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The Last Word

January 21, 2018

THE LAST WORD

New Millennium Church/Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

January 21, 2018 (Third Sunday after Epiphany)

 

Psalm 62


To the leader: according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.
1 For God alone my soul waits in silence;
   from him comes my salvation. 
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
   my fortress; I shall never be shaken. 


3 How long will you assail a person,
   will you batter your victim, all of you,
   as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence? 
4 Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence.
   They take pleasure in falsehood;
they bless with their mouths,
   but inwardly they curse.
          Selah 


5 For God alone my soul waits in silence,
   for my hope is from him. 
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
   my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honour;
   my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. 


8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
   pour out your heart before him;
   God is a refuge for us.
          Selah 


9 Those of low estate are but a breath,
   those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
   they are together lighter than a breath. 
10 Put no confidence in extortion,
   and set no vain hopes on robbery;
   if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. 


11 Once God has spoken;
   twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God, 
12   and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
   according to their work.

The title of this sermon is not inspired by the cable television news program hosted by Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC.  It is taken from an idiom – a figure of speech – we use to refer to the most modern or advanced version of something, e.g., digital is the last word in communications media (as opposed to analog).  The “last word” is the most modern or advanced design, product, or innovation.

 

Psalm 62 is a meditation about trust.  In my email message previewing worship for today I mentioned some issues related to trust.  How can we remain hopeful in the face of life's conflicts and controversies?  What are our issues?  What does trusting God look like?  How does the trusting soul behave?  What are the risks and realities one must accept in trusting God?  Why do we trust God?   These issues are pondered in this brief meditation of testimony, exhortation, and thanksgiving.  

 

The theme of Psalm 62 appears in the first two verses.  For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.  That theme is repeated for emphasis, verbatim, in verses 5 and 6.  Then the Psalmist expounds on it at verse 7 in these words:  On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

 

We do not get the full intensity and emphasis of that testimony from the English word alone.  The Hebrew word `ak carries more punch, as it is means only.  So think of the theme this way:  For God only my soul waits, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation; I shall never be shaken…On God only rests my deliverance and my honour; my mighty rock, my refuge is only in God.  

 

That’s a testimony.   The Psalmist affirms a personal conviction using personal pronouns (“my soul,” “my hope,” “my rock,” “my salvation,” my fortress,” “I shall never be shaken”).

Testimony always responds to some question or inquiry.  It is given to address a matter about which there may be some dispute or controversy.   The Psalmist uses figurative language to answer unspoken questions about the what, who, how, and why of his hope.  

 

The testimony is not given “out of the blue” as the saying goes.  At verses 3 and 4, we can sense that the Psalmist is the target of attacks, criticism, and controversy.  How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?  Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence.  They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.  Something has been going on in the life of this person.  Life has turned threatening and violent.  The Psalmist speaks of himself as a victim under attack from forces determined to defeat and dishonor him.  His attackers are determined and devious (They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.)

 

Those are words from someone who knows what it means to be oppressed, brutalized, falsely accused, and betrayed.  They bring to mind the song Smiling Faces, written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield for Motown, which was originally recorded by the Temptations but became best known when it was covered by The Undisputed Truth in 1971.  Some of us will recall the line “smiling faces sometimes tell lies and pretend to be your friends, smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within.” 

 

The Psalmist testifies that he waits (as in trusts, hopes, depends, looks) to God, only, in silence, and with confident hope.  He alone [only] is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  This person testifies that only God is trustworthy.  Only God does not fail.  Only God can ultimately provide protection.  Only God ultimately delivers.  Only God can be trusted with our sense of honor, dignity, and worth.  That is the foundation on which the Psalmist has built his life.  

 

Then the Psalmist moves from testimony to exhortation at verse 8.  Trust in him [only] at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.  This testimony can be shared.  This confident hope can be known by others.  This person realizes that conflicts, controversies, challenges, and betrayals meet all of us.  

 

And the Psalmist names and rules out the usual places we tend to look during times of conflict, controversy, and betrayal.  Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.  All humans beings, regardless or rank or status, are no match for God.  The same is true for wealth, fame, power, and material comforts.  Put no confidence in extortion [oppression], and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.  

 

This is a timeless and timely word.  It is timeless because history shows it is true.  The seasons of life and the situations and records of human events teach that it is unwise to rest our trust on people, whether they are powerful or not.  It is unwise to rest our lives on notions of power and wealth, on material possessions, or on rulers.  History has proven time and again that empires rise and fall.  Rulers change. We fail ourselves and others, even as others fail themselves and us. 

 

In other words, the Psalmist cautions us to not place our trust in unworthy forces.  Dave Bland, who teaches homiletics (preaching) at Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tennessee, has a helpful way to understand what the Psalmist says to us.  Bland writes:

 

The movie The Matrix provides a helpful analogy for getting a better handle on the real versus the unreal.  In the film, reality was a lie.  A computer-driven conspiracy was created to deceive humans into trusting their sensory perceptions, while concealing the truth from them.  The psalm teaches that what we perceive to be real and therefore worthy of our trust is not as certain as the unseen truth.  God alone is real, dependable, and trustworthy.  It is futile to trust in human strength.  Do not depend on humanity; humanity is only breath. 

