Meditation: You, O Lord, are our light and salvation; of whom shall we be afraid? Amen.

Psalm 27: what an incredibly rich Psalm. It is a full meal for the spirit.

The Lord is my light and my salvation- therefore, there is no fear in me.

And yet my enemies rise up against me: there is a lot to fear.

But when I seek after God, after the beauty of God, God hides me, and fear leaves me.

And so I wait in peace, for God is near.

Why fear when God is so close?

And yet, when we are besieged with enemies, within us and around us, fear is our default setting.

And it takes an act of will to seek out God for our relief. It is a living choice we make:

Do we remain crouched and defensive…

…hoping that everything will go away…

…reacting with aggression to make it go away…

Or do we  place our lives into the hands of the ever-living God?

It’s a choice.

It’s like what the father begged of Jesus in Mark 9:24, when his child was being driven to the point of death.

Do you believe I can heal your child?, Jesus asked.

“I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

Both things are true at the same time:

I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.

I wait in confidence of Your help, Lord;

I hope in confidence of Your help.

Now, help me tear away from my fear.

And as we read Psalm 27, we understand that it is only in offering up our fear that God can protect us from what is within and around us.

The choice has to be made every day, a choice of habit.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached on the habit of forgiveness that the Amish practice.

It starts with a submission to God’s will, and continues on,  going to the house of the family whose son murdered their daughters, and continues on,  placing their wills in God’s hands so that they might not slip into bitterness. Day after day.

Forgiveness is a life-long habit, chosen daily.

And so is the releasing of fear. A life-long habit, chosen daily.

At the end of Psalm 27, the Psalmist writes,

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord. Be strong, and let your heart take courage.

Wait for the Lord!”

In Hebrew, that word “Wait” can also be translated as “Hope.”
“Hope in the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage.

Hope for the Lord!

In the Psalm, it is interesting how the Psalmist gets from fear to confidence.

He does it through an act of praise.

Praising God.   Praising the beauty of God.

Praising the mercy of God.   Praising the goodness of God.

It all starts with seeking God.

  • I have been in churches where some crotchety members would come to church with a gimlet eye.

Back in 1995 when my church in Philadelphia bought the new hymnal, one man would hold the new hymnal in one hand and the old hymnal in the other, so he could see what changes had been made between the two: ammunition in the hymnal wars.

  • I have been in churches where members would sit back in their pews with arms folded, challenging me to break through with a good word.
  • I have been in churches where members gathered in the parking lot to rate the sermon and service on a scale of 1 to 10.

Maybe you’ve been around people like that at work- who ask, “What have you done for me recently?”

I feel sorry for those people. They’re missing the whole point. Because the point of worship is… Worship.

It is us, actively seeking God, putting ourselves out there to be in relationship with God.

Worship is active and creative, and vulnerable. There’s no sitting in the chair with our arms crossed, saying, “What are you going to bring for me today?” No: Worship is a verb, something we do.

Worship is “what are we going to bring to God today.”

That’s why we’re here on a Sunday morning, to take one intentional hour to consciously seek God, praise God, and practice the habit of placing ourselves in God’s care.

And that’s something one person can’t do for another person. It is our choice, our duty.

The Psalmist is beset by foes who seek to kill him, rivals who besmear his good name.

Going to the Temple to see what the Temple priest can do for him isn’t going to solve his problem.

The Psalmist has to go straight to God, worship God, praise God, lift his eyes to the only One who can help him, and say,

“I am yours, Lord. Take these burdens from me.”

That’s something the Temple priest can never do for someone else.

That’s why we’re in church.

We go out the door after worship, called to change the world with our good actions; but for this hour, we are here to worship God, and listen to what God would have to say to us.

  • And sometimes, as in Jeremiah 5:28, God says, “You do not judge with justice, and you allow the orphan to suffer and your do not defend the rights of the needy.”
  • And sometimes, as in the last words that Jesus tells us in Matthew, God strengthens us, saying,

“I am with you, even until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

  • And sometimes, as in Matthew 11:28-30, “God listens to our fears, our burdens and says,

“Come to me, all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me… and you shall find rest for your souls.”

  • And sometimes, as in Psalm 46:10, God says to us, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

You and I come to worship to lay our hearts before the living God, and to hear what God would say to us.

And why do we do this on Sunday morning? Can’t we do it every hour of our lives?

Of course we can, and we should. But do we? And the answer, for the vast majority of us, is No.

Life gets in the way. Our own agendas get in the way.  Sunday morning is the one place where we consciously, intentionally practice the habit of laying our lives before God. That’s the whole point of it.

Consciously, intentionally practice the habit of laying our lives before God.

When I was serving a church in Philadelphia 25 years ago, a Syrian Orthodox woman came into worship with her 5-yr old grandson. She neither spoke nor understood English very well, which is tough when you’re in a Protestant church, since all we do is talk!

We don’t have incense, or relics; we don’t dance or wave our hands. Our worship tends to be all in our heads.

But this Syrian Orthodox woman knew she was in church, and that’s all that mattered. She swayed and gazed with adoration at the cross- the one symbol in our plain, Protestant church she understood. She didn’t come for the sermon which she couldn’t understand anyway. She came to be in the presence of God.

And when we suggested that her 5-yr old grandson might like to go downstairs to church school, she said,  “No. He will stay in the presence of God.”
And he would quietly wander up and down the aisles, there in the presence of God.
And that was enough; to just be in the presence of God.

That really opened my eyes. Why do we come to worship?
To be in the presence of God.
Why do we practice the habit of turning to God in our fear?
Because only in the presence of God shall we be healed.
Only in the praise of God shall we know peace.

When I read Psalm 27, what I hear is someone just like us, beset by fears and troubles.
But I also hear someone who keeps giving themselves over to God, keeps praising God, and remembering the mercy of God.
Someone who is willing to wait, because they know that God is near. Someone who worships.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am God.

In the Name of the One who seeks our presence, even Jesus the Christ. Amen


Scripture for March 17, 2019                                               


The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers attack me to devour my flesh,
all my adversaries and foes shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.
Though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
To live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
and behold the beauty of the Lord in God’s temple.

For God will hide me in God’s shelter in the day of trouble;
God will conceal me under the cover of the holy tent.
God will set me up on a high rock.

Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in God’s tent sacrifices with shouts of joy.
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear me, O Lord, when I cry aloud! Be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek God’s face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide Your face from me.

Do not turn Your servant away in anger, for You have always been my help.
Do not cast me off- do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
If my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will pick me up.

Teach me Your way, O Lord and lead me on a level path away from my enemies.
Do not give me up to my enemies, for false witnesses have risen against me.
They are breathing out violence against me.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord. Be strong, and let your heart take courage.
Wait for the Lord!

Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.