Sunday, January 29, 2012

WILL GOD BE PRAISED?

A sermon on Psalm 111
By Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
4th Sunday after Epiphany, January 29, 2012

As is my custom, I took off the week after Christmas to visit a church in the area that was experimenting with a different style of church and a different type of worship.   It was New’s Day, and upon entering the Sanctuary, knowing that it was a “contemporary” worship style, I expected clapping, worship leadership, loud music, and of course, participation. 

Actually, when my wife and I arrived, I needed to make a quick trip to the bathroom.  On my way back, my eye caught the Nursery door and a sign that I really loved.  It said:  “Let us Love on you Kids, While You’re Loving on God.”   Good sign.  I liked that.  I thought to myself: This church is going to be great.

But when I finally came to enter the Sanctuary, nothing was happening.  They were making announcements.  That was important.  But I didn’t come for that.   Even when the two musicians; two well-trained guitarist started the praise and worship music, and were singing,  I just didn’t sense any real participation from the congregants.  There were about 40 to 60 people in a room that might had seated 200.  Everything happening was contemporary.   The environment was contemporary.  The musicians were on a stage.  They were singing good songs.  There was a glass pulpit, which didn’t look like a pulpit.  The room was dark.  The video screen was large and bright.  The control room had a couple of controllers present.  Everything was set up for a meaningful, explosive, relational, contemporary worship experience, but nothing seemed to connect, with me, nor with the audience.  It was lifeless.

After the two musicians’ finished 3 or 4 songs, they sat down.  Then, the pastor got up and gave his message.  It was a good message, but somehow, I still got the feeling this service, except for the “contemporary” façade, was no different than any other service I’d been in lately.   

So, after my visit to the experimental church I came to this conclusion: Worship can be just as spiritually lifeless and dead in a “contemporary” church as it can be a “traditional” church.   The most important part of worship is not “how” we worship, but “who” we worship; and the most important question God’s people have to answer whenever they enter the doors of a church or worship center is this: Will God Be Praised!  

Unless this happens, nothing happens.  Unless we have come to sincerely and singly focus upon God and not ourselves, nor our human agendas; then no matter how we dress it up, what kind of façade we put on it; we have not come to worship God.  The most fundamental question of each and every church, every time the doors are open to worship is only this: “Will God Be Praised?”

I.                    “I will give thanks to God with my whole heart”  Psalm 111.1

This is how the Psalmist sees true worship?  It must be “whole-hearted”!   Do we have any half-hearted worshippers here today?   You may be excused.  You are hindering the rest of us.  Go home and come back when your heart is right.   Don’t get me wrong, we want you back!  But we only want you to be here, like the Psalmist has said, to worship and to give thanks to God with your whole heart!

Let me tell you why the Psalmist is serious about this, and I am too.   Isn’t it amazing how bad things turn out when you are half-hearted about anything? 
Try to be “half-hearted” in your marriage and see how it works.
Try to be “half-hearted” at work, and see how long you have a job.
What about being half-hearted with your children, your family, your friends or any other relationship?
Try to be “half-hearted” when you drive a car, focusing on something else.  That’s dangerous.
Isn’t it true that being “half-hearted” at the worship of the true God could be just as dangerous to you spiritually and to the spiritual health of this congregation?   Didn’t the Spirit of Jesus tell the Church at Laodicea, that he wished that they’d either be “cold” or “hot”, but because they were “lukewarm”, he have to vomit them up.  That’s sick.  That’s right, but that’s also half-hearted.  This can be dangerous for a Christian or for a church.

Worship just doesn’t work when people come “half-hearted” with other real agenda’s on their mind and heart.    When our agenda and goal for being here is anything other than “to give thanks to the LORD with (our) whole heart” (Psalm 111.1), then we are just asking for failure in worship, failure in our Christian walk with God, and we are bringing about the failure of our church; because a church exists for only one ultimate reason: to wholeheartedly worship, glorify and magnify the Lord.  There is no other more necessary agenda.

