Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

A Woven Garland

Psalm 119:145-152
(the poem is an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet, and this stanza begins with the letter Qoph)

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!  I will keep your statutes.
I call to you; save me, that I may observe your testimonies.
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.
Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
O Lord, according to your justice give me life.
They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from your law.
But you are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are true.
Long have I known from your testimonies that you have founded them forever.

True to the poetic form it is set in, Psalm 119 weaves a poet’s garland together; a harmony of law and promise not found so close to each other in many other parts of Scripture, except in Jesus.

Many have observed that, with the exception of one verse (the way the verse numbers were added centuries later), every phrase of Psalm 119 mentions the Law of God in some way.  I disagree.  Every couplet adds to the garland, to be sure.  But we must differentiate between God’s Law and his Promise. 

Maybe the best way to look at the Psalm is by asking which phrases utilize the language of the courtroom and which are talking about God’s self-revelation.  Look at this brief passage again with the phrases dealing with Law indented:

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!  I will keep your statutes.
I call to you; save me, that I may observe your testimonies.
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.
Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
O Lord, according to your justice give me life.
They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from your law.
But you are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are true.
Long have I known from your testimonies that you have founded them forever.

Back and forth the Psalmist goes between Law and Love, between Commandment and Promise, between that which is judged and that which is felt. 

In Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus heals a leper: When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.  And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 

This is a beautiful example of the harmony of Law and Love.  The leper takes no thought of the Law of God.  If he had, he would not have approached Jesus the way he did.  He was considered unclean, and even his presence in the crowd that day was forbidden.  Leviticus 13:44-45 says, "Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!' He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp."

He was an outcast, pure and simple.   His approach to Jesus, therefore, is an emotional one: if you are willing you can make me clean.  “Jesus, if it is in your heart, overlook the Law just this once!” 

Jesus does what the man begs him to do.  Then, having dismissed the first requirement of the Law, he upholds the second: “Go, and show yourself to the priests as a testimony.”   This healing, like so many others done by Jesus, follows an unorthodox path.  Some have even commented that Jesus was, by the standards of the Pharisees, a law-breaker.   But I think Jesus was taking up, in himself, the garland of Love and Law found in Psalm 119 and applying it well. 

Jon



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