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People of the Book

Meg Peery McLaughlin
“People of the Book”
January 31, 2021
Psalm 19

Scripture:
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.

Sermon:
Mercifully, our neighborhood has a playground. It has been a Godsend during the pandemic.
One of our twin daughters, Zanna, really loves it when I acquiesce to going with her,
and she always asks me to get on the seesaw with her.
Such an act is, of course, wholly unfair. As a person at least three times her size,
when I sit on the see saw, she flies into the air. When I stand up, she plummets.
She squeals with delight.
I have all the power and control. At this stage in her life, she takes great joy in that.
But one day, that will change.

Have you ever been in a conversation about something that deeply matters to you-
and the person with whom you are speaking
uses scripture in a way that it feels like they have all force on the seesaw?
Their one verse supporting their view wielded with dead weight?

I can’t imagine it makes you squeal with delight.

Last week, as we began this series,
Jarrett spoke of one of the tools we Presbyterians use to interpret scripture:
that is that we read the book through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Today, we turn to a second tool,
that of interpreting scripture with scripture.

In the resource that helps to guide us in our use of Holy Scripture[1], we read:
Texts should not be selected arbitrarily to support a position in disregard of other texts that qualify or contradict the position; neither should one text be used to authorize a theological decision without consideration of its relation to the whole of Scripture and its unfolding movement.

In other words, proof texting is not our way,
but rather holding the whole of scripture as we consider questions that deeply matter to us.

Church, if we heed this tool, this ethic, this way of engaging God’s Word
our reading won’t be as simplistic
we won’t be able to quote one verse and say That’s It,
but rather,
we will be placed in the middle of a most sacred dialogue:
Yes, that’s that, and what about this?
This. That. Back. Forth. See. Saw.

Did you know that the etymology of the word See Saw,
is from the French ci-ca, Meaning Here, There. Or This, That.

Perhaps the most obvious dialogue in scripture is between Law and Gospel.
What God requires and how God freely loves.
What is expected of the faithful and what grace covers when we fail to live up to expectations.

The Scripture says:
Keep my statutes and ordinances, by doing so, one shall live. I am the Lord[2].
The Scripture says:
A person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law[3].
The Scripture says:
Can faith save you? Faith without works is dead.[4]
The Scripture says:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.[5]

When it comes to Law and Gospel, many have been – and still are- tempted to say there is an Old Testament God and a New Testament One. Essentially saying the law is of no use anymore. But it seems to me that cuts off the dialogue all together. I’m as Reformed as the rest of y’all—raised on a steady diet of grace alone—none of this earning our way into God’s heart—no way–but does God not have expectations for me?

I love how our forefather John Calvin entered this dialogue. He said the law had three uses. One, it’s a mirror—showing us how unlike God we are and thus throwing us into God’s gracious arms. Two—it’s there to curb our messed up behavior. And three—most of all—it’s there as a guide for us to respond to God’s grace by showing us a way to live.

I’m with him—we need them both. Law and Gospel. This and that. See. Saw.

I’m reading a book right now: The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters.
In her chapter about the guest list at gatherings she uses phrase:  “The Kindness of Exclusion.”
I stumbled over it, felt it an oxymoron.
And it brings up another quandry of our faith.

Insiders and outsiders.
Chosen ones and everyone else.
Faithful and the Foreigner.

Scripture says to the Israelites:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites–you must utterly destroy them. Show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods.  But break down their altars, smash their pillars. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

Rachel Held Evans wrote about such texts that there are generally three kinds of people: 1) those who accept without question that God ordered the military campaigns in Canaan and has likely supported others throughout history, 2) those who are so troubled by the notion of God condoning ethnic cleansing that it strains their faith or compels them to abandon it,  3) those who can name all of the Kardashian sisters are probably happier for it.[6]

But, people of the book, we are asked to interpret Scripture with Scripture, and after the troubling stories in Joshua, we come upon the book of Ruth.

Right out of the gates, the author lets us know that Ruth is an outsider, a foreigner, NOT of the chosen people, not an Israelite. The scripture says it almost comically, Ruth is a Moabite, from the country of Moab.

And what does she do? She sticks with her mother in law Naomi, against all odds, even after her husband dies. And then she marries Boaz, a good Israelite boy. And when we read the genealogy of Jesus, Ruth the Moabite from the county of Moab sure does show up in his family tree. The great grandmother of King David.

See. Saw.

I could go on.

In Deuteronomy[7] you’ll find Scripture that says the righteous will be blessed and the wicked will meet with all manner of misfortune.

And then there is Job, the very picture of faithfulness, whose life falls to pieces in the blink of an eye – a theological protest to the prosperity gospel.

See. Saw.

Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.
And the kingdom is at hand.

See. Saw.

We have to take in the whole. Scripture interprets scripture.

Parenting during the pandemic is, something.
Much to her chagrin, I don’t always have the time to see saw with Zanna.
The best is when the twins go to the park together, on their own.
The best is when they get on that see saw
and on each side of that fulcrum
is a 6 year old body, 40 pounds each.

Those who can go all day
balancing, and bouncing back and forth.

May it be for us, church,
with this Book.

In worship, before scripture is read,
there is often a prayer for illumination,
invoking the Spirit’s presence,
and many a time,
it is taken from Psalm 19.

As we continue this lifelong dialogue,
this sacred conversation
this see saw with scripture,
our work of interpretation. . .

Let the words of our mouths
and the meditation of all our hearts
be acceptable to God,
our rock and our redeemer.

[1] https://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/_resolutions/scripture-use.pdf

[2] Leviticus 18:5

[3] Romans 3:28

[4] James 2

[5] Ephesians 2

[6] Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. pg 63

[7] Deuteronomy 28

Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: meg@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111

Bio:

Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.