Psalm 91; Romans 8:35-39
Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection against our enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross joy of spirit, in the cross the height of virtue, in the cross the perfection of sanctity.
There is no salvation of the soul, nor hope of everlasting life, but in the cross.
Thomas à Kempis
Our Source of Security
Do you remember the Doomsday Clock? (http://thebulletin.org/timeline) It was created 70 years ago, in 1947. The idea for the Doomsday Clock came from the scientists who developed the atomic bomb. It is intended to say how close we are to Doomsday – destruction of the world with human technology. The closer the clock gets to midnight the closer we are to a catastrophe caused by nuclear destruction or climate change.
When it was first developed, the Doomsday Clock was set at 7 minutes until midnight. Two years later, 1949, it moved to 3 minutes before midnight. That was when the Soviet Union developed its own nuclear weapons. In 1953 the time was set as close to midnight as it has ever been – 2 minutes. That was the year the US developed the first hydrogen bomb. Nine months later the USSR also had the hydrogen bomb and the arms race had started.
From 1960 – 1990 the time on the Clock ranged from 3 minutes to 12 minutes before midnight. In 1991, with the end of the Cold War, the time on the Clock went to 17 minutes. That also coincided with the United States and Russia signing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which reduced the number of nuclear weapons. Since then the time on the clock has gotten shorter and shorter. In 2016 it was back to 3 minutes. In January of this year the Doomsday Clock moved to 2.5 minutes before midnight. This was a response to everything going on in the world: climate change, North Korea, the Middle East, Russia, and Donald Trump.
I’m not here to bash Trump, or liberals, or anyone else. I’m simply trying to point to the reality that fear is a part of our lives and a powerful force. This certainly includes fear about what is happening in our world. I have a sense that both liberals and conservatives are often acting out of their fear rather than their convictions. But the fear of our lives is not only about the big events of the world. It includes fear in our personal lives – fear for our children and grandchildren; fear for our jobs, wondering if we will have enough money; fear for our relationships; fear for our health, and even fear of things we don’t know about yet.
We live in a dangerous and sinful world, a world that threatens to destroy us. We look for security and safety in many different ways. As God’s children we are invited to trust in God, for God is the source of our security and safety. We are invited to trust that God loves us and is always with us. Psalm 91, which Bekah just shared for us as her favorite Bible passage, is one of the best expressions of this invitation to trust God. Let’s take a look at this psalm.
The psalm uses a variety of images to describe the threats that people faced – the snare of a fowler (I think of a bird helplessly trapped in a net, thrashing about); deadly pestilence (scholars aren’t sure whether this is a reference to the name of one of the demons in that area or a deadly disease like the Plague); the terror of the night or the arrow that flies during the day (disasters can happen any time, night or day); an army of thousands or ten thousands; a lion or a poisonous snake.
The list of threats doesn’t cover every potential problem, but tries to be broad enough to suggest that the world is dangerous. The list is intended to make us uncomfortable with one or more of these threats.
Hold all these threats on one side and compare them with the description of God’s protection. God is a shelter – this is a secret hideaway where our enemies can’t find us. God is a shadow – the desert sun in the wilderness of Israel would be unbearable. Any shade would help. God is our refuge, our fortress and our dwelling place, a place where we can rest and a safe place to fight against our enemies. God covers us with his pinions and takes us under his wings. This is the image of a mother hen pulling her chicks close to her side. God is a shield and a buckler, which is another name for a shield. God sends his angels to guard us and keep us safe. God himself protects us. God answers our prayers. God rescues us, honors us and satisfies us. God is always with us and shows us salvation.
The threats of our world are real and powerful. But we are invited to trust in God, to find our security in God, for God is bigger and stronger than anything that threatens to destroy us. There may be an army of 1000 or 10,000 attacking you, but God is more powerful.
On October 17, 1989 the Loma Prieta earthquake shook California. It’s the one that happened during the World Series. The epicenter was about 56 miles south of San Francisco, less than 10 miles from my home. As soon as I heard about it I called home and amazingly was able to get through on my first try. I found out my parents were okay. Tanya and I were at a meeting that night, so we didn’t watch the news reports until later. Several years later I read something by a person who had watched the reports. He saw a fascinating sight.
He was watching a reporter, standing in front of the rubble of a fallen building. Behind the reporter there was an open umbrella. It wasn’t raining, so the person who wrote about this umbrella wondered if the person who owned the umbrella opened it up to try to keep the buildings and bridges from falling on top of him. Someone tried to find protection by standing under a nylon umbrella.
When the world is falling down all around us or shaking our lives to the core, where do we look for security and protection? We are invited to trust in God.
There are a couple of other ideas from this psalm that stand out. First, God’s protection is for those “who live in the shelter of the Most High” (Psalm 91:1). The word “live” means to dwell in a place, to sit down and remain there. It isn’t someone who ignores God most of the time, but when trouble comes they run to God and expect God to take care of everything. This is a person who lives in God’s presence every day. This is a person who worships every week, who lives out his or her faith on a consistent basis.
Verse two suggests an intimate, personal relationship with God. God isn’t a refuge and a fortress, but “my refuge and my fortress.” Yahweh is “my God, in whom I trust.” It isn’t obvious in the English, but in the Hebrew of verse three the pronoun for God is emphasized. He, God alone, will deliver you. Our loyalty is to God, to God alone, for only God is able to protect us.
Finally, notice that verses 14-16 are different. The first 13 verses tell us about God and the protection that God gives to us. Verses 14-16 are God speaking directly to us. Don’t just take my word for it that we can trust God. Listen to God who invites us to trust: I will deliver, I will protect, I with be with them, I will rescue them and honor them, I will satisfy them and show them my salvation.
There is a danger with this Psalm. The danger is using it in a superstitious way, as a magical protection. Satan tried to use this Psalm to tempt Jesus. Remember the temptation where Satan took Jesus to the top of the temple and said “Jump off. If you really are God’s Son,” and then he quoted Psalm 91:11, “He will command his angels concerning you… On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus rejected that temptation because he knew that real trust doesn’t test God. In other words, trusting God doesn’t excuse being stupid.
There is another problem with this psalm. That is the fact that bad things still happen God’s children. People who trust in God still get cancer, or are killed in car accidents, or are caught in natural disasters. The theological term for this is theodicy. It would take several hours to try to explain theodicy and even I could explain it, we still wouldn’t be satisfied. So let me share with you the best answer I know to the problem of bad things happening to God’s people.
In Romans 8 Paul asks if the struggles we face in this world are able to take us away from God’s love.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:35).
Paul’s list is similar to the one in Psalm 91. There are a lot of bad things in our world, tragedies and struggles. But can these things take us away from God’s love? Paul’s answer is very clear.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, not things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
In other words, none of the bad things that Paul describes, none of the struggles that Psalm 91 talks about, none of the struggles of our lives, can take God’s love away from us or take us out of God’s gracious presence. So trust in God, who loves you, who protects you, and who promises to always be with you.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.