Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sustained by God or Painting a Picture of God Psalm 147:1-8

The following message was preached at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City on February 2, 2010. It invites us to consider how we see God - how we paint our picture of God.

Well with the Christmas Blizzard of 2009, Beth, the kids and I did not get to make our trip to the mountains of Georgia to see my brother and his family. Probably like most of you, we were locked away in our house, held captive by the snow. On Monday we were finally able to get out so we decided to do an overnight trip to Tulsa. One of the highlights of the trip was our stop at the Philbrook Museum. I was particularly intrigued by their collection of Eastern European icons – images Mary and Jesus, painted on wood, most depicting mother and child that looked like those who were painting them. It seemed the same was true of some of the larger oil paintings that depicted scenes in Jesus’ life.

One of the great theologians, Paul Tillich, must have had similar moment. In a book called The New Beginning he asks; How do we paint Jesus the Christ? It does not matter whether He is painted in lines and colors, as the great Christian painters in all periods have done or whether we paint Him in sermons, as the Christian preachers have done Sunday after Sunday, or whether we paint Him in learned books, in Biblical or systematic theology, or whether we paint Him in our hearts, in devotion, imagination and love. In each case we must answer the question: How do we paint Jesus the Christ? The stories in the Gospel of Matthew contribute to the answer; they add a color, an expression, a trait of great intensity, they paint Him as the healer: It is astonishing that this color, this vivid expression of His nature, this powerful trait of His character, has more and more been lost in our time. The grayish colors of a moral teacher, the tense expression of a social reformer, the soft traits of a suffering servant have prevailed, at least amongst our painters and theologians and life-of-Jesus novelists; perhaps not so much in the hearts of the people who need somebody to heal them.[i]

(Move back to the center of the platform) I think he is right. It seems that in reaction to the television charismatic faith healers and in response to medical science and the evolution of psychiatry, it has somehow become progressively easier to remove God from our healing vocabulary. It is our loss. It cheats us out of seeing the depth of God’s care for us. It can blind us to seeing how God heals and sustains us. Psalm 147 is one of final handful of psalms that create the doxology for this grand book of poetry and song. It also paints a bold outline of the image of a God who sustains and heals us. This picture is completed in the dramatic strokes of color found among the healing stories of Jesus in the gospels.

The first stroke of the paint brush is found in verses 1 and 2. It reads; 1 Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! 2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. This stroke adds the shades and hues of restoration. The Psalmist begins with praise and almost immediately turns to the healing and sustaining acts of God. Most scholars believe that this psalm was written to the congregation in Jerusalem after their return home from exile.[ii] It speaks directly into their memory and their woundedness. The Psalmist reminds them of a time when they were broken, when they had lost their home, when they we outsiders, strangers in a strange land. The Psalmist helps them to remember when times were dark and desperate and when God stepped in with His healing and sustaining hand to restore them. Like the father welcomed the Prodigal Son home in the parable story told by Jesus, so God gathers the outcasts from Israel.[iii]

Has there been a time when you felt on the outside looking in? Have you experienced a time when you felt like a stranger in a strange land – witnessing others tell stories and assume everyone knows the punch line – sharing inside jokes where they laugh and you stand silent? For some, this moment is found in school – or in the work place – or maybe even at your in-laws table. Have you ever felt like you were going through the motions, without any real sense of purpose or joy? The Psalmist sings out that God is worthy of praise and stands ready to heal. When you are torn down – it is God who stands ready to build you up. When you are isolated, frustrated, and alone – it is God who stands ready to gather us close and restore us to our rightful place as a child of God.

The next stroke of the paint brush is found in verses 3, 4, and 5. It reads: 3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. 4 He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. 5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. This stroke adds the vivid colors of the healing of the brokenhearted. It seems that here the Psalmist gets personal. Almost all of us can relate to what it means to have a broken heart. Sometimes our hearts were broken when we saw a dream dashed – a hope vanquished – a young love fade – a loved one lost. I love how the great preacher Charles Spurgeon spoke to this at the close of the 19th Century. His word ring as true now as then. He said, “Hearts are broken through disappointment. Hearts are broken through bereavement. Hearts are broken in ten thousand ways, for this is a heart-breaking world; and Christ is good at healing all manner of heart-breaks.”[iv]

Did you hear the promise of the Psalmist and the assurance of Spurgeon? God is in the healing business. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Can you imagine God knelling down and lifting you up in the moments when your heart cried out? Can you imagine God carefully bandaging your wounded heart so that it could heal in His care? Some of you can because you can bring a testimony of when you were broken hearted and God stepped in with His healing touch. Some of you can attest that God made a way when there seemed to be now way, that God dried the tears of your heart and gave you the peace you needed to move forward in faith.

