“Let God Rise Up!”
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, May 24th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear these words from the Book of Psalms, Psalm sixty-eight, verses one thru ten.”
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Let God rise-up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. 2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God. 3 But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy. 4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift-up a song to him who rides upon the clouds – his name is the Lord – be exultant before him. 5 Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. 6 God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land. 7 O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, (se’la) Selah 8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel. 9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; 10 your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy. 32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, (se’la) Selah 33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. 34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies. 35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!
“Having listened with our ears, let us now open our hearts to the intended meaning of these ancient words.”
“Let God Rise Up!”
Twice, in our scripture text this morning, the Hebrew word (se’la) Selah is used. The word was used as a pause, a time of reflection, or an exclamation point when the Psalm was sung, which was often how these writings were used in ancient times. As we raise-up these verses of scripture, let us pause and reflect on the meaning of this writing, making an exclamation when appropriate! At first glance into the essence of this writing it seems to go in two directions and thus many preachers and theologians pass by without speaking to its complex yet, clear message. God is both benevolent and loving to those who turn toward God and are counted as the people of God! Yet, God is willing to deal harshly with those who turn away and seek to spread evil rather than mercy and compassion upon others. Our challenge this morning is to see the truth, and the fullness of the Psalmist’s words, especially in the current time in which we live.
The very first verse of our reading proclaims for all who have ears to hear: “Let God rise-up, (and) let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him.” When we look back into history, before and after the time of Christ, humankind has portrayed, revealed, and reflected two distinct and opposing sides of the character and the make-up of we humans! Likewise, throughout history we have tried to hide behind our pious views of our Deity to deny the truth. We, you, and me, we know the truth, the hard facts of this schism, this parting, this separation between good and evil! The conflict with our discussion comes with, and comes from, what seems to be a contradiction within our modern-day Christian views… as we see them from here, concerning how Jesus spoke against fighting violence with violence. Consider how the crowds chose Barabbas over Jesus, at the mock trial the night he was condemned to be crucified. Most scholars believe their decision to free Barabbas over Jesus, was because Barabbas was willing to wage war to overcome the Roman oppression. Conversely, Jesus was clearly passive as he allowed his own arrest. It truly is a conflict to be sure. Our history in the Twenty-First Century clearly leans more toward our Psalm this morning then to our holy teachings as modern Christians. Consequently, we need to view our lesson from Psalm sixty-eight with an open mind, as to these truths of old, which still linger in society despite the teachings and example of Christ.
Our Psalm was written many Centuries before the time of Christ. The Psalmist was correct in his understanding of the God of the Hebrews. Recall how those who were freed of their bondage in Egypt, and how they wandered in the wastelands within the regions in between for a long, long time. It was in this time between the place within Egypt, where they are believed to have been forced into slavery, and their freedom that they became hardened. Then the guidance from God through Moses as their leader, to find their way to what we now know as Judea and Jerusalem in the region of Ancient Palestine. In this ancient context an understanding of God as protector as well as comforter was well documented. Many times, it is believed, the tribes of Israel… as they walked in the wastelands as nomads, wanderers, and migrants, they were forged into a mighty nation, toughened by the harshness of life and the battles they were forced to face with other travelers. Throughout this period, they believed that God gave them the strength to overcome their enemies. This is the backdrop to our lesson this morning. It would be easy to ‘jump” to the teachings of Jesus to soften this lesson, yet we are seeking to glean from this teaching something we can use in our lives today.
The Psalmist has urged us to let God rise-up, and most assuredly lead us into a better time! For the writer of this Psalm tells us in verse three: “But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.” If we allow ourselves to embrace these words, we may need to consider what it will take for us to truly allow God to rise-up and take care of our needs right now! To be considered righteous we need to be honest, respectable, and good people! We also need to trust in the fulness of God’s love. We may have a disconnect between humankinds understanding of God throughout the ages, yet, God has always been viewed as steadfast in commitment and to show compassion, mercy and love of and for those that follow in the teachings, and the guidance set forth. And yes, history tells us that God found it necessary to come to us through Christ to reset our misunderstandings of the Holy straight.
Let us consider who – are ‘our’ current enemies. Surely, at the top of the list is this Covid-19 virus. It has humbled us as a people, throughout the world, reminding us that we are not in charge! Yet, with due diligence, we find ourselves in battle with this virus, a pandemic plaque that has taken a great many lives and set the economies of our great nation and the world in a turmoil seemingly spiraling downward! As mortal humans we still are compelled to fight our way through all this! The question is… are we ready to trust God’s guidance as we work our way forward? Last week we talked about our core values and how we make our priorities. Today, we are talking about understand God’s place in our lives; our lives that are being lived out in this time, here in the Twenty-First Century. Let us stick to our core values, our understanding of a Loving, Compassionate God, who is merciful and forgiving and understands our humanness!
J. Clinton McCann, a well-respected theologian, is quoted as saying: “When God shows up, everything changes.” His statement is in line with what our ancient Psalmist was saying, and what a great many well-meaning and devoted Christians are saying today. When we invite God, the God of our oftentimes misunderstanding, into our lives; all we need to do, is put our faith and trust in this our God. Great leaders in modern history have often sought out the input of religious leaders, as they have had to make difficult choices and decisions, in their roles as world leaders of great nations such as our own. Moral imperatives, moral laws, and ethical choices, alongside decisions for the ‘greater-good’ have weighed heavy for a great many whom have been placed in roles of leadership. The Psalmist was dealing with a full understanding of the implications that God is there with us in the battles between right verses wrong, good versus evil. In our all too real lives, we know from history that the choices leaders make are often not easy and seldom please everyone involved!
The changes to our lives, especially most recently, have caused us to reconsider how we choose most everything we do. What is most important and what is not. As God is most assuredly amid all that, that which is going on. Therefore, let us be grateful for all those who do consult with others, especially leaders of faithful, ‘God’ ‘centered’ religious leaders, as difficult choices are made. In the midst of all that which the people of old endured and all this which tens of thousands are undergoing now, the Psalmist proclaims for all to hear: “Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift-up a song to him who rides upon the clouds – his name is the Lord – be exultant, be excited before him.” /Psalm 68:4/ We are being urged to continue trusting in God, in all things, in all times! Easy to speak of, yet, still very hard to do! In current time folks are telling me of their plight, some out of work without any unemployment benefits. Others, suffering from this illness which surround them, this virus. Still others from all the other illnesses that plague humankind. Cancer has not subsided during our times of quarantine and social distancing. Alcoholism and drug addiction are running havoc throughout our neighborhoods. Domestic abuse and violence are on the rise. Emotional conflict is common at every level of our society. We can assume much of this is the same in other nations throughout the world. Still the Psalmist speaks to us all: “Sing to God, sing praises to God!” /Psalm 68:4a/
Let us pause for a moment, (se’la) Selah. Let us allow our spirits to soar as we give thanks to God, (se’la) Selah. This is a good time to reflect on all the love and kindness that we see, everyday… (se’la) Selah! We must sing out with a loud voice, exalting the name of the God of past generations, the God of Moses, and the God of our ancestors, (se’la) Selah! As one, we need to unite, coming together as a people, setting aside our differences and finding new ways, new solutions to ancient and old problems; problems which our God has strived to correct within our broken relationships throughout the world, (se’la) Selah! Together, we sing, shouting for joy as we allow our different expressions and understanding of who God truly is as we unite under a common understanding that humankind needs the ‘guidance’ and the ‘discipline’ of a God who understands the ‘Greater Good’ for all of humankind! (se’la) Selah!