July 20, 2014 Fifth Sunday After Trinity
Wait for Him!
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, 18-23, Psalm 62, 1 St. Peter 3:8-15a, St. Luke 5:1-11
I recall a letter I read almost 20 years ago. It came from an American couple serving as missionaries in Papua New Guinea, addressed to their supporters back home. They had two daughters and the older girl, who was in her early teens, had asked God for a faith-stretcher.
She fell ill – seriously ill – and could get no satisfactory diagnosis – to say nothing of treatment – locally. The family returned to the U. S. and the child fought her disease for almost a year before God granted healing.
By this time, the family was back on the mission field, giving thanks for the recovery and faith-stretching God had provided. All of them returned to the Lord’s work on that remote rock down under with a strengthened faith.
Now, if it’s the truth you must have, I have asked God for a faith-stretcher a time or two myself. But I doubt I have asked as earnestly as that girl did. I might fall short of her courage but I suspect that, more likely, I lack that child’s faith.
“Truly my soul silently waits for God,” the Psalmist sings. “From Him comes my salvation.”
Faith and waiting go together like hydrogen and oxygen. If you don’t have both you’ll never drink the living water. Faith yearns for God’s answer, but for that we must wait . . . in some cases for a year, in some for a lifetime.
Faith without the wait is dead.
David wrote Psalm 62 for Jeduthun, one of his chief musicians. He appears to have composed it while he was in hiding in the wilderness, fleeing his son Absalom, who was leading a rebellion against him.
We read the psalms at such a distance that we must pinch ourselves to remember that the author is a man of flesh and blood, writing not in a vacuum for an audience he will never know or see. The terror of imminent death besieges him, to say nothing of the pain deep in his heart from the betrayal of a son.
He knows well many of those who will sing his poem in worship, and grieves for many lost already in battle and many more to come. He writes not only to stiffen his own resolve but to bolster that of his comrades.
This is no ivory-tower meditation but a down-in-the-trenches outpouring of loss and pain – but also of trust and hope.
We encounter once again that curious little Hebrew word “ak,” sometimes translated “truly,” as in the first word of this poem. It appears six times in these 12 verses, serving to emphasize the depth of the Psalmist’s feeling.
A bitter life frames bitter thoughts: A king reduced to this – a rabbit in a hidey hole, betrayed by his son, full of fear of men who had lately sworn allegiance to him.
“Surely men of low degree are a vapor, Men of high degree are a lie; if they are weighed on the scales, they are altogether lighter than vapor.”
Note that word: vapor. Not by chance has Dr. Cranmer given us Ecclesiastes 2 for our Old Testament lesson today. Another of David’s sons, Solomon, may be recalling his father’s time on the run as he composes his lament of vanity.
For in the original the word is the same: vanity, vapor; vapor, vanity.
“For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity.”
A vain thing is an empty thing. David would have his people know that deceitful men, traitorous men, are lighter than vapor. Put their worth on the scales and it will amount to a puff of air.
In his time of trial his soul waits but it is not still. How could it be? In his hideout in the wasteland he contends by day with heat that would shrivel the resolve of an iguana, by night with unspeakable terrors skulking among the boulders.
But these are the king’s divisible dangers. When he looks down for his moral footing he peers into a black and bottomless hole.
His estrangement from Absalom began with the Tamar affair. The king’s eldest son Amnon lusted after Tamar, Absalom’s sister and his own half-sister. He raped her, covering her in disgrace and giving rise to Absalom’s hatred.
David, who had lain with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, did nothing. After biding his time, Absalom murdered Amnon. David, who had slain Uriah, again was paralyzed.
Perhaps now as he writes he has poured out his tormented petitions in prayer before he begins to compose this poem for we see a progression. The king will invest no hope in men. But even in torment, he will not descend into despair. He may not hope in men but he will hope . . . for he knows One on high who merits hope.
We find marks of growing clarity and confidence. The lessons David learned alone he sears into his own consciousness and then shares for the benefit of others and the glory of God. The psalm crackles with the immediacy of a prayer that awaits a reply and of convictions cemented into place.
What the Psalmist has learned of God in one experience will serve him “at all times” and can serve others as well. His soul is not waiting in silence any longer. Now he reminds himself, and urges his compatriots, to “Pour out your heart before Him.”
God receives his cry for help and at the same time demands David’s disciplined expectation.
The time has come not to speak but to listen, not to cry out but to take in, not to fulminate but to meditate. After the storm comes the deep calm. Having wrestled with God in a bid for survival, the Psalmist composes himself and cocks an ear.
His soul is quiet but alert. What can he learn in a moment of repose? What might God reveal to one who earnestly seeks His will?
In this stillness, the soul knows that God alone is the answer to all its needs. But it will not pretend the enemy will be vanquished in the moment. The soul must wait upon the Lord. In the faithful waiting, in the abiding calm, in the divine presence . . . come trust and hope and love.
If the Psalmist knew no trial, what need would he have of trust? Is it not the same for us?
Beloved, there will come a day – soon enough now – when we will not be vexed. We will have no opportunity to acquire and practice forbearance and longsuffering, to learn to wait for our Lord. If we are to make these attributes our own, we must do it now. Time is of the essence.
Yet God does not run out of time. When the sun was glinting off of Abraham’s knife raised over Isaac’s heart, time remained to find a ram caught in the thicket.
When Pharaoh’s host bore down on Israel’s heels, time remained for God to part the sea. When faithful Joseph was thrown into an Egyptian dungeon, time remained for God to lift him up as prince over the nation.
