3rd Sunday in Lent (Year B - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, March 18, and Sunday, March 19, 2006
(place different kinds of soda on table)
Here’s a whole bunch of different kinds of soda. Everybody likes different kinds, I suppose, and some of my favorites are up here—Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola, Wild Cherry Pepsi, and I suppose I could start a fight by saying that Coke is better than Pepsi. But you know, awhile ago a dietician pointed out to me that no matter what flavor they are, all of these sodas are flavored by high fructose corn syrup. Sure, these sodas taste sweet. We talk about craving sugar, but it’s not like SUGAR (place a bag of sugar on table). It’s really made from CORN (place a can of corn on table). Even this lemonade, iced tea, and all natural Snapple juice are just high fructose corn syrup.
Feeling funny about that, sometimes I check the labels on soda made in small-batches by smaller companies. Take this one, for instance. Boylan Bottleworks Black Cherry. It’s made with pure cane sugar. (open bottle, take a swig) It really changes the taste. My favorite is a great little soda maker in St. Louis called Fitz’s which uses pure cane sugar, and it really is great soda.
But I suppose we could do one better. Even better than cane sugar, the bees are making HONEY (place honey on table). Honey has such a different kind of sweetness that it makes it so much better. So I went and found a soda that is sweetened with honey. This is Reed’s Ginger Ale. (open bottle, take a swig) And that’s really good, because you can tell that honey is so much different from cane sugar and way different that the high fructose corn syrup.
And that’s the image I want you to remember as you read Psalm 19—God’s Word is sweeter than honey, better than pure honey. His Word, His commandments, His way for our lives, His Word of hope and peace and love, everything God has told us about Himself, that is sweeter than honey, that’s like finding the best tasting soda—you don’t want to go back to drinking other stuff, the cheap stuff, the fake stuff . . .or do you?
This soda is good (raise honey-flavored one), but I’m so unused to honey, that even though I know honey might be better, might taste better, might be better for me, still what if I’d rather have high fructose corn syrup?
Even though I know that honey or even pure cane sugar are better sweeteners, more pure, natural, and better tasting, even though I know this, still sometimes I crave the fake stuff, the high fructose corn syrup. And the strange thing is that what I’m craving isn’t sugar. . .it’s the corn. Reports say that this country is overweight due to corn. Not because we’re all eating so much corn on the cob. No, we’re getting fat on corn because we’re drinking it in high fructose corn syrup flavored sodas. The stuff is too sweet which then is also leading to the rising rates of diabetes.
And yet, I’m hooked, I crave it, I really like my Coca-Cola.
Well, in that same way, don’t we often want the fake wisdom instead of the true wisdom of God. Instead of God’s Word which is sweeter than pure honey, don’t we often settle for, even crave the teachings of the world. We’d rather have our own thoughts and ideas about how to live instead of going for the good stuff.
All of the wisdom of this world, all of our own ideas that we make up, all of the stuff that the devil tries to sell us, that’s like high fructose corn syrup. It’s fake, it’s not good for us. When we keep making up our own ideas about how to live, it’s making us spiritually overweight, giving us spiritual diabetes. Whenever we listen to the world, our own sinful thoughts, or Satan, we’re choosing high fructose corn syrup over honey, we’re choosing the fake stuff instead of God’s Word, and it’s making us spiritually sick.
For instance, I’d like to think that I could get myself to heaven, but that’s just a high fructose corn syrup kind of thought. I don’t want to offend someone by saying that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but that kind of thought is like having corn instead of honey. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll sound fun, but that’s a fake sugar. All of those ideas that we have about the world, the ideas we make up ourselves, our thoughts about morality and God, it’s all just high fructose corn syrup.
Only God’s Word is honey, pure honey, pure sweetness. Psalm 19 says that “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” The wisdom of this world brings death, but God’s law brings life. “The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Really the wisdom of the world doesn’t make us any wiser about the real truths; only God can bring us the spiritual truths we need for eternal life. “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.” It seems like that the wisdom of this world, our own thoughts, or just doing whatever we want, that seems to give us joy, but only God can give us a joy that doesn’t disappear. “The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” The wisdom of this world is like a flashlight with dying batteries: it brings light for just a moment and quickly dies. God’s Word shines on forever. God’s Word brings life, makes us truly wise, brings true joy, and shines with everlasting light. God’s Word is even better than pure honey; God’s Word is the best kind of sweetness we can imagine.
And Psalm 19 celebrates this, and I want to pause here, because I know many of you are dealing with the shock of Mary Canty’s death in a car accident on Friday. Mary Canty knew the sweetness of God’s Word. I mean, I love God’s Word, but Mary was someone who really taught me to see how rich, beautiful, pure, and sweet God’s Word is. I thank God for the beautiful faith He gave to Mary through the Holy Spirit. I praise God that because of that faith, she gets to celebrate His Word with Him for eternity.
