God keeps an eye on those with power

title slide for sermon on Psalm 21 featuring photo of Forbidden City with a temple on a hill overlooking it

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
May 21, 2023
Psalm 21

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, May 19, 2023

During this season of Easter, we’ve explored upbeat Psalms. After all, this is the season of hope. The resurrection of Jesus provides hope. And today, as we look at Psalm 21, it won’t be any different. We have hope because we’re in God’s hands.

But I’ve only scratched the surface of the Psalms. There wonderful thing about this book is that you find all kinds of emotions on display. The Psalmists don’t mind getting angry with God when things do not go their way. And that’s okay. Because even in the harsh Psalms of lament,[1] where the Psalmist expresses anger to God, he continues to engage God. The Psalmists even moves toward God where there is no evidence of God.[2] Such is his trust. Can we so trust God?

Before the reading of scripture:

Psalm 21, which we’re considering today, is one of a sequence of Psalms reminding the Hebrew people of their king’s dependence on God.[3] The king derives his strength from the Lord, which is also a reminder that human kings are always subordinate to Almighty God. When those in power think they earned it or have no one to which they’re to be accountable, we find ourselves heading down the wrong path. That’s more of a dictatorial or totalitarian system of government. According to this passage, the king is reminded not to get too big for his britches. He might have power, but there’s a limit to it, for he is not the source of his power. That comes from God. And God keeps his eyes on those with power.

Read Psalm 21:

Who here got up early on Saturday a few weeks ago to watch the coronation of Charles III?  I couldn’t watch it because I had a presbytery meeting that Saturday, north of Roanoke. I was up early, but on the road… However, I’ve seen the photos. Did you see the one of Charles all decked out on the throne, wearing the crown, and holding the scepter. Beside him was Prince William, the heir apparent, and his son, whom I assume is third in line to the throne. It’s quite a sight to see. They must have worn 25 pounds of metals each, and their clothes and robes must weigh almost as much as they do.  

I’m not sure what to make of Americans who seem to be more interested in the royal family that my friends in the UK. We declared our freedom from kings in the Revolutionary War. While their ceremonies are colorful and can be a pleasure to watch, I prefer our presidential inaugurations. There, everyone wears a dark suit and there are no crowns to be seen unless there happens to be a kid in the crowd who’d just came from Burger King. 

But I do like the fact that the British coronation includes a worship service. The leaders of the Church of England preach before and pray over the new king. However, in a parliamentary monarchy like the United Kingdom, the king or queen have little power. 

Some ancient cultures understood the limit of human power. I’ve shared with you before how, on a hill behind the Forbidden City in Beijing, is a temple. There, where the emperor and family lived for centuries, one of the more elaborate estates ever built for a royalty, is a temple. While we may understand God differently than those in Buddhist tradition, the idea is the same. The emperor needed to be reminded when he looked up on the hill that there was a higher authority. 

The same is true for the building of steeples in small towns and even large cities in North America and Europe. As such structures rose into the sky, they reminded people of a higher power. Throughout the nineteenth century, this was true for most cities in America. But with the development of steel technology and elevators, buildings started rising higher and higher. 

In cities like New York and Chicago commercial buildings began to cast a shadow on the church steeples. In Pittsburgh, you even have the Cathedral of Learning, which rises high above any church. And later someone had the idea to build a Cathedral of Glass, the headquarters of PPG. This building resembles a medieval cathedral but is covered in glass. 

I don’t think the answer to our problems is to go back to where the church steeples were the tallest thing around. Sadly, for too many Christians, competition to building the tallest or the most ornate structure was intense. This, by the way, is very un-Presbyterian (but I must confess there are even some Presbyterian Churches that strove to be the biggest or the more ornate).[4]

In this Psalm, which is written as a prayer, the people are reminded that the “splendor of the royal prom” only reflects the power and glory of God. The shouts of joy from the crowd comes, not just on the king, but on the joy which comes from knowing God.[5]

This Psalm, attributed to David, may have been used at a coronation for a new king. Maybe he wrote it for his son, Solomon. What the Psalm makes it clear that the king is totally under the authority of the divine king. Everything the earthly king is, has, and does comes from God.[6]

While we might think this Psalm doesn’t apply to us since we none of us are a king and we don’t have kings in our form of government, that’s not the case. We can apply this Psalm to ourselves whenever we find ourselves in position of authority. And we can also apply it to others who are in authority over us. This Psalm reminds us that we’re all subject to God’s authority.

But there is also a positive side to the Psalm. When we realize our dependance upon God, we open ourselves up to be blessed by the Almighty… God is gracious. The king is not just a puppet, doing God’s bidding. God blesses him beyond his prayers, giving him “his heart’s desire.” David, the king was said to have sought after the Lord’s heart, has it right.[7] He desires God’s heart and God gives him the desires of his own heart. 

But God’s blessings extend through the king to all in his kingdom. Their enemies, who are also God’s enemies, are kept at bay. With a king who trust the Lord, the kingdom can enjoy peace. Much of this Psalm has aspects that sound like a prayer given when a new king is crowned, during a coronation, or at a royal feast. 

There are two items here that I’d like to explore further. At such a time, those in presence of the king would have asked his life to be extended. The forever and ever in verse 4 doesn’t imply eternal life as we’d think.[8] Instead, it’s a way of saying “we want our king around a long time.” 

The second item deals with the king’s enemies. Verses 8 through 12 all deal with our enemies being subdued. Here we learn that within the covenant God created with Israel, the king’s enemies are God’s enemies.[9] Those who oppose God’s king will experience God’s wrath. To our ears, this sounds harsh. But then, as Americans, we’re a superpower. We think of ourselves as powerful. 

Israel was always just a small country with the superpowers of its day on the opposite ends of the Fertile Crescent: the Nile to their south, and the Tigress and Euphrates Rivers to the east. Israel never had the military might of her distant neighbors. She lived in fear and depended on alliances. In some way, we can think about Israel as the Ukraine of the ancient world, living in no-man’s land between superpowers. But according to the Psalm, if the king trusted God (which not all the kings did), then things would be okay.

Now let us go back to the idea of how we might apply this text to our lives. While we don’t have kings, we do have people in authority and at times, we find ourselves in positions of authority. This Psalm teaches us the need to trust God and to strive to live under God’s authority.  Such a life means we’re to be humble, for we know that we are not the source of our blessings. 

And while we don’t have an earthly king, we do have a King, Jesus Christ, to whom we belong and to whom we depend. We are called to trust his loving-kindness in this life and in the life to come.[10] A life of faith is a life of trust in the man from Galilee, who died at the hands of Roman soldiers, but rose from the grave and lives and rules for us. As the Israelites were called to trust their king, we’re called to trust ours. And unlike their kings, who were often sinful and made bad decisions, Jesus is sinless and deserving of our trust. Amen. 

[1] There are two types of Psalms of Lament: Personal and Communal. Personal lament examples: 13, 22, 35, 44, 86. Communal lament Psalms examples: 12, 74, 79, 88, 137. 

[2] Peter Ennis, The Sin of Certainty (New York: HarperOne, 2017), 70. 

[3] See Psalm 18 and 20.  James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 104. 

[4] Bullinger, in the Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XXII (Book of Confession, 5.216), encourages churches to avoid “luxurious attire, all pride, and everything unbecoming to Christian humility, discipline and modesty” to be “banished for the sanctuaries and places of prayer for Christians.” An example of an antithetical Presbyterian Church architecture is East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.

[5] Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, translated by Herbert Hartwell (1958 (German publication), Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 213.

[6] Mays, 103.

[7] 1 Samuel 13:14. 

[8] The Old Testament, in general, doesn’t speak of immortality or eternal life like the New Testament.  See Weiser, 213.

[9] Weiser, 216.

[10] May, 104. 

The Forbidden City with the temple on a hill behind it.
The Forbidden City in Beijing with a temple on the hill behind it.

Psalm 66: Praising God Together and Individually

Title Slide: Psalm 66: Praising God together and individually

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
May 14, 2023
Psalm 66

At the beginning of worship:

We’re family here. Jesus calls us into the church, where we are adopted as children of God and given an inheritance. Doesn’t that sound good? While we may have different abilities, we all receive an eternal inheritance. We are blessed by God. 

But as it is in our earthly families, there are things we do together and things we do by ourselves. It’s no different in the church. We’re to experience God corporately and individually. We can’t just experience God one way or the other. Both are necessary for us to have abundant life. Never think that you can be a Christian without church, but always remember that a life of faith also requires individual time alone with God. Even Jesus had to get away on his own to pray.[1] Our Psalm this morning will show both sides of a life of faith. 

Before reading of Scripture:

Today we’re looking at the 66th Psalm, one that begins with a processional call to worship followed by an individual’s response. In the initial call, we’re reminded of what God has done in history. In response, the shift is from the community’s praise to an individual’s act of praise for something personal. God answered the Psalmist prayer. We’re not told what problems he faced, only that God helped him get through the difficult. Therefore, like Psalm 116 which we looked at a few weeks ago, he responds to God by paying his vow.[2] He offers sacrifices and praise to the Lord.

