Does anyone recognize the name Darnell Barton? You may not recognize his name, but many of you will probably know what he did recently.
Darnell is a bus driver in Buffalo, New York. Last week, as he was traveling his route, he drove across an overpass bridge, and as he did, he spotted a woman perched on the edge of the bridge, ready to jump into the traffic below. One of the amazing parts of the story is that a video camera on his bus captured the action. As the woman was obviously in distress and about to jump, one person walked right past her and paid no attention. Another person rode past on their bicycle, missing or ignoring her.
Darnell stopped his bus, opened the door, and called out to her. Then he got off his bus, talked her off her perch, and put his arm around her as she climbed back to the sidewalk. Then he sat down and talked to her.
Asked about his actions, he said he grew up in church and he could hear his mom’s voice in his head, quoting II Timothy 4:2, be ready in season and out of season, and that if you have time to do anything, you have time to do the right thing.
In theological terms, we might call it not just the right thing, but also the righteous thing.
As we continue studying the 23rd psalm, today we’ll consider the latter part of verse 3 – he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
What I would like for us to do this morning is to read the 23rd psalm together. Would you stand and read with me?
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
This morning we will consider The Road of Righteousness. What does it mean to be righteousness?
1. It is not being better than others.
Sometimes church people are criticized as being self-righteous. Do you think that’s a fair criticism? Not always, but sometimes it is, isn’t it?
Self-righteousness is when we believe we are better, or superior, to others. And not just better as in a better basketball player than someone else, or a better piano player. It’s not a better ability, but a belief that one has a greater level of goodness and even a greater level of value and worth.
Self-righteousness is not hard to identify. We know when we see it, because it’s ugly. It’s distasteful. It’s wrong. And, unfortunately, it’s alive and well in the world.
It was certainly alive and well in the time of Jesus. Luke 18:9-14 contains a parable told by Jesus that warns of the dangers of self-righteousness –
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.
12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
They were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else. The moment we start feeling proud of ourselves for being so righteous, we are in danger of self-righteousness.
C. S. Lewis says that it is pride leads to self-righteousness –
Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone…In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself…As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
2. Righteousness is a way of life.
Righteousness is not defined so much by what we believe, but by what we do. It is a way of life. We are, after all, remembered more for what we do than what we say.
Righteousness is walking in the way of Jesus. Sometimes, church people seem to enjoy arguing about what people should believe. I think one of the reasons why this happens is because it’s easier to argue about beliefs than it is to walk in the ways of Jesus. It’s easier to argue about what we should believe about Jesus than it is to be like Jesus, isn’t it?
The psalmist uses the image of a path – he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness. Certainly, a shepherd would be familiar with the paths that sheep created as they walked to the watering holes or to the best pastures. On our farm we often followed the paths of the animals across the property. The cows had a tough enough hide that they could create paths through thickets we could never get through, but after they created a path we could go that way. It was especially helpful when they created some paths to get to the best blackberry plants that grew on our farm.
A path is created by consistently walking the same way, and in this case, in the 23rd psalm, it means to walk in the ways of God, and we walk in the ways of God walking in the ways of Jesus. Where did his feet take him? The feet of Jesus took to where he was needed. He walked with those who mourned. He walked with those who were poor. He walked with those who were lonely. He walked with those who were outcast and rejected. He walked with those who were hungry and thirsty. He walked with those who were sick. He walked with those who were unwelcome among the faithful. He walked with those who were judged by others. He walked as a friend to the friendless. He walked with those with faith. He walked with those with no faith. He walked with those who would follow him. He walked with those who would not follow him. He walked with those who loved him. He walked with those who did not love him. His feet made a well-worn path to where he was needed.
3. Our lives reflect on the character of God.
I would say that Darnell Barton reflects well the character of God. He saw a need that others couldn’t see, or wouldn’t see, and he demonstrated compassion.
It’s interesting that the psalmist says that God leads us on the path of righteousness for his name’s sake.
People do not see God, but they do see us, and the unnerving part of being a person of faith is the realization that people see God through the lens of you and me. And, unfortunately, the lens of our humanity often distorts what people see of God, and what they think about God. People look at what has been done in the name of God and respond with I don’t want any part of that. Well, to be honest, I don’t want any part of some of what I see that takes place in the name of God.
It is incumbent upon us, I believe, to act as a counter-balance to the ugliness of what some people say and do in the name of God. It is important that we counter the epithets, the harshness, and the prejudice that takes place in the name of God.
Jessica Eaves is another great example of reflecting the character of God. Ms. Eaves is a member of FCC (Disciples of Christ) in Guthrie, Oklahoma. She was shopping last month when someone stole her wallet. She saw the person a few minutes later, in another aisle, who had stolen her wallet. This is what she had to say – As I saw him, a scripture came to me from Luke, which basically says ‘if someone should take your cloak, you should give them your shirt as well. So she approached the man and told him, I think you have something of mine. I’m gonna give you a choice. You can either give me my wallet and I’ll forgive you right now, and I’ll even take you to the front and pay for your groceries. He reached into his pocket and gave it back to her, and started crying. She walked him to the front of the store and paid for his groceries.
It’s sure good to hear those kinds of stories, isn’t it? It’s good to know that people like Darnell Barton and Jessica Eaves are living their faith by walking the path of righteousness. But they are certainly not the only ones. I am moved so often as I watch you walk the path of righteousness. From my perspective I am blessed with the opportunity to see people walking in the way of Jesus day after day, performing important ministries.
May we walk daily in the ways of Jesus.