Tuesday, March 03, 2015

I Can Worship God on the Golf Course - Psalm 19, Hebrews 10:19-25

Old Testament Lesson                                                                  Psalm 19:1-14

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
    and the firmament[a] proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens[c] he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
    and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them;
    and nothing is hid from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
    Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;[d]
    do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

New Testament Lesson                                                          Hebrews 10:19-25

19 Therefore, my friends,[a] since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

         Not long ago, I was talking with someone who told me that he could worship God on the Golf Course. 

         "Preacher," he said, "I go out on that course and it so quiet and peaceful.  The grass is so green.  The sky is so blue.  The birds are singing and flying about.  And whenever I go out there I can feel the presence of God."

         Actually, he has a point.

         I feel the same way sometimes.

         I feel that way when I see the sun rise in the morning. 

I feel that way when I’m walking on the beach watching the sun set.  The sky can be filled with so many different colors, and the colors change constantly as the sun rises or sets.

         I feel the presence of God.

         Some of you may know that I am an amateur astronomer and I enjoy going outside and spending the night with my telescope.  It is beautiful out there. In my back yard I might see 40 or 50 stars in the sky, because there are so many street lights that block out the night sky.  But when I drive a little distance from Orlando, I can see thousands of stars and it is so beautiful. 

         I can feel the presence of God.

         I read a book about the astronauts of the Apollo program.  One of the interesting bits of history about the Manned Moon Missions is that when the first men landed on the moon, and while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were waiting for the green light from NASA's Mission Control to step out of the Lunar Lander and walk on the Moon's surface, Buzz Aldrin – who by the way is an ordained Presbyterian elder - took a moment to take out a tiny communion kit, given him by his church, that had a silver chalice and wine container about the size of the tip of his finger.  During the morning he radioed, "Houston, this is Eagle.  This is the LM pilot speaking.  I would like to request a few moments of silence.  I would like to invite each person listening in, whoever or wherever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the last few hours, and to give thanks in his own individual way."

     He wrote later that as he was saying those very words he opened little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine.  I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me.  In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup."   Then I read the Scripture, 'I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit.'  ... 

He prayed, “I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquillity.”

He made the observation that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements."

         Many of the astronauts who have been into space have been moved by the presence of God.  As one astronaut observed after a flight on the Space Shuttle, "You cannot look down at earth without realizing how small our world is, and how big our God is."

         "I can worship God on the Golf Course..."

         Or the hiking trail,
or at a camp site in the Everglades,
or on the boat at the beach,
or in the  mountains,
or in Space itself...

         Fill in the blank.  You go out and communion with nature, and you feel intensely the presence of God.

         And that is something the Psalmist in our Old Testament Lesson believed very much in.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

         There is not a single time I've ever been out with my telescope that I have not thought about Psalm 19:  "The heavens declare the glory of God..."

         But, it's not good enough. 

It is never enough to simply feel the presence of God. 

         There will always be something missing if we worship God only on the Golf Course, or on the boat at sea, or in the hiking trails.

         We can sense the presence of God, but that is not enough.

         Psalm 19 makes a dramatic shift in the middle of the passage.  It is such a dramatic shift that some scholars think that maybe there are really two different psalms here and that someone down through history accidently put these two psalms together.  But I don't think so.  I think that what we have here is one very united psalm.

         In the first part, verses 1 through 6, the psalmist is outside, watching a beautiful sunset. 

1       The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2       Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
3       There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
4       Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
5       which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6       It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

         Then in verse 7 there is a dramatic shift.

         All of a sudden the psalmist is not outside on a hillside looking at a sunset, he is in the Temple, inside the sanctuary.
7       The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
8       The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
9       The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.
10     They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.

         The person on the Golf Course looks around and sees, "There's a God out there.  But what God?"

         The astronaut looks out into space and says, "There's a God out there.  But who is this God?"

         The poet sees the sunset and says, "There's a God out there.  But when can I get to know this God?"

         You can feel the presence of God anywhere, but you have to come inside the sanctuary to hear and understand, the word of God.

         It is never enough to know that there is a God.

         You have to learn about God.

         Out there, on the golf course, or the everglades or on the beach, you can feel something of the presence of God, but you have to come in here to understand that presence.

         This was made dramatically clear to me some years ago when I did two funerals in the space of one week.

         The first funeral was a young woman who had died suddenly and tragically.  She was in her car, sitting, waiting for a traffic light to change from red to green so she could move forward.  The light changed and she began to drive forward, when suddenly a car, trying to make the yellow light, ran the red light and slammed into her car at a high speed.  She died instantly.  She was 29 years old, and left behind a husband and two children -- a 4 year old and a 2 month old. 

         The other funeral was just as tragic.
         A family went on a picnic.  While the adults sat at the picnic tables and talked, the children played at the lakeside.  By the time the adults realized one of the children was missing, it was too late to do anything about it.  A five year old child had died, he had drowned in the water.

         Both families experienced not only a death, but a tragic death.

         Both families believed in God.

         Both families had the same questions, "How could God let this happen?"

         Both families felt pain and sorrow and even anger.

         But there was at least one major difference.

         One family attended church regularly.  The other attended at Christmas or Easter only (CEO), and that was about it.

         Both families understood the presence of God, but only one family had the Word of God.

         That made all the difference.

         For one family, there was healing.

         For the other, bitterness.

         You can go out on the golf course and know the presence of God, but you don't get the Word of God.   

         For the tired soul, watching a sunset is nice, but it's not enough.  It takes the Word of God to revive the soul.

         For the confused mind, playing a round of golf and feeling the presence of God in nature doesn't give guidance.  It takes the Word of God to make wise the simple.

         For the grieving spirit, it is not looking at the ocean or the stars that gives comfort, it is the Word of God that gives joy to the heart.

         I'm glad that those of you who go out on the golf course can feel the presence of God.

         I'm glad that when I go out in the Everglades for a night and see the stars, I can feel the presence of God.

         But to experience the presence of God without experiencing the Word of God is like watching television without the sound, or listening to a song without understanding the lyrics.  What you experience might be nice, but it is incomplete.

         But it is never enough to simply know that there is a God.

         You have to let your life be guided by the Word of God.

         And that is why we're not all on the golf course today.

         And that is why we aren't all camping in the Everglades tonight.

         That is why we come in here to listen to the sermon, and why we attend out Sunday School classes and why we attend out Bible Studies.

         It will never be enough to know there is a God.

         We need to also know the Word of God.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.