Two parts of the Psalm

There are some who want to separate this Psalm into two parts. You kind of see this division in the lectionary, which only uses the second half of the Psalm.[3] However, I don’t agree. Yes, there are two main parts to the Psalm, but they go together.

Our faith has a community aspect to it, as well as a personal one. We see both in this passage. With the community, the Psalmist and us are called into worship. Then, our faith should be such that we not only give God thanks for blessings in history, but also for the blessings we’ve personally experienced.[4]

As you listen to the Psalm, feel how the people are called into God’s presence and then how, as an individual, the Psalmist steps forward to offer thanks.  

Read Psalm 66

Growing up, my mother managed Sunday morning. She’d get up early, I think even before my dad, unless he had to be away for work. She’d fix a big breakfast: eggs, grits, bacon, toast, and coffee. Or maybe it would be pancakes stuffed with bananas or blue berries, although dad generally cooked them. 

I can assure you, there no better way to wake up than to the smell of frying bacon and perking coffee. When breakfast was almost ready, she woke us kids and started countdown for when we had to be ready to leave. We’d eat breakfast generally while watching some off-key gospel singers who seemed to be ubiquitous on Sunday morning TV in the South of my childhood. At least, after listening to them, I could never complain about the music in church. After breakfast, we dressed, grabbed our Bibles, and ran out the door to make it to Sunday School on time. 

Did our mom’s introduce us to Jesus?

I’m sure many of us credit our moms for making sure we attended church growing up. Of course, my dad was also there, but there were Sundays he had to work because that was when he could inspect boilers which had cooled down for the weekend. On those Sundays, my mom was totally in charge. And she got us to church on time (or close to it).  Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms who stepped up to help their children grow in the faith. We’re in debt to moms and for those women who stepped in to help other children grow in their faith. We need such people in our world to makes sure that everyone has a chance to learn about Jesus.

A Procession

Psalm 66 begins with a procession. As we saw in our Call to Worship this morning, there are three parts to the gathering of people.[5] As in Psalm 100, we’re called to join in the “joyful noise,” praising God as we’re led to the temple for worship. The first four verses are all focused on this praise of God. Such praise exists not just in the people’s cries, but in all the world. I’m reminded of Jesus telling those who complained of the ruckus his followers made as they entered Jerusalem, that if they weren’t praising God, the stones would cry out.[6] God created the world to reflect his creativity and to praise his glory. 


If you followed along with the Bible, you may have noticed a Selah (that I didn’t read), in the margin after the fourth verse. No one is really sure what this word means. Some think it is a symbol for music, like a clamp of a cymbal. That maybe. But here, it also marks the end of the first part of the gathering. 

First invitation: “Come and See”

After praising God, it’s time to invite others to join the crowd. In verse 5, we have the first of two invitations. “Come and See what God has done.” 

The Psalm then recalls the great events of the Exodus, the parting of the sea, and the Conquest, the crossing the Jordan. These were events of which the Hebrew people were familiar. But God is not just a God of the Hebrew people. God rules the nations and, as the end of verse 7 reminds us, won’t let the proud get too big for their britches by not letting the rebellious exalt themselves. 

Praising God even for the hard times

Then we come upon another Selah in the margins, as we move into the third section of the opening. This third section again issues a call for praise for God has kept us among the living. Ever thought of that? Without God, there would be no life. And then we’re reminded that God keeps our feet from slipping. God is our lamp for our feet and a light to our path, as the 119th Psalm proclaims.[7] But this third section also acknowledges that life is not always rosy. God places burdens on us. We are tested. People take advantage of us. Yet, God brings us through such troubles. 

Part 2: the personal praise

The second major section of the Psalm begins with verse 12 and is seen with the change of language. No longer is the focus on the plural, the community. Now an individual takes centered stage. The Psalmist comes into God’s house to pay his vows which he made when he was in trouble. 


Let me say a bit about vows. We must be careful with vows. We should not make them to manipulate God. There is a horrible story in the Book of Judges about a Jephthah, an Israelite warrior who vowed that if God would give him victory, he’d sacrifice the first thing that came out of his door to greet him. It was his own daughter.[8]

Vows made for the wrong reasons can be dangerous. John Calvin taught that the only purpose of a vow is to show gratitude to God. That appears to be the intent here and is the result of the Psalmists actions.[9] A mini lesson here: don’t try to force God to act to your benefit. God is not solely on our side. Instead, to be safe, we must be on God’s side.

Second call: Come and See

After testifying to how his actions show gratitude to God, the Psalm issues his own call. The community call people to “come and see.” The individual now calls them to “come and hear.” He tells his story of how he cried out in need to God and God listened. Because of God hearing and action, he now praises the Almighty. He blesses God for God’s faithfulness.

Movement from community to personal

This Psalm shows a movement from the community to the personal. It could also go the other way, from the individual to the community, for both aspects of our faith are important. The community helps us to know God’s work in the past, but when we experience such events firsthand, it’s often in our lives. 

What this Psalm also demonstrates is that for the individual and the community, the call needs to be issued for people to witness what God has done and is doing. If we don’t witness to the God of the Bible, who is also active in our lives, how will people know what God is capable of? 

MOther’s sharing the good news

Thankfully, many of us have had mothers that guided us. Others of us have been blessed in sharing the good news with friends and business associates and others who cross our lives. As it is with the Psalm, we should be praising God and giving thanks for the blessings we have received, today and always. Amen. 

[1] Matthew 23:36; Mark 14:32; Luke 6:12, 9:18, 22:39.

[2] https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/04/23/psalm-116-giving-god-thanks/

[3] The lectionary doesn’t cleanly separate the Psalm, it only covers the second part, verses 8-20.

[4] The following commentaries support my thesis: James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 221; Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, translated by Herbert Hartwell (1958 (German publication), Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 468; Claus Westermann, The Living Psalms, J. R. Porter, translator (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 186-187,

[5] I adapted parts of Psalm 66 for today’s Call to Worship:
Pastor: Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; 
People: sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!
Pastor: Come and see what God has done;
People: he his awesome in his deeds among mortals.
Pastor: Bless our God, O peoples,
People: let the sound of his praise be heard!

[6] Luke 19:39-40.

[7] Psalm 119:105.

[8] Judges 11:29-40. 

[9] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion IV.13.1-7. See also Stan Mast’s commentary on this passage:  https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2017-05-15/psalm-668-20/

Rainbow over green trees
Rainbow over Laurel Fork, May 13, 2023

Psalm 119:9-32 In Praise of God’s Boundaries

Title slide with photo of hill in spring

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
May 7, 2023
Psalm 119:9-32

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, May 5, 2023

Before the beginning of worship:

What do you think about the law? Most of us, I’m sure, think some laws are silly. I, for one, am troubled by states who forbid driving barefooted. Yet, there are also good reasons for some laws. If we don’t stop at a stop sign, we risk our life and lives of others. If we think the speed limit is only a suggestion, we become a hazard on the highway. Laws protect us and within such a framework, we can enjoy life. 

Of course, if everyone thought about how our actions impact others before we act, we wouldn’t need laws. There would be no need for laws against littering, stealing, assault, or slander…. But since none of us live up to such high ideals, laws are needed. They set boundaries. 

Freedom without law is chaos

We’re freedom loving people, but freedom without law isn’t more freedom, its chaos. Its anarchy. We need boundaries to protect us and our neighbors. 

Today, we’re going to consider why a Psalmist felt such love the law that he wrote the longest Psalm in scripture.  

Before the reading of scripture:

Psalm 119 is an epic poem. It would have found a good home in the 19th Century, when epic poems by the likes of Longfellow and Tennyson were celebrated. Today, few poets attempt to write poems that go beyond two pages. But it has not always been that way. 

An acrostic poem

The 119 Psalm is an acrostic poem. You may know of these, if stayed awaked when they talked about poetry in English classes. An acrostic poem runs through the alphabet. Each new line starts with a word that begins with the next letter of the alphabet. There are eight or nine (depending on one’s definition) acrostic Psalms in the Bible.[1]

Unfortunately, it is impossible to capture the full meaning of an acrostic poem when translating it into another language. Part of the reason is that we have different alphabets. Hebrew only had 22 letters, all consonants. Even if we had the same alphabet, having a similar word that begins with the same letter would be nearly impossible. 

The longest Psalm in scripture

Psalm 119 strays from the other acrostic Psalms by its length. Instead of only having 22 verses, each beginning with the next letter in the alphabet, it consists of 8 lines for each letter. If it was in English, it would be like having 8 lines beginning with “A” words, then 8 lines of “B” words, down through the alphabet. This makes a very long poem, 176 verses. 

Interestingly, despite its size, Psalm 119 maintains focus on one theme: God’s law. But don’t think of the law as just ordnances, such as the general statues of the Commonwealth. God’s law is “The Torah,” which are also the first five books of the Bible. While they contain laws and the Ten Commandments, they’re also the essential Jewish teachings as to how we are to live together. Through the law, the Torah, God instructs God’s people.  

