6th Sunday a Pentecost

July 21, 2019


For all of life

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help. Cast me not off;
forsake me not, O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the LORD will take me in.
Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27 ESV)

We come to church or approach God from where we’re at at the moment – happy, sad, healthy, ill, full of energy and excited about the prospects before us, full of dread and anxiety about the prospects before us. The moment contains our age, our life experience, our relationships, our hopes, our griefs, our country, our situation. We might want to ignore parts of who we are, emphasise or concentrate on other parts but we bring all of ourselves to God. The older we become, the more personal history comes with us.

And invariably what we want from God is help. We want him and his presence (though often we’d prefer just his gifts). We want him to make things better and not worse. And because we are in the moment, it would be good if God would help in the moment – this moment – now. And if this help happens – particularly if unexpected or hard to explain, then we might think miracle or blessing – and then that God is good. And if things don’t get better for us, maybe they stay the same, or  if it happens that things get worse for us, then we find ourselves struggling – to believe, to trust, to hang on. And when we read the Bible, we invariably read the accounts of God helping people. Whatever the trouble, God or Jesus helps. The trouble might be long term – decades even but when God gets
involved, he helps. We often don’t consider the times prior to the encounter with Jesus – the prayers asked, the struggles that have happened. Tough times generate their own logic – often along the lines of the person or someone close to them has caused the mess somehow. So the disciples ask Jesus about the man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV).

Those in exile and their children – two generations that feel the consequences of events that have been building for centuries – record their dismay in Psalm 137 …

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4 ESV)
We know the exile was 70 years but unless they trusted Jeremiah’s prophecy no one was really waiting for it to end because they were living in the moment – hardship and tough times feeling abandoned by God. And yet we would say that God helped the generations in exile, helped those who returned and those who didn’t, and set the stage in motion centuries later for Jesus to walk on Earth in Jerusalem and among a rebuilt, almost completed temple complex – and Jesus’ goal was to help all of humanity for all time.

Where is God and what is he doing in our lives?

The psalm appointed for this Sunday – Psalm 27 – is attributed to David but with no context. It seems like two psalms stitched together – a psalm of praise and a psalm of lament – but the metre and the content when placed into a worship context – especially if it is a priest telling David the last verse – and him then telling us to “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14 ESV) – can make this psalm a whole unit – full of ups and downs, rejoicings and leadings, successes and losses – sounds like a lot of life doesn’t it? – with God in it for the long haul.

With no specific references to anchor the psalm we can see sections of David’s life aligned to the psalm verses – we make links between words and moments and David starts by praising God – because that’s what we’d do – praise God as light and salvation – whom is there to fear? Because God was David’s stronghold – particularly in his long run-ins with Saul whose jealousy definitely got the better of him.  Adversaries stumbling and falling happen numerous times and especially with a stone in the head – think Goliath – and armies, whether the Philistines’ or Saul’s, never prevailed. David wanted to build God a home but God was the one who said ‘No’ and so David remained worshipping in a tabernacle but he had a fear and awe relationship with the ark of the covenant. David wasn’t afraid to be decisive in action – militarily or strategically yet he sought God’s own time for his victory – he wouldn’t go against Saul as the Lord’s anointed. And things did work out for David for he was king for a long time.  But … isn’t there always another side to the story? … Maybe it is power corrupts and absolute power
corrupts absolutely or maybe it is more internal and the rebellious sinful heart really does do what it wants at times and to hell with the consequences – and that phrase was said deliberately. Obviously David’s behaviour towards Uriah and Bathsheba is deplorable and the baby son Bathsheba bears – the one before Solomon – suffers the consequences despite David’s pleadings. The sins of David’s heart taint, infect, ruin his family relationships – particularly with his sons and daughters we will find rebellion, killing, rape – it’s not a pretty family portrait – and there’s more than enough to be sad,
sorrowful, depressed about – and the laments are easily understood as well. We can well imagine David pleading to God, praying to God – we have psalms to prove it – that David knew he needed God because his life – and remember he is the King – wasn’t perfect, fulfilling, wonderful – as might be imagined.

Coming to the tabernacle with his sacrifices, praying constantly, respite and good times come but then they go again. And David waits with the congregation or he has gone to the priest on duty by himself – royal prerogative and all – for the key thing – the blessing from God. God keeping him close. God’s smile being on him whether he is obedient or struggling with his rebellious nature and this smile helps him live – and to repent and struggle on each day. And God giving his grace and favour – not life according to David’s hopes and dreams – but peace that God is helping him in that moment and God is bringing about good for him and those around him – which in David’s case included the nation.  There is no way we can say that Psalm 27 is an old man’s psalm. It makes sense to me that the longer one has to go back through one’s life and see God’s faithfulness, the more it helps our continued faithfulness to God and to those around us.

Where is God and what is he doing in your life?

We know what David hoped for – that the Messiah, David’s descendant, the anointed one, the Christ, is even more than that, for he is Immanuel – God with us – and we know him as Jesus. And this Jesus always helps us because that’s what his cross and empty tomb tell us but under the cross help is not ours to determine and we may find it hard to see – just as water, bread and wine don’t really reveal Jesus and his forgiveness and new life.

The world mocks, ‘You fools! It’s only a story that is now out of date!’. There may be even parts of ourselves that wrestles with something similar – less so when things are well with us, more so when they are not well with us.

But the cross and empty tomb don’t go away; they don’t fade into history. The story of Jesus is still heard and people still meet him and find life and hope, forgiveness and mercy, and help for new starts against sin and strength to hang in there. Jesus is our light and salvation, whom shall we fear?  And as we answer that question and live the life we have, until we see Jesus face to face, we also hear “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”.  We can say both because God is faithful and good.


Bible References

  • Psalm 27