David, who wrote Psalm 19, celebrates the sweetness of God’s Word, and then he comes to the conclusion you can see in those last verses:
How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
Keep me from deliberate sins!
Don’t let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt
and innocent of great sin.
David realized how wonderful and perfect and pure and sweet God’s Word is, and that made him realize how sinful and corrupt and sick and fake his own thoughts were. In fact, David realizes that his spiritual health is worse than he even knows. He prays that God will forgive and remove those hidden faults, those ways he’s drinking that high fructose corn syrup without even realizing it.
One scholar said it this way: “Psalm 19 is the plea of someone who keeps God’s law with joy but knows there will still be hidden errors and sins that God will need to forgive” (Patrick D. Miller, They Cried to the Lord, 102-103). It’s like knowing that you enjoy choosing the soda with honey, you believe in getting rid of the fake stuff, but still there’s times when you stop caring about it and just choose high fructose corn syrup. In that same way, many of us enjoy following God’s ways, we seek to serve God with our lives. We’re not out there deliberately trying to go against God’s will, and yet, as soon as we take a look at God’s Word, we realize that our spiritual diet just isn’t that healthy. Spiritually there’s still hidden sins, hidden faults, ways that our sinfulness gets the best of us, ways that Satan and the world fool us.
We’re breaking our spiritually healthy diet in more ways than we know. If our spiritual lives were like Weight Watchers, we’d be counting our points, sticking with our plan, learning to do portion control, and yet, there’s all of those snacks, pieces of candy, and cans of soda that we sneak, that we don’t count as points. We’re constantly breaking our spiritual diet without even thinking about it.
Yet, in Psalm 19, David sounds very confident that God’s Word has also taught him about God’s forgiveness. . .for all of our sins. Yes, God’s Word is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, and sure. God’s way of life is the most perfect way. However, this includes God’s forgiveness and love, His Gospel, His Good News in Jesus Christ. God’s forgiveness is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, and sure.
While we still crave, while still jones for the bad stuff, God keeps coming to us to offer us the real stuff, the pure stuff. Whenever we realize that the high fructose corn syrup of our sin is making us unhealthy, God comes offering us the pure honey of His Word. While we have all of these hidden faults, God still comes with His Word of forgiveness.
Psalm 19 praises God for His pure, excellent, sweet Word which brings us life, but Psalm 19 also is a prayer for protection from evil. In fact, it’s very much like what we say in the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil.” When David says in Psalm 19, “Keep me from deliberate sins!/Don’t let them control me,” that’s another way of saying “deliver us from evil.” We’re crying out to God for His protection from the evil of this world, the evil of our own sinfulness, the evil of Satan.
That same scholar makes the comparison this way, “The basic petition (request) of all the Old Testament prayers for help, the prayer of God’s saving grace, God’s delivering help in the face of any evil that may befall us—illness, oppression, insolent or evil people, and the like. The Lord’s Prayer thus comes at its end to [sum up] all those cries for help that we have seen at the heart of the prayers of the Psalter and the stories of people and communities in distress” (Miller, 334-335). “Deliver us from evil.” It sums up all of the prayers of the Old Testament; it sums up all of our prayers. We’re asking God to deliver us from high fructose corn syrup; we’re asking God to deliver us from the wisdom of this world that’s fake, false, leading to death.
And God promises to hear our cries. God hears our cries today. He sees how our spirits rejoice in His Word, and yet, He also sees how our souls are plagued with cravings for things that are unhealthy for us, cravings for sin and rebellion. We want to do our own thing. We want to believe our own ideas about God. He sees how we are spiritually sick, eating up the fake sugar of this world. He hears our cries for help and protection, sending His Word to us through the Bible, through the Church, through the words of fellow Christians, through hymns and Bible studies and devotions. God sends His pure, excellent, sweet Word to us to give us what we need for life: salvation through Jesus Christ. God sends His Holy Spirit in our hearts to protect us, to deliver us from evil.
Maybe you’re concerned about how many things of this world are tempting you. Maybe you’ve realized today just how much you fall for the fake sweetness of the world instead of the true sweetness of God’s Word. Maybe today you’re really feeling like you need to be delivered. Well, I promise that God hears you today as you cry out, as your soul cries out for protection, as your soul cries for the perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, and sure Word of God. No matter how many times we try to add other things to the table, God is constantly trying to remove the false wisdom from our lives (take down all soda and others except one with honey), helping us to focus on the soda with honey, the Word of God which sweeter than pure honey.
I’m leaving this soda out here, the one with honey, as a visual for you to remember that we choose God’s Word, we choose the pure word of God that is sweeter than honey. God’s Word is that much better than any other wisdom you’ll find in this world. It is the only truth, and that truth in God’s Word brings the sweetness of forgiveness into our lives, forgiveness for our bad spiritual diets. Remember this soda today, so that you’ll remember how God’s Word is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, sure and sweet.