I’m sure it’s to your delight that I will only read a small section of Psalm 119, for the poem often repeats itself. Essentially, if this poem had been constructed in English, I’d be reading the B-C-D sections. Since it was written in Hebrew, I’ll be reading the Beth, Gimel and Daleth sections. 

Read Psalm 119:9

It is amazing to me the author of this Psalm didn’t have a thesaurus. I don’t think they’d yet been invented.[2] But like a good writer, he doesn’t repeatedly use the same word. In this section, instead of just using the word “law,” he also uses: your word, commandment, statutes, ordinances, decrees, precepts, and your works. And he mixes these words up, but they all refer to the word or law that comes from God. What can we learn from this “writing exercise” by the Psalmist?

The Psalmist desires more than knowledge

I suggest the Psalmist demonstrates to us that while knowing God’s word and law is important, we also need to mediation upon it. It’s not just enough to know the Bible, or believe the Bible, we must consider how Scripture should be understood and applied to our lives. 

That said, the process of taking the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and writing 8 verses for each letter while reflecting on God’s word to us is an example of extreme mediation. I don’t know too many people who have that kind of patience. I know I don’t. However, I bet after the Psalmist compiled this poem, understood well what it meant to follow God’s way.  After all, he’d considered it from every angle.

Purpose behind the Psalm

Now let me ask another question. What is the purpose behind this Psalm? Walter Brueggemann, in his theological commentary on it suggests the author had three things in mind: 

  1. The first purpose is didactic. The Psalm instructs the young on the ABC’s of torah obedience. By using the acrostic method, the Psalmist created a memory device for young students to see the importance of God’s word and law. 
  2. The second reason for this Psalm is to make comprehensive statement of the adequacy of a torah-oriented life. In these 176 verses, the Psalmist seemingly covers all there is about why we should follow the torah or God’s law.
  3. And finally, Brueggemann suggests that Psalm shows us there can be a sense of reliability and order when we honor the torah, or God’s law.[3]
God’s law creates a boundary 

I have always suggested that we, as Christians, should see God’s law as a boundary instead of a list of things to do and not to do. As a boundary, God says that if we just stay within these lines, we can have wonderful freedom and enjoy life. 

Think of the Ten Commandments. Traditionally, we have understood the commandments as having two tables. The first table deals with how we relate to God. We are to have no other gods and we honor God by not creating images. We refuse to vainly use God’s name and keep the Sabbath. 

The later six commandments deal with our relationship with one another. We keep family relationships in tack by honoring our parents. We respect the lives, property, and spouses of others, we tell the truth especially in legal matters, and we don’t want what is not ours. 

The Ten Commandments provide us with boundaries. If we are content, we can have a good life.  Of course, we know that not everyone will obey them. That’s why we have governments who maintain laws. We see this in the middle part of our reading this morning. 

Psalmist as an alien

In verse 19, the Psalmist admits to being an alien in the land. I don’t think this means he’s from another country. Instead, he lives differently from others for he strives to keep God’s decrees while others have wandered away. He’s the odd-ball, for God’s word comes first in his life.

Let’s briefly consider the passages I read this morning. 

The “Beth” section of the poem

Verses 9 to 16 focus on praise and supplication. He begins by offering God’s word as a way the young can strive for purity. Then he focuses on his own life and asks God to supply him with what he needs to keep from straying. Look at the verbs he uses to describe his focus on what God has taught: seek, treasure, declare, meditate, and delight (which he uses twice). The Psalmist emphasizes his devotion to the Torah, for he knows that it’s from God who gives us life.

The “gimel” section of the poem

The second set of verses, 17 to 24, concentrates on intercession and devotion. Not everyone is like the Psalmist. There are many who ignore God’s word, and he (and we) must live with such people in our world. So, the Psalmist prays that God will open his eyes, won’t hid his commandments, and will keep him free of the scorn and contempt others bring onto themselves. Finally, he pledges to continue to meditate on God’s statues even when princes, the political leaders of his day, plot against him. He’s all in with God. 

The “Daleth” section of the poem

The final set of verses, 25-32, centers on his need of understanding God’s precepts. While this Psalm is not attributed to David, the Psalmist, whoever he was, like David, seeks God’s heart.[4] He desires God to help him understand his precepts, to strengthen him by the word, to teach him the law, to set God’s ordnances in front of him, and enlarge his understandings. The Psalmist knows life comes from God, and we can enjoy it fully only when we strive to listen to the Almighty. 

How we relate to God’s word

Our passage calls us to seek out God’s word and will for our lives. We are not to approach God’s law from a legalist perspective, nor should we see following God’s word as required work to obtain entrance into heaven. Instead, like the Psalmist, we need to meditate upon God’s word, seeking God and allowing God to draw us closer. 

In the Centered and Soaring Workshop held at Mayberry two Saturdays ago, Stan Ott discussed our need to dig into Scripture. We must be the people of God before we can do the work of God. We become the people of God by reading the Bible, but more importantly, by meditating upon what we read. We also pray for understanding. Finally, we discuss Scripture with others who are also on this journey so we might both be drawn closer to God. We can see the Psalmist fulfilling such efforts in this passage.  

Conclusion: Spending time with the Word

I encourage you to regularly spend time in God’s word and prayer, so that you might also grow closer to our Lord. Take time to read a chapter or two each day out of the Old and New Testaments. Spend time in examen, reflecting on your day before falling asleep, giving God thanks for blessings received. If you have any questions or need help growing deeper, let’s talk. Amen. 

For a sermon on the first 8 verses of Psalm 119, click here.

[1] See Psalms 9 & 10, 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; 145. Acrostic structures also appear in Proverbs and Lamentations. 

[2] The first Thesaurus is credited to Philo who published On Synonyms in the late first or early second century A.D. The first modern thesaurus was published by Peter Mark Roget in the mid-19th Century. https://www.rd.com/article/how-the-first-thesaurus-got-started/

[3] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, 1984), 40. 

[4] 1 Samuel 13:14.

Hillside in spring,  covered with various shades of light green trees

Psalm 23: A Declaration of Confidence

Titled Slide "Psalm 23: A Declaration of Confidence" with a picture of the sunrise

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Church
April 30, 2023
Psalm 23

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, April 28, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

What do we really need? As you know, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he didn’t teach them to pray for abundance. Instead, as I talked about in the fall when I preached on the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus had them to pray for their daily bread.[1]Life, at least the abundant life we can have in Jesus, is not about accumulation but about trusting God. We need God in our lives more than anything else.

Before reading the Scriptures:

The 23rd Psalm is the best known of all the Psalms, at least for Christians. While it’s also in the Jewish Scriptures, it doesn’t have the same meaning. This is probably because of Jesus’ use of the image of the Good Shepherd in the Gospel of John. 

However, we must be careful with the idyll feelings we bring to this passage. As one commentator on the passage notes, the Psalm is often seen as a picture of a cheerful, ideal relationship to God, but that’s not entirely accurate. Certainly, this doesn’t fit with other images of a shepherd’s work in the scriptures. He goes on to note that the aim of the Psalm is not to create a picture of a shepherd or even a little lamb. Instead, it places these actions side by side: the provisions a shepherd provides his flock, and the provisions God makes for those who trusts Him.” 

The shepherd is an example or a metaphor for God. It’s because the David has such trust in God that he can make this “declaration of confidence,” which makes it possible for him to compare a shepherd to God.[2]

This is such a familiar Psalm. Close your eyes and try to listen to it as I read the Psalm once again. 

Read Psalm 23

Augustine of Hippo, the great fourth century Christian theologian, answered the question I asked at the beginning of worship while reflecting on the 23rd Psalm. “Since my shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ, I shall not lack anything.”[3]

I think he’s right. After all, this Psalm has something for us all. Whatever we need, we can find it here. When things go well for us, we appreciate the nurturing implied by the green grass and still waters. When things are not going so well, it’s nice to be comforted and not left alone when traveling through dangerous and deadly valleys. Augustine relates the waters in Psalm 23, to baptism, a place where the broken and weak gain new life.[4]

3 parts to the Psalm

I am going to parse this Psalm into three sections. The first deals with that which we need in this life. We need food and water. We also need protection, guidance, and when we’re beat, restoration. 

The Lord as shepherd provides this to his sheep. He leads them to places where they can get a drink of water. He takes them to new pastures. Sheep will eat the grass down to the nub and sooner or later they will not be anything to eat. So, they must move on to new pastures. This allows the sheep to continue to eat while the grass in the previous pasture is restored. And in their travels, the shepherd gives the sheep time to rest and to restore their bodies for what’s ahead. 

An individual within a herd

While this is an individual Psalm, no shepherd takes care of an individual lamb. A shepherd has charge of a herd of lambs. When I lived in Utah, where the sheep business still thrives, I once listened in on a discussion as to whether a group of sheep should be called a herd or a flock. The Bible and Christmas carols seems to be on the side of flocks.[5] But an old resident of the desert southwest ended the debate. “I’ve seen plenty of sheepherders in this country,” he said. “Now, I want you to show me as sheep flocker.”  

