London's Greenwich Park hosts the Royal Observatory. It is significant for us because it is the place where GMT exists. For it is the sight of the "Prime Meridian", that is, longitude 0'0".
In 1884, with a continual rise with international trade and shipping it became necessary to start to standardize navigation. In response to this we have what is called the prime meridian. Even this can be confusing because there is not one but for Meridians that pass through the observatory. Flamsteed's, which was established in 1675 and Edmund Halley who established one in 1725. The third was set out by James Bradley in the mid 18th century and remains the basis for current map-making today. But 1851Sir George Airy positioned his meridian about 19 feet away and has remained the just 19ft away, which eventually became the basis for international time and remains the basis for time zones.
If you want to confuse matters more is that satellite navigation has a different standard. In fact, WGS84's zero meridian 336.3 feet east of the line marked at Greenwich. The offset at other locations can be as much as 30″ east or west.
Yet for all the variations, the truth of a central place from which all time and days begin and end remain an undisputed truth. They provide the foundation for our understanding and appreciation for not only where we are but when we are.
Let me suggest that spiritually there is one and only one prime meridian that allows any of us to navigate through the harshness of our lives. And that prime meridian is nothing short of the Word of God.
Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and that is because of the way it is written. Each stanza is labeled by one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each of the eight lines in those stanzas also begins with the same letter. Yet its subject is even more amazing. "Its contents are mainly praises of God's Word, exhortations to its perusal, and reverence for it, prayers for its proper influence, and complaints of the wicked for despising it." Only two verses, 122 and 132, do not have a description or term for God's Word.
What do these first two stanzas have for us? First it gives us some general blessings that occur when someone pays attention to Scripture. And in the second stanza it makes it all personal.
Blameless is how we're described in verse 1. It literally means to complete in the sense of living in accordance with the relationship God wishes to have with us, that of loving Father and adopted child. Like many Hebraic teachings this follows a parallel type of model in which something is said one way then repeated in a different manner of expanded. To be blameless is to be walk according to the law of the Lord. Scripture is referred to in terms of "statues" in verse 2, which are kept and this is equated with the concept of walking in God's ways. Precepts and decrees which are obeyed as well as commands and God's righteous law are all describe what we call Scripture.
To be blessed has a safety and economic component to it in God's Word. Deuteronomy 28 includes specific blessing for those whose livelihood revolved around farming and livestock. But blessing isn't unusual; it's the normal occurrence when one seeks God with all their hearts. What doe seeking look like? To be blameless, observe his instructions, seeking and doing no evil and walking in His ways are in the first three verses. God's laws are to be carefully kept, steady and our gaze fixed on your commandments in verses five and six.
Choose a place with the right amount of sun and shade, dig up the soil and add the right nutrients. Make sure it drains well so water doesn't gather at the roots and don't let it get too stressed by drought or wind and you can plant almost any plant and it will do well. But put your African violets out on a hot sunny deck and they won't do well. Placed in alkali soil your azaleas never develop. That's because they aren't where they should be.
It is amazing how we tend to stay away from the idea of blessing because we're afraid of sounding like a TV evangelist who is only out for money. But blessing, growth, maturity, God's touching one's life is a natural outcome of being where we are suppose to be. It is the natural consequence of seeking God with all our heart, of fixating our attention on Jesus Christ to the exclusion of everything else that is also good.
One thing I hadn't noticed before in this Psalm is the shift in verse 5 from you to my and I. This isn't a teaching psalm aimed at all "those people out there". It's meant to be personally applied to our lives. Verses 6-8 become a personal plea for the writer. It is so easy to think of God's Law as a list of no-no's but in truth it is a mirror into which we stare and see ourselves as we truly are. It is a shaming vision many times. It shows us as not being good enough and we're not. It highlights the lame excuses and we all have used them. It causes us to see the zits of disobedience and blemishes of sin every one of us. And the mirror of God's Word focuses Christ and His gospel. Our obedience to God's law lifts the burden of shame and frees us from a sense of condemnation.
This is why the Psalmist speaks of considering, learning, obeying God's law. He seeks with all his heart and hides the word in his heart so that he won't blow it. Jesus told us that we abide in him and his words abide in us we bear much fruit. We're also told that Jesus is the one with words of eternal life and there is no one else we can too.
If you believe for a minute that you or I can walk out of here and keep God's law for a day you're mistaken. We'll never do it. We are unable to manage it. We are sinners, it's programmed in our DNA and we adapt to sin like a duck to water. Sin is the unnatural response of us as fallen men and women.
So if we have no hope of keeping the Law why all this seeking, obedience, and the rest? Look at verse 12 again. "Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees" God is the one who makes obedience possible and a reality. God teaches us. And when God teaches us we are able to recall those lessons, those verses we've laid up in our hearts (v.11). This is why Jesus tells us that when the Holy Spirit comes He would remind the disciples of everything Jesus had said. Following, meditating and delighting not neglecting is how the Psalmist describes his journey with God.
From May 26 till June 4, 1940 over 300,000 British and French troops were evacuated from Dunkirk. Prior to that Churchill had told the House of Commons to expect, "Hard and heavy tidings". What made the difference were some eight hundred and sixty boats which include 42 destroyers but a large number of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, Yachts, and lifeboats. I mention this because I want us to understand that seeking God, laying up God's word, meditating and following God's commands aren't just for the big ships. Each and everyone one of us are called to do this.
Lent, is a time of reflection as we approach Easter. It has often been seen as a time of repentance and change, of being open to God and denying our own desires. I am convinced that Lent, especially this Lent, holds within it the possibility of transforming our life as a congregation as well as ourselves.
Jamieson, R., Fausset, & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Ps 119:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.