But again, when we lose this agenda, when we get preoccupied with other things, then we can start losing our focus; grasping after other things.   This past week I made a mistake putting the Scripture down.  I wrote to the Secretary Psalm 61 instead of Psalm 62.   Let me make this clear:  that won’t the last time I make a mistake.  What if you came to church only to focus on my mistakes or I only came to focus on your mistakes.  We’d never be able to praise God, would we?   You might like “correcting” my mistakes, but I bet you wouldn’t like me correcting your mistakes.  Let me make this clear:  We are not in this church to correct each other’s mistakes.  We will make mistakes.  In one church that like to focus on people’s mistakes, I wore a T-shirt that said: Build a bridge and get over it?  That’s a good attitude for worship.   We are here to worship God and to let God help us build a bridge over the mistakes, failures, and shortcomings of our lives.

Do you see what can happen when people worship God half-heartedly?  We focus on all the wrong things; and then none of us are happy about anything, nor with each other.   But when you give God you “whole” heart, then nothing is yours and you can be free and happy and you don’t focus on little things; but you focus on the big things.  Remember what Scripture says:  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.  (Phi 4:8-9 NRS).   Do you see it?  Unless you focus on the one who is worthy of praise….you don’t get the peace of God; all you get is discord, strife and discontent.  I don’t want that; and I don’t believe you do either.

Let me explain it to you this way:  I’ve been in churches where the bulletins were sloppy.  I’ve been in churches where the music was bad, real bad.   I’ve been in churches where the preaching was not at all what it needed to be.   I’ve been in churches where the testimonies were silly.  I’ve been in churches, where the fellowship was a little stiff.  But when those people in that church, even with the bad music and the bad preaching, came to worship and they gave their whole heart to give thanks to God, none of those weaknesses mattered.   But on the other hand, I’ve also been in churches where the bulletins were normally perfect, or expected to be.  I’ve been in churches where the music was well practiced and rehearsed.  I’ve been in church where the preacher was well-prepared and polished; where people gave testimonies or should I say “talks”; and where everybody smiled and shook each other’s hands; but because those people did not come into that church to give God their “whole heart” the worship fell flat.

To put this as plain and simple as I can:  If you did not come into this worship place today with only one agenda; this true agenda on your mind and heart; if you did not come to give your “whole heart” to God in worship; then it would be better if stopped worship; at least until you get things right.   Now, what I’m saying might sound shocking and crude; but isn’t this what Jesus told his disciples?   Jesus said his sermon on the mount (Matt. 5.23-24): “So when you are offering your gift at the altar (that’s worship), if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.   The point is this: that if there is anything that “hinders” you from worshiping with your whole heart; go deal with it, get it worked out, in a Christian way, find the person and try to come to an understanding; be reconciled; settle things in a positive way, and then you can worship.

Maybe, one Sunday a month, if we ought to follow Jesus’ literally, rather than figuratively, we can do worship differently, for once.  If we do this, at least one Sunday we ought to have the Invitation before we have the offering and the sermon.  Isn’t Jesus saying what the Psalmist has said: You can’t give thanks to God; in fact, you can’t give God anything; until you given him your whole heart.  God does not take “half-hearted” gifts.  
Can’t we recall what really brought down King Saul’s kingdom?  Maybe David is remembering this, when he wrote this Psalm.  God had command Saul to defeat the Amalekites and to completely take them out; with nothing left; not even spare one single sheep (1 Sam. 15.2).  Now, we don’t take the call for “holy war” literally for us today, but there is a spiritual “remainder” that does carry over.  

