Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 21, 2024
Psalm 62:5-12 Commentary
As usual when we encounter this phenomenon in the Revised Common Lectionary, it is unclear why this lection sheers off the first 4 verses. Certainly one can preach on Psalm 62 starting with verse 5 and the psalm is not particularly diminished. But why not let a sermon on this encompass the whole thing?
In any event, this is a song of deep and abiding trust in God. The psalmist wants to make it abundantly clear that his trust is in the God who alone brings salvation. Further, that trust leads to a kind of repose, a kind of resting, in this God such that the psalmist claims he cannot be shaken. There is security in Israel’s God. There is shelter from the storms of life. Thus Psalm 62 includes an invitation for all people to join him in this divine shelter and repose.
Of course, like many poems and songs in the Hebrew Psalter, Psalm 62 is honest enough tacitly to admit that we need to keep telling ourselves these truths because as a matter of fact, in this fallen world in which we live, there is plenty that tries very hard to shake us up after all. I am not suggesting that Psalm 62 is some kind of engagement in “self-talk” in which the psalmist is trying to convince himself he is unshakeable in the face of things that are as a matter of fact shaking him up pretty good. But there may be a small element of that here.
The verses the Lectionary would have us skip make it clear the psalmist has been the target of withering attacks by his adversaries. Who knows who these enemies are precisely. The psalmist addresses them directly once as “you” and then refers to them in the third person in the rest of the psalm as some anonymous “they.” Were these people literally some kind of military adversary? Maybe. Were they just nasty people, unpleasant co-workers, maybe even extended family members who like to turn annual Thanksgiving Day meals into a chance to poke fun of their relatives who are so naïve as to still profess to holding to the Christian faith? Again, maybe.
In any event, many of us could do a fill-in-the-blank here of people we are forced to count as our adversaries. Sometimes they are even fellow church members. Or they are people at work who seem forever to be gunning for us. They have a talent to lob verbal grenades in our direction over and over, week after week. Sometimes it’s subtle as when they downgrade some successful work project we recently completed (and that we were pretty proud of) until these folks dismissed the whole thing with a quiet “Yeah, well, anybody here could have pulled that off.” Or maybe it is the family member who holds to some extreme partisan political positions and who is only too glad to assure you that you cannot possibly be a follower of Jesus if you vote for the other side.
We don’t need to have people literally trying to take our lives to see ourselves in the picture Psalm 62 sketches. Too many of us are well acquainted with plenty of folks in our lives who are good at whittling away our lives and our sense of self worth one shaving at a time. And those are the moments when we, too, need to remind ourselves and perhaps say to ourselves over and over, “God is my refuge. God is my salvation. I know God and God knows me, and at the end of the day, my core relationship with God cannot be shaken and neither will I be.”
That’s not easy. And Psalm 62 could come off as pretty Pollyanna-like had it not been honest enough to include the material about holding to our faith in the face of a ruthless world. We have to remind ourselves that those who appear so high and mighty and full of themselves are, as verses 9ff say, actually quite literally so much hot air. They are a piffle. A breath. A feather that cannot tip the only scales of the universe that count for anything in the long run.
But we do have to keep telling ourselves this because by all appearances, the opposite is true.
In short, preaching on Psalm 62 gives us the opportunity to do some pastoral care from the pulpit for folks in our churches who are struggling with people in their lives who seem intent on making them miserable one way or another. It is not only a call to put their trust in God alone and so to take refuge in this God. It is a chance to issue that call while at the same time being heartfelt and empathetic that we know how difficult this can be. God in Christ knows how difficult this can be because Jesus himself lived in the gritty reality of this tough world and we know full well that he had literal enemies who not only sought to whittle him down through withering criticisms and theological judgments but who actually did seek to take his very life. And in the end they did just that.
Through Christ, the God to whom we direct people via Psalm 62 is not only a very compassionate God. He is a fully sympathetic and knowingly empathetic God. Taking refuge in this God is to discover over and over the grace of the “unfailing love” verse 12 mentions as our great comfort.
They say that there is one thing that high-falootin’ proud and arrogant people simply cannot bear. Oh, they are only too happy to mix things up with you if you come after them with blazing criticisms. They are fully capable of giving it as good as they can take it and if you think you can out-shout them or come up with such a searing word of rebuke as to shame them into silence, you are wrong. In fact, some of the nastiest people we know—some of whom are in politics—will actually turn criticisms of them into proof that their detractors are simply deranged lunatics same as they had been saying all along.
But there is one thing the lowborn who fancy themselves as highborn (to invoke the language of Psalm 62) cannot bear: being laughed at. To laugh is to at once tell these people they are ridiculous but also too dim and too ludicrous to engage with. You will not sink to their level but will walk away laughing. And this they cannot stand.
It’s a semi-trivial example but I like the scene in the movie Jaws in which the mayor of Amity Island—who will not admit that there is a dangerous killer shark trolling their shoreline—finally says something so ridiculous to the shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who had been brought in to help, that Hooper can do no more than laugh and walk away. You can see that clip here. But overall this is a reminder that proud and arrogant but finally clueless people do not amount to much as Psalm 62 asserts, and perhaps laughing at them is the surest way to convey that. True, we need also to work at forgiving those who persecute us as Jesus said we must but in that process, better to laugh and walk away than engage in ways that will likely make us guilty of behaving in equally bad ways.
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