July 13, 2014 Fourth Sunday After Trinity
Lamentations 3:22-33, Psalm 91, Romans 8:18-23, St. Luke 6:36-42
As we continue our journey through the Psalter we come today to one of Satan’s favorites. He likes Psalm 91 so much he quoted a couple of its verses to Jesus:
“For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. 12 In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Satan was tempting Jesus at the time. He took Him to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and offered the breezy suggestion that the Lord cast Himself down. The drop from that high point of the temple on Mount Zion into the Kidron Valley below is 450 feet.
But why worry? God had promised to send angels to pluck Him out of midair. You do believe God, don’t you?
Clever sod, this Satan. The fallen angel wields the promise of angels to save Jesus from a fall to entrap Him. I can imagine the Lord replying, “It certainly seems God sent no one to catch you when you fell. Maybe we need a bit of context here.”
But of course He produced a better response than I could put on His lips. He can cite Scripture, too: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6:16).
Still, give the devil his due. He’s evil, not stupid.
Oh, but Preacher, you protest, Jesus didn’t tumble for this diabolical ploy. No, indeed. But how many of us sinners have flung ourselves into the trap of tempting God rather than trusting Him?
We must reflect for a moment on this notion of tempting. The same Greek word is variously translated “tempt” and “test” – and at times with little precision. God tempts no one to sin. He is doing His darndest to save us from it.
When we ask in the Lord’s Prayer that God would not “lead us into temptation” what we mean is that He would not test us beyond our limits. We have His promise that He will not, true, yet we ask just as we ask Him to supply our daily bread, which He has also promised.
So, Satan was most assuredly tempting Jesus but Jesus refused to test God. Say what you will against the devil, I admire his cunning. To discredit God the Son he pulls out lines from a paean to the trustworthiness of God the Father.
For that is precisely what Psalm 91 is.
Now, a brief aside. I must squelch once and for all a scurrilous rumor. I did not choose this psalm as my text for today because it contains my name. The New King James footnote explains helpfully that a fowler is “one who catches birds in a trap or snare.”
But of course you knew that already.
This is the first psalm listed in the lectionary for today, and that’s all there is to it. Now, at my last posting I had Dr. Crenshaw for both my rector at St. Francis Anglican Church and my dean at Cranmer Theological House.
He once mentioned to a group of us that a famous theologian had dropped his name into one of his books. Big deal, said I, my name is in the Holy Bible. That did my GPA no good but it sure was fun.
Now, back to business.
The psalm opens with a theme statement: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” This sentence contains two names for God. The next verse adds two more:
“I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.’”
What has the psalmist to fear? Capture, pestilence, terror by night, death by arrows by day, plague, animals such as the lion and cobra which strike suddenly from hidden places . . . The list might go on, but it need not.
He who makes the Lord his Protector finds refuge from all enemies natural and supernatural. In the florid prose of C. H. Spurgeon: “Foes in flesh and foes in ghostly guise are alike baulked of their prey when the Lord of Hosts stands between us and their fury, and all other evil forces are turned aside.
“Walls cannot keep out the pestilence, but the Lord can.”
So we see that the difficulty is not the availability of divine cover but man’s decision to access it. The only power your enemy has over you is the power you give him. Yahweh is not a powerful God who lacks compassion for those who seek Him.
He is not a loving God who is impotent to save His own. God’s love is the most powerful force in His creation. No evil can stand against it. Trust Him!
His protection never frays at the edges or springs a leak; it abides forever. The only question is, do we choose in the moment to claim it?
Some say God evolves. He is not the same deity today that He was 100 or 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. Have they thought this through? If His judgment has softened His grace is diluted. If His view of sin has changed, so has His view of salvation.
If sin is not so bad, grace is not so necessary. If “righteous” man can save himself, trust in God is a trifle . . . or perhaps an accessory. We accent our Christmas and Easter wardrobes with it and leave it in the closet the balance of the year.
Now, you decide for you but I have considered the matter well and concluded that trust in God is more profitable than trust in me. I know God and I know me. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Anyone who tells you he knows God and trusts himself is either a liar or a psychotic . . . or both.
If you know God, if you truly know Him, you know Him by His word. And his trustworthy word tells us trust in Him is the way of salvation. This is not play time. Souls hang in the balance. Untold millions remain untold.
They must be asked the fundamental question: Where is your trust? In God or in self?
The Psalmist, who is not identified, is addressing a people with a tragic history of betrayal of trust in God. Even after He parted the sea to create for them an escape route from Egypt they did not trust in Him to deliver them from their enemies.