Samuel came to Saul, asking him whether or not he carried out the command of the Lord.   Saul said that he did.  But then the prophet said: “If you did, then what then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the cattle that I hear.” (1 Sam. 15.6)   Instead of following God’s command, and instead of giving his whole-hearted devotion to God, Saul spared the Ameletkite King Agag, (Did I say a-GAG! As in vomit), and being “lukewarm” in his devotion to God, he spared some of the animals to make a profit too.  So, the prophet came to him in righteous anger, as prophet’s do, when people lose full devotion to God following their own agendas.   King Saul said he followed God’s command; but his actions proved he didn’t.   This is why he lost the kingdom.  Let me ask you today: What do our actions show; half-hearted or full devotion?  Are actions speaking louder than words?  Are we losing the kingdom call in our churches because we only answer the call half-heartedly?  The Psalmist makes it clear:  You worship the true God with half a heart. 
But there’s something else the Psalmist says about true worship:

II.                  I will give thanks….in the company of the upright, in the congregation (Psa 111:1 NRS)

Not only must worship be “whole-hearted”, but there is another issue connected to it:  we are not able to give “wholehearted” thanks to God unless “in the congregation” we are “in the company of the upright”.   Unless the atmosphere of worship is right, our attitude of worship will not be right.

What does it mean to have the right “atmosphere” for worship?   What kind of “congregation” can rightly carry that title, “upright?”  Sounds like a pretty tall order in our day and time, when we so many angles on truth and so many differing viewpoints about church, morality and ethics.  Can we even dare define what it means to be in the “company of the upright”? 

I think we can get an answer from another Hebrew Bible passage in Joshua 7 which was about the full “devotion” to God in a time of Holy War.   This is a passage known as the “Sin at Ai”.   The “sin” at “Ai” almost wiped out Israel?   In the biblical story, Joshua had given Israel the command to attack the Amorites, as God instructed, but then something bad happened.  They were not winning.   They were not just losing, but getting slaughtered.  Joshua complained to God and fell on his face before God:  “Ah, Lord God!  Why have you brought this people across the Jordan to hand us over to the Amorites so as to destroy us? (Josh. 7.7).   But then, the Lord spoke to Joshua: “Stand up!  Why have you fallen on your face?  Israel has sinned.  They have transgressed my covenant…and taken some of the devoted things!...They have put them among their own belongings.”   The problem of half-hearted devotion is hear again; but this someone was holding back and keeping for themselves the things that they were supposed to devote fully and completely to God.   It’s one thing to worship half-heartedly, but it’s another to hold back, and to intentionally refuse to give God what belongs to him.

What could a “congregation” hold back from the Lord?   Think about it this way: The opposite of being “upright”, is being “downright”.  Using this word picture might help you understand being “upright” with it’s contrasting word.  When I’m “downright”, I’m downright sure I’m doing what I want, even before I ask God.  When I’m “downright” certain that I can hold on to what I have---all for myself, and I don’t have to think or consider at all what Jesus said, when he said: “sell everything, give everything and follow me!”  Of course, that was a word then, not for now.  Are you “downright” sure he’s not calling you to do something?  If you are “downright” sure you know everything you have all you need before you come into this place of worship, you can’t be upright.   When we are “downright” we come to church with our own “opinions”, our own “decisions”, and our own “choices” and “lifestyles” and that we don’t have a care to think one thing about what God says, wants, or what is needed.  We’ve got life “downright” the way we want it and God can’t get a word in edgewise.  This is the difference between coming to worship in a way that is “downright” prideful and selfish, instead of being “upright”, humble, giving or forgiving. 

People don’t worship “freely” or “fully”, giving their full devotion to God, when they are part of a church where everyone is “downright” sure of everything already.   But when you are “in the company of the upright” there is a willingness to humble ourselves before God; there is a desire to ask God what he wants first; and there is a desire to listen and learn; ever new “what the Lord is saying to me”?  “Downright” people stick their heels in the ground and say, this is mine and I won’t move.  Upright people say, what can we do to follow God’s in this moment.  “Downright” holds back and has nothing new to bring to God, but we are only focused upon ourselves.  “Upright” people are focused “upright” on God; open, transparent, and willing to consider the voice of God, moving in them in this moment.

Which are you; a “downright” or an “upright” Christian?  Only in “the company of the upright” can people fully focus on God to praise him with their whole hearts, rather holding back and focusing on themselves. 

