I would like to give my own brief introduction to this series following on from Paul last week. First of all can I point you to our website…here it is…The text of sermons I preach will be posted here if you want to read them and respond.
We tend to mine the Psalms for worship songs, using the nice bits and often forgetting there is as much lament, despair and ranting as there is adoration. It is possible to group the psalms into three broad categories: those of orientation that focus on everything being in its right place and in right relationship to God; those of disorientation expressing confusion, despair and questioning; those of re-orientation as the community re-focusses, with a different understanding and relationship with God. We will travel this path from worship and praise, through lament, despair and refuge, to re-focussing on God the author and giver of life.
The psalms are not expressions of faith in a bubble; they turn to God in the midst of the mess and the turmoil, as well as the celebration and praise. They are expressions of faith in God will bring order out of chaos; justice where there is injustice; healing where there is pain and suffering. These are songs that have been born in real life, in suffering and pain, turned to by the Jewish community to express what they have experienced down through the centuries. They must have something to say to us and be able to speak into our circumstances. When there is trouble and stress, the psalms are looking to God to bring them through and towards the time when God is rightfully worshipped by all and everything is in order.
In its verses, Psalm 62 could be said to take us through the stages I have suggested. In verses 1 and 2 there is the focus on God, moving into 3-4 where David expresses distress at his circumstances and his helplessness in the face of plotters, but returning – re-orienting – as he looks to God the source of salvation and security. There is a return to distress as he reflects on the circumstances of life and those who are plotting for power and riches, returning again in 11 and 12 to his ultimate security in God alone.
We’re going to walk through these verses reflecting on them and applying them to our lives as we do so.
How would you describe the mood of the psalm? Is it, overall, one of peaceful stability and reflection? Is it one of silence in the midst of the storm or even after the storm, reflecting on the deliverance of God? How does it make you feel? My feeling is that this was written reflecting on what had happened, and noting how he was feeling and expressing how he managed to emerge through the other side.
I think the opening, whilst setting the focus – orienting us towards God – also flags up that there is trouble ahead. It lays the foundation for facing that trouble. We begin by putting our faith and trust in God our saviour, because he is the only one who enable us to weather the challenge that may be coming or we are experiencing. I don’t think this is a passive attitude: sit back and wait for God to deliver me. We have been endowed with brains, common sense and responsibility, but before bringing those things to bear, our trust and focus is on God and submitting to him. Ultimately, live or die, he is the only one in whom we will find rest and hope. Rock, fortress, refuge and salvation are the key words to describe God throughout this psalm. This is not an escape until the storm has passed; it is not hiding away in the fortress until all is safe, brought about by others. These words are an expression of trust in the faithfulness of God.
The rock is the foundation that enables the building to stand. Think of the parable of the wise and foolish builders that Jesus told. It was the house built on rock that withstood the storm. Think of the lighthouse standing firm in the storm: it can do so because it is built firmly upon rock that will not be shifted, no matter how violent the sea gets. This rock is expressive of discipleship: that is the digging of the foundations as daily we live as followers of Jesus Christ and learn from his Word. It is developing the mind of Christ in prayer and practice as we listen to the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is only as we lay that foundation that we will be able to stand when the storm comes – as it will for all of us at some stage in our lives.
The words fortress and refuge are not places of hiding and escape, but the places where you can gain respite and strength; where you can rebuild your strength so that you can emerge again to face the challenge. You cannot remain behind the walls forever. Salvation expresses the fact that we do not do this alone, but look to God our Saviour. The opening line of the psalm expresses the personal knowledge and relationship that David had with God, grown through years of walking with him through all the circumstances of life. It comes back to taking that step of faith in God through Jesus Christ and then laying the foundations for life. It is this foundation that enables us to stand when we are struck by fear and despair; when we are rocked by events that are happening to us or around us. David didn’t float above the troubles experienced. They caused him anguish and turmoil. In verses 3 and 4 we see someone in a weak position.
We get that picture of a tottering wall or leaning fence. You know what it is like when the wind has battered your fence panels – they lean and wobble and only a little pressure will bring them down. Or the mortar has crumbled from a wall and it can just be shoved over. This is how David is describing his situation: he is vulnerable and he is weak. What is more people are being two faced – that is what the last part of verse 4 is about. Perhaps you know how painful it is when people say one thing to your face and another behind your back. However, in the midst of apparent weakness, he has that inner strength and knowledge that comes from a deep personal relationship with God the Saviour. All else may crumble, but he will not be abandoned by God. And so having expressed the anguish of his heart, he returns to his foundation, to what he knows to be true because he has proved it in his life’s experience. In God is rest; in God is hope; in God is refuge; in God is salvation. David exhorts the congregation of the people to trust in God their saviour; to pour out their hearts to him, just as he has done throughout his life. Of course that pre-supposes a relationship with God.
In communion as we share together later on, we see God’s provision to enable that open relationship for all people. As we put our trust in Jesus Christ as saviour, as sin-bearer, we can experience that refuge and strength for ourselves; we can experience the relief of the burden lifted and be renewed to live for him. As we turn to him in repentance for sin, we can know the beginning or renewing of a personal relationship with God through him, by the Holy Spirit in us. The invitation is to everyone who will come and receive him.
As David reflects on the state of humankind, in relation to those who are attacking him; as he reflects on the desire of the hearts of those seeking his downfall, he slips back into distress. There is a hint of Ecclesiastes here as the writer despairs at the fact that rich and poor, high and low share the same fate and riches and wealth, position and power, will not save them. It reminds us of Jesus words in Matthew 6:
19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
It begs the question of us: where is our treasure? Where is our heart? David was a rich and prosperous king, but he knew that his wealth and power could not save him. It was a source of jealousy and greed for others; an incentive to strike when he was old and weak, and stake their claim. It is interesting how we still seek power and influence, although we see the demise of those who have claimed it before. Just look at the wrangle for leadership of the Conservative party – most of the previous leaders since the 2nd WW have fallen to the ambitions of others.
Our culture seeks the security of riches and wealth, although there are numerous examples of those who have them and had them, but led empty lives. “Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them,” wrote David. There is the story concerning the death of a wealthy person and the family had gathered to hear the will read. As they emerged the media were ready waiting for them: “How much did he leave?” was the question called from the reporters, anxious to measure this person’s value in millions of pounds. The simple answer came back: all of it. The lament of the writer of Ecclesiastes again.
8 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labour under the sun.
My uncle at the death of my grandmother put her few possessions on the table with the comment, “Not much to show for a life.” And at the end of his life as he faces up to the fact that it does end, he realises that even with all the wealth he has sought, it still doesn’t add up to much in the final analysis.
David in all his wealth and power knows this. David in all the strife and turmoil of others seeking to take what he has from him, knows this. However he also knows what does add up and where real treasure is found. Read vv 11-12. The confidence David has in God is expressed in this Hebrew phrase “One thing… two things…” This form of writing is saying, ‘This is something you can trust. This is something you can be sure about.’ Unless you and I take that step of faith in God, we will never know whether or not it is true. The last sentence expresses that trust and faith in the goodness and justice of God
As we come to communion, we see expressed the goodness, justice and love of God in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Here we place our hope; here we encounter God our refuge and fortress. From here we can go knowing acceptance and forgiveness that no-one else can give. From here we go knowing that he alone is our rock and salvation.