Living In An Unjust World | 08.22.21 | Psalms Pt 6
This Sunday is a rare 5th Sunday at Grace.
An occasion on which it has been the tradition of our community
to take a second, special offering for one of our missions partners.
This additional offering, above and beyond our regular, monthly support,
will contribute to our shared effort in extending, both in word and deed,
the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.
This Sunday’s special offering will be given to our missionary partners,
Lee and Katie Humerian, as they boldly share Jesus
with the students and families in Lviv, Ukraine
through the ministry of Josiah Venture.
You can find out more about Josiah Venture and the specific focus
of Lee and Katie’s ministry via the links at the bottom of the screen.
Josiah Venture: https://www.josiahventure.com/about
Lee and Katie’s Ministry via JV:
Appropriately enough, our next selection from the Book of Psalms,
Psalm 67, has been called a missionary psalm.
For those of us who’ve grown up in the faith
or who have been a part of the Church for a long enough chunk of time, we can take the missional aspect of Christianity for granted.
While most believers know and can quote the Great Commission
– the final command the resurrected Jesus gives to his disciples before ascending to heaven, – what is the mission statement of Christianity…
…while most Christians know and can quote the Great Commission,
I wonder sometimes if we know, if we remember the WHY of our mission.
Perhaps our default answer is, “Because Jesus told us to”
– but that doesn’t really address the big picture.
Taking the job description for our mission at face value is all well and good
but we need to understand WHY we’ve been given this job,
this calling, in the first place.
As we’ll soon discover, Psalm 67 concisely and yet powerfully
answers this question for us.
This succinct, radiantly beautiful, tightly crafted prayer is
reflective of many other songs in this book that inform, that unpack
our understanding of WHY we have been given the great commission.
The short prayer based upon a big promise
reorients our perspective as we are reminded that
we do not worship some localized deity, the God of a region,
a people, or a country – America’s God.
We worship the God of all the earth,
the God who has a heart not just for us, for our nation, but for all nations.
Psalm 67 is one of a quartet of psalms labeled “songs”
– expressing praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.
If we read the linear notes, these songs,
dedicated to the Director of Music,
call for a string orchestra to accompany the song.
Now we know from the book of 2 Chronicles that
the use of musical instruments, was instituted by King David
at the direction of God.
Music was played in conjunction with
the sacrifices being made as part of the worship at the Temple.
As we turn our ears towards the particular song that makes up Psalm 67,
we discover that it is based on a triad – a major chord of three notes.
However, before we identify each of those notes, let us notice how
the very first verse of this psalm evokes another
well-established and familiar scripture – what is known as
Aaron’s blessing or benediction from Numbers, chapter 6.
In Numbers chapter 6, as the Lord establishes the priesthood of Israel, Aaron, the first high priest among the Israelites, is instructed
to give this benediction to the people,
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
– Numbers 6:24-26
One of the purposes of this benediction is to remind the people
that it is the Lord who blesses Israel and not the priests.
However, notice how the psalmist has rearranged Aaron’s benediction.
Aaron’s benediction began with, “The Lord bless you and keep you,”
but here Psalm 67 begins with,
“May God be gracious to us.” – Psalm 67:1
In this reworking of the Aaronic blessing, grace is highlighted first.
The first note of this chord that lays the foundation of this song is grace.
This is always the right note on which to begin
whenever we invoke the Lord’s presence through song or prayer.
because whenever we approach God, we do so thanks to grace.
Grace is the first note because the grace of God determines
every other note we can sing or pray.
But we cannot appreciate the sacredness and glory of grace
unless we understand, we remember – just how badly we need it.
We are each & together imperfect, flawed people living in a broken world.
The world is not the way its supposed to be
because we do not live together the way we were created to be.
From the beginning of time as we know it, humanity willfully chose
to reject our Creator’s intent and purposes for all life.
And eons of human history marked by life lived
in denial and rebellion underscore how such posture of living
– what is termed “sin” – has become unnaturally instinctive for us.
Sin is the first and ultimate global pandemic.
It is a savage and lingering disease that throws its darkness
across all all continents and islands so that there is not
a square inch on this earth, where humankind treads
on which sin has not left its impact and stain.
The devastating effect of this plague is to rupture
not only our relationship with God but our relationship with each other
– and even ourselves.
Sin erects a barrier of separation between us and God
– but it is not that our Creator pulls away from us –
as much as we isolate ourselves from God.
A vicious cycle results – the farther we are from God,
the more distant and at odds we find ourselves with each other,
the more divorced, the more of a stranger we become to our true self.
This universal contagion infects us all and is inevitably terminal.
Sin is a death sentence. There is no cure, there is no recovery on our own.
But the grace of God is greater than our sin.
The Hebrew word translated here as “gracious”
means to be considerate, to show favor.