III.        Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. (Psa 111:2 NRS)

There is one more thing.  For God to be praised; we must come “whole-heatedly” and we must come opening our hearts together, “in the company” of the “upright”, but finally, we must also come “to study” and to “delight” in the “great” “works of the LORD.” 

It is quite interesting that the Psalmist says “the Great works of God” are “studied” by all who delight in them.  What do you think he means by this word: “studied”?   Who has time to study anything at church, anymore?  All statistics tell us that “Sunday School” or “Bible Study” in churches is in serious decline, so when does anyone come to church to figure out what “great works” God is doing in our lives?   Taking time for deeper, serious, contemplative or consideration of God’s will and works in a serious study seems to be a thing of the past?  Is there any wonder people can follow God’s will when they don’t have time to study God’s works?

This Psalm 111 is a very interesting Psalm in how it is put together.  It is what bible scholar’s call alphabet acrostic Psalm.  It is put together in the order of the Hebrew Alphabet so that it goes something like this:    Aleph:  Alleluia!  I will praise you God.  Beth:  Blessing you name give me great joy.   Gimel: Great are the works of God!  Daleth:  Daily your goodness is on my mind.   This is the type of Psalm a parent would teach their child so they would learn both how to praise God and how to know their ABC’s.    The Psalmist believes that only when you take time out of your life to “study” and to “recognize” the “great works” of God in your life; will you take time to praise God, or give him your full, wholehearted devotion.   The source of worship comes from taking the time to “study” and “delight” in the “great works of the Lord.”  For a person of faith, learning to praise God is something you must learn to do, like learning your ABC’s.  Then when you daily study it, it becomes “second nature”  (Idea from  Patrick J. Wilson, The National Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C, in his sermon, “Primer of Praise”, Lectionary Homiletics, Vol. 23, Number 1, p 70).

But what is the Psalmist studying and teaching?  What are the ABC’s of praise?   He gives us a list of things that he studies in his life that brings out praise to God.  He can see so much:   His righteousness endures…..The Lord is gracious and merciful… He is mindful of his covenant… He has given us a heritage… He is faithful and just…. He is redemptive.  God is “awesome” and he deserves our respect.  These are just some of the things that the Psalmist has “studied” that move him to praise.

What do you “study” that moves you to praise; to give God your full devotion, so that you to hold nothing back?   Soon a movie will come out, that I want to see, entitled: “Of God’s and Men.”  It includes a picture of a style of worship most of us know little or nothing about.  It’s a true story of a group of monks who live at the edge of a village in Algeria, Africa.   They meet regularly in their chapel, sitting, facing each other in rows.  They sing beautiful songs and chants in praise to God.  But as they worship they also wrestle with a dilemma.  There is a bitter war going on outside their chapel between radical Muslims terrorists and the government.   The army has asked the monks to leave because it cannot guarantee their safety, and the terrorists have DEMANDED that they leave.  

Some of the monks would gladly go, whereas others realize how much the villagers depend on them for medical services, since one of the monks is a doctor.  During one prayer service they hear the roar of a helicopter overhead, almost drowning out their worship.  However, they continue to sing all the more lustily, affirming that God is still with them.  Both in the praise and in their decision to stay despite the danger, they affirm these words of the psalmists, “Praise the Lord!  I will give thanks to the LORD with all my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation, Great are the works of the LORD studied by all who delight in them(From Edward MucNulty in Lectionary Homiletics, Vol. 23, Number 1, 2012, p. 69).
                                                                                                                      
Surely if they, being in such danger, can still give their “whole hearts” to God, can we not do the same when, at least today, there is no great threat upon us?   Funny, isn’t it?  It’s a lot harder to “study”, be “upright” and give you “whole heart” to God, when you think you have so many other options or you have your life in you own hands.  But take away all those other options, find your life under threat, and you see God as he really is and his works as they really are: Great!

