Second Sunday next before Advent Sermon

Nothing can make them stumble. We continue our meditation upon Psalm 119:161-168. We spent last week examining the four responses we must have to falsehood from verses 161-163; standing in awe of God’s Word, rejoicing at the Word of God, hating and abhorring falsehood, and loving God’s Law. This week, we will center our focus on verses 164-168; of hope in God’s salvation and loving God’s Word exceedingly.

Hope for your salvation. Verses 164-166

        First, a life in Christ echoes what we read in verse 164, “I hope for your salvation, O LORD.” We need this every day. We see this every day emphasis in the Communion service. Every time we celebrate Holy Communion or any parts of the Prayer Book, we are reminded of our salvation in Christ and are called to place all hope in Him.

        This section of our Psalm calls us to three avenues of hope to assist us in clinging to Christ for our salvation. First, the opening part of verse 164 speaks of hope with our time. “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.” This is viewing the time we have on earth as God’s to be used for His work and glory. Our hope through our time is geared toward waiting onthe Lord. Our hope through time is owning that our citizenship is in heaven as Philippians 3:10 relates. The primary avenue for prayer and living as citizens of heaven is the Body of Christ, the Church. The world constantly tempts us to place time and hope away from Christ and His Church to worldly endeavors or institutions. These are all fine as long as they are subject to hope in Christ and love in Christ. When things like family, activities, politics, and so forth make Christ and His Word subject to them; we have created idols with a smattering of Christianity to make it seem right.

        When we place all our hopes in terms of the time we spend upon earthly or worldly things, it is a waste. When we waste our time on things unrelated to our citizenship in heaven, we open ourselves to needless stumbling. Do we place such a high level of faith in our choices for worldly leaders that we stop praying without ceasing when they get into office, thinking they will save us and we can go on autopilot? Do we place such a high level of hope in the actions of our votes that we despair when things do not go our way? True hope is in Christ alone. False hope is in leaders and institutions that take our hope off Christ. Such ends in despair.

        We are called to wait and watch in prayer as Christians. This applied for when Christians lived under rulers that they could not elect and it applies to periods where we do elect our leaders. The danger of our own time is to think that if our person gets elected that we do not need to heed the calls of the Bible to pray and we put prayer and our hope in Christ through our time on the back burner.

        The second avenue of hope to assist us in clinging to Christ for our salvation is what we find at the beginning of verses 165, “Great peace have those who love your law.” We hope in the peace of God that surpasses understanding, in Jesus Christ. Our peace is not in the point that we fulfilled the Law. This is impossible. Our peace is the point that Jesus secured our peace through fulfilling the Law for us.

        Hatred of God’s Law or the self-righteous attitude that we do not need Christ leaves us devoid of peace. Such causes us to stumble. This world seeks to get us to trust in its peace and standards. In the end, the world’s peace and standards fall short and fail. Our hope is in the peace that Jesus alone provides. Yes, it may look bleak from worldly perspectives. Eternally, Jesus has secured our peace through submitting to death for us and defeating death for out sakes, not through worldly means, but by His love. We must resist all claims that leaders can provide lasting peace. Such is impossible. Only Christ provides eternal peace.

        The third avenue of hope is found the last part of verses 166, “I hope in your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments.” There is a thing to be said about obedience leading to further hope. Walking in the ways of the Lord is to walk in His commandments. Our hope is not dependent on our performance.  Our true hope in walking in the good works God prepares for us to walk in is that our salvation is dependent upon what Jesus already did for us. He followed the Law perfectly as our representative, the second Adam. Thus, we do the commandments in hope, not in worry or in doubt.

        When we are walking in the love of Christ, we are doing His commandments. The hope is in our Savior as we walk in His ways. When we hope and trust in our works as our own in our own strength, we stumble. The point is reliance upon Christ as we do His commandments. All our actions are to be done for Christ and to His glory out of gratitude, not out of pride.