Despite the reality of human sin,
our Creator remains favorably inclined toward us
– still committed and unrelenting in doing what is best for us
– helping us because we can’t help ourselves,
saving us even though we don’t deserve it
– even though we persist in claiming we’re fine
and just keep biting the hand that feeds us.
God comes down to us in the person of Jesus Christ
– revealing the fullness and perfection of who we were created to be,
willingly taking upon Himself the pain burden of all human sin – dying for us
– and then, conquering the death we fear
and empowering us with His Spirit so that in following Him
we can become the best version of ourselves
– as individuals and in community together.
In Jesus Christ, we witness the embodiment of the fullness of God’s grace.
In Jesus Christ, we come to realize graciousness is not something
that God puts on and takes off depending on the situation.
In Jesus Christ, God does not decide to show us grace.
God comes to us in Christ because God is gracious.
Grace is what God does because he is gracious.
Every action of God toward us involves his grace.
His creation, His providence, His conviction of our sin,
His gift of salvation, His empowering and equipping of us,
His promise and provision of a better tomorrow
– a full, abundant, and everlasting future – all of this is due to God’s grace.
This first note of grace is then met by the second note of blessing.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us… Psalm 67:1
Blessing naturally follows grace
for to experience the grace of God is to be blessed.
God’s grace is the basis of all blessing.
The blessing born of God’s grace
not only makes life possible but enjoyable.
The biblical notion of blessing is goodness, prosperity, fullness.
Our tendency is to first think of blessing
in terms of material gain or well-being.
But biblically, blessing is first and foremost a spiritual state of well-being and prosperity – deep, joy-filled contentment that comes out of
our identity and security in relationship to God.
It is knowing who we are – a child of God,
knowing we belong – we are part of the family of God,
knowing we are loved – God desires, pursues, and embraces us,
knowing we will be taken care of
– God provides and protects us,
this is the greatest blessing from which other blessings flow.
Those other blessings often take the form of
physical prosperity and material abundance;
but the fact that we are blessed is not contingent upon
or necessarily correlated to such things.
To be blessed is not about all the stuff we treasure
or the positive experiences we have;
to be blessed is the rootedness and assurance
of our relationship with God.
It is the blessing of both our identity and our security in Christ
– that does not change, that is not subject to the ebbs and flows
of our material lives; and thus cannot be shaken by poverty, grief, famine, persecution, war, or any other trial or tragedy we face in life.
This is the blessing the psalmist is appealing to in this song.
The certainty of this becomes evident as we listen to
the third and last note in the major chord of this song
– the note invoking the Lord’s presence – for God’s face to shine upon us.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us… Psalm 67:1
In 1979, archaeologists excavating a tomb near Jerusalem
discovered two small silver scrolls inscribed about 700 years before Christ.
These two small scrolls, representing
the oldest existing text of scripture, contain this particular phrase
and thus reflect the enduring power of this biblical metaphor.
This image conveys the Lord’s active and ongoing presence in our lives.
The picture of the Lord’s face continually shining upon us shows
that we do not worship a distant, aloof God who now and then
offers us a treat or a kindness provided He’s in a good mood
and so long as we use the right words or do the right thing.
We look to a Heavenly Father who seeks to be with us
– who is looking upon us for our good,
– who openly radiates the light of His grace in our world
and we have only to seek and bask in the warmth
and insight of His presence rather than to keep living
in the darkness of our ignorance and rebellion.
As a pastor, I am saddened by the number of people I encounter – both inside and outside the faith – who perceive our Creator as continually frowning on them – looking upon them with disappointment and disgust.
And while the Lord’s face bears
the pain, sorrow, and frustration of witnessing us
remain in our sin and choosing death rather than life,
that look on God’s countenance comes out of a place
of deep love and concern, an earnest desire for
the prodigal in all of us to come home and stay home with Him.
In this spirit, when we turn towards God,
we do not see a face of rebuke or anger of a cantankerous judge,
we see the smiling visage of a passionate parent,
the radiant face of our Heavenly Father
who runs to us and pulls us close to Him.
No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done or not done,
no matter how long it’s been or how far away you’ve gone,
you are God’s beloved child. We are all God’s beloved children.
God takes joy in us and seeks to be with and for us.
How different would our life together be
if we walked through each day perceiving and internalizing
the image of our Father grinning from ear to ear toward us.
If we held onto that picture of a smile lighting up God’s face
all out of His love for us, how encouraged we could be
to live each day, each moment out of His goodness.
Something that is important for us to understand is
with this major chord that lays the foundation of this psalm,
the psalmist is expressing less of a petition
– asking God to be gracious, to bless, and to shine His face upon us,
and more of a plea for the Lord to keep us centered in His grace,
existing out of His blessing,
and focused primarily on His radiance – on living for His glory.