I have no desire to settle that debate between herds and flocks today.[6] But I want us to acknowledge that this is an individual Psalm. It is attributed to David, shepherd as a boy, he sought after God and felt cared for by the Almighty. But this does not mean he saw this close relationship exclusively between him and God. It was something all who seek out the Lord can experience. 

Perhaps, the Psalmist who wrote this Psalm as an individual knew what it was like to be the lost sheep whom the shepherd leaves the herd behind to find.[7] While we’re in a community, we are also important to God as an individual. 

Shepherds and leadership

And while the sheep business was considered a dirty business even in the ancient world, the idea of a good leader was also metaphorically understood as a shepherd. The idea of a shepherd implied royalty and the shepherd’s crook was often used as a symbol of leadership. As one commentator on this passage notes, the metaphor of the Lord as a shepherd refers to what the Lord (and kings) should do.[8] And the same should also apply to pastors and leaders in church. Of course, humans never live up to God’s ideal.

The second part of the Psalm begins with a shift in language. Now David, the Psalmist, speaks directly to God, drawing the Lord even closer.[9] “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, YOU are with me.” Those praying this psalm knows the shepherd’s presence. 

The rod and staff

We acknowledge that not all the paths we trod will be grassy or by still waters. There will be times we must be led through narrow canyons and along steep ledges, but the shepherd with his crook can guide us safely. The shepherd’s rod and staff are the same thing, it just depends on how they are used. As a staff, it can be used to catch a stray or falling animal by the neck and drag it to safety. But as a rod, it can be used beat off wolves attacking the sheep. 

Of course, the rod can also be used to chastise the sheep and keep them in line. The Hebrew scriptures speak of the rod for punishment.[10] Perhaps, because of this, Origen, another of the earlier theologians of the church, saw the rod as a warning filled with hope. “If you have sinned and see the rod of God threatening you, know that the mercy of God will not be far from you.”[11] The good shepherd wants to keep us together, less we stray and really get into trouble. 

The banquet

Then the Psalm slips from metaphor of the shepherd to one hosting a banquet. While the milk of the ewe is enough for a lamb, as they grow, they need more sustainable food. Likewise, as we mature as Christians, our diet changes. God strengthens us for what we must endure. [12]

Furthermore, the Psalm acknowledges that we have enemies in this world. There are those who would like to do us harm, but when we follow the shepherd, he watches over us. We are safe, feasting even when in danger. The oil pour out on our heads is an anointing, reminding us of God’s promises. Likewise, the cup overflowing reminds us of God’s abundance.

God in the Psalms and our enemies

An interesting insight into the Psalms is that they most often speak of weakening our enemies instead of fortifying us for battle![13] In other words, God does not prepare us to take over and be our own shepherd. We must always realize our dependence on our Lord. 

Part 3 ends the Psalm with hope, not just in the present but in the future. If God gives us life, we will experience goodness and mercy. This would have been David’s and the people of the Old Testament’s understanding of the Psalm. But because of Jesus, we have hope not just for life in this world, but in the world to come. 

For Christians reading the Psalm

For Christians, we cannot understand Psalm 23 without seeing the Lord as Jesus Christ, the good shepherd as we learn from the tenth chapter of John. There, we see that the true shepherd is one known by the sheep, unlike rustlers who attempt to drive the sheep away. If we hang close to the Good Shepherd, we’re promised everlasting life. Jesus also promises to lay his life down for those who follow him, which he did on the cross.

The Incarnation: Jesus as shepherd and sheep

Interestingly, Jesus is not just a shepherd.[14] The doctrine of the incarnation teaches us that Jesus is God and human. Likewise, Jesus is not just the Good Shepherd, he was also a faithful sheep, who came and gave his life for others. John the Baptist points this out before Jesus began his ministry, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”[15] In the book of Revelation, we find the lamb of God slain,[16] but also the resurrected lamb on the throne.[17]Having experienced both sides, Jesus knows what we endure in the world, even as he leads home to God the Father.[18]


When we pray the Psalms, the 23rd Psalm should be used regularly. In this short Psalm, we’re reminded of God’s abiding love. We are never alone in this world. That should give us courage and hope. May we always listen to and follow the Good Shepherd until that day when we are brought together under his rule in the life to come. Amen. 

[1] See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/11/06/give-us-this-day-our-daily-bread-the-lords-prayer-part-4/

[2] Claus Westermann, The Living Psalms, J. R. Porter, translator (1984, English translation: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 134.

[3] Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms, quote from in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament VII, Psalm 1-50 (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008), 178

[4] Augustine, 179.  

[5] Luke 2:8. See also Nahum Tate’s carol, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”

[6] Maybe it has to do with the number of animals. A dozen ewes could be a flock, 1000 ewes (and most herds around Cedar City, UT had even more ewes) could be a herd.

[7] Luke 15:3-7.

[8] James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 117.

[9] Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, Herbert Hartwell, translator (1959 German translation, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 229.

[10] Proverbs 13:24. 

[11] Origen, “Selections from the Psalms 23:4, quote from in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament VII, Psalm 1-50 (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008), 180

[12] Augustine, 180.

[13] For this insight, I am indebted to a tweet by @CAHutch1990. “Has anyone done a count in the Psalms of how many verses are about God disarming the violent verses the strengthening the military might of his own people? Repeatedly, there are promises of God bringing justice, not by violence, but by the suppression of violence. 

[14] Scott Hoezee outlines this thought in his commentary on the passage. See https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2023-04-24/Psalm-23-14/  

[15] John 1:29, 36.

[16] Revelation 5:6, 7:17, 13:8

[17] The ending of Revelation begins with the “Marriage of the Lamb” and his rule. See Revelation 19:9; 21:22; and 22:1, 13, and 23.

[18] John 14:6.

Sunrise in the Blue Ridge Mountains, April 27, 2022
Sunrise, April 27, 2023

Praying when things are going well

Title slide with photo of redbuds in bloom

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
April 16, 2023
Psalm 16

Sermon taped at Bluemont on Friday, April 14, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

How do we learn to pray? How do we learn to talk to God? Last fall, I spent six weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer, which is one way we can learn the patterns of prayer. But another tool we have from scripture to teach us to pray are the Psalms. I will spend the next sixth Sundays that make up the Easter season looking at six different Psalms. 

Eugene Peterson in his helpful book Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayers, reminds us that while prayer is a human tool, it’s not a tool for “doing or getting, but for being and becoming… God uses prayer to work his will in our bodies and souls. Prayers are also the tools we use to collaborate in God’s work with us.”[1] And it’s in the Psalms, which touch on all human experiences and emotions, that we learn how to go deeper in our prayer life. 

Before reading the Scripture:

As this is the second week of Easter, I’ll begin our exploration of the Psalms with the 16th. In the early church, this was an important Psalm. Both Peter and Paul use it in their sermons as a reference to the resurrection found in the Old Testament.[2] The Psalm is attributed to David. Now I am not going into the details of whether David was the actual author, or his name was just attached to the Psalm. We can’t prove either. I will refer to the author as either David or the Psalmist. 

In the title, we’re told this Psalm is a Miktam of David.[3] The problem is that one knows what “Miktam” means. The Reformer Martin Luther suggests it may mean “a golden jewel.”[4] Whether or not Luther is right about the translation of this word, he is right about this psalm. It’s a golden jewel.”

Read Psalm 16

This Psalm can be divided into three parts, and we might use this breakdown in our prayers. 

Part 1:

First, the Psalm begins with a petition for God’s protection. Unlike many of the Psalms, we don’t know if something threatens the Psalmist. In Psalm 17, also attributed to David, informs us of the wicked who despoil him and the enemies who surround him. But here in the 16th Psalm, we’re not provided any indication David is surrounded by enemies or threatened in any way. Instead, he takes comfort in God, because of his relationship to God and what God has done for him. 

You know, we don’t have to be threatened to call out to God in prayer. Of course, God wants us to bring our concerns to him. When endangered, we may cry out, “Help me, God.” That’s okay. Jesus prayed intently in Gethsemane when troubled.[5] But we can, and should, also pray to God, confessing our trust in the Almighty. On this Sunday after Easter, we may feel like things are going well for us and instead of ignoring God, we should give thanks.

The Psalmist not only takes refuge in God, but also acknowledges a good Calvinist view of life. “I have no good apart from God.” God, as Calvin often noted, is the fountain of all goodness.[6]

The Psalmist, in verse 3, also finds hope and delight in the “holy ones” or the others who trust God in his community. He’s not like Elijah, crying out to God saying I’m the only one left.[7] He has friends. Our faith is nurtured within a community, and it appears the Psalmists has benefited from such a group of people. Verse 2 in the Message translation reads this way, “And these God-chosen lives all around—what splendid friends they make!” 

By the way, this is to be a goal of the church, to help people grow in their trust in God. We’re to encourage one another, as the Psalmist has been encouraged.

