tie on Sunday mornings.
(thankfully, I still wear a shirt, but I no longer wear a tie most Sundays). 🙂
Back then I didn’t really know what the culture of this particular church was, and I didn’t want the issue of dress to create any obstacles to people hearing what I had to say…so I wore a nice shirt and tried to coordinate my tie to match.
Now, I can still remember Bruce Glick pulling me aside after a few weeks or maybe even a month or two…and just letting me know that wearing a tie really wasn’t necessary in this church, and that he wouldn’t be the only one who’d be OK if I stopped wearing it.
So I did!
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate those of you who do dress up for church.
I do. but Bruce helped me understand my inner dialogue. He created space-just in that simple Sunday morning interaction-space where I could question and come to terms with my motivation for wearing a tie.
See, it’s easy to fall into habits like that, isn’t it? It’s easy to start doing something because that’s what you perceive is expected of you, and if you’re never allowed to question or examine what’s behind it,…well, I might still be wearing ties to church every Sunday (which wouldn’t be all bad).
What Bruce helped me come to terms with was that I was trying to be someone I’m not.
That was probably already evident to Bruce when he approached me.
He knew I’m not a ‘tie’ guy, but I was willing to try because I thought those were the expectations churches had of their pastors.
Now, I don’t mean to make a big issue about how we dress for church.
I’m simply using the tie issue because it’s a fairly innocent, neutral issue-at least here, today, in this particular church.
But I do think the tie issue can symbolize far more significant things if we let it.
Centuries ago, there was a man who became known for creating similar spaces within the Christian community, and he developed a spiritual practice that can be helpful for us even today, as we seek to follow Christ.
His name was Ignatius of Loyola, and the practice he developed is called the ‘consciousness examen.”
I won’t get into it too much this morning, except to plug a Wednesday evening series Christine is going to do during Lent if you’re interested in learning more.
But I will say that Psalm 15 might be a good passage to use, to examine your inner life before the throne of God.
Let me explain.
Millersburg Mennonite Church is, well, Mennonite…
…and “Mennonite” is part of a broader group of churches that are “Anabaptist”
(not anti-baptist, not baptist, but Ana-baptist),
Anabaptist is is a word with Latin roots that means re-baptisers.
So here’s a question for those of you who are up on your church history…what are some of the things that these early radicals, or these ‘anabaptists’ were resisting in the catholic church?
(don’t be shy)
(infant baptism, indulgences, the pope, interpretation of scripture)
Right- some of the things the early anabaptists really reacted against were things like needing a priest to interpret scripture, the whole hierarchical system that mediated God’s grace to the people, and what they were starting to believe was that the scriptures could be studied and understood in a community of faith without a priest figure, that they didn’t need a pope, and that God’s grace was available to anyone and everyone who could make a conscious decision on their own to accept that grace.
So those are a few reasons we value community so highly; because our tradition kind of has it’s roots in forming a community around a voluntary decision to follow Christ, as well as an automatic kind of revulsion against having any one person have too much power, such as a pope, or even a king.
See, I would argue that these reforms were needed. I might be biased, but when you read some of this history, it seems clear that there were some pretty messed up things happening, abuses of power, shady systems within the catholic church had converged with shady systems in the state, it was an all-around mess.
So what the Anabaptists did, was, they kind of dismantled everything, and they tried to kind of start over, letting scripture along guide their behavior as a community of people following the way of Christ.
This is why we Anabaptists have historically had such a high view of Scripture, and on the flip side, such a disregard for things like authority and power.
But one problem that comes in re-claiming these things is how that attitude bleeds into our view of God!
-So the Anabaptists kind of went off on their own, and they paid some heavy prices because of it in the form of persecution from both sides.
That’s why if someone asks me if Mennonites are Protestant or Catholic, I like to say “neither”.
We have some pretty good reasons to be suspicious of power, and we’ve inherited a strong tradition called the priesthood of all believers, which is kind of the shorthand way of saying no one individual should be given too much power in a church setting, and at the same time we’re all responsible to do the work of ‘church’; offering guidance, interpreting scripture, offering pastoral care; these are the tasks of this whole body, not just the priest (or the pastors).
So what’s any of this got to do with how we dress?
It’s part of who we are; it’s part of our heritage, the belief that God is accessible to everyone; not just the elite, and that the scriptures can be studied and applied in community; not just by the priest telling us what to do.
It’s very Anabaptist, to recognize that God is accessible, God is present in the body, God can be known within the face of the stranger.
But it’s easy for us to forget that God
And to be approached with fear and trembling.
God is not our buddy.
He is not our peer.
I don’t think the pope necessarily has a closer connection to God than anyone else. I don’t think that prayers said by my seminary profs have any more power than the prayers that you or I say.
I don’t think God loved Mother Theresa any more (or any less) than He loves all the people sitting in the Holmes county Jail right now.
But I do think we could do with a little more fear and trembling as we approach Him! 🙂
Psalm 15 is an ancient liturgy.
As the worshippers would approach the temple gate, they would ask the priest the requirements for admission; that’s verse 1.
“O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?”
And the language used reminds them of the history they have, when there was no temple, just a tent of meeting.
So they would humbly approach the place of worship, asking what the requirements might be to enter, and then the priest or priests would respond with the basics of faith as follows in the rest of the Psalm, and the people might repeat these basics as part of the liturgy.
The answer lists ten qualifications; ten attributes that the righteous person will exhibit in their life in order to gain admittance to the place of worship.
In our quest to make everyone feel welcome and equal, it’s easy to forget that God does actually expect His people to bear fruit, isn’t it?
It’s easy to lose sight of the moral and ethical demands of worship.
Now, to some extent at least, I know “people”. I know what it is to be human, at least I think I do, a little bit.
And I know that we’re quick to take something like Psalm 15, and turn it into a list of benchmarks; a list of attributes that we can tick off one by one…and that none of us would likely be able to say we walk blamelessly, speak the truth, never slander, despise the wicked, stand by our oaths even when it hurts us, etc.
If we’re honest with ourselves, I would guess that nobody here would actually stand with integrity and gain admittance into the temple worship if this was a kind of test.
But I do think, if our hearts are in this Faith-thing, we’d be trying.
These aren’t exactly pre-requisites…they’re more like attributes; these qualities are gifts that God gives to the people who love him.
And I think we’d be itching to gain admittance because it would feel like we’re ‘coming home’, not just trying to jump through some hoops, like wearing a tie was for me on a Sunday morning.
There’s an authenticity about it, because it becomes ‘who we are’.
True worship isn’t simply about offering praise to God.
True worship isn’t about what we do here on a Sunday morning.
True worship…it leads us to take a look inward, to confess before God and before each other, where we haven’t walked blamelessly, where we haven’t done what is right.
It’s being able to face your friends and tell them how you’ve fallen short; not covering it up to complete some rote ritual that isn’t connected to your daily life.
We could do with a little more fear and trembling these days.
As I close I’d like to invite us all to a time of introspection. Let me read this Psalm for you, and if it helps to close your eyes and look back over the past day or week or month as I read it, do that.
Be honest with yourself and honest with God as to where you stand this morning and what you might need to change.
And if you’d like to pray after the service with a member of the ministry team or anyone else, I offer you that opportunity as well.
We are not a people who prize outward appearances, but rather we value honest worship before the Almighty God revealed to us through Jesus.
After a moment of silence, I’ll read the Psalm…