Sunday 12th December, Third Sunday of Advent,
By Revd Daniel Odhiambo
You may notice that we have two sermons for December 12th! What happened was our chaplain Revd Grant, was tested positive for Covid-19. It meant he could only prepare the Sunday Online Worship at his home – and so he shared a message from 1 Thessalonians.
However, Revd Daniel was happy to come and cover the All Saints physical, in person service, and he preached on Psalm 62 (as Grant asked, as we were having a brief series on the Psalms in Lent). This is his sermon. We only have a text version, but no audio.
Where is your ultimate confidence? That is the question this Psalm assigned for today confronts us with. Where are you safe? That word salvation speaks of safety
You see, this world is an unstable, stressful and insecure place; and we naturally long for safety and certainty
A man called Maslow is famously known for his hierarchy of needs pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid is what he calls the physiological needs: food, water, clothing etc.
But after that level, he says the second most basic thing that we all need is safety. Job security, savings and investment for a rainy day, health insurance (and I hear the Dutch have a million other insurance policies)
We long for security. We realise that this world we live in is unpredictable
And it is this need that our Psalm speaks to. Someone who used to teach me many years ago describes this Psalm as a poem to help you keep your poise. It’s a Psalm to calm your nerves, as it were.
Did you hear that phrase in v.2 I shall not be greatly shaken, and at end of v.6 I shall not be shaken.
The author is David, the king of Israel, and we really don’t know what might have been in happening in his life when he wrote this Psalm, but it is not difficult to guess.
You see, David might have been a king but he understood the unpredictability of this world quite well. See v.3-4
How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
4 Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.
He may be a king, but he sees himself as a falling building, or falling fence. Just a push, and he will be toppled over
His political position is under threat, as his enemies want to topple him.
And if we look at David’s life there are indeed candidates for this situation, key among them being an incident when his own son, Absalom, impatient to become King, attempted a coup. And David had to flee into hiding for his life.
And this Psalm is probably written as the king is out of the palace, hiding in the bushes and the rocks from his own son, who he had been very kind to.
Think of what might have been going on in his mind. His career, his legacy and even his own life was on the line.
Then this is what he says:
v.1 Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
2 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
The rough translation of that first line is sth like: only to God is my soul silence.
Doesn’t sound very nice in English so our translators have done a good job rendering it as they have, but you get the sense. Only in God is there silence in my soul
We all have that experience when we are going through some rough patch- and there are all sorts of noise in our souls. Various voices: worry, anxiety, guilt, panic, insomnia. The restlessness.
And David says, the only place he finds rest for his troubled soul is a person called God.
Augustine of Hippo is known for that prayer: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.
The imagery of Rock
The dominant image in this Psalm is that image of rock. It’s there in v.2: truly he, or only he is my rock and my salvation; in v.6, truly he is my rock and my salvation; v.7 My salvation and my honour depend on God, he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Now it could just be that where David is, there are many rocks, and these rocks inspired him to the reality that God alone is the most sure rock.
Legend has it that Augustus Toplady who wrote that famous song, Rock of Ages, was in a similar situation. While travelling in Burrington Combe, in North Somerset, he was caught up in a fierce storm and sought shelter in a small gap in the gorge where he wrote the song: rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.
So that’s possible. David is hiding in the rocks, and those inspire him.
But I think David as a man of Scripture could also have had something more specific in mind. You see, the language of God as rock was not foreign in the ancient near East. Not only Israel, but even the neighbouring religions would have reffered to their gods as rock. There is an example of in Deut. 32:31
But for Israel, and for David, this iamge might have reminded them of two things.
The first is in Exodus 17, You know the story: the Israelites are out Egypt and they are in the desert. Unsurprisingly, there is no water and they are thirsty; so they cry to God and God gives them water from a rock.
So the rock is a place of divine provision.
But David could also have Exodus 33, a few chapters later, in mind. Moses is speaking with God and he wants assurance from God. He wants to be certain, and so he tells God- how are we going to be different from all the other people of your presence doesn’t go with us. And when God assures him, he asks to see God’s glory.
But that’s dangerous. No one sees God’s face and lives, and so If Moses is to see God’s face- he’s going to die.
And so God comes up with a plan: 21 There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
The rock is a place of protection from death
And so it’s a loaded image: God is my provider and God is my protector. My safety is in God alone
And so he tells us:
v.8 Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
Friends, where is your confidence? Where is your trust?
You see, the pagan neighbours of Isarel might have refereed to their gods as rock, but they would never have referred to them in the personal terms David refers to God. My rock, my salvation, my fortress.
For David, God is not remote and disinterested. He is close, and so he says- trust him, as a child trusts his father. Pour out your heart to him, in prayer, as you would to a close friend
It is only in God that we have true certainty.
And yet we don’t always do that.
The Psalm alludes to alternatives we might be tempted to trust
Alternative Sources of Security
1.You probably noticed how v.3&4 have such a contemporary sense to them. Because how people ensure they are safe in our world is to go up the social ladder. And they have to go up the ladder whatever the cost, which usually involves pulling others down
A young accountant employed in firm and being told, mate, here you either go up or go out.
Promotion at any cost. Because power can give us security.
2.2ndly, People/connections can also give us false security. It is said your network determines your net worth, and so you go out of your way to build your social network. If only I know the right people…
v.9 Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Remember this is a king speaking. And he says, don’t take the royals too seriously. They are a lie. In fact, though they might look really heavy, if you put them on a scale- they weigh zero.
You see it is not a god father you need, only God the father is a true security.
3.3rdly money can also be deceptive. If only I have enough money.
Last week I had a conversation with someone about the state of corruption in my country, then he said. It might not be the same thing here, but having money can get you a long way
And so lots of people have money as their security.
v.10 Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.
I don’t know about you, but as a young person just starting out, I want to write that last line somewhere in the intro page of my bank app:
Though your bank balance increase, do not set your heart on it. Very sobering!
You see, you don’t even need have to have a lot of money, to be absorbed by it
It’s a false hope.
Story told of this self made multimillionaire who died, and of course the press was very interested in what happens to his money.
So they, in a press conference asked, how much money did he leave behind.
To which the son truthfully responded: All of it
Power, people, money. All a breath of air
Then he summarises the Psalm in v.11&12:
One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
12 and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”
God has spoken, and there are two things to be heard.
1. Actually, power belongs to God. You see, those who trust in God do not need to go up by all means. We don’t have to fight for positions. We don’t have to pull others down. To our God belongs all power. Not your boss, not the Prime minister. God
2. But instead of using that limitless power to bully people around, God’s power expresses itself in covenant love. With you Lord, is unfailing love.
We have a rock with limitless power, and yet unfailing love. And the news of Christmas is that this is not just wishful thinking. This is not just theory.
Christmas reminds us that in real verifiable history, This God broke into our world, into time and space.
Paul therefore says, this rock is Jesus in 1 Cor 4.
In Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, is a man who the winds listened to. A man who resurrected the dead. Talk of limitless power. And yet so loved that he gave himself in the arms of his enemies to die a brutal death that we might be saved
Limitless power. Unfathomable love
And this Sunday in advent we are reminded that he is coming back, to reward everyone according to what we have done, whether we trusted him or we trusted power, people and money.
And so we wait, and long for that day.