Is there anyway other way to gain this true perspective without the threat of losing our lives?  I guess not, because the Psalmist concludes: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  That’s the way it was then, and that’s how it still is today.  Without holy reverence, respect, and even some element of fear, it’s hard to give our whole hearts, be upright in the congregation, and take time to “study” God’s great works.  Maybe this is why most of us get old, weak, and face the decline of our lives before we die.  I heard Jay Leno say the other day: “I’m a still a young guy on the inside, but on the outside my body is quickly becoming a disaster.  Maybe, we humans just can’t finally get the truth any other way.   In order to truly worship God, we need a little fear.  Life does that to people; and hopefully with that wisdom, people will learn again to worship God with their whole heart!  Amen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

CAN GOD BE TRUSTED?

A Sermon Based Upon Psalm 62
By Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Third Sunday after Epiphany, Jan. 22, 2012

Curt is thirteen years old.  But Curt is physically and mentally disabled.  He can’t talk. He’s a bit fragile. He’s just now getting to the place where he can go to the bathroom by himself.  He can feed himself. He can hug you and love you.

Even though Curt’s life sounds miserable, Tom Nelson says there is something he loves about Curt.  “He is innocent and pure, and he loves people.  You can be a big guy or a little guy, a female or a male, any race, any income, successful or a bum; it doesn’t matter.   If you hug Curt, Curt will hug you back.  He can’t tell you how he feels, so instead he cries out in delight. Everyone around him takes care of him.  He thinks the entire universe was made as his sandbox.  Every person that meets him loves him.” “He’s got great big eyes. If you ask him a question and he can figure it out, he’ll give you a little double take [as if to say] ‘Yeah, I know what you’re saying.’ And if you say something that delights him, he cackles.”

When Curt wakes up in the morning, he has his yogurt, sits in his hot tub, and he never worries about life. He doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from, and he doesn’t care.  The reason Curt is happy is that he knows his father loves him.  His dad is about six feet two and weighs about 280.  His dad benchpresses 450 and squats about 600 pounds.   His dad goes hunting in Africa.  He brings back lions and tigers and bears and then has them mounted and put up on the walls of his house.  He is the traditional man’s man.  And yet when he reaches down with his big hands, lifts his small son and puts him on his lap, Curt knows that whatever happens, his daddy is the biggest, toughest, strongest fellow in the whole world.  And most of all, Curt knows that his daddy loves him (Story From a Sermon by King Duncan)

What does it mean to trust God?   Isn’t it something like knowing the simple truth that Curt knows: that no matter what happens to you in life, you are loved.  You Father loves you, and as a person of faith, you know that your heavenly father loves you.   I can’t think of any greater definition of trust than this.  In our text today, taken from Psalm 62, David is the Psalmist, singing a song of trust in God.  Beginning in verse 5, David writes:   For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. 6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.   On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.  Trust in him at all times, O people (Psa 62:5-8 NRS).

Notice this line: “Trust in him at all times, O people”  (62.8).  I wish we could all trust like that and sing that song with our lives.  I can imagine that David himself, even when he wrote those words, wished that he had always trusted God like that.  Many times he did, like when he went up against Goliath.  That was a great moment of trust as a young boy goes up against a big giant warrior with a bag of rocks.  Another time was when Saul was after him, to take his life.   David continued to trust God, even when he was on the run for his life.  He could have killed Saul outright, but he decided to respect the King and keep running for his life and wait on God.   He trusted God, not to take matters in his own hands, but to trust.

But there were also times, however, when David failed to trust God in his life.  Like when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and misused his royal power to kill her husband; this was a great failure of trust.  David wrote of his regret for this moral failure in Psalm 51: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.   Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight (Psa 51:3-4 NRS).  Do you see that at the heart of his sin his “trust” in God was broken?   When David sinned, it wasn’t just Bathsheba he sinned against, nor was it just her husband Moriah, nor was it just all Israel, but it David sinned against and broke trust with God.  He believed in God, he trusted God, yet he was also human.  Sometimes he failed to trust.   But now, the good news and the reason David still sings, is that even though David failed to trust God in one moment, he never doubted where his trust should be.   He returns to a life of trust with his confession: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.   Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.   Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” (Psa 51:10-12 NRS).  Even when David failed miserably, he knew where the “rock” and the “salvation” for his life was to be found.  Even when he broke trust with himself and with God, he believed and trusted that God’s mercy could restore and redeem his soul.  

