Proper 14 – 8-11–2019 – St. Paul’s
The president cannot guarantee national security (nor even his own security) with the Army nor the Navy nor the Air Force, the Coast Guard, the Marines or Space Force. The fighter pilot isn’t protected by smart missiles. The nuclear arsenal is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.
When we get down to it, a good question might be…What is the basis of our security? When we start thinking about that question, we may give many answers: success, money, friends, property, popularity, family, connections, insurance, and so on. We may not always think that any of these forms the basis of our security, but our actions or feelings may tell us otherwise. When we start losing our money, our friends, or our popularity, our anxiety often reveals how deeply our sense of security is rooted in these things.
How does the Psalmist answer he question today? Is this the psalmist’s aim in the middle of today’s psalm. You think anything on this earth is secure? The psalmist taunts, No army, no warrior, no horse, no bomb, no drone, no tank can be your salvation. The President may have cameras on most parts of the world that he can view in the situation room, but he can’t see things the way that the Lord can: The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees every human being (33:13). The Lord is far above all, is beyond all dimensionality, is uncontainable—this is what we mean when we say the Lord is transcendent. And yet it is equally true to proclaim that the Lord is near, beneath, and under all things. I love the way the Quran expresses this idea—which is what we are talking about in saying that the Lord is immanent–the Lord is closer to us than our jugular veins (50:16). Or in another psalm, the psalmist cries out to God, Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too (Psalm 139:7-8).
Our psalm for today reminds us of what the Lord can see from heaven as the psalmist goes on, From his dwelling place God observes all who live on earth. God is the one who made all their hearts, the one who knows everything they do (33:14-15). The Lord, the Creator is the Knowing One, the One who Sees. The Lord sees that all that vaunted military and cultural and economic power comes to naught. The stronger a country is, the more it is besieged on all sides, the more it grows entangled in other affairs, the more it becomes a sprawling, unwieldy web of empire. You hear quite a few descriptors appended to these United States of America, but how many of them are happy or glad?
The psalm offers us some resources for thinking through why this happens to be. The first verse of our pericope sounds promising. It reads, The nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom God has chosen as his possession, is truly happy! It seems from this verse that the nation’s fortunes are principally determined by the Lord, by the Lord’s choice.
As Christians, we know that God chose one nation: the ancient kingdom of Israel. We also know that through Christ we have been made part of God’s chosen people. Paul describes this in the letter to the Romans: the Gentiles, those on the outside of Israel, a wild olive branch . . . were grafted in…[and share] the root that produces the rich oil of the olive tree (Romans 11:17). So the people whom the Lord has chosen? That’s Israel and by extension the church. I don’t see any room to shoehorn in the US–or any other modern political entity–as the nation in this text.
Instead, we hear promises from the Lord, assurance and comfort. Even as the Lord watches as the nations fail to promise security, the Lord’s eyes watch all who honor him, all who wait for his faithful love (Psalm 33:18). The psalmist tears down our alternative sources of deliverance so that we can be reminded of who our protector really is. If we are those who fear the Lord, we are not alone. Though we may not feel that the Lord is with us, though we may feel alone and afraid, we can have the confidence in the Lord that the Lord will be faithful.
We will face hard times, times when we will be tempted to cry out and question the Lord, but the psalmist reminds us that the Lord will keep us alive during a famine (33:19b). Keep our bellies full, keep the pantry stocked? No, not necessarily. The fear of the Lord is no guarantee of earthly prosperity. Those who fear the Lord, who hope in the Lord’s love, will die but they know that the Lord is faithful to deliver their lives from death (33:19a). As Christians, we can, we must, read this through the lens of Easter. Our Lord Jesus Christ in his steadfast love died and rose again to deliver our souls—and our bodies—from death.
What a clear delineation of responsibilities! Look at what humankind is called to do in the psalm: we fear, we hope, we wait, we trust. These are not habits that we come to easily. It turns out our vocation is patience. I don’t mean this only in the sense of enduring something for an extended duration of time.
More particularly, I’m referring to the willingness to be acted upon, not to be the person taking action but the person receiving it. This is why we call folks being treated in hospitals patients: they’re lying down in the bed or on the operating table while doctors and nurses inject them with medicines, cut them open to fix problems, or suture up wounds, taking actions for the good of the patients that the patients cannot take for themselves.
