Generation to Generation
Scriptures: Psalm 145:1-7, 8-21
I know this is Mother's Day, but I want to begin with a
story about my father. My father was not a minister; he was a career Air Force sergeant. But he was surprisingly evangelistic about his faith. Once when the Air Force sent him overseas, he sent me packets of Bible verses to memorize from the Navigators, a Christian organization he joined. Then when he came back, he taught Sunday School at our church, and when he retired, he began handing out Bibles with the Gideons. He also volunteered with the Army Chaplains office at Madigan Hospital, sitting with families in the waiting room during surgery, listening to their worries and sometimes praying with them.
Now I need to say that my father was not an ideal father.
He was not drunken or abusive, but he had issues. I remember he would take me to the movies and lie about my age so he could get me in with a cheaper ticket. I was mortified. I would say, "Dad, what are you doing?" Even worse, he would get very angry and yell at us, saying some very harsh words, reducing both me and my mother to tears. So my father was not a perfect role model.
Now there are two ways to look at that. One was to see my
father as a hypocrite because he talked about Jesus, but he was not a very good example of Jesus. That's the definition of a hypocrite: someone who talks about Jesus but does not act like Jesus. You could have accused my father of that.
But there is another way to look at it. My father knew he wasn't
perfect. He knew that his actions did not always measure up to his faith. So he talked about his faith, because he wanted to believe in Jesus even if we did not see Jesus in his actions. In other words, even though he did not always walk the walk, he talked the talk, so that at least we would know about Jesus, even if we did not see Jesus in him.
I don't think that is hypocrisy; I think it's good theology. Because
the truth is that none of us-fathers or mothers, parents or children, Sunday School teachers or pastors-none of us are good enough to share our faith in our actions. We have to do it in words, so that at least people will know about Jesus, even if they do not see Jesus in us.
This is the key to understanding Psalm 145. Psalm 145
alternates back and forth between two ideas. Half of the psalm talks about the characteristics of God and all that God has done for us. [Slide 1]
Verse 3: "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised."
Verse 5: "On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wonderful works, I will meditate day and night."
Verse 8: "The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."
Verse 14: "The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down."
Verse 17: "The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings."
Half of the psalm talks about the goodness of God and all that God has done for us.
The other half of the psalm talks about us, specifically our
responsibility to tell people about God. [Slide 2]
Verse 1: "I will extol you, my God and King and bless your name forever and ever."
Verse 4: "One generation shall laud your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts."
Verse 6: "The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness."
Verse 7: "They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness."
Verse 11: "They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power."
Verse 21: "My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever."
All the verbs I have underlined in these verses have to do with talking: extol, bless, laud, declare, proclaim, celebrate, sing aloud, speak, tell. The psalm calls us to communicate our faith in words.
Over the years I have heard numerous people tell me
something like this. They say, "I don't talk about my faith; I try to show it in my actions." Psalm 145 is the opposite. It says, "Let God do the acting; you do the talking." God is the one in charge of setting this world right. God is the one who must bring God's kingdom to this world. Our job is to tell people about it, to laud, bless, proclaim, celebrate, and tell of God's love and power so that others may come to believe in it.
Certainly we should try to share our faith by our actions.
But none of us are good enough to do it by actions alone. So we have to do it in words so that our children will still believe in God even after they become disillusioned by us.
There is an interesting feature of Psalm 145 that is not
apparent in our English Bibles. Psalm 145 is an acrostic psalms, meaning that each line begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. Here is a picture of Psalm 145 in a Hebrew Bible. [Slide 3] Notice the letters on the right hand edge. Those are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. They are on the right side of the margin, because Hebrew is read right to left. Now notice how each line of the psalm begins with that letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It does not work when you translate it into English, but it is quite vivid when you look at it in Hebrew.
Why does Psalm 145 do that? It is a memory device. It
makes it easier for children, and adults for that matter, to remember it.
When my children were young we read an alphabet book to them over and over. I can still remember it: "A is for anchor which sinks when it's dropped. B is for boat which the anchor has stopped. C is for cactus with prickly spines. D is for dessert where the sun always shines." It has been almost 30 years since I read that book to my children, and I still remember it, and I think they do too. The pattern of rhythm, rhyme and the alphabet makes it still memorable years later.
Psalm 145 works the same way. It is written to be
memorable, because even the ancient Israelites knew that their actions would never adequately show God's goodness. Their children would only know God's goodness by hearing about it, by reading about it, or by singing about it in psalms like Psalm 145, a psalm they could still remember when they were grown. [Slide 4 blank]
The same is true for us, friends. Our children will never
know God's love just from looking at us. We're not that good. We're not that perfect. They will know God's love only from looking at Jesus, and our job is to tell about him in songs and Sunday School lessons, in worship services and youth group meetings, in Bible stories and testimonies of grace. We have to share our faith in words, because only then will our children come to believe in Someone who loves them more perfectly than we do.