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Sermon on Psalms

Sermon by Pastor Dave Collins

We're going to work our way through Psalm 31

I assume that you have been glued to your phones or tvs this week, just like I have, watching in horror as Russia has invaded Ukraine, bombing hospitals and apartment buildings, and threatening the world with nuclear war if we intervened. I’ve watched with admiration at the bravery of the Ukrainian people, led by, let's just admit it, the coolest President the world has ever seen.

And we've watched it in real time, as those being attacked went live with their phones, just like those who are doing the attacking.

And that’s all I can do. Watch. And pray. Which is why this Psalm that the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine invited the Christians of his country to pray together with the Jews is so powerful. It’s a prayer that Jesus prayed, and countless martyrs. It’s a prayer that shows us what it means to pray. That prayer is more than just passionate wishing. Prayer grounds us in God, and connects us with humanity.

Psalm 31 begins like this

1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;

Refuge. A safe place. When everything seems at risk, that’s the desire of anyone’s heart. We know what that literally means for the citizens of Ukraine right now, as they gather together in subway stations. But even as they are down there, they aren’t feeling safe, right? Would you? Refuge is more than a hiding place. The psalmist looks to God for refuge, and so should we. So should everyone. Look at what refuge means:

do not let me ever be put to shame;

in your righteousness deliver me.

Refuge is about more than physical safety. It’s about not being put to shame. Having your whole life, your whole world, proteCted. The prayer is made according to God’s goodness, to God’s righteousness, not the one who prays.

2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,

4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

It’s almost like the psalmist is reminding himself over and over and over again that God is his refuge. He says it 6 times in 4 verses. You are my refuge. And I don’t think he’s trying to talk himself into it. It’s like a mantra that is either repeated or forgotten. It’s so easy for us to forget that we belong to God, that God is faithful and near. That God is our refuge.

If I’m being honest, my primary feeling this week has been apprehension. I’m nervous. A little jumpy. And I think it’s because my temptation is to think that my refuge is my own sense of understanding. But I’ve just been wrong now, so many times! Just over the last few years! I’ve had times where I was sure everything would be fine and ended up just wrong. And I’ve had times that I thought everything was going to fall apart, and it ended up not that bad, for me at least.

The future is just impossible to predict! Who knew? Well, God did! And the psalmist knew too. God is the refuge. Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding. And when we know that, when we learn it over and over again, we can pray this next line along with Psalm 31, and along with Jesus Christ.

5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;

You might remember that according to Luke, this is what Jesus said at the moment of his death on the cross. And I hope we’re all able to say the same thing when we go through the same thing, but it’s not something you can just tack on at the end of your life. It’s a stance that you can only have then, if you have it all along.

The word for spirit in Greek and Hebrew is the same word for breath. It is a confession of ultimate helplessness. Or dependence, of trust. It’s a way of saying in the midst of affliction, "It is up to you, God, what becomes of me, and I am actually good with that”

Into your hand I commit my spirit;

you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

This name for God, faithful God, is a rare one in the Bible. God is faithful to Israel. And because of Jesus, God is faithful to us, too. God keeps his promise to us. God is loyal to us.

This is where prayer begins. It begins by remembering who God is, and what God is like. Even if it does take a little remembering. But prayer also has to be honest. And that’s where this one goes next.

6 You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.

God does hate. That might feel yucky to hear, but it’s true. Not the way that we hate though. God hates with a pure and perfect hatred. Our hatred is always colored by our biases and hurts, but God’s isn’t. God hates sin, idolatry most of all. And people who give worship and priority to idols put themselves in the line of God’s wrath.

It’s not playing politics to warn those who gathered at the white nationalist conference at the Orlando Marriot this weekend, who chanted Putin’s name, and cheered the invasion of Ukraine, that they are playing with fire. Do you think God looks at that and says, “Well, boys will be boys.” Do they think God can be mocked? Psalm 31:6 says, “You (God) hate those who pay regard to worthless idols”. Yes, every person there can be redeemed, but the Bible is clear that you can be absolutely lost to sin. Your heart can be hardened, and it’s no one’s fault but your own.

Aa a pastor, and a father, I worry about how seductive hatred can be to our young men. Partly because I’ve seen just how much damage it has done to some of our old men. It’s an idol. It’s worthless. And it keeps you from trusting in the Lord.

7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities,

8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.

It’s odd, In v. 2, he prays “deliver me” and he’ll pray it again in v. 15, but here he says, “You have not delivered me into the hand of my enemy.” You may not have completely delivered me from them yet, but at least you haven’t given me up to them.

He is in that in between time, where as long as you’re still breathing, it’s not over. Sometimes that’s enough deliverance to be grateful for. I imagine there are people praying this prayer in a subway station in Ukraine, and they are grateful for the one kind of deliverance, even as they long for the complete one.

But this psalm goes back and forth just like all prayers do when under stress. Grateful for what we h