1 Praise the Lord!
Happy are those who fear the Lord,
who greatly delight in his commandments.
2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;
they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
6 For the righteous will never be moved;
they will be remembered for ever.
7 They are not afraid of evil tidings;
their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
9 They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked see it and are angry;
they gnash their teeth and melt away;
the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.
Preached by Rev. Sandi Anthony, Sunday, February 9, 2020–Boy Scout Sunday
A Rev. Taylor Mertins tells this funny story: “It happened in a small town in a small United Methodist Church. A single mother was struggling to raise her two boys who were the talk of the town. At 10 and 12 years of age, the two brothers were often responsible for any of the “accidents” [or incidents] in the town. They regularly vandalized certain buildings, were known for shoplifting candy from the local 7-11, and would ding-dong-ditch any house they could find. Yet on Sunday morning, there they were sitting on either side of the mother in church. The boys would politely greet the minister when they walked in, but during the sermon they loved to make farting sounds while the preacher paused in a sermon. They were trouble. Now because the mother was raising the boys all alone, many of the people in the community that wanted to do something about the two boys, felt that it wasn’t their place; that mother had enough on her plate. This type of behavior went on for some time. The boys would continue their antics, driving people crazy, until one day when the mother had had enough. The pastor at the local United Methodist Church was a young man fresh from seminary; he thought he had it all figured out. For weeks he had wanted to call out those two boys from the pulpit in the middle of a sermon, but he thought better of it: he would look down on that poor mother and let it go. So it came to pass that the mother called the young minister. “Preacher,” she barked into the telephone, “I want you to strike the fear of God into my boys. This has got to stop.” “It will be my absolute pleasure,” the preacher replied.
The following Sunday, after worship, the minister invited the two young boys to his office, leaving one to sit outside while the other sat on the hot seat in the office. In order to achieve some sort of repentance from the boys, the preacher thought about teaching them that God is always present, and therefore sees everything. This, he hoped, would teach them to behave better. With the first brother sitting across the office table, the preacher began his lesson. “Where is God? No response. “Where is God?!” The boy began to fidget. Where is God?!!” The lack of response was beginning to irritate the pastor. “I want you to answer me right now, where is God?!?!”
And with that the boy jumped from his seat and hightailed it out of the office, grabbed his brother, and bolted for the parking lot. “What’s going on?” the one brother asked the other. “We’re in real trouble this time. God’s gone missing, and they think we had something to do with it!” (https://www.google.com/amp/s/thinkandletthink.com/2014/02/10/to-fear-or-not-to-fear-sermon-on-psalm-112-and-mark-6-45-51/amp/).
Our psalm today starts with a beatitude: Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments. Now a beatitude is a saying that begins with the word “blessed,” which can also be translated as “happy.” We get the word beatitude from Latin. In Latin beati translates to “happy,” “rich,” or “blessed. It’s also where get our word for “beauty” or “beautiful.” We think of the eight beatitudes or blessings Jesus said during his Sermon on the Mount: Remember them? Here’s a few of them: Happy or blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Happy or blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Happy or blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. The psalms proclaim beatitudes as well: Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments. Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in their house…” See, good things happened to those who fear the Lord—that’s really the wisdom offered in Psalm 12—that’s the take-home message, simple as it is. The psalms are a big section of our Bibles that make up what we call “wisdom literature.” Proverbs, the Book of Job and Song of Solomon among others are part of what we call wisdom literature in our Bibles. But let’s talk about what it means to fear the Lord. Because it may not be what you think—or what those boys or their mother or pastor thought—in that funny story.
What our pew Bibles translate as “fear” really means is awe, reverence, or respect—qualities sorely lacking in our society today, but qualities you Scouts affirm in your law and practice in your projects so that you embody them in your soul: being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and there it is, REVERENT. Being reverent doesn’t mean you need to fear God like some might fear, sweat, and tremble over crossing that suspension bridge high above a gorge on the fronts of your bulletins—or cowering in a corner fearing that God is going to punish you for few making farting noises in church. Fearing God is more about understanding God’s awesome power and strength and giving more weight to God than to the influence of the world. Fearing God means you respect God and all that God wants for God’s people. It means you respect God’s creation and care for all God cares for: the least of these, the poor (which this psalm indeed references), the widow, the orphan. And do you know what respect means? Like “beatitude,” we can break this word into root meanings. “Re” means again, or twice, or second. You know to “re do” something—means to do it again. “Spect” means to see, or sight (specs, like your glasses to see through). So, respect means to “see again” or “see twice.” It means to really, deeply see—to get a bigger glimpse of what is going on, the way God does. When you really see, you gain a different perspective, you get re-oriented to some things. You see the world differently; you see God differently; you see a whole issue more deeply. And you have an epiphany moment, when you gain an insight or truth more deeply. These moments of heightened reverence, respect can come in the most unusual times and places too.
