Second Sunday in Lent 21 February 2016
(Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35)
“Stay With God! Don’t Quit!”
Remember the story of the climber who fell off a cliff, and as he tumbled down, he caught hold of a small branch.
HELP! IS THERE ANYONE UP THERE? He shouted.
A majestic voice boomed through the gorge:
“I will help you, my son, but first you must have faith in me.”
“Yes, yes, I trust you!” cried the man.
“Let go of the branch,” boomed the voice.
There was a long pause, and the man shouted up again, “IS THERE ANYONE ELSE UP THERE I COULD TALK TO?
That’s pretty close to where we find the writer of Psalm 27 this morning. The psalm begins with what seems to be a strong affirmation of faith: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?” And then he tells us that that there are evil men besieging him so ruthlessly that he describes it as “devouring my flesh.” [V.2]
We hear of this vibrant trust in God in a rough-and-tumble world where there are very few safety nets. We see a picture of a person struggling to live a courageous life in a world filled with bullies, described as oppressors, enemies and false witnesses.
And we hear the assurance of triumph over these bullies and over the trauma of false accusations. And we hear an intimacy, a closeness with God, where he says, “the Lord is my light, my salvation, stronghold of my life, my helper, that God will keep me safe.”
Finally, we hear a delightfully entertaining image when he says that in a day of trouble, God will set him high upon a rock, protect him with hospitality, and even keep him safe in a place of worship—God is going to hide him in a church!
In all of this we hear a marvelous steadfastness of faith, not unlike what St. Paul asks of the Philippians when he pleads with them to “stand firm in the faith.”
But then this optimism begins to fades as we get to the second half of the Psalm. The second half turns into a lament. So we hear nine beseeching petitions asked of God: Hear my voice. Be merciful. Answer me. (V.7) Do not hide your face. Do not reject me. Do not forsake me. (V.9). Teach me. Lead me. (v.11). Do not turn your face from me. (v.12). But the answers do not come quickly enough!
IS THERE ANYONE ELSE UP THERE I COULD TALK TO?
But then, the Psalm closes with a strong, reaffirmation of faith and trust in God.
The writer makes a profound choice to trust God and to not be afraid. [V.3]
Isn’t this a description of our lives of faith? Sometimes strong and confident; other times wavering and questioning, wondering where God might be in this dark moment? As with the writer of Psalm 27, fear too often challenges our trust in God!
I think of our 8th and 9th grade retreat to Washington two weeks ago. On the trip down, the adult leaders heard lots of honest fear coming from our youth, not sure of what we might experience by being in close proximity with a population of people we did not know. But, what a marvelous movement beyond where they had begun! I hope you could see that in the pictures we saw at the beginning of this service.
We are still a world and a country held hostage to fear. I think fear is stronger than ever before in directing our lives. It just seems as if we’ve become a world where we are continuously fighting in the dark everywhere, claiming thousands of innocent lives. So, I am saddened when I see old ladies struggling to take off their jackets and shoes at airports. I am saddened when we see two people walking down York Street here in town with head coverings and backpacks and we think maybe we need to lock down the church.
I am saddened when I’m reminded in the presidential campaigns and the Pennsylvania State budget impasse that we are in the midst of a long moratorium on social issues because all our money is going into defense and security. In the meantime, we struggle with medical coverage for all people, day care services, housing programs to truly help those left out in the cold, and where more and more young people tell me they are going into the military because they can’t afford a college education any other way.
Psalm 27 is my favorite Psalm. I have it memorized and I pray it more than any other Psalm, but it disturbs my faith deep down because sometimes it is difficult for me to say/sing “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear,” and really mean it.
Here in this community, I think of the issues of homelessness and food insecurity, but I also think of racism and gun violence and simple poverty, only to name a few. And I think that maybe the bullies the psalmist was fighting in his time have become the issues of justice in our society today. Our faith challenges us to stand tall and firm against these bullies of injustice and inequality. These backpacks become yet one more way our youth have stood tall and firm!
The writer of Psalm 27 gives us closing advice. I want you to hear it from Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message. In the midst of the bullies of our society that challenge our commitment to God and all people, the psalmist simply says: “Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit. I’ll say it again: stay with God.” Awfully good advice! Amen.