This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Psalms 16:1-11
Sermon submitted by Rev. Dirk Velthuizen, Emeritus, Brampton ON.
Perhaps you remember the time when people talked about foxhole prayers. A foxhole prayer is a war-time prayer supposedly prayed by a lone soldier who finds himself right in the middle of the violence and devastation of war. He hides in a hole dug into the ground and wonders how he ever will escape the carnage around him. There seems to be no hope left since every potential means to rescue himself is exhausted! Then, after all possible options are gone he reaches, as it were, to the last straw: a prayer to God. A foxhole prayer is a prayer offered as the last straw of hope after all other possible options for deliverance are gone.
David, the author of Psalm 16 also is in deep trouble. The Psalm does not give us the details of his troubles. However, David, just like everyone else who has lived long enough, knows how violent and threatening this world really can be.
For instance, King Saul, who regarded David a serious threat to his authority, persecuted David. That was before David himself ruled over Israel. And then, again, during the time he himself ruled over Israel, many dangerous situations threatened him. Once, for instance, his own son Absalom was after his life. And there are no reasons to believe that these were the only situations of deadly threat David found himself in, after all, David had to fight many wars.
Today the world has not changed a bit. We read of suicide terrorist killings, uprisings against ruthless regimes are cruelly crushed, people finding themselves homeless in an economic system where many become richer and reap great benefits from it. Lately, we see the cost of food rising out of reach for many poor in the third world while here in the West the trend is to use grains for bio-fuels to fill the fuel tanks of our cars. Will God hear the cries of the hungry?
To be sure, this world is a violent place. In fact, nothing in this world is sure.
In Psalm 16 David cries out for shelter and protection in the midst of his troubles and dangers. He prays, “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge!” No doubt, these words express great desperation. David seems to be at the end of his rope! Where would David get his protection? Did he also run out of options that could have helped him?
Are all other available sources for help depleted and does David now reach for God as the last straw because there is nothing left at all? In other words, is this also a kind of foxhole prayer because he ran out of all other possible resources for help, just like for so many people?
Not really! David clearly indicates that he could have turned to other gods. There definitely were many fake gods from which he could choose. Other people may sacrifice to them and ask for their help, but David says he certainly will not! He would not even think of taking their names on his lips. Actually, David says that those who call on so-called gods fool themselves because their troubles increase. And as their troubles increase so does their dependency on those false gods. Actually, those so-called gods do not help. Instead they only string their petitioners along leading them into slavery. That is the nature of this violent world.
That really is no surprise since these so-called gods are part and parcel of this imperfect and violent world. They participate in this broken structure of society. And because they have their origin in this distorted world, they simply are unable to bring any lasting security and neither would they want to.
As an illustration, we know that a broken engine cannot fix itself, no matter how well it is engineered. It needs the engineer who built it. In the same way, only God the creator who made this world can restore our lives and the structure of this world.
What about us, North American Christians who live in the twenty first century? To begin, our society in which we live finds its fulfillment and happiness in two things: consumption and entertainment. Furthermore, having said that, today’s society also assumes that our economic and political authorities must protect these sources of happiness as a holy trust.
Then, finally, even the media likes to assure us that these goals bring fulfillment and joy. They show pictures with people smiling as if they have arrived, as if they have no problem in the world. Yet we all know that these pictures are only cruel misrepresentations. To top it off, they also prod us Christians to conform to such a commitment. Could it be that we are more often tempted than we dare to admit?
So, what about us, North American Christians? We do have a different life purpose, don’t we?! There is no one but God the Builder of this world who gives us purpose for life. Only he is able to fix what is broken. As the designer, only he knows creation’s design.
Instead of becoming enslaved to false securities, the author of Psalm 16 turns to the true God. David says in verse 5 that the Lord is his divinely appointed share in life as well as his cup. In other words, the Lord is David’s fortune and his destiny. He emphasizes this amazing fact by adding, “And my lot.” The Lord himself is his inheritance—the God of creation. He only is able to restore a person to his original position in his creation. For the God of creation made him, just as he made you and me and all of us.
The exciting beauty of all of this is that this God is always with us. In Psalm 14:2 and 53:2 we read: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand.” And Hezekiah in Isaiah 37:17 prays, “Open your eyes Lord and see...” Does this mean that God is constantly spying on people’s every move they make? Certainly not! Instead—and this is great comfort for us his people—God continues to watch graciously over his creatures he still loves. After all God made us in his image. God’s nature is that he values us, loves us and wants to care for us. As Jesus said we are of much greater value than the beautiful lilies and the birds in the air.
