Finding Ourselves in the Psalms: The Source of Our Strength
Today we come to the last sermon in our series Finding Ourselves in the Psalms. The two psalms you heard earlier in the service, Psalm 46 and Psalm 91, along with Psalm 121, the text listed for today, play a very important part in my life. They appear regularly in my personal times of devotion, and I want to comment briefly on all three passages.
Psalm 46 served as our Call to Worship this morning. Verses 1-2 declare, “God is our refuge and strength, a very-present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” Verse 10 adds, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This powerful prayer is often used in a number of ways. Portions are frequently included in Jewish prayers and services of worship. Some of you will remember Martin Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which he based on Psalm 46. We sing that song a number of times during the year, but especially on Reformation Sunday. President Obama has referenced this psalm in two of his speeches: one given at Tucson as a memorial speech and the other on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy of 9-11.
I want to share a bit of quirky information about this psalm. Some people say that Psalm 46 was a favorite of William Shakespeare, who was alive at the time the King James Version of the Bible was translated. In fact, he was forty-six years old at the time. People interested in all kinds of strange biblical codes have analyzed Psalm 46 in light of Shakespeare’s age at the time of the translation. The forty-sixth word of the psalm in the King James Version, counting from the first word, is “shake.” The forty-sixth word counting backward from the end of the psalm is “spear.” Those individuals claim that Shakespeare put his own mark on Psalm 46 during that particular translation. Biblical scholars declare that the location of the words “shake” and “spear” within the psalm is merely coincidence.
Members of our family think of Psalm 46 as a psalm for soldiers. My grandmother insisted that her sons who were going into World War II memorize it. I asked Uncle Buzz, who was engaged in the Normandy Invasion, where he found his strength during that time. He quoted the entire psalm, adding, “My mother told me to memorize this passage. I said it over and over and over again during the Normandy Invasion.” I know that this psalm also has special meaning to many of you.
The second psalm you heard earlier as part of our service today, Psalm 27, reads, “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? …I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”
Charles Spurgeon, an Englishman from two centuries ago, is sometimes called the Prince of Preachers. He said, “Notice the personal quality of this psalm. It is not just saying that God is light and God is salvation. It affirms that God is my light and my salvation.” He also pointed out that God does not say that He is the source of light. He is light. God does not say that He is the source of salvation. He is salvation.
Because Psalm 27 is so personal, the psalmist can then reflect, “Whom shall I fear?” That question really answers itself within the psalm. “If God is my light and my salvation, I have no need to be afraid. Of whom shall I be afraid?” I recall the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We heard “The Lord Is My Light” sung so beautifully this morning. In that song we not only hear the affirmation that God is our light and salvation, but we also hear a point that rings true with every one of us: God is with us in times of trouble, in times of terrible darkness, in times of fear that would overtake us.
I invite you to turn to Psalm 121, which we will also consider this morning. This very brief psalm is grouped among the songs of ascents, which were thought to be sung as people walked up Mount Moriah to worship in the temple.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Notice the repetition of the words “The LORD will watch…The LORD watches…the LORD will watch.” Psalm 121 offers reassurance, emphasizing God’s vigilance, His alertness in paying attention to our lives. He never shirks this responsibility for one moment.
Perhaps the most memorable occasion in which part of this psalm was recited occurred in the history of the Cherokee people. The very title of the outdoor drama Unto These Hills, performed in Cherokee, North Carolina, is taken from a line in Psalm 121. In one scene the Cherokee people are about to be relocated to Oklahoma territory. Chief John Ross, a Christian, quotes from Psalm 121: “I lift up mine eyes unto the hills—from whence cometh my help.”
Psalm 121 makes me think of the words of the song “From a Distance,” sung by Bette Midler.
From a distance The world looks blue and green And the snow-capped mountains white. From a distance The ocean meets the stream And the eagle takes to flight. From a distance There is harmony And it echoes through the land. It is the voice of hope. It is the voice of peace. It is the voice of every man. From a distance We all have enough, And no one is in need. There are no guns, no bombs, no disease, No hungry mouths to feed. From a distance We are instruments Marching in a common band, Playing songs of hope Playing songs of peace. They are songs of every man. God is watching us. God is watching us. God is watching us From a distance.
We have absolutely no indication that the composer had Psalm 121 in mind when those lyrics were written. The truth is that God is always observant. He is always vigilant, always attentive. He will guide and protect. He will “neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4).
When we began this sermon series, Finding Ourselves in the Psalms, some of you told me, “I hope you will preach on Psalm 46” or “I hope you will preach on Psalm 27 or Psalm 121.” I could not include all 150 psalms in this series, but I have combined those three in this last sermon.
When I look at these three, I do not have a bit of trouble finding myself. The common theme focuses on someone who is afraid. Who among us has not had moments of fear? What mind is oblivious to the terror in this world, especially now? We are so acutely aware of the forces of terror.
Finding ourselves in these psalms is not very difficult. The real challenge, however, the underlying theme of this entire series, is finding God in these psalms. If we find ourselves in the psalms we also find God right there, whatever our need, whatever our circumstance, whatever our difficulty. God is with us. Our affirmation as Christians is that God has come to us uniquely in Emmanuel – God with us. He has come to us in Jesus Christ, our Savior.
The three psalms remind us that God is ever-present. The story of the Bible is God’s constant attempt to make Himself and His love known to us. He reveals Himself in sacred Scripture, in the verses of the psalms. He reveals Himself all along the paths of life. He reveals Himself in great music. He reveals Himself in nature, the very works of His hands. He reveals Himself in other people. Supremely, God reveals Himself in Jesus Christ. This is His crowning revelation. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.
We, as Christians, come to this Lord’s Table because we know that God makes Himself known through Jesus. The Table itself is a reminder of the broken body and the shed blood. It is a reminder that God is with us in every circumstance of life. I invite you, as we come to the Lord’s Table, to be keenly aware that we also find ourselves here. More importantly, this is where we find our God, supremely revealed in Jesus Christ, His Son and our Lord.
Could I remind you that this is not Morningside’s table? This is not a Baptist table. This is the Table of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you profess him as your Savior, you are invited to take part in this meal. Let’s take this meal together.
On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. He blessed it. He broke it. He said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.”
Prayer of Blessing for the Bread: Dear God, we thank you for the joy and wonder that fill our lives. We are so thankful for the meal Jesus took with the disciples during his last days on earth. May we always remember that his body was broken for our salvation.
I am so wondrously saved from sin,
Jesus so sweetly abides within;
There at the cross where He took me in;
Glory to His Name!
Jesus said, “This bread is my body, given for you.” Eat this as often as you eat it in remembrance of him. Eat all of it.
Prayer of Blessing for the Cup: Dear heavenly Father, how humbled we are to be in Your presence. How humbled we are to receive the gift of Your Son. We are grateful for the breaking of His body and for the shedding of his blood. May we not take the importance of this cup lightly. May we remember its significance all the days of our lives. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Down at the cross where my Savior died, Death where for cleansing from sin I cried, There to my heart was the blood applied; Glory to His Name!
Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink all of it.
We extend to you the invitations of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you have never accepted him as your Savior, we invite you to make that decision today. If God has laid other decisions on your heart, we invite your response.Kirk H. Neely © September 2013