Of course, not everyone has the faith of the Psalmist. In verse 4, we learn there are those who have chosen another god (that’s god with a lower case “g”). They multiply their sorrows, and the Psalmist reaffirms his faith as he insists on avoiding their sacrifices. This Psalm comes from the Hebrew community, a people who were always surrounded by other nations that worshipped and sacrificed to other gods. But the Psalmists testifies that he will hold fast to the God of Israel and not chase after other gods who seem, at the time, to hold more promise. 

Part 2

After seeking God’s protection and declaring his faith, the Psalmist moves into the second part of this Psalm where he speaks of why he is confident of God’s trust. To put this in the vernacular, he knows who butters his toast, or the hand that feeds him. God provides his substance and the land upon which he lives. As a good steward, he credits God for all he enjoys in life. He acknowledges he has a goodly heritage. 

But God does more for the Psalmist than giving him a chuck of the Promised Land and food. He is attuned to what’s going on enough to know that God communicates with him through his conscience. For his part, the Psalmist always keeps God in front of him. Interesting, the Psalmist doesn’t mention obeying God’s law. His trust in God isn’t out of a fear of what God might do to him if he failed. Instead, he has a much more intimate connection with the Almighty. He must know that his hope isn’t in his actions, but in God’s. 

I always pray before I fall asleep for the night. And during this time of prayer, I try to think back over the day and to see where I have experienced God and where I have struggled. Doing this and bringing my thanks and concerns to God right before sleep, puts me into a frame of mind that I might more easily hear God. It is amazing how many times I have woken up, sometimes at 4 AM, with a clearer view of what’s going on. But we must be open to the Almighty for us to experience such truths, as the Psalmist does. 

Part 3

Our third section begins with verse 9. Having asked God’s protection and acknowledged God’s presence, the Psalmists rejoices in his hope discovered in a faithful life. His heart is glad, his soul rejoices, and he can rest secure. I suggest this is another reason to pray before bed. We fall asleep feeling secure in the God who neither slumber nor sleeps. God stays with us, day and night, Psalm 121 reminds us.[8]  

Eugene Peterson reminds us that the end of prayer is praise.[9]Interestingly, the Book of Psalms ends with a series of “halleluiah Psalms.” Psalm 145 through 150 all begin with “Praise the Lord.” And here, at the end of Psalm 16, we find David praising the Almighty. Knowing God hears our prayers should be reason enough to pray.

Ironically, the Psalmist even finds comfort in the face of death. For the Psalmist, death isn’t just the opposite of life. Death implies we’re totally cut off from God, which is a reason to fear it. Being tossed in the pit, being forgotten, is scary. But the Psalmists knows God won’t abandon him. His hope is found in the promised presence of God. Life and joy go together.[10] God shows the Psalmist and us the path of life. 

The God of the Psalmist

The God of the Psalmists is not the wrathful angry God we often think of from the Old Testament. No, this God is more like the shepherd leading us by the still waters and protecting us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.[11] But to experience such a God, we must try to know and to trust God. God sends Jesus to show us the way and then raised him from the grave, to give us hope, not just for joy in this life, but in the life to come. 


So, what can you take from this Psalm? A reminder that even when things are going well, we should acknowledge that we trust, not ourselves, but God. Secondly, like the Psalmist, we should all strive to improve our communication with God. And finally, we should delight in God so that even at the grave we can sing “Alleluia.”[12]  May it be so. Amen. 

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, Answering God; The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 2.

[2] Acts 2:31(25-31) and 13:35. 

[3] Miktam psalms are all related to David. See Psalms 56-59. Leonard VanderZee, “Psalm 26 Commentary.” https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2018-11-12/psalm-16-2  

[4]  Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, translated by Herbert Hartwell (1958 (German publication), Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 172, n.1

[5] Matthew 26:36ff.

[6] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.2.1.

[7] I Kings 19:10.

[8] Psalm 121:4-5.

[9] Peterson, 121.

[10] James Luther Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 88. 

[11] Psalm 23:3-4.

[12] One of the sayings that I use in the commendation in a funeral or at the grave uses this line, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” See Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Common Worship, (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2018), 793

Redbuds in bloom

Psalm 1: Two Roads

With back to back bouts with COVID, I’m still testing positive. So I taped the sermon at home using my iPhone (which is why you get a smaller photo of me). This sermon will be delivered by Libby Wilcox tomorrow at Bluemont Church. Mayberry Church will be closed because of COVID (mine and some others) along with freezing rain and icing that is called for earlier in the morning.

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont & Mayberry Presbyterian Church

January 8, 2023
Psalm 1

This was taped in my basement library on Saturday, January 7, 2022

We’re exploring the very first Psalm today. Before we get to the Scripture, let me tell you about the Psalms.

This book in the middle of scripture was the hymnal and a worship resource for the Hebrew people. When you read the Psalms, you may have notice many of them have Hebrews words like Selah written in the margins. It’s thought that this was an instruction for the musicians, maybe the point when a cymbal would clap or the tempo increased. We don’t know exactly what it means, but that’s the best guess of scholars. Many of the Psalms indicate worship, calling us to come into God’s presence, to sing God’s praise.[1]

Those who study the Hebrew Scriptures generally date the coming together of the Psalms, and much of the Old Testament as we have it today, to the Babylonian period. It was a time when the Hebrew people lived in exile. During that era, away from the Promised Land, the ruined temple and the holy city of Jerusalem, the Jewish people collected their writings to preserve their religious heritage. Text that had been passed on orally were written down. Other texts, like the Psalms, which existed as fragments, were collected, and put together into a book. 

Individually, many of the Psalms themselves are much older, some attributed to David and to earlier era of Israel’s history. We can image that the collection of the Psalms was much like the publishing of a hymnal today. A group of people gathers and decides on the hymns used and their placement in the hymnal, and then sends a rough draft off to the printer. Same thing happened then, only they didn’t have a printer and had to send a copy to scribes who copied it by hand.

Let’s consider a few hymnals. I grew up with the Red Hymnal—it was published by the Presbyterian Church a few years before my birth and was the main hymnal in use for over 35 years.[2] The first hymn in this hymnal is “Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty.” Do you think this hymn was chosen randomly? I don’t think so. It’s a fitting hymn for Presbyterians, the focus being on God Almighty and not on ourselves. In another hymnal I’m familiar with, the first selection is “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” Again, is was it picked randomly? I don’t think so, for it calls us into worship with a joyful heart. In the same way, when the collection of Psalms were compiled, there was an intentional decision, as they were led by God’s Spirit, to place what we know as Psalm 1 at the beginning of the collection.[3]

This Psalm was picked to remind the Hebrew people, and us, that if our prayers and songs are to mean anything, our lives must reflect God’s will. Ponder what it says as we listen to God’s word.  READ PSALM 1.


“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” the poet Robert Frost wrote in his famous poem first published in 1916.[4]  Likewise, according to the Psalmist, there are two options for those of us who believe in the God of Abraham, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can be on God’s side, rewarded by the one who gives life. Or we can take the road of the scoffers, the path that allows us to think we or something else is god. This path will lead us away from the Almighty, the path to destruction. Two ways: God’s way which leads to life, or the other road which leads to death. Two ways, the choice is ours. Which one will it be?  

This could be a mother’s Psalm. Mother’s care about the path their children take. Will they follow the right path? There’s probably nothing more tragic than a mother dealing with the disappointment of a wayward child.[5]

Our psalm opens with a beatitude, promising us that if we’re good and on God’s side, we’ll be blessed and have a happy life. But the opening line also reminds us of competing claims within the world. Happiness comes from not accepting the advice of the wicked. Their guidance run counter to God’s word. The first verse makes it abundantly clear to the reader that we should we should avoid such people…  Accept their advice? Strike one. Follow their paths? Strike two. And sit in their assemblies? Three strikes; you’re out. Instead, after making three negative suggestions, the Psalm reminds us that we’re to delight and mediate on God’s law. 

The idea of delighting in laws is foreign for most of us. I mean, we’re running late, and the speed limit is only 35 miles per hour, do we slow down? Or, do we curse the car in front of us that’s maintaining the legal speed? We see laws as being burdensome; they hold us back, or so it seems. Of course, if we live on that street and have a child who plays in the front yard, we understand and don’t want anyone to drive by at 60 miles an hour. If we put ourselves in such a place, we see the rationality of the law. We have to admit that most laws are for our benefit or for the benefit of society. Of course, I still can’t see the reason some states outlaw barefoot driving.

God’s law, like most laws of the state, provides a boundary within which we can live life abundantly. Within these guidelines, life flourishes. Outside them, life diminishes. If we understand the law this way, we should take delight in it. We should learn and take to heart God’s instructions on how to live abundantly and to relate to one another and to Almighty faithfully.

Psalm 1 is just one of several Psalms that extol the virtues of following God’s laws. Perhaps the best known, of such Psalms, is the 119th, which is also the longest Psalm in scripture, going on and on for 176 verses. If I ever decide to preach on the whole 119 Psalm, I’ll give you advance warning so you can pack a picnic… Of course, that week, nobody will show up. 