Can we trust God like that?  Can we trust God after we have failed God?  That is very import because we all can take a fall.  We are not infallible, we are mortal, we are human, and even the Bible says that we are born sinners and cannot keep from having to deal with sin and failure.  But there is another issue of trust.   Even more important than gaining mercy from God and regaining trust with God  is a deeper question that also arises in David’s lyrics.  Can we trust God when we fail him, but can we also keep trusting in God, when it feels like God fails us? 

I wonder if this is also part of what David is singing about; not just trusting God when know he will rescue us , but also trusting God while we are waiting “in silence” for God’s “deliverance”, even when that deliverance has not yet come.   Isn’t that also part of what he means when he says, “Trust in him at all times, O people?”  I mean, what is trust, when you are only trusting when it is easy to trust.  Can you really call that trust?   Isn’t the true test of our trust when things are bad?  Is this not when trusting God really starts to count?   Isn’t it when your prayers go “silent” and you don’t know where you are or where God is, that your trust matters most?  Isn’t it when you have to sing your trust like a nightingale whistling against the dark, that trust sings is greatest tune?  Isn’t it when the world is shaking all around you and things are falling apart that you find yourself praying to God “not to be shaken” and you need a “rock” and a “refuge”?  Can God be your trust, and can God be trusted, at all times, both good and bad? 

Those “bad” times, when God seems “silent” and when things go bad, is also part of the equation of trust.  Listen to what David writes:  “Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.” (Psa 62:9 NRS).  It is important for us to understand exactly what David is talking about when he compares the life of the poor as a “breath” and the life of the rich as a “delusion.”    In the ancient world of Egypt, according to the Book of the Dead, it was believed that at death, the soul would be weighed on the balance scales against a feather.  If your soul was light as air, not weighed down with sin and guilt, even the weight of a feather would lift your soul up and you would enter the blessed land.  But if you soul was heavy, then Anubis, the jackal god, would eat up your soul.  Of course, that was just a myth, but this image of soul being “lighter than a “breath” was common in the ancient world, and it appears in David’s song of trust.  When he says that “in the balances they go up” we can clearly see this Egyptian image, and we can also see that whether are person is “rich” or “poor” makes no difference, in the final “balance” of things.   In other words, David believes that all people are equal in the sight of God.  This is the point he wants to make to his audience.

This “equality” before God matters much to David, because he is appealing to this image of equality for a special reason.   He wants the people to trust God in his own situation.   The whole Psalm begins as a petition to the people, asking: “How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?  Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence.  They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.  Selah.” (62.3-4). Do you see what is going on here?  David says that he is trusting, waiting on God; but he is not so sure that the people are trusting in God.  Instead of trusting God, they working in secret to bring about a prominent person’s downfall.  They are taking advantage of a person who is already struggling, and trying to take them down, like pushing against a “tottering fence.”  They say the “bless” that person and his position, but secretly and inwardly, they curse that person.  Their only plan is to take that person down.  They don’t wait on God’s judgment, but they are taking “judgment” into their own hands.  They don’t trust God to take care of things, but they are taking the “bull by the horns” themselves, throwing trust of God out the window.

Of course, the reason David is concerned about this lack of trust of God, may very well be that he is the “prominent person” people want to “bring down”.   It makes sense for what we know of David’s situation.   But what can David say?  He can’t really do anything.  He’s done enough already.   His human weakness has turned the people against him.   To him, it proves that they were trusting in him, not really trusting in God.   Now that this difficult truth has come out, David can only appeal for them to renew their “trust” in God, just like he himself must “wait” and trust in God.   They are all in the “balance”. He declares that God will be his rock, salvation and fortress.   He vows to trust in God, but he also calls the people’s trust of God into question.  Are they putting their trust in God and his power, or are they trusting in their own power to do what they want?  Whose soul will heavy in the end, the one who sinned in the past, or the ones who are sinning now?   Are the people who are after this prominent person really trusting in God, or are they trusting in their own strength and plans?