One week ago, I was especially taken with one of Lela Gilbert’s answers. After she had described in some detail that bloody muddle that is the Holy Land today, someone inquired as to how to fix things.
Lela did not hesitate. She had assumed the role, she said, of one who brings facts to the public’s attention. In other words, she is not a politician, a philosopher or a soldier. She has made herself a journalist. She pours her passion into that role and waits on the Lord to answer the question, how do we fix it?
Despair is the easy way, the way of the flesh. Our mountain is God’s molehill; our lifetime is God’s instant; our great grunt is God’s gentle sigh. Obsess on the problem, our flesh screams. Locate the piece you can bite off and chew it well, says the Spirit.
Abide in His strength, His peace, His love. The way of despair is the way of the coward. Those who take it will one day hear, as Saul did, “Your patience was too thin. You did not wait for Me.”
Day after day, this petty pace,
We bear our load uphill.
Step after step, by His grace,
We pound this mundane treadmill.
We ache to climb, to soar, to know
The ineffable divine purpose.
No time have we to learn and grow,
To listen for His utterance.
Attend, says He, My sacred word;
And spare yourselves My rod.
Be still, says He, our King, our Lord,
And know that I am God.
David is serving up for us one of those lovely fruits of adversity in the Psalter. It drips nectar like a luscious pear. Take from the gleanings of my affliction, he begs us, and use them to embrace your own.
The Psalmist knows his craft. Wait on the Lord, he counsels. And as we wait? Be not ensnared.
“Do not trust in oppression, nor vainly hope in robbery; If riches increase, do not set your heart on them.”
But surely not all wealth is the tainted fruit of oppression or robbery. He blends licit and illicit gain like oil and vinegar to knock home the point that money buys nothing of eternal value. Nothing in eternity is for sale; everything there is free and all of it awaits those who wait for the Lord.
You cannot store up treasure in heaven by seeking worldly wealth. You suppose you have security here. It is an illusion, lighter than vapor.
We summon up our platitudes
To veil our lust for Mammon.
We wear our sundry attitudes;
They’re never out of season.
We name the name above all names,
Yet hew to our agenda.
We never tire of childish games
In place of God’s credenda.
We live, we laugh, we love, we die;
Our being but a vapor,
Until in Him bye and bye
We uncover our true nature.
“Power belongs to God,” the Psalmist sings -- not the pretended power of man; all power is God’s – and He delegates to whom He will – to be used for the divine purpose. The psalm ends by offering back to God in worship that thing He has revealed of His character, mercy.
He is the force – the only force – who can deliver a man from the terrors of cruel and fearsome enemies . . . the man who waits for Him. And the waiting usually descends not in our living room but out in the glare of noonday. So it was for Christ. So is the way of Christlikeness.
It may not seem so now, but a vast divide separates God’s children from His enemies. At the last, God will “render to each one according to his works.” St. Paul echoes this line in Romans 2 to prove the same point: God is in control and He will not be dismissed.
The psalm is an argument for trust in God despite so much in this life which seems to plead the contrary. Walk by faith, David might have said, and not by sight.
If we truly (ak) trust in God, our faith should be an encouragement to others. One time when I was in London I read a business columnist who was responding to readers who had taken exception to some strong statement she had made.
She confessed that on some subjects she had little certainty. She added, “But in the end, we are paid for our convictions and not our doubts.”
Do we have doubts? Let’s not pretend. We have doubts, questions, fears and perhaps even terrors. Let us keep them among ourselves. We lean on one another. The world should hear our convictions:
We are trusting in, hoping in, waiting on our Lord. He is our rock and our salvation. And this truth we know and treasure in our hearts, with David, even in times of trial. In those times, our spiritual wealth accumulates interest as we learn again and anew to trust in Him.
One of our number told me last week he had cringed when I said I would preach the Psalter during Trinity season. It had never been his cup of tea. Now, its power is dawning on him. This is important.
We do the Psalmist an injustice and ourselves a disservice when we read the Psalms in a woodenly literal way. They are metaphors, meant to stimulate us to seek God in a higher realm, even our own imagination.
They allow us to break free from the rationalism that grips us and to meet our Maker on His terms, in the way of His people long before rationalism became the way of the world. A scholar named Walter Brueggemann wrote in a book titled “Praying the Psalms”:
“We will take liberties as the Psalm passes by and moves out into the richness of our experience and then back into the awesome presence of God. That is the way of metaphor.”
A psalm is a poem, a song and a prayer. If we are still and allow it to play with our imagination, it can teach us to allow God to lift the burden of anxiety, fear and pain off of us. If we will wait for Him, we will have peace . . . the peace that comes from the certainty that His will and His way will prevail in the end.
If we react to every stress and threat of the moment, every news flash and provocation, we are not still . . . and we are not waiting for Him. To remain calm in our faith is to multiply strength and discipline.
The psalms open for us a new way of seeing . . . of seeing through God’s eyes because He has given faithful ones like David His vision. They are, like us, faithful but flawed, and they have something to say to us because they were given, for a moment or two, God’s sight, and because they know both our faith and our flaws.
Lord, be merciful to me;
I stand before thee naked.
I bear no valor but that He
On Calvary created.
Teach me virtue, teach me trust;
Pardon my sedition.
I am a man born of the dust,
In the shackles of rebellion.
Yet, Thou, O Lord, God on high,
Jehovah, my Protector,
Grant to me ere I die
The patience of my Savior.