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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

What man is he that desireth to live?

A Catechetical Sermon

January 25, 2023 at Solemn Evensong

Psalm 34


In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.


Welcome, again. At this point in the service, I will address the congregation for about five or six minutes. We’re calling this an “address,” rather than a “sermon,“ because it will be shorter than a Sunday sermon, and because I am not assuming that I am speaking to Christians, to “people who like sermons.” My goal is to explain: to lay out, as we gather every other week, what the Christian faith is and what we’re doing here, and you can do with that information whatever you want.


(And before we get started, I should say that I will not necessarily be commenting on the two readings, either. Today’s readings are those for a special occasion in the church, when we remember the Conversion of St Paul. This is an auspicious occasion to start a new project, but that is not what we will be talking about.)


Instead, we’ll be talking about this question: What is the starting place for Christian thinking? What assumptions about the world make Christianity make sense? I think there are two, and I’ll call them “intuitions.” If you think like a Christian, it is probably because these fundamental two ideas make sense to you.


The first intuition is that life is a gift, the world is good, and we are here to be joyful and thankful. The second intuition is that, in a world were there is suffering and sorrow, something has gone terribly wrong. I’ll explain these two intuitions using a verse from Psalm 34, an ancient Hebrew poem in the Bible: “What man is he that desireth to live, and would fain see good days? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips, that they speak no guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.“


So first, the Christian message is addressed to those who have the intuition that life is good and desirable. The psalm says, “What man is he that desireth to live, and would fain see good days?” What we are after when we draw close to God is a richer life than we could have without him. But it is a richer life here and now. It is concrete: we desire to “see good days.” Christianity is not for people who love harshness and severity, people who are tense and moralistic, but for people who want to enjoy life as it was created to be enjoyed. Life is “very good” (Genesis 1:31): this is a fundamental idea in the Christian teaching about creation.


At the same time, Psalm 34 acknowledges that we fall short of this pure enjoyment of the good things of life. Its advice for achieving peace and good days is, “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips, that they speak no guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Our tongues are in the unfortunately habit of speaking evil; guile is on our lips; and our feet do not habitually run after peace. If that were not true, the advice would be pointless. Human beings are strange and tragic. A peaceful spirit is all that we desire, and yet we need to be told to pursue peace because we so consistently do not.


It is healthier to look for this tendency to evil first within one’s own heart, but if you have difficulty seeing it in yourself then look around you. Do our leaders speak truly, or do they speak with guile? Do the rich do good, or do they do evil? Do our family members and neighbours follow peace, or follow conflict? But do look into your own heart too: if everything there is peace and stillness, a balanced, wise, and healthy enjoyment of life without disturbance from anger, laziness, disdain, or impatience, then you have already achieved much of what the church has to teach you.


But of course it is not so. This is why the Christian solution to the fact that we and are world are not as we should is “redemption.” In short, this means the restoration of the human heart. Christian teaching describes what is necessary for the restoration of the heart to our natural state of peace.


In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.

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