The Community with a story of Faithfulness – Psalm 78:1-8 & Deut 6:4-7

An anniversary is the celebration of an event that took place in the past and which a person or group of people desire to remember.  Sometimes they are sad events like Pearl Harbor, but normally the event we want to remember is a good event, like a wedding or birthday.  Today we are celebrating the anniversary of this particular body of believers currently gathering under the name Hope in Christ Church. But what is so different about this anniversary is that we are not as focused on the fact that we have gathered here for 50 years, but that believers have been gathering together for centuries in the name of God in order to worship and exalt his name and pass on the story to the next generation.

This anniversary celebration is about what God has been doing in human history, and our response.  That is why we are looking at Psalm 78, for this psalm instructs the worshipping community to reflect on the wonderful works of God and teach it to their children.  Psalm 78 is a history lesson of the covenant people from the exodus until the rise of David to the throne, and it was vitally important that the Jewish people remember this history for it grounded them in a way of life and gave them purpose and meaning.

We have all heard the quote, “Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it;” but what about this quote which builds on the same theme but grounds it in the life of faith, “The man without memory is not able to be a faithful man.”[1] The covenant people of all people should be a people who love salvation history for a variety of reasons.

First, we should love salvation history because it is a record of God’s wonderful work in the created world.  Second we should love history because it instructs us in the life of those who haven’t followed God and have met the consequences of their lack of faithfulness and so the covenant community can learn what not to do, how not to respond or can even see when the struggles of the past are repeating themselves in the present.  Third and finally, we should love history because it introduces us to the lives of the saints who have gone before us and have modeled a life of devotion and complete submission to the Lord and his kingdom.  In salvation history we meet people like St. Augustine, the Desert Fathers, John Chrysostom, John Knox, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Flavel, Charles Hodge, Charles Simeon, George Müller, Count Zinzendorf, Lottie Moon, Mary Slessor, Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylsworth, David Brainerd, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim & Elizabeth Eliott and countless other people who gave their life because of the testimony to Christ they had heard, and the works of God they had seen.  This is the community of faithfulness to which HICC belongs.

As a covenant people, we walk in the footsteps of Christ behind others who have gone before us and through their lives, whether good or bad, we can learn what it means to be faithful disciples to the Lord Almighty.  And so we turn to Ps 78 to learn from it this morning: My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth with a parable, I will teach you lessons from the past – things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us (Psalm 78:1-2).

In these opening words, Asaph, one of the men David put in charge of the temple singing (1 Chron 6:16-33, 15:16-19), calls the worshipping community to hear his words.  He is asking them to listen, but not just to listen in the sense of listening like a man watching a football game where his wife’s words go through one ear and out the other.  Asaph doesn’t want that kind of brainless listening where some sound waves simply pass through the blank space between the ears, he wants the kind of listening which will result in action and response.  Asaph desires the covenant people to listen like Jesus desired them to listen.  He didn’t want them to be a people who had (Mark 8:18) Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And [who] don’t you remember?

Quite the contrary, Asaph desired them to be people who were blessed by hearing because it ushered into obedience. Borrowing from the words of Jesus himself, (Luke 11:28) “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Asaph wanted the covenant people to understand that they were truly part of the family of God if they acted upon the history of which they were a part.  Would they live into all that God had done for them? Asaph wanted the worshippers in the temple to listen and learn from what he was about to speak.

Asaph calls the community to hear “my teaching”, but literally it is “my torah.”  Listen to my Torah, my instruction and as a temple singer, we can be sure that Asaph’s Torah would be the Lord’s Torah, those five books of Moses which recount the history of the chosen people and give them a memory of who they are and where they come from and that is exactly what Asaph does.  He condenses the Torah into 72 verses of human divine interaction containing great lessons about God’s faithfulness.  Lessons of obedience-disobedience, faithfulness and unfaithfulness, trust, submission, holiness, interecession,…and they are all contained in this psalm and expanded upon in the pages of the Bible and the pages of church history.

In response to Asaph’s call, the covenant people promise to ensure their children and their children’s children are taught and told these stories of old. “what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psa. 78:3-4). They promise to ensure that their children hear the saving acts of God concerning the Exodus and the entrance into the land of Canaan.  They promise their descendants will know of the power of God and the wonders he works.  And that is particularly important, these worshippers never promise to make sure that new and novel philosophies are taught.  They don’t promise their children will be moralized and “good citizens, well versed in politics and economics”, on the contrary, they are to be catechized in the history of the God’s work in the world for his people.  Essentially they promise to pass on the faith they learned.

