Based on Psalm 1, 1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19
I really didn’t think about laws much in my life – certainly I knew to follow the major ones and stay out of trouble. I also ran across the ones like don’t drive over the speed limit and don’t park here, but for the most part, my life growing up was devoid of significant interactions with laws and the legal system. Looking back to my teens and early 20’s, I was either ambivalent or negative towards laws – certainly never delighted in any. Once I got into Pharmacy School, however, it became clear that I had entered a profession that was profoundly structured by rules and regulations. There were Federal regulations and practice standards (such as the drug class system), regs for mailing medicines and each State had its own set of laws and practice standards. The rules and regs got down to what reference books needed to be stocked in the Pharmacy as well as how large and how high off the floor the counters were. The State Boards of Pharmacy and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would visit pharmacies routinely, and after a violation had been registered. Being so heavily regulated, it’s no wonder that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians tend to be very particular about how things are done and stored in a Pharmacy.
Laws are everywhere – families have their unique set of rules for example, and most people learn to live within the rules so that they do not suffer a penalty for non-compliance. Laws appeared to have emerged as societies got more complex and needed to trade with other groups. Trade alliances and records are some of the oldest writings we have. Communal laws, such as those of King Hammurapi, detail for all people what happens when folks at different levels of society harm one another. From these ancient beginnings come our laws today. Not everyone agrees with the laws as they are, and some break laws they believe are unjust (think about racial segregation), but it would be impossible to live in our world without some understanding of how it is that we are to legally interact with each other – that is, what are our responsibilities to each other.
God has given us laws as well – rules to guide our interactions with each other and with God. The most well known are the Ten Commandments of the Hebrew Bible and the Two Commandments of Jesus from the New Testament. Laws, laws, laws, we are surrounded and sometimes confounded by them. Can we ever get to a point where we might delight in them? Let’s pray to God for some help on that before we dive into our scriptures for today…
Psalm 1, which follows hard on the heels of the end of the Book of Job, puts it plainly that there are two ways to live. You can follow the way of the wicked, sinners and the scoffers, or you can delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on that night and day. The Orthodox Jewish Bible replaces “happy” with “blessed” and in the sixth verse “watches over” with “knows”. Thus, blessings come to those who choose to follow Adonai’s laws – they are constantly watered and renewed, and yield the fruit that God intended them to yield in their season. Conversely, the wicked are not known by Adonai, and they cannot be part of God’s congregation, therefore they do not yield the fruit they were made for, and they perish. Seeking to understand God’s law then opens us up to the grace of God and in this way we learn how fortunate we are to be loved so deeply and well. Maybe this is how we learn to delight in the law?
1 John 5 builds on what we have heard in Psalm 1. Verse 3 says, “…For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,…” We pick up our scripture today which is talking of testifying. To testify means “to make known” or “to give evidence of”. It goes on to say in verse 10 that “…Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony (of God through the Holy Spirit) in their hearts….” Those that don’t believe do not have the testimony that “God gave us eternal life , and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life….” Once again we see that the expansion of Jesus over the Hebrew Bible understanding of belief is that we go from bearing fruit and prospering to having eternal life. Truly then, the commandments of God (now down to two in Jesus) are not burdensome when compared with the benefit. Maybe this leads to delight in God’s laws?
The 17th Chapter of the Gospel according to John is Jesus’ final prayer for His Disciples. In the 17th verse, Jesus prays, “…Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth….” Sanctify them with your word – make them holy through the truth of what you God, have to say to each of them. In verse 20, Jesus provides the reason He is asking for their sanctification…”on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word” , (i.e., the word of Jesus’ disciples), “…that they may all be one….” Make the Disciples holy through the true word of God so that they might transmit this to others across space and time. Maybe this is the way we come to delight in the law of God?
I think that if we take what we have learned from all three passages today we can begin to piece together what is so special about God’s law (aka God’s word). God’s word is true because it flows out of God’s hesed (steadfast love and faithfulness) for all of creation. God’s word plays no favorites, it is available for all who wish to believe it. It is timeless, because in each age it speaks to the common human condition – thus it is accessible for every person to understand. Finally, it conveys blessing, a community of fellow believers, and eternal life for all who study it and earnestly seek to understand its truth; and to follow where it leads. There is nothing more delightful than this – it is what we all are seeking when we first get baptized, when we speak our confirmation vows, when we vow to love another in the sight of God and a congregation, or when we come to the end of our days and seek the truth of the words that tell us of the next place we will find ourselves when we transition from here.
I began to delight in God’s word/law when I found how it spoke to the needs I had in my life. It spoke to my angst and the nagging thoughts that I had about my burnout in the ICU – and what I would do about that issue. It offered me a way forward and a way to continue to bear fruit – only fruit of a slightly different kind as a different professional. The truth of God’s law/word for me and you today is part and parcel of how and why I can get up here in front of you good people every week and seek to engage you in meditations on God’s word/laws. I suspect that it is, more or less, why you all keep coming here every week as well…to seek the truth of God’s word/law for your life and for the lives of those you love. That truth being the truth of the testimony of those who have gone before us that Jesus is the Son of the One true God, who asks us to follow where we are led by the Spirit, to live lives of commitment and faith that will ultimately yield a world where God can once again call home.
God’s word of unconditional love is time tested and honored. It will find you where ever you are and lead you where you hadn’t thought of going. It will uncover talents you never thought you had and lead you to abundant and eternal life. With all that having been said, what’s not to delight in God’s holy and timeless word? Amen and amen!