Both Psalms, the 1st, which is rather short, and the 119, a marathon, encourage us to pay attention to the ways of the Almighty. Near the opening of the longer Psalm we’re encouraged to “delight in God’s decrees as much as we do in riches, to meditate on God’s precepts, to fix our eyes on God’s ways, to delight in God’s statutes, and not to forget God’s word.”[6] These positive verbs direct us toward God and an understanding of God’s laws.  

Now let me clarify a point. We can get a bit carried away with our emphasis on the law. After all, the law does not have the power to save us. The law points to our need for Jesus’ salvation and by obeying them, we’re allowed to enjoy life here and now. Obeying the law isn’t going to save us, but it will make our lives better and that’s its purpose.[7]

I like this idea of mediating on the law that’s found in both the 1st and 119th Psalm. It doesn’t mean memorizing the 10 commandments (although that’s not a bad idea) or the 600 and some other laws found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Instead, to meditate means to internalize the laws so they become, by second nature, our guiding rule. Such meditation allows God’s will to shape our will, and ultimately, that’s what it’s all about, us following God’s will. 

If we are following God’s will, we’ll be like that tree by a stream. Such trees grow fast, drawing upon available water. Likewise, if we live in a way that allows ourselves to be nourished by God, our lives will indeed be blessed. We may not have the riches or the power that we once desired, but we will be content and at peace with ourselves and with God.  

Of course, this psalm presents parallel images. The righteous is like a well-watered tree. The wicked, however, have no roots. They’re like the chaff that comes off the wheat during the milling process. The chaff blows away, it easily burns and no longer sustains life. The choice we make, whether to follow or run from God, determines which image applies. Do we want to be a tree, or husk blown in the wind? These two images lead the Psalmists to conclude with a warning of judgment. The wicked, the chaff, will be judged. But the righteous, the one watered by the Lord, will stand tall.  

The choice is ours. Whose side are we own? Those who compiled the Psalms placed this Psalm first, so that when someone began to read this book, he or she would be encouraged to decide to follow God and seek out God’s ways. Psalm 1 prepares us for the rest of the Psalms, which quite interestingly consist of five books, as in the Law, or the Torah.[8] The Torah called the Hebrew people to align themselves with God. Likewise, the Psalmist calls us to align ourselves with God, drawing upon the rest of the Psalms as that tree draws upon water.[9]

“Two roads diverge in a yellow wood…”  Which one will you take? Psalmist calls you to take the way outlined in this book, to mediate and internalize God’s word.  Amen.

[1] See especially Psalms 95-100 and 145-150.

[2] The “Red Hymnal” was titled The Hymnbook was published in 1955.  There was a hymnal titled The Worship Book that was published in 1970, but it wasn’t received very well and many churches continued to use the “Red Hymnal” until the 1990 publication of The Presbyterian Hymnal. 

[3] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 25-28.

[4] Robert Frost, The Poetry of Robert Frost, Edward Connery Lathem, editor (NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969), 105.

[5] See comments about mothers watching their sons die in a BBC article on the woman who served as communication director for the Texas Prison in Huntsville and who has observed more than 300 executions. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43995866

[6] Psalm 119:14-16.

[7] John Calvin and other reformers taught that the law had three purposes: to show our need for repentance, to help us live in God’s will, and to help keep the reprobate in check.  

[8] The Torah consists of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  The five books of the Psalms, which each close with a benediction, are Psalms 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, and 107-150.  

[9] James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 40-44.

Trees and Mountain Laurel growing by Laurel Fork. Photo taken on March 13, 2022.

Advent 4: Peace

Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
December 20, 2020
Psalm 46

A recording of the sermon made at Mayberry on Saturday, December 19

Thoughts at the beginning of worship

It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent. Christmas is almost here. Over the past three weeks, we have focused on hope, joy and love. I hope you have learned that these are not just emotions we feel, but actions that we take in response to a God who loves and comes to us. 

Yet, we live in a troubled world. This isn’t anything new. There’s always trouble. Today, our focus is on peace. A Christian view of peace is counter cultural. The world thinks of peace as an absence of war. But what if we could have peace even in the midst of war? That’s what I want us to ponder today. How do we live a peaceful life in the chaos that surrounds us day in and day out? 

After the reading of scripture: 

I may be an outlier, but I have enjoyed much of 2020. Many of you, I’m sure, can’t wait for the year to be done. I hear people talking about starting anew as if there’s something special about midnight on the 31st. There’s not. It’s just another tick of the clock.

However, there’s much about 2020 I’d like to forget. My list includes the pandemic and quarantine, fires in Australia and the American West, the massive numbers of hurricanes, a shortened baseball season, and the closing down of the economy. But still, personally, the year hasn’t been bad for me. After all, I’m in the mountains, My heart sings.

 2016 verses 2020

My bad year was 2016. It started earlier, on January 9th, with a slip on the foredeck of a sailboat. My left foot was pinned by some blocks. I fell backwards with the boat’s lifeline catching my leg just above my knee, so that it couldn’t bend. The strain on my pinned leg was great. Something had to give. My quad tendon snapped. It was the most painful thing I’ve experienced. My leg instantly became worthless. After surgery, my left leg remained in a brace. I couldn’t bend it for three months. Then I could bend it 30 degrees and slowly worked up from there. I spent much of that spring learning, once again, how to walk. 

And then, in late summer, because of a high PSA reading, I had a prostrate biopsy. Those are not pleasant, but that wasn’t the end of it. A week later, I woke at 3 AM, thinking I had the worst flu ever. I had gone to bed feeling fine. I took ibuprofen and tried to get more sleep. At 7, I sent emails to cancel my meetings for the day. When the drugs ran out, I took my temperature—104. Calling my doctor, he said get to the emergency room, pronto. I called Donna. She took me to the hospital. 

I had no idea how sick I was. At the front desk of the ER, they checked my temperature, blood pressure, breathing and heart rate. They had me on a gurney with an IV in my arm before Donna was able to park the car and find her way back inside. I spent the next couple of days in the hospital fighting sepsis, which probably came from the biopsy. Thankfully, the biopsy came back negative. 

A few weeks after that, Hurricane Matthew raked the Georgia Coastline. It was estimated that Skidaway Island lost 20% of its trees. Our paradise island was a mess. A year later, they were still hauling away timber, brush, and wood chips.

But was 2016 a bad year? 

Yet, with all that happened in 2016, I still have some good memories. And these memories are not just from the morphine they gave me for my leg. I never felt alone or so loved. Nor did I feel abandoned by God  

So, while I won’t deny that 2020 has been bad, especially for the families of over 300,000 Americans and the million others around the world who died, for me personally, it doesn’t quite rise to 2016. And, looking back on things, as bad as 2016 was, it wasn’t terrible. For God remained with me, in the midst of my pain. 

The 46th Psalm

The 46th Psalm is about confidence in a God who is present in the midst of a trouble-filled world. The Psalm is divided into three strophes or sections, each assuring us of God’s comfort while reminding us of the problems we face during our walk on this planet. 

First strophe

The first section deals with natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes, hurricanes and tornadoes. 

            Perhaps we’ve not experienced this personally, although there was an earthquake in this area earlier this year. However, parts of our world have experienced all these events in 2020. When faced with such calamities, we may feel abandoned and afraid. But in each situation, the Psalmist reminds us that we should not fear for God is present and in control.  

Second Strophe

The calamity in the second section is not a natural disaster, but one of a human making. Now, war threatens; the hatred of people drives them to ruthlessly attack each other. Kind of sounds like this past election. 

Despite the fact that war is on-going, God’s holy city stands unharmed. Even in the middle of the chaos, God’s city stands untouched. God is sovereign. What can we do, as humans, to challenge God’s sovereignty? God’s city stands as an example of the way it should be. 

Third strophe

And finally, in the third section, we are reminded of God’s judgment. God has the power to bring wars to an end. However, judgement brings destruction; God puts an end to our ability to wage war. God’s holiness demands judgment.  

Visions of noise and chaos and war often demonstrate God’s presence. But here, we find that although God is present, that’s not where we encounter God.

Elijah’s similar encounter

Elijah had a similar experience with God on Horeb. There was a great wind, and God wasn’t in it. There was an earthquake, but God wasn’t in it. And then a fire, but that was not where he encountered God. Instead, after these events, Elijah experiences God in sheer silence. Elijah encounters God in a way that’s a similar to the promise made in the Psalm. Be still and know God.[1]

Be still, let the turmoil of life spin around you, and know that God is there with you.

What does this mean?

            There was a point in my life where I thought this Psalm told me to go to where I could experience stillness and quietness. What a convenient interpretation. I could use it as rational for a backpacking or canoe trip. I still believe that getting away from the turmoil of life can be a spiritual experience, but I no longer believe this Psalm is telling us that we should go hide.  

Another way to interpret the Psalm

Instead, I have another idea what this Psalm means. God sits me down in a chair. All around me things spin out of control. There are things I need to do. In the similar fashion, God lets the Psalmist experience the turmoil of life before revealing himself.

With all this chaos spinning around me, my first through is, “what can I do to fix it.” Isn’t that a human response? I want to do something. But in this chair, God’s hands remain on my shoulders gently encouraging me to stay seated. Then I hear a whisper, “sit still.” The voice is soft and soothing. Such a simple message with a profound implication. 

