Sunday at Scarboro – Aug 19, 2018

Worship Start Time: 10:30am
Theme: Summer Church

It's summertime in Calgary! Come to Scarboro as we worship together every Sunday at 10:30am. We will have the coffee on at 10, so come early and catch up with your community. Throughout the summer we are offering opportunities to incorporate the arts into your worship experience. Come and see what we are up to this week! There will be more time for coffee, tea and conversation after the service in the Memorial Hall.

The children's theme this summer is "Exploring Spirituality through Science & Play" - so come and explore at Scarboro!

REMINDER: Get your t-shirt orders in for Orange Shirt Day - EXTENDED to Thursday, August 23! Shirts are $25 each with proceeds going to support reconciliation initiatives. Design by Indigenous artist, Bear Horne of Victoria, BC.


August 19, 2018 - Message: Psalm 111

Rev. Erin Klassen

 

What do you fear?

Grasshoppers

Needles

War

God?

 

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

 

What comes to mind for you when you hear that?

 

What does that mean?

 

Is ours a God that we need to fear?

Is that a God we want to believe in?

If not, does that make us fools?

 

I can’t help but think of Psalm 27, the opening of that being:

God is my light and my salvation;

   whom shall I fear?

God is the refuge of my life;

   of whom shall I be afraid?

 

So are we afraid or not?

And just who is it that we are supposed to be fearing?

 

Let’s spend a bit of time unpacking that.

 

Russell Rathburn says: “Any Christian Hebrew scholar will tell you that fear doesn’t mean fear like we understand it, that a better translation is more - understanding the awesomeness of the love of God.”

 

But still, where does that leave us?

 

Why does it continue to be translated as fear? Why doesn’t someone fix the translation?

 

There are other translations:

The good life begins in the fear of God. (MSG)

The way to become wise is to honour the Lord.(GNT)

Reverence for YHWH is the beginning of wisdom.(IB)

 

Is there wisdom in there?

 

My colleague the Reverend Mindi Welton-Mitchell agrees that fear is a harsh word. But argues that it is used for a reason here: because this is the God of all creation, mighty and powerful, the one who holds our lives in hand.

 

She agrees that while there is fear, there is also this “awe-inspiring nature of God of who is beyond our understanding. Holding that tension of awe and fear is what grounds us into living in God’s ways.” Without that fear, she argues, we would simply seek our own ways, solutions and desires, and we would come up empty.

 

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

 

So what then should our relationship to the divine be?

 

Luckily, this psalm tells us.

What we have here is song of praise and thanksgiving. It is an acrostic poem, meaning that each line begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.The lines are short, only a few words each, but they pack a lot of meaning in.

 

What we have here is essentially God’s CV or curriculum vitae. It’s essentially a resume. The words curriculum vitae are Latin and loosely translated mean: the course of my life.

 

This psalm bears witness to all God’s works - the Exodus, the Covenant, manna and quail in the wilderness, and the establishing of the heritage and homeland of the people. This is a catalog of all that God has done and will continue to do for us. Liberate us, guide and provide for us, and then welcome us home.

 

The works of God are described as great, full of honour and majesty, faithful and just. These works have been studied and gained renown. God’s commandments, the covenant, are sure and established, standing firm as they are carried out faithfully.

 

This description of God, and what God has done and will continue to do, is one of a God of promise and compassion and love. Our God is to be praised for all this.

 

Indeed, we begin this psalm with praise.

 

Alleluia! I will thank you God, with all my heart.

 

Psalm 111 is the first of several Hallel Psalms, so named because they begin with the Hebrew words, Hallel (praise) and Yah (a shortened version of Yahweh).  Again and again, God’s people are called to praise their covenant making and keeping God.

 

We are called to praise God with every fibre of our being.

 

Hear, O Israel: YHWH, our God, YHWH is One!

You are to love YHWH, your God,

with all your heart,

and with all your soul,

and with all your strength.* (wealth/substance)

Let these words that I command you today

be written in your heart. (Deut. 6.4-6)

 

So we sing to God with our whole hearts, every bit of substance that we have, and that praise expands to include those gathered around and then the whole congregations. Much like the abundance of God’s promises, joyfulness and gratitude also expand to all God’s peoples.

 

We sing of thanksgiving and awe.

It is here that praise and fear go hand in hand.

We don’t like to think of fearing God, but it is possible to fear disappointing someone that we hold in high regard, someone we look up to, someone we love dearly.

 

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

 

But it is more than that as well.

 

Those who practice it have good understanding.

 

I am especially taken by the way that Stan Mast turns this phrase on its side.

He wonders: What if the fear of God isn’t an emotion, but an action, or a set of actions?  

 

To fear God means to live by God’s precepts, to abide by God’s covenant faithfully and earnestly. To put God’s compassion and grace at the center of our lives and then act accordingly. Being wise, understanding how to live in the world, begins with being true to God’s promises.

 

Because if we turn the page in our hymn book and our bible, we will find that the Psalm 112 is similar in language and form. In fact, Shauna Hannan tells us, it would appear that the two Psalms belong together; both are acrostic poems, which contain twenty-two lines with each line beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Even more, they use similar words and phrases: referring to the upright, who are gracious and merciful, providers, and doers of justice. Both sing of the promise of the the future (in 111:8 the works are established forever and ever, and in 112:8 hearts are steady and in the end will triumph).

 

The amazing thing about this similar use of language is that one Psalm (111) is focused on the work of God, as noted above, and the other (112) is focused on the actions of those who “fear” God.

 

So it would seem that not only are those who fear God expected to act like God, but those who find great delight in God’s commands are capable of mirroring the deeds of the God.

 

It is important to note that it is Psalm 111 that comes first; it is only because our Lord is already gracious and merciful and just that we are at all capable of being gracious and merciful and just.

 

And that does fill me with awe and fear.

Amazement at what we are capable of, and trepidation at the responsibility.

Let us hold that in our hearts.

And then let it expand to all of Creation, sharing the love and works of God.

 

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,

Those who practice it have good understanding.

May your praise endure forever.

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