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The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Isaiah 57:14-21; Psalm 22:23-31; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-44
You may have noticed that in our prayers for the people, we always pray for “our nation, for those in authority, and for all in public service.” I will then usually say, “especially” and list key leaders, from the president to our mayor. If you stay long enough you also notice that this prayer does not change even when those leaders change, and whether we agree with them in their policies and the like, we always pray for them. Why do we do that? 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” We don’t pray for them because they are always right, just, and good; we pray for them that they might be so. And we do so on this basis: That God is the fearful and gracious king that rules over all nations.
Kids, you know the Lord’s Prayer: It says to “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Kids, God wants us to live like Jesus did. He lived a life of Love, putting others first, forgiving them when they sinned, even those who killed him. God tells us to forgive, but we can only do that because God forgave us first. God forgives us our sins, showing us his love. We should have so much joy because God loved us enough to forgive us! Because God loved us so much to forgive us, even after we sin, we can see that Love and forgiveness actually heal relationships with other people. So when someone does something sinful to you, you can forgive them knowing that forgiveness will lead to healing, but simply hating them and trying to hurt them back will only lead to more hurt and more hate. So when someone wrongs you, kids, forgive them like God forgives you.
This psalm is a psalm of praise that holds in tension two truths of who God is, and looks forward to how he will express them in the future. These are that God is 1. Fearful, and 2. Gracious. And both of these are encapsulated by the truth that God is Lord, is King. We are made free by this to pray for our leaders; Often, we will not want to. Our leaders make bad decisions, are sometimes cruel and inhumane, are often foolish. We can be crushed under their leadership, oppressed by those with more wealth and power than us. The exhortation to God’s people, then is to Seek out God for he is the fearful and gracious Lord who will preserve your life.
Praise the Lord, you that fear him, and magnify him! We do this, the Psalm says, because “he has not despised the poor, or hidden his face from them.” What does it mean to fear God? It is a multifaceted concept. It most basically is used of the wise, those who live in a righteous way. IE, one who fears God is a moral person. But it also uses here not the generic word for God, but YHWH, the covenant name (capitalized LORD in your bibles). Those who fear God are those who God has revealed himself to, those he has shown his own grace to. The fear they feel, then, is knowing that God is the source of life, as verse 26 says, “those who seek after God…[their] hearts [will] live forever.” They fear God turning from them, because they have turned from him, because the only result of that is death: They fear God as the one who holds the keys of life. This fear of God, however, is never separate from his love. We fear God because he is Lord, and we praise him because he is Love.
The psalmist turns from exhorting God’s people to praise him to saying that they themselves praise God, performing their vows publicly for all who fear God to see. Why? Because those who praise God will see that “the poor shall eat and be satisfied.” The psalmist identifies with the poor, with the oppressed, and so it is the psalmist who will eat and be satisfied! The psalmist is witnessing to the power of God and urging others to worship him, because God will not despise those who know they are poor, and God will hear them and make them to live forever.
This goodness of God, this Love from the Lord, is not just for Israel; no, the plan from the beginning was that as individuals like the psalmist witness to the Loving Lordship of God to Israel, so the nation of Israel would then witness to the nations: “All the ends of the world shall remember, and be turned unto the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.” In Christ, who breaks down the dividing walls between people, AND the dividing wall between humanity and God, all people will be brought to salvation. In Jesus Christ, and his act of sovereign Love on the Cross, we find union with God and each other. We all find each other in Jesus Christ.
All of this is possible because of vs. 28: “For the kingdom is the LORD’s, and he is the Governor among the peoples.” To the Israelite, this is a profoundly important point. In the ancient world, gods were often regional and cultural. You worshiped a certain god because you were born into a society and area where that god “reigned,” so to speak. Not so with the God of Israel. He is revealed to be the universal, the ultimate, the God of all things, and all peoples. Christ’s salvation is for the whole world, because it is the whole world that he is Lord over.
This God stands above all other powers and rulers, and this is precisely why the Psalmist, and the nation of Israel, and why we, and the Church as a whole, can witness to Jesus Christ. Those who fear God praise him as a witness to the world because no other power measures up to the power of God. Empires have tried, time and again, to do what God has promised to do. Rome tried to bring all peoples together; Alexander the Great tried to unify Greeks and Persians, to the point where he made his Macedonian soldiers marry Persians, and he himself tried to “become” Persian; Communist ideology sought to bring all people together under their revolutionary ideas. But all ultimately have sought to bring “all nations” together in only one way: Force. They fight, and kill, and strive, but meanwhile…God is the Governor among the people.
You do not need to fear any other power or authority. You do not need to hate and strive against them. You can pray for them, precisely because God is the True King, and they are only pretenders. Really, when you think about it, those who strive after power are really quite pathetic, for at the end of the day, it is only God who can promise us a future. Attend to the final verses: “My life shall be preserved in his sight…my children shall tell of the Lord to the generations to come…they shall declare his righteousness, that he has brought it to pass.”
Your life, Christian, is hidden in God in Jesus Christ. Your life, Christian, is free when you give it to God. Your life, Christian, is held in trust, preserved for the future, as a witness to the LORD who is Love. Fear God, meaning walk in his ways: do not oppress nor despise the poor, live a life of holiness. Praise God, seeing that he is your life and he is the one who never despises nor oppresses. Do this knowing that God will bring all nations into the fold, to worship him who is the Loving Lord. That beautiful unity with all peoples of the world will be ours, forever. Amen.
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