a sermon for Desert Mission Anglican Church on January 15, 2017 | The Second Sunday After Epiphany
Passage: Psalm 40:1-11
Recently I was preparing to go on a trip. It was about three days away from my family, and I was pretty busy leading up to it with work, preparations, and packing, trying to help make sure the family was good to go without me for few days. A couple of days before I left my middle daughter Selah asked me to play dolls with her or something and I said, “sweetie, I want to play with you now, but I can’t. I’m just too busy. But I’ll tell you what, before I go on my trip we’ll make sure to have a daddy-daughter date.” I felt really good about myself in that moment.
Here’s the thing: I forgot. I let the rest of my trip preparations take my attention and before I knew it was on a plane, gone, and I hadn’t followed through on my promise. You know I think she forgot it about it, but I wasn’t faithful to my word and I wasn’t faithful to my responsibility as a father.
We’ve all made promises we haven’t kept to our family and friends, spouses and children. We’ve all repented of some kind of sin our lives, only to return to the very same thing the next day, or the next hour, or the next minute.
We all know what we’re supposed to be like—who we’re supposed to be like—that we are supposed to reflect and radiate God’s character to the world and yet we see over and over again a very different image emanating from us as individuals and communities in this world. In those ways, we’ve been unfaithful.
So, the question in front of us is, given our consistent state of unfaithfulness as a human species, what hope do we have?
What hope do we have for whole instead of broken families? What hope do we have for holiness in the face of habitual, compulsive sin? What hope do we have as for the church of God to ever actually manifest his glory with any meaning to the people around us in the face of divisions so deep they’ve lasted for a thousand years?
The answer is that we don’t have any hope as long as we’re depending on our ability to keep our own word, because we simply can’t do it.
Our only hope is in the promise of God that he will be faithful, even when we are not.
It’s not like human beings haven’t tried. From the very the beginning, people have tried to be faithful. In the desert the Israelite promised that they would be the faithful people of God, that they would, through the law given to Moses, carry out God’s promise to bless the earth through the descendants of Abraham
God says in Exodus 19,
“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:4–8, ESV)
This sounds good, but the problem is that they didn’t do it. They couldn’t do it. Over and over again, the Israelite people turned away from the one true God and toward idols. Away from the life and toward death. This is exactly what you and I do, too. The fact is that even though they had the knowledge of what to do—the law—they simply could not maintain their side of the covenant—the relationship—with God.
You see, this is because being faithful isn’t really something you do, but something you are. And sin corrupts our ability to be completely faithful to one another and to God, this naturally causes a rift in our communion and union within our human relationships and with our relationship with the Divine.
The Israelites couldn’t keep it together, and they knew it. This is why the Prophet Isaiah is in chapter 49 encouraging the Israelites that one day a Servant will come that will do everything Israel was supposed to do; even to the point of taking the name of Israel up on himself. In other words, God is going to not only uphold his end of the covenant, the promise, the relationship, but he is going to somehow enable and accomplish the faithfulness of his people, for them, on their behalf…And he wouldn’t just do it for them, but for the whole world.
“he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49:6, ESV)
The great mystery for so long was who this person, this savior, this perfect expression of God’s faithfulness could be.
John the Baptist knew who it was:
“… he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, ESV)
The Psalmist knew (even if he didn’t know that he knew), centuries before Jesus was even born how this would happen. Did you know the church has historically understood Psalm 40 to be ultimately about Jesus? We read it responsively this morning:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1, ESV)
The ancients believed this to be about the perfect life that Jesus led on our behalf. He didn’t to act on his own accord or out of a sinful desires, but in perfect submission and sync with the will of God the Father.
“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” (Psalm 40:2, ESV)
Jesus went all the way down to death for us, bogged down in all of our sin, all of our unfaithfulness. Yet God’s promise of faithfulness did not fail. In the power of the Spirit he raised Jesus from the dead in victory over death.
Skipping down to verse six:
“In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear.”
This is talking about the animal sacrificial system. The deaths of animals could never have delighted God. They were always meant to be pointers and signifiers to the depth of our sin and the corruption of our hearts. As long as that corruption remained, we could never truly be faithful.
The Messianic figure says that God has given him an open ear. It’s possible this is referring to custom of piercing the ear of slave. In other words, Jesus consecrated himself wholly to God, and because he was God, he was able to be the first human being that remained perfectly faithful to God from birth to death.
Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”” (Psalm 40:6–8, ESV)
In the faithfulness of Jesus, we see the faithfulness of God. When there was no way for us to be faithful, God came down from heaven was made man, and was faithful for us. There is no need for us to despair about our own lack of faithfulness; God has known we weren’t up to the task of saving ourselves for a long time. Now we can cling to him and his gift of being forgiven for our sin and transformed as we partake of the life of Christ by the Holy Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV)
Faithfulness, like every gift from God, doesn’t come as a result of what we do, but it does have a profound impact on our actions. When we respond to the call of God’s faithfulness, we find his faithful character spills over into our lives in ways we probably wouldn’t anticipate.
Imagine a world where you don’t have to live in guilt, where you don’t have worry if you’re good enough, where you don’t have to be concerned about whether or not you measure up.
Imagine a world where you can know that no matter what, no one can take your good future away from you. Imagine a world where the faithfulness of Christ is lived out in your life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Imagine what it would look like for your life to exhibit the faithfulness of Christ to your husband or wife, your kids, your co-workers, your neighborhood.
The Good News is that world is already breaking into this one, and it’s called the Kingdom of God. We will find God’s faithfulness on display in all of us, whenever we are confessing Jesus as Lord and yielding to the work of Holy Spirit.
Like I said, when we respond to the call of God’s faithfulness, we find his faithful character spills over into our lives in ways we probably wouldn’t anticipate.
Remember, we’re talking about the faithfulness of Christ, lived out in us.
Let me read an example of what the faithfulness of Christ might look like in real life:
[Senator] Mark Hatfield tells of touring Calcutta with Mother Teresa and visiting the so-called “House of Dying,” where sick children are cared for in their last days, and the dispensary, where the poor line up by the hundreds to receive medical attention. Watching Mother Teresa minister to these people, feeding and nursing those left by others to die, Hatfield was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers face daily. “How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?” he asked. Mother Teresa replied, “My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful.”
Mother Theresa knew that the faithfulness of Christ has a lot to do with the little things. It has a lot to do with just being with other people as the hands and feet of Christ. It has a lot to do with simply showing up. It’s normal to react like Senator Hatfield at first, and to think that the little things aren’t really going to make much of a difference. You might be bored, or discouraged, or exhausted.
However, I think you will find, with the Psalmist—and with Jesus—that when you are depending God’s faithfulness and not your own, it becomes a delight to do the will of God, even though you won’t do it perfectly.
Like Mother Theresa, you find that when you allow God’s faithfulness to be expressed through you, you begin to live more fully into your purpose as human being made in the image of God.
When you realize that your hope is in someone a whole lot more reliable than you are, and that he is faithful to work through you even when you aren’t completely faithful, you realize you have great news of a rescue that that can only come from a God that is faithful, and that is true.
Who do you know that needs the good news that they don’t have to work so hard to get in the good graces of God, because God has already poured out grace upon grace in his Son Jesus Christ?
As you yield to the Holy Spirit to allow the faithfulness of Christ to be made manifest in your life, pray for God give you an opportunity to share that message of God’s promise of faithfulness: a promise of grace and mercy and rest in Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Beyond Hunger: a biblical mandate for social responsibility by Arthur Beals