Friday, January 29, 2010

Sermon Series: Psalm 73, A God-Centric Life, Part 1

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching at Todd Wilson's church Calvary Memorial in Oak Park, IL. While I don't do a great deal of preaching, it is truly one of my great passions. I love preaching God's word. I thought I would disseminate the manuscript of that message through a series of posts. I would present it in one, but the text is over 4000 words which would make for a very long post. So I'll sequentially excerpt portions from it. If you are interested in listening to the sermon you can find it on the Calvary's website. I preached the sermon three times and in each case it came out slightly differently. The manuscript provides a full text of what I intended, but the audio presentation provides the live text. I pray that you are edified by this message.

So let me begin with the introduction.

What do you think about Country Music? Do you like it? Growing up, my dad was a huge country and western music fan. This, mind you, was NJ, not exactly a region known for its Bluegrass. My dad was a cowboy trapped in the life of a rural NJ policeman. In fact after retiring from 25 years of service on the police force his inner cowboy finally came out: he purchased property out in east Texas and built a ranch. His love for country and western music and culture however did not rub off on me. I have purposefully avoided country music for most of my adult life. That is until recently. I started listening to it again. One thing that attracts me now to CM is that it is a storytelling genre.

While other kinds of music tell stories, I think of Pearl Jam’s song “Last Kiss”, CM at its heart is narratival. Often these stories are laments of the consequences of actions taken or not taken. As a genre, CM is rather melancholy. You’ve heard the joke about CM haven’t ya?

What do you get when you play CM backwards?
You get your dog back;
you get your truck back;
you get your money back;
you get your wife back.

But certainly not all of it is gloomy. A lot of it is just good fun. I mean what other genre of music can you have a song like Zach Brown’s Chicken Fried or Sic ‘em on a Chicken.

Chicken Fried, is a song about the “good life” which amounts to hangin out on a Friday night drinking a cold beer, listening to the radio and wearing a pair of good fitting blue jeans. The simple things in life!

Sic ‘Em On A Chicken, on the other hand, is about his old dog Pete who regularly fights with his chickens. Pete distinguishes himself because he’s mean and drinks Jim Bean and water from a broken mason jar. One of the lines of the chorus is

Sic ‘em on a chicken
Sic ‘em on a chicken
Sic ‘em on a chicken and watch them feathers fly

Sic ‘em on a chicken
Sic ‘em on a chicken
Sic ‘em on a chicken
Bring out the butter and the flour we’re ready to fry.

At a deeper level though, CM teaches life lessons through the sharing of life experience. Often these lessons are negative. But even these are offer wisdom. Zach Brown the writer of the previously mentioned songs also has a deeply moving song about the relationship between a Father and Son called Highway 20 Ride. Some of the lyrics of the song go like this:

I ride east every other Friday
But if I had it my way
A day would not be wasted on this drive
And I want so bad to hold you
Son, there’s things I haven't told you
Your mom and me couldn't get along

So I drive and I think about my life
And wonder why that I slowly die inside
Every time I turn that truck around
Right at the Georgia line
And I count the days
And the miles back home to you
On that Highway 20 ride

So when you drive
And the years go flying by
I hope you smile
If I ever cross your mind
It was the pleasure of my life
And I cherished every time
And my whole world
It begins and ends with you
On that Highway 20 ride....

You hear the regret; you feel the pain; you learn the lesson.

You know some of the Psalms are like CM in this way. Some, like Psalm 73, is a story of a believer’s relationship with God. It is an honest story that reveals the characteristics of a real relationship. A relationship that is free of pretence and pretend. It is raw and real and its presented by the inspired songwriter to be an example of what it looks like to walk closely with God. I want to expose the narrative substructure of the song so that we can learn what God, through this inspired songwriter, wishes to teach us.

This morning we’re going to think about this song through a narrative lens. Leland Ryken tells us that biblical narratives, like all stories, are made up of three elements: Setting, Character and Plot. A story is the interaction between the characters and the plot within a particular setting. By thinking through the song using the three elements of story we’ll discover three characteristics of a real relationship with God. So let’s begin with the story’s setting.

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