        Doing the commandments is to be active in our waiting upon the Lord. In other words, living the Christian life in terms of following the commandments in all our actions is crucial. We are not called to passivity. This would mean NOT doing as we ought in all our moments. True waiting upon the Lord is to pray through all we go through for the wisdom, strength, and grace to do what is right out of love. Doing His commandments is to know God cares for us. Hebrews 3:6 states, “but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

I love them exceedingly. Verses 167-168

        Lastly in relying on God not to stumble eternally is what we find in verses 167-168, “My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.” A proper love of God’s Word enables us to keep His Word as grateful children. Do we love God’s Word over the words of treacherous men? Do we love God’s Word over the words we hear every day to tempt us to disobey His Word? Do we love God’s Word over the words of politicians that claim they can save us and fix our problems?

        Many give lip service to the Word, saying they love it yet act as if they hate it through not following the Word when it becomes inconvenient. Saint Augustine wrote, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” Such is not a love that is exceeding. Such is a selective love, only following what they like, doing what is right in their own eyes rather than doing what is right in the eyes of God. To love the Word exceedingly is to cling all our hopes to Christ. It is to cling to Him even when we fail by repenting and asking for the grace needed to love and obey.

        Verse 168 speaks to keeping the precepts and testimonies of the Lord in the understanding that all our ways are before God. Loving God through loving our neighbors and our enemies is to do so even when no one is watching or noticing. We do this in the knowledge that God sees all we do and all we say. It is pride to seek the approval of others. It is pride to seek to be noticed when we do good things or bad things.

        The problem with our modern age with so many mass communication outlets is the temptation of pride. We crave attention from others. We want approval. Yet, what we fail to understand is that NO MATTER what man does to the body, we are already approved of in and through Jesus Christ. Yet, we often function as if this is not the case and we seek the approval of people to justify our actions or lack of actions. Notice St. Paul’s words here in I Thessalonians 2:4, “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” Our faith and trust must be in Jesus Christ alone for we are already approved in Him. This is why continual reminders through staying steeped in the Word, worship, and life in the Church are crucial. We need to hear the Gospel, that our standing is secured in Christ. Our works on the behalf of others are not meant to gain their approval. Rather, it is so that they know they are loved.

 We need each other’s love in Christ. As St. Augustine wrote, “God’s love is unconditional. Be sure that yours is too!” His love for us is unconditional in the sense that Jesus Christ alone met every single condition of the Law that we could not meet for us. In such great and undeserved, unconditional love; our reply is to be grateful, to love those we find hard and difficult to love as well as those we find easy to love. Yes, it is tough to love those that need our love; the mourning, the anxious, the meek, the hungry, the weak. We are called to love all, enemies and friends. If you have difficulties loving those hard to love, pray for God to soften your heart toward them. That is the first step. Then, remember that we all are unworthy of God’s love. Yet, He first loved us. Then, remember we are all unworthy of God’s forgiveness. Yet, Christ forgave all our sins in His sacrifice. Then, recall how wonderful it is to be loved by fellow Christians even when you do not deserve their love and forgiveness.

When we hold back the love that is commanded us, we will stumble. Often, we withhold love out of self-preservation. Yes, we may think we are protecting ourselves. Self-protection is just another avenue of lack of trust in God, of self-righteous pride. Self-protection is to say we do not trust God enough to protect us and lead us through all to His glory. Self-protection to withhold the love others need from us is to make love conditional. It is to reject God’s love in place of our twisted version of love. We self-protect in fear of stumbling, thinking God will not catch us and care for us as we obey His simple command to love.

May we in all times and in all circumstances be unafraid of stumbling as we lovingly follow God’s Word. May we be a people that know that in obedience to Christ, we cannot stumble, regardless of what our emotions say, what the world tells us, or what it looks like through sinful eyes. Instead of fear, let us hope alone in the salvation of Jesus Christ through time given to Him and to others in love.  Let us live with our hope alone in Christ with His peace to enable us to live in peace with all people through His love. Let us live with our hope alone in the fulfillment of the Law by Christ to prepare us to do His good works, to do His commandments, not out of pride, but out of grateful love to all that need our love. Nothing can make them stumble. Amen.