It’s as if God says, “I’ve got this, let me take this burden from your shoulders.” Even in the midst of all kinds of troubles, we can find peace in our lives and we can know God. 

The theme that’s echoed three times in this Psalm is that God is our refuge, our place where we can find solace.[2]

Psalm 46 and the Coming of Christ

 This Psalm reassures us that even in the chaos, God’s present. God stands by us to comfort. God is in the middle of pain. God comes to us; God doesn’t wait till all is calm and peaceful. 

I wonder if we get a wrong picture of what happened in Bethlehem from our depiction of the nativity. We see the idyllic pastoral view of cows sleeping while shepherds converse around a campfire. And then, later in the night, some wise–dudes dress in fancy clothes rides in on a camel with gifts. Such a peaceful night, but was it? 

Scripture tells another story. Herod and his court burn the midnight oil in Jerusalem, worried that their rule will end. They grasp at straws to see how they can maintain control. Out of fear, they commit a terrible atrocity. And above Herod, we have Caesar and his legions. Roman soldiers keep an iron hand on far-flung parts of the empire like Palestine. 

The world into which Jesus was born

We learn in Luke’s gospel that a decree from Caesar forced Joseph and the pregnant Mary to make a trip to Bethlehem. It was no skin off Caesar’s back, but mighty inconvenient for the Holy Family. 

So, the world wasn’t necessarily peaceful on the day of Jesus’ birth. It was a world like ours, troubled. And everyday citizens like Mary and Joseph, along with the parents of young children in and around Bethlehem, were caught up in the powerplays of those with authority. 

It’s into this kind of world that our Savior was born—a troubled world longing for peace. It’s also into such hearts that Jesus comes… If we’re not sick, Jesus suggests, we don’t need a doctor. But if we realize our human frailties, we’ll run to a physician.[3]

The Psalm in 2020

Be still and know that I am God is a message we need to hear in 2020. When we think we can overcome all our problems, we develop a false sense of pride. We feel we can take care of ourselves; a feeling in which we risk making ourselves into a little god. But when we realize that we are truly not in control, we must turn to God and only then can we discover peace. War may be all around us, but we can be at peace because we are assured that God is with us and, in the end, we’ll be with God. 

That’s why God tells us to be still. In the midst of our troubles, we need to trust the God of creation, the God of redemption, and the God of our future.  When we trust such a God, we can have peace.

In a year like 2020, listen to that voice from God telling us to slow down, to be still, and to know that God who set the stars in the sky, who divided the land and water and separated night from day, the God of the cosmos, is also our refuge and strength.   Amen.

Resources and Notes:

May, James L. Psalms: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994.

Weiser, Artur.  The Psalms: A Commentary, Herbert Hartwell, translator. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962.

[1] 1 Kings 19:11-18. Interesting in other ways and in other parts of the Old Testament, we find God revealing himself in these other experiences of Isaiah. In Genesis 1, God’s spirit is a wind over the chaos. The word for wind and breath in Hebrew is the root of the word “Spirit.” God also made himself known to Moses with the burning (but not consumed) bush. 

[2] God as refuge appears in the 1st, 7th and 11th verses. 

[3] Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31.

Thanksgiving, Joy, & Gratitude

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
November 22, 2020
Psalm 100

The sermon taped on Friday in a practice session.
Setting the stage:

         One of my favorite Georgian authors is Ferrol Sams. A physician by trade, he began writing later in his life. I’d read most of his books before moving to Georgia and highly recommend his three-volume memoir. 

In volume two, which is about his college years in the late 1930s, he writes about one of his professors. This professor asked his class how long it takes someone to go from the whining question, “Why me, Lord?” to the mature question, “Why not me, Lord? Both maintain the accent on the word me. But the one negative syllable separates two entirely different philosophies.”[1]

This is a good question. How long does it take to shift our focus from ourselves to God? The intent of the 100th Psalm, which we’ll look at today, is to encourage such a shift. 

After the Scripture Reading:

Joy is essential to the Christian life. It’s a gift from God. It’s not the pursuit of happiness we in Americans so cherish. What we consider as “happiness” is transitory and fragile. Happiness often depends on external circumstances. For me, it might be the Pirates winning the pennant. If that’s the case, I haven’t been happy in a long time. 

You see, happiness is contradictory. Hope rises on the sound of a well hit ball. The crowd holds its collective breath as the ball sails deep. The centerfielder runs and leaps high with his glove extended as he crashes into the wall. He falls to the ground. Then he stands. A grin comes across his face as he pulls the ball from his glove. The home crowd moans. The batter, who for a moment thought he was a hero, kicks the dust and heads toward the dugout. Some win, others lose. Some celebrate, others mope…

The Pirates might be a long shot for the World Series, but this might be the year the Steeler’s take it all. A virtual Superbowl party, anyone? Enough about sports.

Joy in an unshakable and unchanging God

A friend of mine commenting on this passage wrote, “This Psalm tells us that the joy we find in God is unshaken and unchanging because it is based on something lasting and unchanging.”[2]Get that? Something lasting! Yes, there will be plenty of disappointments in life to weight us down, such as homeruns stolen by a talented centerfielder, but true joy has another foundation. 

True joy, of the everlasting variety, is found in God. To quote the prophet Isaiah, “the flower withers, the grass fades, but the word of God will stand forever.”[3] In other words, all we cherish and love in this life will come to an end. Flowers are beautiful only for a few days or maybe a week. Youth lasts but for a few seasons. Friends and loved ones die. If we are looking for eternal happiness in our lives here on earth, we’ll always be disappointed.

Focus on God, on that which is eternal, and we’ll be ready to join the chorus marching into heaven making a joyful noise. “Worship,” as the late Eugene Peterson once said, “is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.”[4]

We should want to worship God, to offer prayers of thanksgiving, to shout praises. Focus on God. True joy is knowing God and that we are loved by our Creator. We are claimed by our maker. 

Psalm 100 is about the joy in God which “is the motive power of faith.” Our joy in God will lift our hearts.[5]

A Psalm of Worship

This a Psalm of worship. It was probably originally sung by the Hebrew people as they gathered in the Jerusalem temple. The first two verses serve as a call to worship. 

Imagine the chief priest standing at the temple’s gate. He’s in his finest robe. Suddenly trumpets blast, quieting the crowd. Then, in a loud voice, the priest summons the multitude: “Make a joyful noise, worship the Lord with gladness, and come into his presence with singing.” The crowd responds, breaking into a round of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” If it’s November, they might sing “Now Thank We All Our God.”

“Know that the Lord is God, that he made us,” the third verse reads. “We are his, the sheep of his pasture.”  We’re reminded why we’ve gathered. Our one purpose is to worship the Almighty. 

God is king, but also a caring shepherd. Those gathered in front of the temple, preparing to enter, recognize they are to put away thoughts of grandeur for themselves. Furthermore, they are to put away petty differences between one another. This is not the place or time for selfishness or bickering. All who have come are to be together, in unity, in worship. 

The same is true for us. We are to leave our petty differences at the door of the sanctuary. Worship isn’t about us; it’s about our God.

The message of Psalm 100

This may be a short Psalm, but it has a wonderful message for those of us who gather Sunday after Sunday to worship. “Psalm 100 initiates worship and sets forth a theology of worship,” according to one commentator.[6] The focus of the Psalm, as we learn in the fourth verse is God. As the final verse indicates, we worship because God is good, loving and faithful.


 A key to being a Christian is gratitude. I don’t know how one can be a Christian and not feel it. Gratitude grows when we have our priorities right. Gratitude is not only good for our souls, it’s good for bodies. 

A few years ago, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that spoke on what we might do to benefit from this feeling: 

“Gratitude is good for us in many ways. Studies have shown it strengthens our immune systems, helps us sleep better, reduces stress and depression and opens the door to more relationships. But to reap those rewards, we need to do more than feel grateful. ‘The word ‘thanksgiving’ means giving of thanks.’ says Dr. Emmons (a psychologist at University of California at Davis). ‘It is an action word. Gratitude requires action.’”[7]

Did you catch that? Gratitude requires action. We can’t just receive all the goodness God has given us without sharing. This is the meaning behind the secular holiday we celebrate this week. Thanksgiving is to be a time of sharing. The mythology of the holiday, whether or not it happened this way, captures a truth of gratitude. Pilgrims and Natives sharing a meal around the table in an expression of gratitude. 

True gratitude leads to generosity. It’s a personal issue, one that we each need to struggle with and decide for ourselves. Are we generous? Are our lives gracious? Do we love God, our Creator, and want to praise him in thought, word, and deed? 

The Psalm calls us to worship, but our worshipful attitude should be more than just what we do on Sunday morning. Likewise, we should be thankful more than just this Thursday. 

Our thankfulness, our worship, should flow forth from our lives, from our hearts. It’s what should be most evident when others see us. Last night I saw a meme on Facebook in which someone asked an Amish man if he was a Christian. His answer was shocking. “Ask my neighbor,” was his response. Do others see us as Christians? 