Some in this room still feel the sharp pain of brokenness and heart break. I bring you good news. God is still in the healing business. The Psalmist declares 4 He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. 5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. God is so concerned for his creation that God has named the stars, God's display of his power is found in his care and understanding of the wounded hearts of His children. Jesus echoes this same kind of view of God when he says 24Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! (Luke 12:24) You are valuable to God, so valuable that he has made a way for heal your broken heart and our broken lives. It is found in the face of one named Jesus, the Christ. Jesus tells us, 33"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Peace, real peace, is available to you at the feet of Jesus. Take heart, God can speak into your brokenness and bring you the redemption you need to make you whole. Take heart, God can speak into your broken heart and sooth its cry. God can and will restore your joy. He hears your cry. The vivid colors of healing powerfully impact the picture and remind us that God is in the healing business. God stands ready to heal the brokenhearted and bind their wounds.

The third stoke of the Psalmist’s brush calls us to verses 6, 7, and 8. It reads; 6 The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. 7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp. 8 He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. 9 He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. This stroke adds the tones and textures of God’s sustaining provision.

This cluster of verses begins with the phrase; The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. In our era, when we hear the word “humble” we tend to think of it as the virtue expressed in humility, but in this passage the Psalmist is speaking of something very different. He is talking about those who have been humbled economically and socially, the forgotten, those on the fringe of community – and sees the wicked as those who use, abuse, and exploit them. I have to acknowledge that the care for the poor seems to keep finding its way into my Sunday morning message – but not because I seek it out, but because it is a reoccurring theme throughout the scripture. We hear it echoed in voice of Jesus as he began his ministry when he claimed the words of Isaiah and read; 18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:17-19) We will hear more from this passage next week, but in this context, hear Jesus’ deep heart for the poor and the oppressed.

Just like God cares for the brokenhearted, God does not want anyone left out or left behind. The God who covers the sky with clouds; who supplies the earth with rain and makes the grass to grow; who provides for the cattle of the fields and the birds of the air; the God who is actively engaged in the midst of creation; cares for those who struggle to survive. It means when we find ourselves engaged with ministries like Good Shepherd caring for those in our community, or when we partner with a work in Central Asia to care for children forced to live and survive in the sewers, or when we invest our time and energy with the Chin refugees in OKC and Malaysia, we honoring the heart of God and the ministry of Jesus Christ. It put us in the midst of a broken world in the name of the God who comes heals brokenness. God stands ready to make the way to sustain the humble. It is a rich promise for all for all who cry out for God’s hand. It means that we are not alone in this world, but that God is actively engaged and is moved to compassion. That God cares for each of us. The tones and texture of God’s provision lets us see God’s active love and healing at work.

We end as we begin, with the haunting question, “How do you paint your picture of Jesus?” What tones and shades do you claim for your walk with God? What shapes do you uses as you look at how Jesus has shaped and redeemed your life? What textures do you add as you look at how God has worked in you and through you? Will you be content with the grey tones of moral teacher, the grand preacher, or the social reformer? Or will you claim the vivid colors of God’s healing and sustaining hand? These colors draw you close and depict a Jesus ready to heal the broken heart, the broken life, and sustain those left out. They are life changing colors. They change the lives of those who are healed and sustained as well as those who serve as the witness of their own healing. How do you paint your picture of Jesus?

[i] Tillich, Paul, The New Beginning, (Scribner’s Sons: New York,1955), pp.42-43
[ii] Mays, James Luther, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching,(John Knox Press: Louisville, 1994), p.443.
[iii] Knight, Gearge A.F., Psalms: Volume 2, The Daily Bible Study Series, (Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1983), p.351
[iv] SPURGEON, C. H., “Christ's Hospital;” A Sermon, (No. 2260), Intended for Reading on Lord's-Day, June 12th, 1892,Delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, On Lord's-day Evening, March 9th, 1890. Available online at http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/2260.htm on December 30, 2009. Referenced via textweek.com.

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