 

I would only slightly disagree.  According to the Psalmist, all human beings have no weight.  Allen McSween (Pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church, Greenville, South Carolina) offers the following commentary:

 

Using the image of balance scales with two pans suspended from a crossbar, the psalmist insists that all human beings are weighed, judged, by God – rich and poor, powerful and powerless alike.  The “heavyweights” of the world – the movers and shakers, the rich and famous – have no weight, no gravitas.  Their self-importance is a delusion.  Their end of the balance scales goes up instead of down.  But the same is true for the weak and vulnerable, the poor and defenseless, the victims of injustice.  They also have no weight, no substance.  Neither rich nor poor, neither powerful nor powerless, are able to secure their own lives.  Both are “lighter than a breath”(v. 9).

 

So the psalmist turns to the community of faith around him and exhorts, “Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (v.10).  One can hear echoes of Ecclesiastes … and Jesus.  Nothing we have and hold, nothing we gain legally or illegally, no “securities” in the portfolio of our lives, can offer the ultimate security that comes only from the God of powerful, loyal love.  The rich cannot secure their lives by the things they amass.   The poor cannot secure their lives by getting what the rich and powerful have.  Both are equally vulnerable.  Both are equally fleeting.  “Take care!” says Jesus.  “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions…. Strive for [God’s] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke `1:15, 31).

 

Earlier I said that this Psalm declares a truth that is timeless and timely, and I mentioned that human history has proven its timeless truthfulness.  Current events show it to be true in a timely way as well.  

 

The US government is officially shut down, today, the second day of the second year of Donald Trump’s presidency.  Whenever you hear anyone talk about the greatness of Donald Trump or any other politician, ruler, or set of rulers, remember Psalm 62.  Remember the Matrix.  Remember what the Psalmist said about all humans being “together lighter than a breath.”  

 

When we accept and apply the “God only” perspective of the Psalmist, we will stop betting our hopes on health, wealth, power, fame, and human relationships.  We will wear life loosely.  We will travel through life as beings who cannot be captured and enslaved by oppressive persons and powers, but who are free because our ultimate worth, dignity, and hope rests with God only, God alone, and God always.  This is what the Psalmist declares.  Once God has spoken; twice I have heard this:  that power belongs to God [only], and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord [only] (vss. 11-12).  

 

When this truth takes deep and strong root in us, we can live with prophetic hope through any conflict, any controversy, and any challenge.  When this truth takes deep and strong root in us, we can discern, as Jesus did, that human authorities may oppress us, but they do not determine our destiny.  

 

With the truth that is foundation for prophetic hope, we will, then, live as people who are not afraid.  With prophetic hope, we will live, then, as people who dare to obey God’s call to inclusive love and liberating justice.  With prophetic hope, we will not be afraid, come what may, to defy oppressive rules, rulers, and regimes.  

 

With the prophetic hope built on this last word, we will rise up, time and again, to resist hate and will reject lies built on hypocrisy, deceit, and fear.  With prophetic hope, we will love as God loves because our lives and hope rest with God only, not with notions of human endeavor and empire.  

 

With prophetic hope, we will do justice despite opposition, despite controversy, and despite accusations.  We will do justice and love mercy because our lives rest on God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s peace, God’s justice, and God’s strength.  

 

Hopeful people, instead, know the last word is not Donald Trump.  The last word is not the United States.  The last word is not a political party or agenda.  The last word is not the New York Stock Exchange.  The last word is not the Pentagon, the White House, Congress, or any other set of rulers.  And hopeful people know the last word is not failure, injustice, despair, disease, defeat, death, or empire.  

 

Instead, hopeful people like the Psalmist – in every age and place – affirm the same truth in times of conflict, controversy, threat, and anxiety.  

 

Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations … from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God [only, alone] (Ps. 90:1-2).

 

I will lift up my eyes to the hills… My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth (Ps. 121:I-2).

 

Father, I stretch my hands to Thee, no other help I know.

 

Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46).

 

My soul is anchored in the Lord.

 

Jesus is a Rock in a weary land.

 

On Christ the solid Rock I stand.

 

Rock of ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee.

 

O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.  Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.  Under the shadow of thy throne, thy saints have dwelt secure.  Sufficient in thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.  O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be Thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.  

 

All my help comes from the LORD!  

 

I will trust in the LORD!  

 

This is the word that gives light in every dark and dreadful situation.  This is the word that comforts every challenged soul.  This is the word that assures us of deliverance.  Our help and hope rest in the unstoppable power and steadfast love of God.  God only!  God alone!  

 

God because God is God!  God because we belong to God!  God because God is love!  God because neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, nor angels, nor demons, nor forces known or unknown, seen or unseen, created or uncreated, high or low, nothing, ever, anywhere, can separate us from the steadfast love of God!  

 

Hallelujah!  Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018