Summit Presbyterian Church
September 25, 2016
Lamentations 3:19-26; Psalm 91
Living in the Shelter of God
As we get ready to watch the debate between Clinton and Trump tomorrow night, many of us will be looking to the “Truth-O-Meter” of the Politifact website, a project of the Tampa Bay Times. You may have heard of it. The folks at Politifact research statements made by candidates and rate them: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and Pants on Fire: as in Liar, Liar. Now, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of their ratings, but they’ve been busy lately. Lots to check out. And I’m glad they’re busy. Because if they weren’t, they might be tempted to start rating some older campaign promises. Claims made by people long gone that are now in ancient manuscripts. Like our psalm. For as I was reflecting on it this week, I couldn’t help but wonder: what rating would Politifact give Psalm 91?
It claims that God offers protection to the faithful. That God will deliver them — us — from the snare of the fowler and the deadly pestilence. That under God’s wings we’ll find refuge; that we needn't fear destruction, or terror, at noonday or night. That if we take refuge in God, no evil shall befall us. According to the psalmist, Gods says for those who love me I will deliver. I will protect, answer, rescue, honor and be with them in trouble. I will satisfy them with long life, and show them my salvation.
These are big promises, and it wouldn’t take long for Politifact to find the many times that God didn’t keep them — or at least didn’t seem to keep them. But we don’t need the Truth-O-Meter. We all know faithful, loving people who have been felled by deadly pestilence, by fatal illness, long before their time: cancer, AIDS, a tragic accident, mental illness. We all know people — or we may be people — who love God but who haven’t been rescued from trouble. Whether that trouble is crime, homelessness, death of a parent at a young age, bankruptcy, addiction, violence. And if we don’t have enough examples from our own lives, we only have to look at the past week. Terrence Crutcher sang in his church choir every Sunday, but that didn’t protect him from the snare of the fowler. God didn’t keep Police Sargent Sylvia Young from being shot in West Philly last week, or Sarah Salih from begin killed. Keith Lamont Scott. God didn’t satisfy with long life the five people who killed in Seattle on Friday. And although I’m lifting up the victims of shootings, I’d like to lodge a complaint against God on behalf of the shooters as well. Police must be held accountable for their actions, policing has to change . . . but officers are also the point people for a system, for a culture, that teaches so many falsehoods about so many people, but especially black people. The police are point guard in a society that stokes fear of the other, that idolizes guns and insists that white people have the right to be armed to the teeth. A culture where children without families are at the mercy of an underfunded and often chaotic system, and where young people in prison can be thrown into solitary. Those who kill need to be brought to justice, but there are always many fingers on any given trigger; where are God’s wings for all her troubled children? Now, we can defend Psalm 91 by pointing out that it promises protection for those who love God, and not everyone does. But just think about the carnage of the last century, and all that is happening today to the young and innocent, including faithful Christians. Looking at the facts, at best the truth-o-meter could only rate Psalm 91 as “half true.”
And yet. And yet. At our retreat last weekend, the first question we dove into was, “Why are you a Christian?” Or — since this is Summit, with our wide range of theological views — “Why are you a person of faith?” It was a wonderful conversation, with people speaking from the heart, and with many different experiences to share. Some of us were nurtured in the faith since childhood and never lost it; others are latecomers, or struggling, and we’re all on some kind of journey. But I was struck by how often people talked about the help they received from God. Help from God when they were in trouble — all kinds of trouble. One person said, “I’m a person of faith because I can’t imagine getting through life without the help of God.” That help may have come as answered prayer; through dramatic and unexpected healing; through the experience of grace at a loved one’s deathbed, through the kindness of a stranger or the love of a parent; in the God-given power to overcome an addiction. People talked about the comfort and strength that comes from simply being in the presence of God. In worship, in prayer, in the dark watches of the night and the first light of the morning. It may be that Psalm 91 is only “half true,” but that half truth makes all the difference. The difference between life and death, hope and despair, a terrible loneliness or love and connection. The psalmist knew that difference. He testifies to it.
But this is another half to the half truth, a hard half. We often have to wait on God. God does protect, deliver, answer, rescue and honor all who love God (and, perhaps, even those who don’t believe in her). But not always on our time, or even in our lifetimes. We must wait. For God has given human beings freedom and created a world with limits and boundaries. So we all see trouble, know suffering and encounter evil. We all have pain that can’t be fixed. Jesus was no exception. As he hung on the cross, tortured, thirsty, near death, people called him to come down. If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross they said! Just like the devil tempted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, quoting this psalm (verse 12j), daring him to jump off the parapet of the temple, to show that God would not let him dash his foot against a stone. But Jesus waited. Like us, he took the protection and deliverance of God on faith. But he rose from the grave to show us God’s salvation. He rose from the dead to show us that God’s promises are trustworthy, even if they contradict the facts as we see them.
So let us call Christ to mind, and have hope. Let us call Christ to mind, and take courage. Living in the shelter of the Lord, and putting our trust in God as we face the pain and struggles in our life. And as we do the hard and sometimes frightening work of testifying to God’s love and justice. As we say, “Black Lives Matter,” because all lives matter; as we call folks to lay down their arms in the nation of gun-lust; as we speak up for our children and grandchildren, and those who are poor, who will suffer so much climate change. As we face down terror and seek peace. Such discipleship isn’t easy. It’s not comfortable, or even always safe. But we can trust that God is with us; that God does protect and deliver her beloved children. In this world, and in the Kingdom of God that is coming.
I’d like to end by reading, again our first Lesson, Lamentation 3: 19-26