Psalm 119:1–8; Matthew 5:21–37
My first semester of seminary, one of the classes I took was Worship. Early in the class, we learned that one of the requirements would be to chant the liturgy. I spoke to the professor, telling him that singing was not one of my gifts. He said, “I want you to work with Andrew for some private singing lessons.” Andrew and I worked together a few times, and he suggested I join the Gospel Choir and sing with the tenors. So, I did.
I enjoy singing, I just don’t do it very well, but I did my best, trying to match the tenors around me. We had a new seminary president that year, and we worked on a piece for his installation service. It was a bluesy, jazzy, Gospel number titled “Order my steps,” based on Psalm 119.
We spoke/sang the refrain for it with the psalm today. I was so excited to see it in our psalm resource that I had to use it. The practice and performance of this piece was an amazing experience in my life. I, who couldn’t -- and still can’t -- sing well, was a member of a mass choir, with three other choirs singing the same piece of music in Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago.
Besides this special event, the song took on a life of its own during my time in seminary. Psalm 119 is a very long poem, with each stanza praising God’s teaching, instruction, covenant with God’s people. The refrain “Order my steps in your word, dear Lord, lead me, guide me, every day. Send your anointing, Father, I pray. Order my steps in your word. Please, order my steps in your word” echoes and echoes in my heart, as well as becoming an ear worm that is hard to get rid of. .
This refrain became a guide for me throughout seminary, as so many times decisions were made for my life by others. The refrain guided me in my approach to taking classes. The refrain continues to remind me to put God first in my life.
“Order my steps in your word” is a good way to think of obeying the commandments. Help me to understand your heart, Lord, and follow wherever you lead. Help me to go beyond the simple meaning of the words to the spirit of them.
This is what Jesus is getting at. I think it’s a pretty good bet that none of us have literally murdered anyone. So we can brag that we have never disobeyed this commandment. But, then, Jesus throws it back at us and makes us squirm. Who among us hasn’t been angry, born a grudge, or insulted someone. Jesus says that we should not even present ourselves in worship before resolving the conflict. Order my steps in your word, dear Lord.
Have any of you committed adultery? Probably not, yet who among us hasn’t looked at another woman or man and imagined loving them? Who among us hasn’t had some fun imagining ourselves with a good-looking movie star or athlete? Have you ever thought that Jesus might call that adultery? Order my steps in your word, dear Lord.
I don’t know many couples who haven’t struggled at some point in their marriages and considered what it would be like to be single. In Jesus’ time, men had the right to tell their wife that they were divorced. The woman would then be out of a home, and if no one would take her in, she would be homeless. In our time, it may not be much different. It’s easy to today to end a marriage, and often requires a lot of hard work to stay married. Jesus wants us to make a commitment to each other and keep it. Order my steps in your word, dear Lord.
It’s usually the commandment about swearing that really trips us all up. I remind you that the commandment is not referring to bathroom words. It is not even referring to sexual words. The commandment refers to using God’s name in a way that dishonors God. We stub our toe on the table, or spill coffee on the carpet and we shout “Jesus!” We lie and say we haven’t done something we did do, and say, “Swear to God!” It’s out of our mouths before we can think about it. Order my steps in your word, dear Lord.
Next week, we’ll continue this portion of the Sermon on the Mount with similar challenges. It is also accompanied by a portion of Psalm 119.
We are children of God, and should behave like that matters, like that relationship makes a difference. We are ALL children of God and should behave like siblings, family, kin to one another. Belonging to Jesus gives direction and guidance to our lives. We should speak the truth to each other, kindly. We should let our yes be yes, and our no be no. Order my steps in your word, dear Lord.
Pay attention this week to how many times you commit – not the obvious sin of murder – but the less noticeable sins of angry grudges and insults.
Notice this week – not the act of adultery – but the times when you look with longing at people other than your spouses, the times when you gossip about a friend, or think of someone as an object that is easily thrown away.
Pay attention this week to the way you use God’s name – it should always be used respectfully. If you “swear to God” you should mean it as a prayer, not as a witness to a lie.
Let God’s word order your steps and your lives this week.
Please pray with me. Order my steps in your word, dear Lord, lead me, guide me, every day. Send your anointing, Father, I pray. Order my steps in your word. Please, order my steps in your word. Amen