Note: I preached at all three services at First Congregational Church of Hudson in Hudson, Ohio on February 16, 2020. Recordings of the 10:30 AM and 11:59 AM service can be found on the church website by scrolling to the services recorded on that day. Below is the manuscript I used for the 10:30 AM service.
It is a pleasure to be here this morning and worship together. Thank you very much to Rev. Wiley for the invitation to preach here this morning. As he mentioned, I grew up in this congregation. My family moved to Hudson when I was in the 4th grade. We began attending church here about twenty years ago. First Congregational Church of Hudson has had a lasting impact on my faith journey.
When I read this Psalm, I think back to the ways that I learned about God’s commandments here in this church, through Sunday school lessons in the classrooms downstairs. This community is where I learned what it means to walk in the way of the Lord.
Our Psalm this morning, while we only heard 8 verses in our reading, is actually the longest Psalm in the book, it has 176 total verses. It is written in an acrostic style where each section begins with the same letter. Our 8 verses this morning all begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, alef.
As we read the Psalm, we hear a theme of following the commandments or laws of God. In the eight verses we heard, there are several different words mentioned for this same theme, in addition to laws and commandments, we also read of statutes, ordinances, and precepts. Another interesting thing about this Psalm though is that even if we read all 176 verses, the Psalm never specifically mentions what those laws of God are. One reason scholars speculate why no laws are specifically mentioned is because this is meant to be a teaching Psalm. In ancient times, like now, students learn best through example, rather than being told exactly what to do. This is another reason why this Psalm resonates with my faith development which took place here at First Congregational Church of Hudson.
In Sunday School, we were not drilled on Bible verses, but instead were shown by example how to follow God. One particular way I believe I was formed as a Christian in this community was the peer mentorship that informally took place, in particular through the high school youth group. I learned what it means to walk in the way of the Lord by participating in the life of the church.
When the Psalmist says, “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD,” they are not writing in judgment. The Psalmist is writing of the joy that has come into their life while they have been following God’s path. I stand before you this morning to share a similar message of the joy I have found through walking in the way of the Lord.
How does one figure out how to follow the laws of the Lord? Where do we learn about God’s decrees or commandments? We learn by example and through community. My childhood memories of Sunday School here were being loved and valued. While I might not be able to recall a specific lesson on the ten commandments or divine law, I know deep in my heart that the roots of God’s loving message were planted here.
I learned what it means to be a faithful Christian through the examples of those adults who spent time with the children and youth of the church. Through the generous support of this church, I spent two summers in high school working as a Summer Missionary. We worked at different sites around downtown Akron each week, including OPEN M, Community AIDS Network, and Miller Avenue UCC. Working and learning about these organizations instilled in me the idea of a faith that does justice.
One of my favorite games to play as a member of the youth group here at the church was Sardines. Sardines is like hide and go seek, but in reverse. One person goes to hide and after a few minutes, the others go and try to find them and then hide with them. Learning the rules is an important part of having fun playing a game. Recently, I gathered with a few other seminary students to play a new board game. The game we were playing was called Commissioned. It was a very nerdy game well suited for a group of students preparing to become future ministers. The board game Commissioned is about the apostles and early church leaders who were “commissioned” to go out and spread the Gospel. Now this was a new game and none of us had ever played it before. It took us about thirty minutes into playing the game before we had an understanding of the rules and how we were supposed to play. We started to have fun with the various steps and actions involved in game play. But then after almost two hours of playing Commissioned, one of my friends realized that we had actually been playing the wrong way and we wouldn’t be able to finish the game.
Imagine our frustration! We had been playing a board game for two hours with the wrong rules. Now by sharing this story, I don’t mean to suggest that life is a game that you can win at. But instead to reflect that we try our best to follow the commandments God has set out for us. God created us and wants us to enjoy the game of life! I think that one other lesson that can come from the failed attempt at playing the Commissioned game is the importance of mentors and a supportive community. We were trying our best with only a rule book to guide us. But if we had someone with experience guiding us, we would have been more successful. Part of enjoying the game is the importance of the people on the journey with you.
Rules, laws and commandments: these are commonly understood words. But one word I’ve mentioned a few times is not as familiar as the others, precepts. I learned about precepts through a book club I was in a few years ago. This particular book group was determined to choose a different genre of book each month. One of the members of our book club was a fourth grade teacher and suggested that we try a children’s literature book called Wonder. Wonder by RJ Palacio is the story of August, aka Auggie, a fifth grade boy with a medical condition which left him with facial differences. It is an incredible book that I highly recommend reading. Also I recommend reading the book because the book is always better than the movie – even if the movie does star Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay.
In Wonder, Auggie’s fifth grade teacher is Mr. Browne. Mr. Browne teaches his class about precepts. He says that a precept is: “Like a motto! Like a famous quote. Like a line from a fortune cookie. Any saying or ground rule that can motivate you. Basically, a precept is anything that helps guide us when making decisions about really important things.”
Mr. Browne gives his class a new precept each month. For example, his precept for February is: “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” That quote comes from James Thurber, an American cartoonist. When my book club gathered to discuss Wonder, we each created our own precepts. I spent a lot of time thinking about the one quote that I would share with my book club friends. In the end, my precept came from Winne the Pooh’s Grand Adventure, “Promise me you’ll always remember: you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
I wonder if you have a precept that you live by? Is there one quote or phrase that helps you to make important decisions? Whether it is scripture found in the Bible, or a quote from your favorite comedian, author, or person, I invite you to take a moment in the week ahead to think what your precept might be. And if you are willing, to share your precept with someone in the future. Like the Psalmist writing about their joy found in God’s commandments and precepts, part of each of our lifelong faith journey is learning from one another and sharing what helps us along the way.
If you leave here this morning with only one thing, let it be this: know that you are loved by God. Whether you are faithfully in the pews each Sunday, or this is your first time back at church in years, we are all trying our best each day to walk in the way of the Lord. No matter how far you stray, we remember our Savior Jesus Christ tells us that he will leave the 99 in order to ensure that the lost one is safe and found. When you walk through the doors on a Sunday morning, you are welcomed into a Christian community that is all striving to follow the path of Jesus and walk humbly with our God. This path is not only for those who are “blameless.” Walking in the way of the Lord is for those who have followed all of the commandments AND for those who have broken all of the commandments and precepts. Because God’s grace is overflowing. When you gather together each Sunday for worship, there is an opportunity to confess your sins and receive forgiveness. The ministers here say those words, you are forgiven.
As a child of God, who was raised in the faith in this congregation, it brings me joy to remind you that you, yes each of you, is a beloved child of God. Would you pray with me?
Dear God, I ask your blessing over First Congregational Church of Hudson. I ask you to be with each person here as they continue to walk in the way of the Lord. Help us to follow the path of those who guide us in the faith. Give us strength for the journey and help us to spread your love. Amen.