Even though they were witnesses to God’s smiting of the Egyptians they would not encamp under His wings. They scanned the pantheon for other champions and even cavorted with Egypt’s gods. For shame!
Their faith in His ability to supply food and drink in the wilderness broke over and again. They would not believe in His power to give them victory over the foes who lurked in the land of promise.
And then God’s covenant people envied and feared the political and military clout of neighboring nations and fired God to replace him with a human king. They terminated the King of all creation as their sovereign and crowned in His stead an all-to-mortal man named Saul.
God pointed him out, true, but why? To show His people who refused to place their trust in Him the folly of having as their king a man who would lead them deeper into the dark thicket of distrust.
Israel inaugurated a supplement plan, adding the gods of other nations to Yahweh as objects of their affection and faith.
They vexed their Lord,
They shamed His name,
Grew deaf to His inerrant word,
Brought down on them His righteous blame.
They trusted not in God alone,
But turned instead to idols.
They placed their faith in wood and stone,
Vain things as dead as sandals.
They squandered precious hope and love
On mortal man’s creations.
They turned away from God above,
Bowed down to imitations.
“Only with your eyes shall you look,” the Psalmist says, “and see the reward of the wicked.” Who are the wicked? Those who refuse to invest their trust in Yahweh and who oppose His covenant people.
In whom, then, do they trust? There is but that one alternative. They trust in man. Is that so wicked? How does God define man? “There is none who seeks after God . . . There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:11-12).
Is there no good news? Indeed there is. God, knowing the evil of His sin-soaked creature, rescued man from the impossible pursuit of his own salvation . . . those who would put their trust in Him.
For those who trust in the God who reveals Himself in His sacred word, the horizon beckons. It calls us ever out and up, and bids us keep on reaching. Zion crooks her finger still, to God’s anointed children.
We laugh, we cry, we love, we die . . . we press on to enslavement. When God our Master has His way we enter His encampment. And there we grow until we know His truth engraved on tablets . . . within us. We watch, we learn, we pray, we teach . . . we ascend to His attainment.
For the Christian, all roads lead to the same place. Heavenly Mount Zion is our eternal home.
He who trusts in the Lord will find his way home. The Lord God Almighty is his nexus. Knowing God is both his pathway and his destination. He abides in the divine abode.
Yet we look now to the church of our time and what do we find? Legions of Scripture editors who keep this in and toss that out, offering God on the cafeteria plan and so worshiping not Him but an idol.
In place of God they adore
A thing of their invention.
Airily they take the floor
Give voice to their intention . . .
To bow before a neutered god,
A god of their devising.
To this odd god they nod
A thing more to their liking.
They nip and tuck, cut and paste,
Revise the old, old story.
And so they in their haste
Despise the king of glory.
And so, what of us, beloved? What of us?
Some years ago I worked with a young lady named Jayne. She was adopted at birth in Pittsburgh. She thrived as a child, went to college, went to work, married, bore children.
Jayne’s doctor discovered a condition that required a family history for further diagnosis and treatment. She submitted a request through the Red Cross, which keeps a registry of birth parents for just such an occasion.
Jayne’s biological parents not only supplied the requested medical information, they asked to be put in touch with her. Now, we have all heard stories of adopted children who seek their birth parents with the zeal worthy of the ark of the covenant.
Jayne was not one such as these.
She agreed out of courtesy to speak to these strangers who had given her life and learned that they had come together in college with her as the result. A few years later they reconnected. This time, they married, and produced three more children.
Jayne’s distant bio family rejoiced in finding her. In a flash, she had a new mother and father and siblings and cousins, all of whom wanted to exchange visits and Christmas presents and on and on. Jayne was bemused.
Her adoptive parents had protected her and provided for her. They had loved her. They were Mom and Dad. The parents Jayne treasured were not the ones by whom she was born but the ones by whom she was born again. She trusted them.
Like those faithful Jews of old,
Like Joshua and Caleb,
We name the name as bright as gold
And know no dread of Moab.
To God above, the glory cloud,
And to no other deity,
We lift our gaze and cry aloud,
Sing praises of His sovereignty.
He meets us here and holds us near,
Watching o’er us every moment.
By His strong arm we have no fear
Of storm or foe or torment.
Trust Him! Or put your faith in yourself. The options are that plain and the truth that simple. That’s why Satan labors so mightily to complicate it. Let our motto ever be, “In God we trust.” Amen.