Centuries later, we see that God faithfully preserved a community who was still doing that.  Paul says of Timothy, (2Tim. 3:14-15) But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  It was Timothy’s Mother and grandmother who learned the lesson that Asaph was trying to teach that day to the people of Israel, for they passed on the faith and reverence of God to their offspring.

When we come to celebration like today, a 50 year anniversary of our local body of Christ gathering at 710 E. Sunset Drive, we can only celebrate because for more than 50 years their have been families, covenant families who have been educating their children in the praiseworthy deeds of the lord, his power and the wonders he has done (Psalm 78:4b).  The praiseworthy deeds of God didn’t stop at the Exodus story rehearsed in this psalm, they continued on into the New Testament where we get the fullness of the Exodus story displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  It is he who gives us something truly to be thankful for.  It is he who leads us out of bondage to sin and welcomes us into the freedom of the Kingdom of God where we can love and serve our brothers and sisters.  It is he who feeds us not with manna from heaven but with his very flesh for Jesus says, (John 6:48-51) “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

It is Jesus who sends his own spirit into our hearts to bend our will to his will, to turn our heart from stone to flesh, to teach us godliness and lead us into all truth.  It is Jesus who displays the power of God by healing the blind and the lame, even raising Lazarus, a dead man in a tomb as a precursor to the wonderful display of power, which would be at work in the resurrection.  And all that power is available to the covenant family for Paul declares to the Ephesians, (Eph. 1:18-21) “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

And it is Jesus to whom we look with awe and wonder for not only has he done all these things, but also he has done them for me and for you.  He lived the perfect life of obedience without spot, stain or blemish in order that you and I don’t have to.  He endured the wrath of God and the punishment for sin and became accursed, in order that you and I don’t have to.  He is the fulfillment of holiness in order that you and I can be wrapped in his robes of righteousness and walk freely into the throne room of God.  He is the alpha and the omega, the way the truth and the life, the gate, the lion of Judah, the lamb of God in order that you and I can fall to our knees in awe filled worship for all eternity giving praise, honor, glory and power to the lamb who was slain.

These things and many more have been declared for 50 years to all who walk through the doors of this campus. So, they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands (Psa. 78:7). And we will continue to proclaim them and teach them and endeavor to provide families and individuals the resources they need to ensure that the next generation cannot say, “Why did you hid these things from us?”  For the coming generations will not just pick it up, they must be taught and instructed, reminded and impressed with the greatness of the gospel story and their part in it.  In the words of Deut 6:4-7 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Our calling as a church in a community with a story of faithfulness is a large one.  We promise to educate the next generation and an hour or two at church once or twice a week will not be sufficient to ensure the next generation is stamped with the story of God.  On the contrary it will require every member covenanting together to hear the words of God, and to put them into practice.  It will not be enough simply to obey, but we must cry out to God in intercessory prayer, day and night, for the souls of the next generation in our church and out of it.  It will not be sufficient to claim, we are not our own but have been bought with a price if, at the same time, we are not sacrificially living the gospel by loving our neighbor, doing good to those who persecute us, praying for those who harm us and giving of our time and resources to see the gospel message preached and proclaimed within and without these walls.

We are part of a community of faithfulness where men and women before us lived their lives in conformity to that which they confessed.  Had it not been for the lives and service and declarations of many of you sitting here today, we would not be gathering this morning.  And so, like our ancestors in the faith, we too are called to live a life of faithfulness as a response to God’s faithfulness for us.  We are called to proclaim His story so there will be another generation sitting here in another 50 years.

Heb. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

People of God, as those in the temple promised to declare the works of God, let us also throw off all that hinders and keeps us from proclaiming the same message in our lives and through our lips!

Truly the proclamation of God’s wonders, his saving acts and his inexpressibly great power are worth giving thanks within the family of God.  But they are also worth declaring to the next generation and the world, in word and deed, so that it too can know the greatness of our God and the Love of the savior, for then and only then, will we be able to join with all the saints in Rev. 11:17 saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.”

 

Amen!


[1] Maillot & Ledièvre, pg. 171 IN WBC OT: Psalm “Psalm 78”.

 

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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