Being a good patient isn’t taking over and performing the surgery yourself; it’s recognizing that you cannot do this thing for yourself and allowing someone else to do it for you. It’s not struggling and resisting the treatment but being willing to be acted upon. This is the kind of patience the psalm is praising.
It’s not that humans have no responsibility because being willing to let God be God is hard. Our society—and, frankly, many of our churches—tell us to do, to act, to exert our will in making this world ours, in providing, in making a difference. Waiting is not our M. O. It’s a countercultural, unintelligible practice to wait for the Lord, to act as if the final outcome is totally out of our hands and totally in the hands of the Lord. For it is not we but he who “is our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:20).
So this is whence our happiness comes: from the Lord. “Our heart rejoices in God because we trust his holy name” (33:21). Because we know who the Lord is and what the Lord has done to uphold those who trust in his holy name throughout ages and ages, our heart is glad. As Deuteronomy has it, you can “be strong and fearless” for “the Lord is the one who is marching before you! He won’t let you down. He won’t abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8).
Even as we do not walk this road without the Lord, neither do we walk it without brothers and sisters in the faith. Listen to the curious formulation of the psalmist: “We put our hope in the Lord…Our heart rejoices in God” (Psalm 33:20-21). Both of those are singular! Though we often fall short, the people of God are to be unanimous–that is, single-souled. We are to have one heart. Thus, when a brother is struggling to believe, the rest of us can believe for him. When a sister cannot find the gladness herself, the rest of us hold the gladness for her. When the storms of doubt are raging and I cannot wait for the Lord, I can trust that the body of Christ, this congregation, will wait on my behalf.
Notice that none of the actions in the psalm are aimed at a single individual. “The nation whose God is the Lord . . .is truly happy” (33:12); The Lord “sees every human being” (33:13). The psalmist is not worried about some particular relationship or funny feeling between a lone person and God. The psalmist is writing about the covenantal relations between the Lord and the Lord’s people whom the Lord has called into being.
So as we pray, “Lord, let your faithful love surround us, because we wait for you” (33:22), we pray this knowing that one of the main ways that the Lord’s steadfast love is upon us is in the gathering together of the people of the Lord in the church. The Lord’s love is upon us when we sing hymns together in praise. The Lord’s love is upon us when the word of the Lord is faithfully proclaimed. The Lord’s love is upon us when we baptize someone into the church, and the Lord’s love is upon us when we break bread and drink wine, when the Lord meets us in that bread and wine. The Lord’s love is upon us even when we are gathered around coffee and doughnuts after the service, sharing in the joy and life that is ours in the Lord.
So as you go forth today, go and wait boldly. Go in the confidence that comes from the Lord who delivers. Go and laugh at the things by which this world promises to save. Go and scoff at the fancy weapons and financial instruments which cannot deliver, which are “a bad bet for victory” (33:17). Go because the Lord is on your side. Go with the happiness of being “the people whom God has chosen as his possession” (33:12). Go with gladness in your heart, the gladness which accompanies trust. Go because “the Lord’s eyes watch all who honor him” (33:18). Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord of all the heavens and the earth,
you watch over all things.
You see us in our precious few moments of faithfulness
and in all the times that we fail to be follow your ways and teachings.
You are over all the nations which promise security in times of trial
but cannot be true to their promises.
Only you can deliver us, O Lord.
Only you can save.
You have chosen us to be your people, your heritage.
Lead us into waiting boldly upon your grace.
Teach us to trust with gladness in your holy name.
We give you thanks and praise
that your steadfast love is upon us always.
In the unspeakably holy name of the Lord, Amen.
maker of stars and seashores,
reveal your word to us this day
in which all things were made.
Redeemer God, caller of disciples,
light our lamps this day,
dress us for action,
and open the doors
of our hearts and minds.
sender of the Holy Spirit,
renew in us the faith of our ancestors,
that we might claim it as our own
in covenant with you.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Call to Offering (Hebrews)
By faith we understand that everything seen was made by God
from things that are not visible.
By faith we bring these things,
especially our very selves as co-creating partners
for constructing a heavenly homeland on earth,
whose architect and builder is God.
Benediction (Luke 12)
Have your lamps lit.
Be dressed for action.
Be generous; give alms.
Be unburdened by possessions.
Where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also.
Go in peace with the Blessing of God Almighty….
Creator, Redeemer, Giver of Life…..