I had one of these moments last Sunday afternoon while watching a musical down at the Phoenix Theater called “Americano.” This musical is a true story about Tony, the child of Mexican immigrants, who discovers his undocumented status when he tries to enlist in the Marines, which was his lifelong dream. He loved this country so much. When he can’t enlist, he must confront his family, his heritage, and a deeply divided country. We’ve all heard about the Dreamers. With all of the issues swirling around, it was one I never paid much attention to because I had no skin in the game, it didn’t touch me—but the story, the play, the art had its intended effect on me: The musical drove the plight of these dear people home for the rapt audience; some of us were in tears. Before, I never really took time to understand what it means to be a Dreamer; that simply wasn’t my world, in my sight because I have lived a life of privilege, of certain belonging—I had to gain respect by way of “second sight” and reverence for God expressed in all humanity. As the musical story unfolded, we see why Tony’s parents were forced to leave Mexico when the Mexican economy collapsed. They were desperate to feed their family, their little ones, and there was absolutely nothing for them in Mexico; it was so desperate. Although he was college-educated, Tony’s dad became a migrant worker in Sahuarita—just to feed his family—for a time before going to work for a construction company—all the while undocumented. Because his parents were undocumented and brought Tony to this country when he was only two, he was undocumented as well. We see the hunger, the human struggle, the family love, the sacrifice, and suddenly, “those people” become us, God’s children; in fact, God’s preferred ones, the poor and struggling and outsiders. Always remember that even young Jesus, our Lord, was a refugee in Egypt. The Bible commands us again and again to care for the struggling ones.
And so, I gained respect, reverence. I saw this issue a with second sight in the musical that reoriented my thinking, my heart—brought an issue to perfect, moral clarity for me. That’s what being “born again” really is, you know. It’s having your thinking and very being in this world reoriented to God’s way. The way we treat and feel about others, the immigrant, the alien, the outsider, is the way we treat and feel about God, make no mistake about that. The Bible is perfectly clear about that in its relentless repetition.
And so, the second part of my sermon today is about the result of having respect and reverence for God, for creation, for all of life—the result of having this fear or awe or respect or reverence of the Lord. What kind of life will you have if you live a life that heeds this psalm, that heeds your Scout Law, no doubt inspired by the world’s great religious texts? You will have a much greater chance of being happy. Your soul will be light, unburdened by sin. You will be blessed. The psalm says specifically you will be remembered forever, you will look in triumph on your foes, your righteousness will endure forever—because your goodness will become your legacy. You will be in stark contrast to the wicked who, as the psalm says, “gnash their teeth and melt away.” You will be the leaders, the ones with the good life, the clear conscience, the one whose families have the greatest chance of being happy, blessed. Those of you who spend years in Scouts, dedicate yourselves to the principles, or go on to become Eagle Scouts—people will have great respect for you—they will look up to you. Doors will open; people will have confidence in you and you will be favored in getting into first-choice colleges and in finding good jobs. This is simply pure, biblical wisdom concentrated here in Psalm 112. Does this mean that nothing bad will befall you if you delight in God’s commandments, if you always do things right? No. It just means you have a greater likelihood of avoiding some of life’s worst pitfalls that can really bog you down—like suffering the guilt that can really impact your well-being. Or having to cope with the legacy of lies that get more and more difficult to cover up and eventually expose you and those you love to shame.
I’ll end with this story about reverence, respect and this notion of seeing twice, seeing again. In this post-Christmas church season, well call them epiphanies, which can happen when we look more deeply at things. Steven Covey, the author of the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People shares this: “I remember a mini-paradigm shift (which, by the way, is an epiphany) I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing. It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?’ The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what do think, and I guess they don’t know who to handle it either.’ Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.”
I would say that by way of an epiphany, Mr. Covey came to a deep respect or reverence for what was going on in with the newly bereaved family. He looked again—experienced second sight. How we treat each other, remember, is how we treat God, for God’s divine Spirit is in all of us. This is what the Bible means when it talks about the fear of God. It really is about respect and reverence for life, all of life. We all have to open ourselves to the possibilities that something deeper is going on beyond our knee-jerk reactions, our usual way of thinking. That’s what happened with me after watching the musical Americano last week: my consciousness was raised, my heart opened.
Today my prayer for all of you is that opportunities present in your lives when you are made to see the world differently, issues differently. When doing so, you may see God differently. May your epiphany moments become more frequent and may you grow in your reverence. Remember how Psalm 112 starts with a beatitude: Happy (blessed) are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments. Psalm 112, and in fact all of scripture, point to a greater likelihood of having a good life when delighting in God’s commandments. Amen.