a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
June 11, 2023
1Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright.
2Praise the Lord with the lyre; Make melody to God with the harp of ten strings.
3Sing to Her a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
4For the word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness. 5 the Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
6By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of the Lord’s mouth. 7He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; She put the deeps in storehouses. 8Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of God.9For the Lord spoke, and it came to be; She commanded, and it stood firm.
10The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; the Lord frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of God’s heart to all generations.
12Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen as His heritage. 13The Lord looks down from heaven; the Lord sees all humankind. 14From where She sits enthroned She watches all the inhabitants of the earth— The One who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.
16A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save. 18Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Her, on those who hope in Her steadfast love, 19to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
20Our soul waits for the Lord; the Lord is our help and shield. 21Our heart is glad in the Lord, because we trust in his holy name. 22Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
Have you ever played “trust games?” I know, too many people play “trust games” that destroy trust between people, and the other person or people don’t know they are being played. That’s not what I am talking about. The kind of “trust games” I am talking about were done in retreats and such events where “group-building” was important. The idea was to build trust in one another to work together better as a team or a group.
For example, a group would stand in a circle shoulder- to- shoulder and a person in the middle would close their eyes and fall backward, trusting that the person behind them would catch them before they hit the ground. Where a high level of trust and cooperation was built up the person could literally fall again and again into the arms of multiple people or be passed around from person to person without fear of being dropped. If the group wasn’t that cooperative, well, its always good to play these games on a carpeted surface.
Now, I’m not going to say I have “trust issues,” but I certainly have had people disappoint me. I have had people act as if they were trustworthy and then prove otherwise. Perhaps you have too. These experiences hurt. Some for a long time. I won’t say that I didn’t harbor anger and resentment in some cases. Broken trust in real life is different from playing a trust game. We can’t always assume the goodwill of others in life.
So this morning as we listen to this Psalm, the writer says, “Our heart is glad in the Lord because we TRUST in God’s Holy Name.” To those who first wrote, sung, and heard these words the name of that God was YHWH. These unpronounceable letters were said to translate roughly into “I am who I am.” Or some would say, “I will be who I will be.” In that time, in that culture – and in many others – one’s name represented one’s character. We might say it represented the reality of that person’s soul. Jacob’s name, we are told, meant One who Supplants, or takes the place of another, for he took his brother’s birthright to a blessing from their father. He later was renamed Israel by the God YHWH. We are told he was called this because he “had wrestled with God and won!” The Christian Scriptures tell us the name Jesus means “Savior.” I do hope you already know that his last name wasn’t Christ. That was a title. It means “anointed one,” as kings were anointed as a sign of approval from God. Names were significant at that time for telling others the character of the person.
My point in telling you all this is to say that YHWH, this God who proclaims “I Will Be Who I Will Be,” is not defined by humans. There are a lot of people claiming to speak for God, who want to define God as hating this or punishing that. Knowing that, I try to be careful about who I claim God is and what God does. I try to point out those Scriptures that show a different God. So let me point out the verse that immediately follows the one claiming our hearts can be glad because we can TRUST God’s holy name. The next verse proclaims, “Let your STEADFAST LOVE, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
So my word to you, and for my own faith this morning, is that the God who is STEADFAST LOVE is a God we can trust. When others try to turn this God into a hateful God, a God out to punish and destroy others, I think the best way we can respond is by remembering our hope is in a God of steadfast love. The word steadfast means “not fickle.” It does not mean a God who only loves for a time and who turns away from loving when we do something God disapproves of.
This morning I want to point out that the Scripture says putting our trust in God requires memory and hope. To trust – in the present – requires remembering how God has proven trustworthy in the past. When we know this, we can choose to hope that God will continue to be faithful in the future. These are very real choices we have to make to live our lives without being overwhelmed by fear and anger and distrust.
Memory requires us to look back for signs that God has helped us when we were knocked down or even knocked out. Memory calls to us that there are signs in the rearview mirror of our lives that tell us God was present, waiting for us to see the way to a better way.
