2 Samuel 22:21-29
"The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the LORD, And have not acted wickedly against my God. For all His ordinances were before me; And as for His statutes, I did not depart from them. I was also blameless toward Him, And I kept myself from my iniquity. Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, According to my cleanness before His eyes. With the kind Thou dost show Thyself kind, With the blameless Thou dost show Thyself blameless; With the pure Thou dost show Thyself pure, And with the perverted Thou dost show Thyself astute. And Thou dost save an afflicted people; But Thine eyes are on the haughty whom Thou dost abase. For Thou art my lamp, O LORD; And the LORD illumines my darkness."
The Lamp of God
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I think it was one of the first Bible passages I remember learning as memory work. "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." Those are the words of Psalm 119:105. They speak of one of the central truths of the Christian faith: the role of the Word of God in guiding our lives. For the child of God, truth is what God say is it is. Right and wrong are decided on the basis of the Word of God. That theme is carried forward in our Old Testament lesson this morning. Our theme is "The Lamp of God."
You might think that this topic is a "no-brainer", and doesn't need to be addressed, particularly as often as I seem to come back to it in one way or another. You would be wrong. I was reading just this past couple of weeks about churches, even Lutheran Churches, that assume that the Bible is wrong. Jesus' death was a failure of His, not the planned death for our redemption that Scriptures describe. Some churches are boldly - the paper calls it "bravely" - opening themselves to a full acceptance of homosexuality. This past week, for example, the ELCA voted overwhelmingly to ordain sexually active gays and lesbians, and allow them to serve as parish pastors. They also voted to be in fellowship with United Methodist Church. Other so-called Christians are rejoicing in cross-religion working together. This is not referring to the religion of the cross, or cross-denominational efforts, but Christians working and worshiping with Jews and Moslems, Hindus and Buddhists, and proclaiming that however our words and our language of religion may differ, we share the same "spirit life".
None of those ideas are taught in Scripture, of course, but churches full of people have somehow stumbled upon them and determined them to be relevant and modern and intelligent, and such. The underlying problem is that our minds are tuned to sin, and tuned out from God. The world and its ways make more sense to us than anything God's Word teaches. The Law of God makes sense to us, but even that wears out after a while. Before too long, we become too intelligent for the Word of God and too modern for that old-fashioned stuff. We just naturally hunger for the new.
You probably can identify that feeling in yourself if you think about it. It is the part of our make-up that makes it so interesting to pursue something, and so dull to possess it. You know what I mean? I have found that I just 'have to' get this or that, the latest thing, or something new that I don't have, but once I have it, it loses its charm very quickly. I have things around my house that I just had to get - some required working and saving for - and once I got them, I very quickly lost any interest in using them. And I know I am not unique in this.
God's Word and God's will does not change. Ever. It is fascinating to learn, but once you feel you have a grasp of it, whether that feeling is true or not, other things catch your attention far more easily. We try to tell ourselves that we are growing, but what it is, usually, is that we are growing jaded, or our flesh is rebelling against the Word of God, and we don't recognize that old feeling. That is how so very often good teachers get into false doctrine. The old is not exciting any longer, and they are looking for something fresh and new to revive that former feeling of excitement or satisfaction. That is why even the church has fads: Promise Keepers, the Prayer of Jabez, the Purpose-Driven Life!, The Late Great Planet Earth, or the Forty Days of Purpose. If you don't know all of those fads, count your blessings. Every two or three years, there is a new curiosity to research and explain and warn the faithful against.
David explains in our Psalm - recorded here in 2 Samuel - that God is his Lamp and the Lord illumines his darkness. What it means is that his direction and the path of his life is guided by God. It does not mean that David always walked in the way he should go. We know that is not true. It is actually one of the most revealing things about the Bible. God tells us about these heroes of the faith, warts and all. We know about the failings, weaknesses and some of the more egregious sins of the fathers. They were not paragons of virtue, models of propriety, or examples of unswerving faith. They were failing humans, a lot like us.