In fact, God not only watches over us, he is always present with us. Although we do not see it with our eyes, the Lord himself claims that his presence fills his creation. Jeremiah 23:23-24 says, “‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord”. Psalm 139:7 clearly affirms that no one can ever escape from God’s presence when it says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” God’s maintaining power is wherever we see his creation. And is there anywhere where you are not confronted with God’s creation? God’s presence is clearly spoken of in Amos 9:2-4:
Am 9:2 Though they dig down to the depths of the grave,
from there my hand will take them.
Though they climb up to the heavens,
from there I will bring them down.
Am 9:3 Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
there I will hunt them down and seize them.
Though they hide from me at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the serpent to bite them.
Am 9:4 Though they are driven into exile by their enemies,
there I will command the sword to slay them.
I will fix my eyes upon them….”
God is always in and with his creatures. That is the God who David calls on. That is the same God we all may call on. He is as close as the air we breathe.
But why do we pray if we cannot even escape God’s closeness in everything around us? To mention just one reason, we are inclined each to do our own thing, until things go wrong of course. It is our nature to claim our independence from God. It is exactly that lust for independence that is our undoing. So we need to continue to pray since God has made us so that as his creatures we always depend only on him for his gracious care.
David in verse 5 says, “Lord, you are my allotted portion and my cup.” In other words, “the Lord is his divinely appointed share in life as well as his cup,” which means that the Lord is also David’s destiny. And since God is his destiny, he is confident for the future. He calls this inheritance delightful in verse 6. The reason that he calls this inheritance so delightful, so great, is because the author indicates that God’s providing presence will carry him through, even through the valley of death. He firmly believes this because, after all, the Lord is his inheritance which has been presented to him by God himself. In fact, he says,“My body will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave.” He trusts that even in the grave God’s gracious caring power continues to uphold him, even though he does not know how.
Now, we know that no person is perfect. We know that David was far from perfect. But in his imperfection David relied on God’s mercy and direction time and again. God graciously led him back on track. The Lord needs to bring us back, repeatedly affirming that without his constant care and presence there is no life.
Jesus, however, is the only man who kept constant contact with God his Father. And according to Hebrews 5:7-8 Jesus learned obedience, but differently from us. He learned obedience in very close relation to his father. Jesus never wandered off .
Therefore, both Peter in Acts 2:27 as well as Paul in Acts 13:35 confirm the fulfillment of God’s faithful care for his people in that Jesus rose from the grave. In David’s day, David did not know how God would pull it off, but he knew that he would fulfill David’s expectations: that also David’s body will rise again. Despite the fact that his body would decay, he nevertheless trusted that somehow the Lord will do what he has promised.
Today we know a little more because of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, but actually, it is not much more than what David knew. We don’t know either how God will pull this resurrection off. But since he fills this whole creation with his life-giving presence, we don’t doubt he will, just as he did with Jesus.
Therefore, we do not pray to God only in times of great need, as if God is the last straw when everything else fails. Instead we may daily walk with God in his abiding presence, whether we feel his presence or not, in good times as well as in not so good times—just as he walks with us through all our circumstances. Yes, he is present with his loving care. Read the Scripture about it and trust in his care.
Order of Worship
Call to Worship: Psalm 113
Silent prayer concluded with PH # 5:1, 5
The Lord’s Greeting
Hymn of Praise: PH # 280 Blessed Jesus, at Your Word
Prayer of Confession:
Our Heavenly Father, we bow our heads before you and we confess that our behavior has not always reflected that we belong to you. We fail to confess the hope you give. We humbly ask your forgiveness as well as for your renewing Spirit. Confirm us again in the hope of your son Jesus Christ in whose name we pray, Amen.
Hymn of Confession: PH # 130 Out of the Depths I Cry, Lord
God’s Will for our Lives: Leviticus 19:1-18, 1 Peter 4:7-11
Hymn of Response: PH # 286 Lord of Creation, to You be All Praise
God Speaks to Us in His Word
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: Psalm 16
Sermon: “Confidence in God’s Abiding Presence”
Our Response in Faith
Hymn of Response: PH # 463 O Love of God, How Strong and True
Our Offering to the Lord
Song of Dedication: PH # 541 Christ Shall Have Dominion
God Sends Us Out into the World
Closing Hymn: PH # 568 Love Divine, All Loves Excelling