August 16, 2015

The Fear of the Lord (Submission to God) is the Beginning of Wisdom

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I want to thank you for your warm welcome. My husband, Lorne, and I have been looking forward to visiting Unionville and being with you at Central United Church. Rev. Jim Clubine has been a former minister and mentor of mine for over fifteen years. Two years ago, Jim preached at our wedding at Erin Mills United Church. It was a joyous celebration of love. Two years later, Lorne and I are enjoying our relationship as husband and wife. Like most couples, after the honeymoon phase, life happens and you find ways to cope and love each other through the good times and the tough times. We enjoy high points like our anniversary tomorrow and birthdays and doing activities we enjoy. We have also had some surprising challenges.

All is not always good in life.
The saying “it’s all good” that we apply so blindly isn’t really accurate, because stuff happens that you can’t control. We all know how easy it is to get lost in the day-to-day, as we move from one stressful life event to the next.

However, God is good and we choose to attune our hearts to God’s goodness.

We attune our hearts to God’s Goodness.
I know I have found this true. Perhaps, it is also true for you. I feel grounded, connected to God, when I am able to slow down and reflect on God’s goodness and mercy in my life. It evokes a sense of awe. I recently read on the internet, that awe can be defined as “radical amazement”. I am radically amazed when I get up after an overnight rainstorm and I can still see wild rabbits hopping about in my backyard. It is amazing that they survive the torrential downpour, howling winds, roaring thunder and lightning strikes. I am amazed that my petunias, after a heavy downpour, perk–up after just one sunny day. God at work in creation is radically amazing. The produce I enjoy from my garden invokes awe. God creates a shoot out of a tiny seed. The shoot matures into a full bush that provides a bounty of tomatoes, which I can enjoy, share with loved ones, and some might just seed next year. How awesome is that?

I am amazed there is joy in so many of life’s activities: working out in the gym, my devotional life, a leisurely walk in the woods, a stroll near the lake, trying a new recipe, creating a new recipe and bird watching. The birds remind me of God’s providence - God’s ongoing care. These are all ways in which I experience the goodness of God – the selfless gifts that God offers.

I am confident that each one of us can provide a list of ways in which we experience the goodness and joy of God. This morning I invite you to be still, and mentally revisit the times and places where you have tasted the goodness of God and stay there for a while. God is indeed good. Dwelling on God produces a harvest of hope – hope in our own lives and hope for our world. Dwelling on God’s goodness creates a sense of awe - Holy fear.
In preparation for today’s sermon I googled the term “fear of God”. The “fear of God” is the idea of living in respect, awe, and submission to God. The goodness of God is so expansive it invokes a sense holy reverence, or radical amazement, for the psalmist. God is to be praised for God’s very nature. The psalmist’s response to God’s good works is praise. God, who is gracious and merciful, provides food in wilderness times and is mindful of God’s promises. God unfailingly keeps covenant. Dwelling on God’s goodness fills us with a sense of holy awe. Willie Nelson says that when he embraced gratitude, his “whole life changed”.

God’s ongoing goodness.
God’s laws continue God’s good work of justice and righteousness —goodness for all. Embracing God’s goodness in my experience changes the orientation of my life - away from anxiety toward faith - away from self-interest toward selflessness - away from consumerism toward stewardship. When we are attuned to God’s goodness around us, we are motivated to be good and kind, to follow God’s law that flows as a natural response. I suggest that it is true for all of us, as we dwell on God’s goodness, the spirit fills us and creates within a desire to submit to God’s laws, which are good for us and good for community. Submitting, in awe of God, is indeed the beginning of wisdom. Our time to experience and participate in God’s goodness is now.

In our reading from Ephesians, we are reminded that we live in evil times. Evil is a strong, jarring word. We often hesitate to use the language of evil. Yet, it is all around us. Evil is complicit. It exists but is hard to see. Evil is evident in our world news, in our politics, in global poverty and in our unemployment stats.

The world is not all good.
So much is not good in the world: homelessness is not good, food scarcity is not good, political oppression is not good, economic oppression is not good, a culture of fear is not good, a culture of hate is not good, addictive behaviour of any kind is not good, hoarding is not good and dishonesty is not good. Much of what is not good arises from self-interest, ego-driven attitudes, an unchecked sense of personal entitlement and consumerism. Ephesians 5: 15 says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”

The hearts of the wise are attuned to God.
“To be awakened means that we can be good and honest stewards of time, so that opportunities to do justice, and to live boldly as God’s reconciled people, are not missed. We know that the world is God’s good creation, and all days are God’s gifts” (the working This is the time for participating in the good works for which God creates us. God is good and God’s goodness, through the power of the Spirit, inspires good within us. Our goodness is a response to God, who is good and just.

Like Solomon we pray, “Give your servant church therefore an understanding mind to be able to discern between good and evil.”

Paul prays for us in Ephesians 3: 16-19, “that we may be strengthened in our inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are rooted and grounded in love.”

He prays that, “we might have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses, so that we maybe filled with all the fullness of God.”

The fullness of God’s love is revealed in Jesus Christ.

We are invited to feed on the goodness of God. Christ sustains the good in us.
The goodness of God is fully revealed in God’s full divestment of self; the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Love is poured out and given in all its fullness. In the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus is less concerned about getting us to understand. Instead, he urges us to chew and eat. Jesus urges us to eat the life-giving bread, given through him, and drink from the cup of blessing. Jesus nurtures our faith. Christ sustains the good in us.

The signs of compassion he performs, the teachings and the abundance of grace he provides are life-giving food - as deeply satisfying as a warm freshly baked loaf of bread. Or, if you are from China or India, as life-giving as a steamy warm bowl of rice.

The words “flesh” and “blood” point to the cross; the moment when Jesus gives his whole self for the world. Jesus says to us “whoever feeds, consumes the life-giving goodness, the good bread I provide will receive eternal life”. The flesh and blood, the food, the covenant love fulfilled in Jesus’ death is incarnational.

We participate in the fullness of God’s Goodness.
Incarnational love continues in and through us. “Jesus nourishes faith, forgives sin, and empowers us to be witnesses to the Gospel. Eternal life, life-giving goodness is being in close communion with Jesus” (the working I don’t believe eternal life starts when we die. I believe it is ongoing now. Eternal life is about participating in God’s mission now: locally, nationally and globally.

God elects us, and blesses us, just as God appoints and blesses Solomon, “Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind… I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, then I will lengthen your life.” We are not sovereign, but we are empowered to participate in God’s reign.

Tasting the goodness of God, having received the fullness of grace, we participate in the work of God, in humble submission. We are tiny and small, God is awesome. God’s precepts advance God’s good. Love and mercy endure forever.

Ephesians 1: 10 declares “the will of God is to bring all things together in Christ”. The Spirit empowers us to do small things with great love.

God sustains the good in us.
All that is in the world is not good and at times, we too falter. God restores relationship with us, just as with David, and likewise Solomon. God does not fail to send prophetic voices, teachers, Jesus - renewing covenant and faithfulness with us. Dwell on the goodness of God, attune your hearts to God’s grace all around us and be filled with the spirit that empowers us to live lives worthy of our salvation. “The fear of God (submission to God) is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise it have a good understanding of God’s redemptive purpose” (Psalm 111). Glory to God who is steadfast in mercy and love!