A sermon on Psalm 27 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 15 August 2021
There are some people who have no fear. They can drive a Formula One car around a hair pin bend at 160 km an hour. They can sit on the edge of a cliff and admire the view. They can speak their mind and not give one thought to the consequences. They can sweep cobwebs aside with their bare hands and just keep on walking.
I admire fearless people. I’m even a little bit jealous. The way they can just give something a go without hesitating, without trying to second guess themselves. Fearless people are even quite useful. They’re usually good at sport and fighting in wars. They can do the things that everyone else is too afraid to.
The only problem with fearless people is that they sometimes don’t live to reach 30. That’s why many of us are actually quite anxious. We hesitate and if in doubt we don’t even try. We don’t try to pick up a snake to see if it would be fun to swing it around by its tail. We don’t rush off to join the army and jump out of a perfectly working aeroplane. We run away. We survive. We get married and we have children who are sometimes just as anxious as we are.
I admire fearless people. But Psalm 27 is not about being fearless. It’s about finding courage. It begins in verse 1:
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?
These are not the kind of question that fearless people ask. These are the questions asked by people needing courage.
The psalm writer compares the Lord to light. Light that shines. Light by which we can see other things. We sleep in the dark. But we get up in the light. We move around. We do things. We read books. We cook food. We mow lawns. We play games. We work hard. Light before which darkness has no answer. Darkness can only run and hide until the light is gone again.
The Lord is my light. The light by which I know the truth. The light by which I see my way. The light because of which the darkness cannot harm me.
The Lord is my light and my salvation. He is my help. He is my guide when I am lost. He is my hope when all other hope is gone. He is my place of calm when the storms of life rage around me.
The Lord is the stronghold of my life. He is my strength when I am weak. He is my defence when I am under attack. He is my hiding place, my place of refuge, the strong point from which I will not easily be moved.
Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid? What can anyone say to me that will contradict God’s truth? What danger can anyone threaten me with that the Lord can’t protect me from it? What hold does anyone have over me? Can they take away my hope or my self-respect or my calling or my purpose or my eternal destiny? What possible hold can they have over me, if I have a hold on the Lord? Or better, if he has a hold on me. There is nothing that anyone could take from me that would be worth keeping compared to being held safe by the Lord.
It is not about being fearless. It is about finding courage in the knowledge that you have a Lord on your side who is stronger than your enemies. So,
When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear. Though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.
The psalms are full of this kind of military language. And for three very good reasons. Firstly, this psalm was by David, and David was a general of armies. Battle and war and fighting were part of his everyday experience. He was speaking about what he knew about. Secondly, war was a constant threat in Palestine in the time of the psalms. There were always border clashes with unfriendly neighbours and empires on every side vying for power. People didn’t need to fight in wars to understand the suffering they caused. And thirdly, because war represents one of our most deep seated fears. Of sudden and unpleasant death. Of not being in control of our future. Of a situation where every choice has deadly consequences. Those who haven’t been there don’t understand what war is like. Those who have don’t like to talk about it. So we are never quite sure what we would do if we were forced to act, if we had to risk our lives, because to do nothing, to stay where you are, to choose not to choose, was certain death.
The message then is that if the soldier can find courage in the Lord in the midst of battle, when his life is in danger, when others are out to kill him, when he must do because to do not is to die, then you can find courage too. When all you have to do is read that angry email, or report something illegal to the police, or stand up to the office bully, or choose to do what is right when everyone expects, even demands, that you do something wrong. If the Lord wants you to stand, nothing can make you fall. If the Lord wants you to succeed, nothing can make you fail. And if the Lord wills that you must pay the price of making your stand, if you must show the power of your principle so that you must hold fast to it whatever the cost and your enemies laugh at you and your friends desert you, then nothing can snatch you out of the hand of the Lord.
One thing, David says: One thing I ask of the Lord. This is what I seek. Not fame or fortune. Not power or influence. Not long life and happiness. One thing.