Adam Hearlson writes, [ workingpreacher.org, August 7, 2016 ], “In North America and elsewhere, the outdoor trails of our parks and forests are marked with” [a fire symbol]. He calls them “blazes.” “These [fire symbols] are small directional signs that assure the traveler that she is on the right path. The hike requires following the blazes. But the blaze is not the destination, just the marker.… The marker is a reminder that you are on the right trail and that, while you might not see another marker for a while, it will show up. Indeed, if you travel far and don’t see a marker, it is time to backtrack and remember where you last saw a marker…. The steadfast love of God is not just a reassurance that [you are God’s beloved], but also a reminder that our finitude limits our perspective.” As finite people we need to remember to keep looking for the next symbol of God’s direction.
But the risk in this is that we sometimes believe that God controls our lives. That can seem comforting if things are going well. The danger in that theology is when things go bad for us or for someone else. Then we begin to believe God caused that problem. But because we believe God is perfect we can’t say it was God’s fault, so it must be ours. That results in a belief that God is punishing us. Way too many Christians buy into this. They forget that God gives us free will. We always make our own choices. Even the most devout person who prays and prays to do God’s will, and believing that God has “told” them to go a certain way, is making the choice themselves. This false theology that God controls everything that happens is the greatest challenge to trusting God. The truth is we have free will, every person has the free will to do what is good and right and just or we can do what we want and claim it is good and right and just, but the truth will come out.
As much as I know this, even I have fallen for this fallacy. Let me trust you with a story of a time in my life that I really haven’t shared publicly with anyone before. A few years back I was ready to move from Jacksonville. I was tired and wanted less responsibility. I put my profile in to be the Associate Pastor at a large church. The Senior Pastor was someone I had known for 20 some years and seemed enthusiastic about me coming there. In the end he used that well known phrase – “we decided to go in a different direction.” I felt blind-sided. I was angry. I blamed God for failing me, failing to give me what I felt I was owed. I have to admit it took me more than a couple of years to really process my anger and grief and disappointment. And in reality, I want to admit that as I prepared this sermon and thought about that time, I learned something new. I realized my anger at God was because I believed God controlled that situation instead of recognizing that men made that decision, not God. And as I realize that now, even more healing comes to my relationship with God. I know that, in fact, not getting that position saved me from potentially a lot of stress, problems, and even worse disappointment and disillusionment. It was not God, but the free will of the people involved, that made that decision. God has helped me find a way to turn that into a better situation – in part because now, some 5 years later, I am here. And I believe this is better, truly better. So as I look back to the fire symbols, the markers, of this trail I have been on, I can see where God’s love was and is steadfast and so I believe I can trust that love.
That leads me to hope. The Psalm invites us to take this perspective:
“20Our soul waits for the Lord; the Lord, is our help and shield. 21Our heart is glad in the Lord, because we trust in his holy name. 22Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”
“Even as we hope in you,” the Psalm says. Why do we hope? Memory. When we remember the signs of God’s goodness from our journey in the past, we can find reasons to hope. The Psalm urges us to remember this:
“the Lord frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of God’s heart to all generations.”
So when I look back in history I see this. Those who have intended evil sooner or later lost. It wasn’t that God came down with thunderbolts and lightning. Good people stood up and said enough. People who trusted God’s steadfast love worked to stop the plans that people make for their own glory, even when those people claim they are speaking for God. Our task in these times is the same as it is in every time, every age. It is to remember who God is and who is God. Our task is to take hope in a God of steadfast love, and where there are those with power, whose purposes and direction is not consistent with that standard, our task is to work for what is consistent with God’s steadfast love.
We believe in a God who has a generous heart, and a steadfast love. We believe in a God who does not condemn or refuse to love those other people condemn and refuse to love. We have a choice. We can work for a world that embodies God’s welcome, God’s generous and steadfast love knowing God will use what we do to frustrate the plans of those who don’t. Or we can remain silent and allow wrong and evil to last longer than it should.
So let me end where the Psalm starts:
1Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright. 2Praise the Lord with the lyre; Make melody to God with the harp of ten strings. 3Sing to Her a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. 4For the word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness. 5the Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
When I look back and remember I know God doesn’t play trust games. Instead, I see signs of God’s steadfast love for us. I see 10,000 reasons to sing to the Lord. Won’t you join me in singing that song? AMEN.