So can God be trusted?  David wants to know?  It is a question that can also be put to us:  Do we the people fully and truly trust in God, as we say we do, or are we bent on taking matters into our own hands, when things don’t go as we want?   It all boils down to a question of trust.

I can’t help but think about David’s situation as a King, a leader and a prominent ruler over the people who has lost faith with the people.   It reminds me of where America is right now.  We are a people who have lost faith in our leaders, our politicians, our presidents and most of our institutions.  We’ve seem to have lost all confidence in most any leader,  in just about all government, even in marriages, or in family, or in organized religion as a real channel of God’s grace and love.   It’s much easier to be against everything than to stand for something.   Confidence and faith is at an all-time “low” and most of our “inward” feelings are to “curse” and “bring down” rather than “bless” and “hold up” or respect.   

That’s what a lot of this election year will probably be about; mudsling, attacking, battering, spreading of rumors and falsehoods, trying to bring prominent people down and putting someone else less prominent in their place.   And we know that it won’t be long until the tides turn again and people will turn against them all over again.   The cycle will continue.  And if this happens, if we are not careful, the only plan people will have will be only to lose faith, only to bring down, and only to attack and to “find pleasure” not in truth, but in the “falsehoods” we make up in our own minds.   Everything imaginable happens as people are set on “assailing” and “attacking”;  everything imaginable happens except for one thing; trusting and waiting upon God.  People don’t do good at waiting on God when their livelihoods are threatened and they are determined to take matters into their own hands.   

But is it not that exactly when we are threatened this is when we show where our trust really lies.  It is written on our coins, “In God We Trust”, but is it really written on our hearts.  Is it true that we only show this “trust” in God when we have the “coins” and wealth in our hands?   What about when  our coins lose their value, when all our values are shaken?   Do we still value faith or is it in the coins? 

Trouble, difficulty, loss and hurt in life always test where our trust truly lies.  This is what David wants us to learn to sing with our hearts, when he says we need to put our trust in God at all times.   David is having to learn to trust God in this time of judgment, loss and pain he has brought upon himself, and now he is appealing to the people to put their trust back toward God, just as he has.   When people lose trust, in God and in life, they devalue themselves.   They make their souls too heavy.  When life is filled only with attacks, falsehood, people turn to extortion and robbery to get their riches back.  When we  set hearts on the wrong things, life gets out of balance, whether we are “rich” or “poor”.   The balance of life is always the same.   The value of our life is not based on what we have in our pockets, who we have in office, or what we are able to do with our own power, but David sings that true “power belongs to God”.  This great power is not a God bent on our destruction, but a God whose power is ultimately “steadfast love”.   This love is not wishy washy, or the kind of love that allows anything, but it is the kind of love is “steadfast” so that it will eventually bring judgment and justice to all things; “who will repay all according to their work.”   

Even when we can’t trust that all will work out in this life, or in this very moment, we can trust that it will all work out in the long view of God.   This is where David puts his trust.  And he was right.  What David did was tragic in that moment, but it did not stop the work of God.  This is why he appeals to the people to keep trusting in God.   Can we?  Do we?  Will we?  

Do our hearts remain as light as a feather even in difficult times?  Can we who are mentally well learn to laugh and cackle with Curt with all that delights us, and wait in silence when life does not?   Can we who are strong  and abled at least have that much mind and heart?   

Do we realize that putting our hope in anything else will leave our hearts heavy and bankrupt?  Even when someone has come into our life who hurts, challenges or angers us; still, waiting in silence upon God, a much better than cursing and going after people we think cause all our pain.  Even if we get rid of everyone we hate, and even if we can make our riches increase, it might save our pocketbooks, and some of our sanity, but such renewed wealth and bliss will not save our soul. 