Another little but significant detail in this song, this prayer
that we could easily overlook is the repeated emphasis on the word “us.”
There is not one mention of the word, of the concept of “me, myself, and I.”
As increasingly we, at least in the Western world,
cling to and propagate a private, individualistic faith
– what I believe, my personal relationship with Jesus,
my quiet time, my prayers, my bible study, my church, etc.
– psalms like this one remind us that ours is
a corporate, public faith and not a private, individualized one.
Study, prayer, worship, and service are to be done together
– within the community and not by ourselves, completely on our own.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us… Psalm 67:1
We look to a communal God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
– who creates us to live together in community.
The blueprint for human life is not a ME but a WE;
living not all by myself but living all together now.
It is not good for man – for anyone – to be alone.
When we fly solo
– without the mutual encouragement and accountability
of our togetherness as the Body of Christ,
inevitably everything becomes all about ME
as we craft God in our own image – whatever we want or think
– rather than living out of God’s image
– the Lord’s intent and purposes for all creation.
The presence and power of God are revealed
not when we live in isolation – going our own way –
but as we come together in the midst of our diversity,
wrestling together with the Lord and finally being united
in going God’s way.
Our tendency, however, to individualize our relationship with the Lord doesn’t just apply to persons;
it also can be something we actually promote and defend as a community.
In our country, America is often heralded as a Christian nation
but we often fail to recognize or at least mention that ours is not
the only country rooted in a relationship with Jesus.
If we doubt this, the next time you walk into a church – notice while the American flag is prominently displayed, the flags of other nations are nowhere to be found. Ask yourself what message this communicates to those of other nationalities when they enter our houses of worship.
But even within the Church, we continue to be divided into
individual communities rather than being the collective Body of Christ.
With all our denominational differences, various theological perspectives, and arguments about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ,
we are recognized more by our differences and disagreements than we are any shared unity in terms of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God.
And yet notice the thrust of Psalm 67.
While this song begins by focusing on
the Lord’s grace, blessing, and presence upon the people of Israel,
the psalmist has a much wider trajectory in mind.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations. -Psalm 67:1-2
This is a prayer that God would grace, bless,
and be present to Israel so the rest of the world
can experience God’s grace, blessing, and presence.
In other words, the psalmist is acknowledging
each Israelite and all of Israel are but a bit player in a much larger story
– a grand, global, cosmic narrative that extends well beyond
the borders of any one person or any one nation.
Contrary to how the Bible is often viewed,
the Old Testament was not for Israel alone
and then God had a change of heart
and decided to be a little more expansive, much more inclusive
in terms of who gets to be a part of the story of salvation.
When the Bible speaks of Israel as a chosen nation;
it is not in the sense of exclusive invitation
but rather in the sense of becoming a chosen pupil,
selected to come to the front of the class to show
the rest of the class how the problem of human sin is being solved.
When that student reflects the right answer,
everyone else learns and grows as a part of the solution.
When that student does not reflect the right answer,
everyone else is negatively impacted and stunted
– everyone keeps trying to solve the problem themselves.
Either way, the whole class is involved.
This short prayer – and other psalms like it – are rooted in a big promise – one that doesn’t begin with John 3:16 or the Great Commission
– but one that goes all way back to a promise
God gave to the Father of Israel, Abraham.
In Genesis chapter 12, God told Abraham,
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you
and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing;
and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
The global focus of Psalm 67 derives from this divine promise
– of the Lord’s purpose and intention all along to redeem all humanity.
May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy, – Psalm 67:3-4
The psalmist asks God to make His way, His power known
through Israel and yet beyond Israel
– to save and redeem all the nations of the world.
Psalm 67 is a song that not only looks back on a divine promise
but also prophetically points us forward to the fulfillment of that promise.
In the coming of God in Jesus Christ, this ancient promise of Israel
has been fulfilled more magnificently than
the psalmist ever could imagine or hope for.
For as the apostle Paul marvels the cross of Christ
obliterates all human distinctions and divisions.
While many lament that death is the great equalizer of humanity,
thanks to Jesus – the willing and perfect sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, there is a better way – something greater than death that unites us.
In Christ, we are united in the love we are offered,
the forgiveness we are given, and the life of Jesus
in which we can abide and follow
– a life that death itself was unable to hold.
And through the gift of Pentecost,
the grace, blessing, and the ongoing presence of God’s Spirit,
whereas once the nations were scattered
due to the mass infection of human sin,
they are at last and will, one day be, finally gathered together
in everlasting peace and harmony.
For the prayer of Psalm 67 is answered once and for all
in the book of Revelation.
In Revelation, chapter 5, the apostle John beholds a spectacular vision
of worship before the throne of God.