What the stories of the fathers illustrate for us better than anything else, is God's unfailing love, His grace and forgiveness, and His steady faithfulness to the people He chose. That is what David describes it for us with that interesting proverb of praise, "With the kind Thou dost show Thyself kind, With the blameless Thou dost show Thyself blameless; With the pure Thou dost show Thyself pure, And with the perverted Thou dost show Thyself astute."
First, this combination of characteristics tell us that God is ready to deal with us at any time and in any state we find ourselves. God can match us quality for quality and be 'fitting' with anyone at any time. If we are kind, God deals with us kindly. When we are blameless, God deals with us blamelessly. When we are holy, we can depend on God to be holy as well, and treat us in a holy fashion. And when we are not holy, God is true to Himself and able to deal with us wisely. God doesn't return just "whatever" we may give to Him. He improves on it, and deals appropriately with us in every case.
The second thing that this proverb of praise emphasizes is that God is always who He is. We don't change Him by being different ourselves. That is important. You can probably recognize the truth that some people bring out the worst in you. They get angry, then you get angry. They start griping or gossiping, and you tend to fall in with it even if you don't want to. People treating you badly tend to tempt you to respond in kind, making something out of you that you would prefer not to be.
God isn't like that. You cannot lure God away from His own nature. He is who He is - that is, in fact, the name He gave to Moses, "I Am Who I Am." His will does not change. His steadfast love for us is constant. He is wise and circumspect in all ways and in all of His dealings with us. That is why the Scriptures are so clear and communicate across so many ages and cultures. God knew what He was doing — and He still does.
That is why we emphasize His will: and what is the will of God? [Our salvation.] See? His will does not change - because God is who He is at all times and in the face of all circumstances. And He knows how to deal with us in every circumstance.
That is why the Lord is our light and our lamp. He is constant, not shifting and uncertain. He cannot and will not guide us in the wrong way. His love is our example. His patience and long-suffering is our pattern. We read the same thought in other places. For example, 1 John 4:19, "We love because He first loved us." We learn the meaning of love from the love which He has shown us in Christ. That self-sacrificing love is the primary example of what true love is about. And more than our example, it is the power behind our love for Him and for one another!
Again, there is 1 Peter 2:21, "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." In His sufferings, Christ left us an example of patient endurance, and of trust in God in the midst of difficult times. The suffering of Christ served not only to redeem you, but also to leave you a pattern to follow when you suffer. And the pattern is not just the patience in the midst of suffering, but the understanding that God is at work in us and through us to do something wonderful, even though it does not feel that way at the moment of suffering.
David was blessed as he was because he was faithful. King Saul before him was unfaithful, and his reign was ended after a time of great turmoil. David was the great king because He trusted in God. That is not to say that David was perfect. We know that He was not, and we know the troubles that he endured because of his sin, but David repented, and trusted in God and God blessed him as an example for us to trust in God, and repent when we sin, and listen when God speaks the absolution to us through His called servant. Your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ.
In His Word, God also teaches us what His will is like for our lives - some of that in the law - but also in the Gospel. Primarily, the Word of God tells us of His unceasing love so that we will trust in Him in any and all circumstances. His law teaches us how the life lived in the will of God will tend to look, but the Gospel teaches us both about our forgiveness and about the heart we should imitate as we deal with one another - hearts of compassion and forgiveness.
If you make God your light in life, will you end up as wonderfully successful as king David? Yes, but it won't look the same because God has called each of us to different tasks and different glory in His kingdom. First of all, none of us has been called to be king. But although it will look different to us, and to the world around us, the life we will live is no less significant in the plan of God, just as a nut or a bolt in no less significant in a machine just because it is small. If it fails, everything may come undone, or great damage be occur because the small piece failed, and everything shook and rattled in unhelpful ways.
God calls us to faith, and to holy living, and to showing forth His glory by lives live trusting in Him. We cannot always see or rightly assess our significance in His plan. It is not even wise to attempt to do so. God provides the power to live out our lives faithfully, and He provides the meaning for our lives, even where we cannot always see it. As God's people in Christ Jesus, we are called to be like David, and walk in the light of Christ, which is to say in the light of the lamp of God, and leave it in that hands of God to make it glorious, for He is our lamp, and the LORD illumines our darkness.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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