Only trusting God to be our rock, our salvation and our fortress is our ultimate hope.   Remember the feather test?  One day we too will have our souls put on the scales.  It is much better to have everything right in our own hearts and souls than to try to make everything right in the world.   The world can’t be made right with human effort.  This is why Jesus came.   On the cross Jesus shows us how the best human effort can make a mess of things.  We can’t make everything right.  Only God can take a wrong, our wrong, and make things alright.  This is where learning to trust God must always begin.  This is where trust in God will also end up.  David holds out his hope in God and he asks the people to do the same.  You and I, along with David and all before and after him, will have to place everything we have, know, and hope into the hands of God.   If this is where it ends, why not begin hope today.  

So now, in conclusion, let me ask the question: Can God we trusted?  I believe that God can, for a couple of reasons that has “encouraged” the Psalmist:

One, I believe that God can be trusted, because God forgives sins, failures, mistakes, shortcomings, and he is determined to give each and everyone new opportunities to have faith, because he forgives.   I believe God wants to forgive us, more than we want to be forgiving.  Remember one of the first persons Jesus healed, his first words were not, rise up and walk, but “your sins are forgivien.”   The paralyzed person did not ask for forgiveness, but Jesus gave it any way.  This is God’s priority and I believe this is why David and we can continue to trust God.

Second, I believe God can be trusted, because God helps us when we are willing to ask for help.  Again, Jesus said, Ask, Seek and Knock.  Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be open.  About that same time Jesus added, “Asking anything in my name, and I will do it.”  That’s sound’s like a “tall” order that would make us doubt rather than trust.  But here is where the importance of “not” taking all the words of the Bible literally comes in.  Jesus spoke in parables, intentionally, he made some things “hard” to understand.  He did this to make people think about what the true means.  Later in the same passage, Jesus explained what he meant.  He said: “Ask anything: The Father will  not give you a snake, but he will gladly give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks.”  God can be trusted, not because he will give us anything we want, but he will give us the spiritual help we need most.   God can always be trusted never to leave or forsake us in our time of great spiritual need.

Lastly, and right at this same point, I believe we can trust God because God will help us, teach us, and show us, if we want him to, to want the same thing what God wants.   I trust God, not because he gives me everything I want, nor because I will always have everything I need, either.  Sometimes, life gives me us lemons.  Sometimes I pray and my prayers aren’t answer, just as I want.  Sometimes, I have to work for what I need, and even in times of sickness and illness, I must wait in silence, like my Dad did, when he was dying.  “Whatever the will of the Lord is.”  He said.

David’s most famous words of trust:  “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”, does not only mean that we always get green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness; but sometimes we will also walk through the valley of death, and this is when we don’t get what we want, nor even what we physically need and want, but we must get the one thing God always gives: himself.  It is in those “dark” “difficult” moments that we learn to want what we really need: God and his loving, forgiving, caring presence.  In the end, Jesus is what we need.

I remember a lady many years ago, who came to me very troubled about that text , where Jesus says:  “Ask anything, and I will do”.  She told me, I can’t understand.  I really struggle with this.  What I later came to understand about this lady is that she had a tight fuse.  She loved to control things.  If things didn’t go her way and if you didn’t do what she’d say, you would turn on you.   It was then, that I came to understand perfectly why she didn’t like Jesus words, “Ask Anything?”  She did not want to trust God, but she was trusting only in herself, what she thought, what she wanted and what she believe God should be.  She could not let God be God, and every person a liar, as Scripture says, but she had to control God, because she didn’t want God, she wanted only what she wanted.

What do you want?   This is the question that can only be answered by trust.  We don’t always know what we really want? We don’t even always know what we need.  We, along with David, and the untrusting people who were trying to get rid of him, can only learn, in our difficult moment, whatever that moment is, we must renew our vow and our promise to trust God, and now learn, even more fully, especially now, in these troubling times, what “trusting”, caring, loving, and believing means.   I, along with David, believe that God can be trusted, but we still all have to learn to trust him, as the song says, more and more every day.   No matter how “big” we get, or “big” we think we are, in the end, we all have to learn to trust, just like that little 13 year old physically and mentally handicapped child.  When he, puts his arms around his big daddy, he teaches us all what it means to trust.    Amen.