A Guest Post by Victor Shepherd
This is the fourth in a series of posts engaging with the sermons in Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge. This post is a reflection upon a sermon entitled “A Long and Winding Word” (pp. 10-17). The Scriptural text for the sermon was Psalm 119:97-112.
“Every time a carpenter points to a table he has made he doesn’t have to brandish a hammer and saw,” said Ronald Ward (former Professor of New Testament, Wycliffe College), in Royal Sacrament, his fine book on preaching. In the same way, Robert Dean exalts the substance of Psalm 119 (and therein exalts the Lord of the text) without displaying himself by immodestly brandishing the tools he has acquired through years of disciplined theological study and persistent exegetical quarrying.
Everywhere Dean’s “A Long and Winding Word” reflects exemplary scholarship and thorough familiarity with the literature pertaining to the Psalter, together with an appreciation of several spiritual giants (e.g., Calvin and Bonhoeffer) who found it nourishment for their faith in Christ In addition, to read the sermon is to find oneself admitted to Dean’s own Gospel-seized heart and Spirit-attuned mind.
Consistently the sermon exposes erroneous (mis)understandings that continue to plague the church; e.g., the Psalms have little to say to contemporary Christians; the Psalms (and the Older Testament as a whole) are legalistic documents that can only promote the self-righteousness the Gospel exposes and denounces; the Torah is nothing more than a vehicle of a self-aggrandizement before God that remains the antithesis of all that Jesus Christ was and taught.
Noteworthy is the sermon’s subtle reliance on the vicarious humanity of Christ. Since the Son of God, in his humanity, has ‘pioneered’ our faith-journey ahead of us, we are not called to novelty or to heroism; we are called, rather, to keep company with our Lord in his worship of the Father, his obedience in life and death, and his joy at having completed the task he gladly took up – and this just because all that is asked of us our Lord has already fulfilled for us.
Not least, the sermon does much to defuse the latent (and too often virulent) anti-Semitism that has always dogged the church. For the sermon consistently indicates that the logic of the Psalms is identical with the logic of the Gospel, and this for the simple reason that Jesus of Nazareth is nothing other than Torah-Incarnate.