Second Sunday After Pentecost

Ezekiel 38:1-14; Psalm 92; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Mark 4:26-34

Delivered June 13, 2021

One of my favorite stories growing up was The Count of Monte Cristo. I read the full novel when I was 15, my first “big book.” It’s a story about a young Frenchman named Edmund Dantes in the early 1800’s, who is in love and has a bright career as a merchant sailor. However, the story takes a dark turn very early; he is falsely accused of treason, orchestrated by three friends. He is then unjustly imprisoned in a harsh, dark stone prison on a small island. He then spends the next 14 years in that place, with the only thing keeping him going that he meets a kind older man imprisoned there, who eventually tells him about a vast fortune he has stowed on another island. When the old man dies, Edmund escapes in the bodybag. He finds the treasure and spends the next several years carefully orchestrating his revenge, to bring justice upon those who wronged him. At the end of the book, Edmund, an older man now, finally gives those three men what they deserve. It took his whole life before justice could finally be served.

Justice, redemption, making things right; these are things that we, so often, must wait for. Justice is so often not served now, but we know that God will deliver justice to the world when Christ returns to finish establishing his kingdom.

This is a later psalm, of unknown authorship, and a psalm of “Declarative Praise.” This type of psalm is intended to publicly proclaim that God is righteous, good, and that God loves his people. It is a song for the Sabbath. The ancient Hebrews, and Jews today, take the 7th day of the week as a day of rest from their vocational work to worship and serve the Lord. It is a day to devote to God. It is not simply a “day off,” but serves as a symbol of our final rest, when all creation is transformed and we dwell in perfect peace with God. This psalm is about that Sabbath, the final peace and rest of dwelling in God’s presence. We, recognizing that Jesus’s resurrection is the first fruits of the New Creation, therefore set aside not Saturday but Sunday as the day of worship and praise. 

The psalm begins by stating the author’s intention to praise the Lord. “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD,” it says, “in the morning” and “in the night season.” It is good, in other words, to praise God day in and day out, at all times. It is especially so on the day set aside for worship, and to do so in the most beautiful way that we can, using instruments and song to show how good and worthy God is of our devotion and praise.

Why is God so worthy? Because of God’s works, of God’s divine deeds in history. God’s works are “glorious,” and God’s “thoughts are very deep.” As one commentator put it, the thoughts of God “mould human history and themselves gain form in it.” Who God is, is expressed through action in the world: redeeming people from slavery, preserving them through suffering, comforting them, giving them hope.

Our lives are much the same. Evil happens around and to us. Last week, we had a penitential psalm, a psalm about our sin and our need for God’s grace. This week, the psalm is about evil as it exists in opposition to us, the evil that happens to us, rather than that which is caused by us. 

We can see this because the psalmist, after abundant praises of God’s goodness, turns to those who reject God. The “dull of heart” and the “fool” are not people who have not encountered God and are sincerely searching; no, the words bear the connotation of people who are both stupid and arrogant, those who know little but believe themselves wise. Yet, they are “as green as the grass” and “flourish.” Evil flourishes!

God has allowed it to be so. God allows human freedom, agency to do evil or good, to turn in faith or to reject the offer of grace. And we, we who choose to live in self-sacrifice, in this world we will often be trampled down by those who choose to do evil. Amazon will continue to pay poor wages and provide bad working conditions for its workers. Developers will continue to build expensive apartments in this neighborhood, which will raise the rents of poor folk and drive them out. Our government will continue to pour trillions of dollars into our military and involve us in foreign engagement we probably have little reason to be a part of. YOU will be taken advantage of, by bosses, family, banks, and bureaucracies of all kinds. And they will flourish. 

But it will. Not. always. Be. so. Vs. 7 says that though the evil flourish, “you, LORD, are the Most High, for evermore.” This is the center of the psalm. God stands above all, sees all, and is perfectly righteous to judge all. And so, vs. 8, “LORD, lo, your enemies shall perish…[they] shall be destroyed.”

While this sounds harsh, isn’t this what we cry out for when we see evil flourish? When we are denied what we have earned, don’t we cry for justice? When we see the poor despised, don’t we cry for justice? When we see our African-American brothers and sisters killed for no good reason, don’t we cry for justice? When we are treated badly because of our status, skin color, age, sex, or anything else, don’t we cry for justice? 

Justice will come. God allows the world to go on as it is, and the reason isn’t always clear, but we can say that God desires to give all people a chance at repentance and faith. In the meantime, yes, those who give abundantly of themselves in love will often see those who live entirely for their own gain prosper, and they themselves be taken advantage of. And yet, the justice of the God who is Most High will reign. 

Take hope, my friends. Those who are evil will receive what they deserve, and those of us who believe in the promises of God by faith, and receive his grace, will be like sturdy trees planted in rich soil. We will be planted in the Temple of God, which will be the whole world, and we will bear abundant fruit because of Christ and the Holy Spirit who are in us. We will be fully alive, like trees that are green and full of sap. And through us the goodness, the righteousness, the grace, and the justice of God shall be made clear.

The Count of Monte Cristo ends sadly. While Edmund Dante gets the revenge he desires, in the end, the woman he loved had married one of the men he destroyed, and both of them had grown so differently over the course of years that they really could not be together again. He had spent so much of his life on vengeance, there was not much left. Ultimately, not his vengeance, nor his money, nor anything else really was fulfilling, or could give him back what he had lost. Vengeance is not justice. But we await a justice that is not simply punishment for the wicked, but true and full restoration for the faithful. This is something we can seek, we can work towards now, but that we must always understand we will not see fully until our Lord’s return. Then, ours will not be an empty justice, but one that rights the wrongs, and gives us full and total rest and peace, in a new creation, for ever and ever. Let us praise as the psalmist did the LORD who will make all things right, and look forward to our eternal Sabbath, when Jesus Christ returns and establishes for all time his kingdom. Amen.

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