Waiting on the Lord - A Sermon for Epiphany 3B (Psalm 62)
I must confess that I don’t always place my full trust in God alone. Perhaps like me, you hedge our bets and occasionally look elsewhere. Maybe you put your trust in an institution. Or it could be a political leader or maybe a family member. Perhaps you only trust yourself and nobody else. The Psalmist invites us to sing a different song, one that makes this assertion: “for God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”
We opened worship this morning with the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Martin Luther based this hymn, which is one of my favorites, on Psalm 46. While Psalm 62 isn’t the source of the hymn, the message is the same. It also proclaims that God is our fortress and our refuge.
As we sing this majestic hymn, we declare that God is “a bulwark never failing, our present help amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” This is a truth we need to hear on a regular basis, but especially right now as we face so many challenges. With this in mind, he reminds us that if we “in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.”
The Psalmist invites us to orient our lives toward God. Orienting is a skill one learns in Scouting, but I never learned it because I didn’t make it past the rank of Second Class Scout. Nevertheless, I know that it involves using a map and compass to get yourself to your chosen destination. In this Psalm, God is our destination. God is that steady rock toward which we point our spiritual compass so that when we get lost we can point our spiritual compass at this rock and find our bearings once again.
St. Augustine spoke to this reality in his Confessions, writing: “Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” [Augustine, The Confessions (p. 3). Kindle Edition]. The message that I hear in Augustine’s statement is that there are many restless hearts wandering the earth seeking to find the peace that can be found only in God who is our refuge.
This season of Epiphany begins with the story of the Magi who follow a star to the place where the holy child lives so they can pay homage to him (Mt. 2). They went looking for the prince of peace and found him in Bethlehem. Their story is our story. So, while the Psalm doesn’t speak of stars or sources of light, it does speak to Augustine’s point. We remain spiritually restless, seeking peace wherever we can find it, until we point our compass toward God our rock and head in that direction.
Eastern Christians put it a bit differently but take us to a similar place when they speak of the ultimate end of our lives being union with God. They call this theosis or deification. The pathway to this union is through prayer, which involves a personal relationship with God. This act of contemplation is hinted at in the Psalmist’s statement that his “soul waits in silence for my hope is from him.”
Once again I have to make a confession. I’m not very good at waiting on God in silence. I’m not an ascetic and I don’t think I’m monastic material. I have gone to monasteries on occasion and have tried to be quiet before God. Unfortunately, I always find it difficult to stay focused. Maybe that’s your story or maybe you find this pathway attractive. Whether difficult or not, the Psalmist invites us to wait in silence before God so we might experience God’s act of deliverance. In doing this we orient our lives toward God our rock and salvation.
While the Psalmist sets before us a pathway to peace with God, he also warns us about the dangers posed by alternative paths. He cautions us against putting our trust in riches or power. The Psalmist even warns against putting confidence in extortion and robbery. That’s because this path is nothing more than air. It’s a delusion!
Scott Hoezee illustrates this point with a reference to the climactic scene of the final Harry Potter movie. Although the formidable Lord Voldemort seems invincible, when he finally suffers defeat he simply falls apart. Professor Hoezee describes the scene this way:
Having quite literally had his soul chipped away through a series of events, in the end Voldemort was just nothing, a breath, a puff of air. And so when in their final battle Voldemort has his own death curse rebound upon himself, he just floats away. His entire body starts to waft into the wind like the ashes of a burned up newspaper. And just like that, he is gone, quite literally scattered to the winds.
The message here is that when we think we are masters of the universe, we discover that we’re nothing more than ashes scattered to the winds. Therefore, we’re better off putting our confidence in God, who is our rock and refuge.
We return to Luther’s hymn that reminds us that: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, but there is one who takes our side, the one of God’s own choosing.” Who is that? Luther answers by pointing us to Christ Jesus. It is Christ who “will prevail triumphant.” Yes, it is through Christ that we will reach our destination because true power and steadfast love belong to God our savior!
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
January 24, 2020