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
His one great desire is intimacy, fellowship, communion with his creator. To bask in the beauty of the Lord and to seek his will. In fact, to seek him and not just the benefits that he provides. What a privilege it is for us to know God as our Father in heaven through his Son Jesus Christ. He loved us and he searched us out. He brought us to himself. And by his Spirit he invites us, he calls to us, he beckons us to a life of worship that isn’t contained in a building, that isn’t harmed by restrictions on singing. He draw us into a communion that is more than once a month, but is rich and fulfilling, that is life in itself, so that like fish we live our lives swimming in a sea that is the presence of God.
It is sad that many people live as practical atheists. They wouldn’t say so. They would deny it if you told them. Because they acknowledge a higher power, a creator, a being who moves and controls the forces of the world. But they live day to day as if it didn’t make any difference. Like people who know that it is sunny but never go outside. Like people who believe in healthy food, and order take away every day. Like people who have heard of solutions, but can only focus on the problems. These practical atheists may even come to church. They may even make a special effort at Christmas. But they don’t know the true goal of Christmas, that God made his home among us to bring us true fellowship with him. Practical atheists believe in a God. But they are happy if he keeps to himself, and leaves them alone. They don’t want him. They don’t need him.
But the Lord is not just a God. A higher power that explains all of life’s mysteries. He is our God. He is God for us. God who is with us. God who is in front of us, preparing the way for us. God who is behind us, he’s got our back. God above us, he is our Lord, high and exalted. God beneath us, he is the rock, the foundation of our lives.
With the simple act of opening your Bibles and reading them each day you have at your fingertips, riches of wisdom for every part of your life. And what a privilege to open your heart to pray not just when you’re running late or feeling sick, but even when you don’t need anything but to remind yourself that you have nothing that is not the gift of God. What joy we rob ourselves of by living as practical atheists, denying the presence of God not by our lips but by the choices we make each day. Discover in the daily habit of personal Bible reading and prayer life like you may have never lived before in fellowship with God in Christ by his Spirit. A communion that isn’t served on a plate once a month and doesn’t come in a tiny cup, but which is true food for your souls, bread from heaven, and times of refreshing that will never leave you thirsty.
Hear my voice when I call, O Lord. Be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face.” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger. You have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Saviour. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, O Lord. Lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.
These are not the words of a fearless man. These are not the prayers of a person who experiences no anxiety. They do not express the thoughts of someone who just floats above the problems that mere mortals have to slog through. Because this psalm isn’t about being fearless. It is about finding courage in the face of rejection and persecution. It is the prayer of a man who has no one but God. And his greatest fear, the one thing he dreads, is that the Lord will forsake him too and leave him with no one. Alone and defenceless.
We see in the Lord Jesus a man who had no one but his Father. His family thought he was insane. The crowds thought he was a circus performer. The rulers saw him as a threat to their security. Even his closest followers ran when he needed them most. Alone he faced the brutality and cruelty of his enemies. All he had was his Father and his love for us.
Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.
Into your hands I commit my Spirit.
The cross represents the bravest thing any human being has ever done. And his Father raised him up. Lifted him up to the highest heaven. And gave him the seat of honour. This is the Lord who is our light and our salvation: the one who calls us to take up our cross and follow him. He is our strong hold. Whom shall we fear?
I don’t know about you, but Psalm 27 resonates with me because I am not a fearless man. From time to time I worry and feel anxious and have to find courage. And I love how Psalm 27 ends. David says, “Wait for the Lord.” This is his advice. He speaks as one who knows from experience that it is worth it. That the Lord is faithful. That it is better to have the Lord on his side than ten thousand against him. He speaks as one who has put his own words into practice and found that trusting the Lord is always the best policy. He says,
Be strong and take heart. And wait for the Lord.
In the midst of all of life’s storms we can hold on to the Lord knowing that he has hold of us.