He hears the voices of heaven and earth unite
in one grand symphony of cosmic praise to Christ – the Lamb of God
who has taken away the sins of the world – who sits on the throne.
And what are they singing? They’re singing,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood, you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
And you have made them a kingdom of priests to our God;
they shall reign on earth.” – Revelation 5:9-10
The prayer of Psalm 67 asking God that His glory and praises
would extend to all peoples comes to fullness
at the end of the world as we know it.
Human history is not random or aimless.
This world is not going to hell in a handbasket.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples with equity
and guide the nations of the earth. -Psalm 67:4
Despite how things may appear yesterday, today, or tomorrow,
the entire created order is moving under the sovereign guidance of God
in the trajectory of complete healing and everlasting wholeness.
This is WHY we are called to Go and make disciples
– not just in our backyard but to the very ends of the earth.
The WHY of missions is more than
Jesus commanded or commissioned us to disciple and serve others.
Psalms like these make it crystal clear the WHY of missions is
our Father’s heart for drawing all people, tongues, and tribes – to Himself
– for all His children to come home and into His saving embrace.
To put this another way,
The WHY of missions is God doesn’t just remove
our self-centered heart of stone and give us a new heart.
The Lord gives us His heart
– His heart for the world, His love for all people, His burden for the nations.
It is not enough for us to affirm this intellectually or emotionally;
as with everything about the Gospel
– we need to live out of this conviction – out of this commission,
the call to serve the nations.
If we profess to understand and abide in the truth that God’s grace,
the Lord’s blessing, our Father’s presence in our lives has nothing whatsoever to do with our worthiness, goodness, or merit,
then we have no justification for limiting or binding
the grace, blessing, and presence of God
according to ethnic or national distinctions.
For Psalm 67 is not a self-centered prayer
but rather an other-centered prayer.
It is a recognition that as followers of this God we receive grace, we are blessed, we bask in the light of the Lord’s presence, but also a call of response – not to embrace all of this – all the Lord extends to us only for ourselves – our own pleasure or benefit – but as the means for God to offer these same gifts to the nations.
God is gracious towards us so that we would be gracious toward others.
We are blessed – assured and secured in our identity and destiny, resourced and empowered as we walk and grow by faith
– we are blessed to be a blessing to others
– to improve and enrich the lives of those who do not know the Lord.
The Lord gives us the light of His presence
so that we would let the radiance of His presence
shine through our words and deeds done in service to those in need.
Are we worshipping and calling upon
a localized, tribal deity – a god cast in the mold of civil religion – of wherever our national, political, or personal interests and desires lie
or are we seeking and glorifying
– representing and serving the God of all creation
– the God in whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female;
for all one in Christ Jesus”
– the Lord of Jethro, Ruth, Namaan, the citizens of Nineveh
– the Lord of all nations.
Perhaps all of this sounds great in theory
but alludes our imagination in actual practice
– especially during such polarized and divided times.
No doubt the world of the psalmist was no less fractured than ours.
As in our day, there was great human division and strife
within communities and among the nations as well.
And yet, despite such a bleak outlook,
the psalmist persisted in praying based upon God’s promise
– daring to call His own people to begin to change the world by putting aside their differences and instead unite both their attention and their voices in praise of the Lord.
Psalm 67 reminds us that the change and hope we seek
begins by embracing a much larger perspective than
the narrow and often self-focused lens through which we view our lives.
We need to perceive a God who is bigger than us,
than our community, than any one nation.
We cannot and must not pray, speak, or act
as if the God we worship is simply my God or our God.
When can and we must pray, speak and act in invoking
– worshipping and representing the God of all nations.
Instead of circling the wagons of people
who see the world and others just like us,
we need to direct our focus – our vision and imagination
– on the God who created this world, who continues to shape it,
who calls, pursues, and directs the nations towards the wonders of
His love, peace, compassion, hope, and justice.
Maybe if we kept our eyes on the God who comes to us in Christ
and if didn’t just pay lip service but actually acted out of our praise
for Jesus, we might find ourselves living in the Kingdom of our God
who draws the circles of our shared community
wider than we could ever imagine.
Is it possible that perhaps the beginning of the end of all that divides us
– the starting point for breaking though all our brokenness and discord
– is to focus upon and praise the One – the only One who has the power
– who has promised to bring us together?
What might change in us, through us, among us,
if we began our days and ended our nights
by counting our collective blessings and giving gratitude to our God
rather than complaining, criticizing, or looking for someone to blame?
If praise was the first and last word upon our lips
– praise for life, for health, for strength, for resources, for love,
and for each new moment, praise of being precious in God’s sight,
maybe, just maybe, we’d stop hoarding what we have
and fighting for what we don’t and instead through the Lord’s leading
share and serve from all He has given us
– from all that He continues to provide for us. Amen.