This Thanksgiving

In closing, let me say a little bit about this Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the Center for Disease Control and many physicians are recommending that we not do much sharing around the table this year. Face it, sharing COVID would be a Thanksgiving downer. So maybe we need to revision just how we might share gratitude this year. 

Maybe, instead of stuffing ourselves on turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce, we should spend this Thanksgiving a little quieter. We could spend a few minutes alone with God, reading Psalms of Thanksgiving.[8] We could also make a phone call or two. We could write a letter to a family member we miss seeing or to a long-lost friend. We could support Thanksgiving offerings where the money goes to those in need. 

As we take these actions, remember to give thanks to God for the blessings we have. And let others see your gratitude. Amen.

[1] Ferrol Sams, The Whisper of the River (NY: Penguin Books, 1986), 498. 

[2] Laura Smit, “Come, Let Us Worship and Bow Down,” Reformed Worship, #52 (June 1999), 14.

[3] Isaiah 40:7.

[4] Eugene Peterson was the translator of The Message (a Bible translation) and author of over 30 books on ministry and faith. This quote came from a tweet. (@PetersonDaily, November 12, 2017). 

[5] Artur Weiser, The Psalms, Herbert Hartwell translator, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 645.

[6] James L. Mays, Psalms (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 321

[7] Clare Ansberry, “Cultivating a Life of Gratitude, The Wall Street Journal (November 14, 2017), A15. 

[8] Some additional suggestions of “Thanksgiving Psalms” from Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 125-139:  Psalms 30, 40, 138, 34,65, 66, and 124.

Psalm 29: To the Glory of God

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
January 13, 2019
Psalm 29






Starting next week, I will be preaching a series of sermons from the Book of Numbers. In this series, we’ll look at the Hebrew people in the desert during the exodus. They have a choice. They can continue ahead into the Promised Land or they can go back to Egypt. As we do this study, I encourage you to read Jeff Manion’s book, The Land Between. They’ll be avaible this morning, in Liston Hall, for $15. I also encourage you to join a study group working through this book, which will be mirroring the topics I’m preaching. By hearing the sermons, discussing the topics in a small group, and reading the book, you’ll get more out of this series as we learn how to handle change and transition

We’ve just finished focusing on Jesus’ humble birth with the celebration of Christmas. Born in Bethlehem, God came into this world in like all of us. This morning, let’s for a moment contrast the humility of Jesus’ birth with a vision of God from the 29th Psalm. This Psalm, which lifts up God’s glory, orients us to the proper way to approach God. In God’s presence, like the wise men and shepherds, we can only stand in awe.

The Reformed Tradition, in which the Presbyterian Church stands, has always maintained a high view of God. Worship is based upon scripture and directed toward the Almighty. We are skeptical of making too many claims about God, for we understand that God is outside of our control. God is totally other. If God was anything less, he’d not be Almighty and we’d really be in trouble for we’d be depending upon a being that doesn’t have the power to do what we need. In scripture, we learn that God comes to us, drawing us into a relationship with him. God’s grace always precedes any action on our part. When we are truly in God’s presence, we’re speechless. We stand in awe. We’re like those in the Psalm, who can only mumble in amazement, “Glory!”  Read Psalm 29.

          There is nothing like an electrical storm to remind us just how our lives are fragile. I’ve been caught in many such storms: hiking in the forested woods of the Appalachians, backpacking above tree-line in western mountains, in a boat offshore of North Carolina, paddling a kayak in our sounds, and even once—as a kid—playing golf with my grandfather on Pinehurst #2.

I can assure you, there were plenty of thunderstorms the summer I hiked the Appalachian Trail. With the exception of when above tree line in New Hampshire or Maine, the best thing to do when no shelter was around was to keep on trucking. If it was cold, I would pull on a rain suit, but most often when summer hiking in the heavily forested eastern mountains, it’s was warm enough that you can just get wet. After all, I was probably in need of a shower. Of course, before the storm got too close, I’d stop and put on a pack cover to keep everything inside dry.

I lived through many such storms. The wind picks up. I’d begin to feel vulnerable. The trees start to bend and sway. Occasionally a branch breaks. But the wind is just a warning. Sound of the thunder increases. Soon the lightning is no longer just a flash in the distance, but well-defined streaks. It’s getting closer. Bolts begin popping trees nearby and the smell of burning ozone fills the air. If hiking with others, you spread out. That way, if one is struck, someone else could try CPR, or at least not everyone would be fried and would live to tell the story. After a brief intense period of lightning and deafening thunder, the rain comes. Like the electrical display, it’s short and intense, but quickly passes. Then it’s over.

As the storm moves off eastward, each boom of thunder is a little less intense. It’s hard to tell when the rain stops as the leaves keep shedding their water a good thirty minutes after the storm has past, even after rays of sun break through the canopy, which provides another glimpse of awe. In a few minutes, the storm seems to be a distant dream. In camp that evening, you build a fire and attempt to dry out socks and boots as you discuss shared experiences. Everyone was scared, but are glad to have gone through it. Storms are awe-inspiring.

Did the Psalmist have such an experience? He must have. The description of God’s glory being seen in a powerful storm that breaks trees and shakes the wilderness. In the face of such power, all one can say is “Glory!”

         I love this Psalm! We live in a narcissistic world, yet the Psalm reminds us of our limited abilities. In the face of such a storm, in the presence of our God, all stand in awe. The power of this Psalm drowns the choruses of “me, me, me” and “I, I, I” that dominate the sound waves of our lives. We can’t think too much of ourselves when we truly contemplate the power and the glory of our God. When we truly consider the omnipotence of God, a God shown in the 29th Psalm to have power over creation, we are left nearly speechless. The majesty of God drives us to our knees.

        I may have told you before about the cocky scientist who thought it wouldn’t be too hard to create a human being. If God could do it, he could do it, or so he thought. So God issued a challenge. He accepted. On the day of the event, the scientist went down to a creek bank and dug out clay and rich dirt. He then began to mold it into a body. It was looking pretty good. But before he could try to blow life into his body, a lightning bolt shattered this creation and a voice from heaven boomed, “Hey you, Mr. Scientist, go get your own dirt.”

In a profound way, the 29th Psalm humbles us before our Creator. Notice that in these 11 verses, humanity remains inactive. The Psalmist remains a passive observer. The Psalm is attributed to David and we can image him as a young man, out herding sheep, having such an adventure. While we are inactive, the Psalm opens with a call for us to worship God, but when we get into the meat of the Psalm, God provides the movement, not us.  We just watch as God’s glory is revealed in a violent storm that breaks the strongest trees known in that part of the world, a God over fire and earthquakes, tornadoes and floods. At the end, after tiring himself by proclaiming the wonder of God, the Psalmist expresses hope that God will give us strength and peace.

You know, we are all on a journey in this world. We are here for only a short time. And while we are here, God has something for us to do. We refer to this as our calling and those of us in the Reformed Tradition understand this calling to be more than just what we do within the church. In fact, worship is more than just what we do here on Sunday morning. Our whole lives are to glorify God, so our vocation—whether in the church or in the secular world—is important to God and the furthering of his kingdom.

        On Monday, in our Calvin January Series lecture, some of us were blessed to hear Dr. Jimmy Lin talk about the “good news” in the battle against cancer. Those who heard the lecture may have been shocked that before Lin talked about cancer, he discussed his relationship to God, referring to himself as a “scientific doxologist.” As you know, the doxology is a praise of God. Dr. Lin suggested that the most important thing for all of us to do is to praise God. In other words, we are all called to be a doxologists. Yet, we live out our lives in different ways. He is a scientist, so he calls himself a scientific doxologist. When we all think of the labels we place on ourselves for our journey through life, all of us should strive to include the title “doxologists” with our description. “I’m a business doxologist, an engineering doxologist, a banking doxologist, a lawyer doxologist, a retired doxologist, a preaching doxologist…” You get the idea, don’t you?

         Interestingly, with all this discussion this morning about storms, Martin Luther, the great Reformer, religious vocation began with a thunderstorm. A nearby lightning strike threw him from his horse. Scared, he prayed and vowed that if saved, he would become a monk.[1]

In his Small Catechism, Luther began his explanation of the Ten Commandments with the phrase, “We should fear and love God.”[2] Most of us probably don’t think of these two terms, fear and love, together. They seem paradoxical, especially to our modern or postmodern minds. We have an idea that for true love to exist we have to be on an equal footing, otherwise one party will dominate the other. This may be partly true in the love between individuals—even though it is not always so. Certainly the foundation of love between a parent and an infant is not built on equality.[3] The child is totally dependent on the parent. The same goes for our relationship to our Heavenly Father. We’re totally dependent on God.

In our relationship with God, there is a dialectical tension between fear and love. We fear God because of our alienation due to sin. And yet, God draws us back to himself, through Jesus Christ, showing us love. Therefore should praise God always.

It’s with fear and love that we approach God and we can see both emotions in the 29th Psalm. Certainly the experiences of storms and natural disasters described in verses 3 through 10 are fearful. But isn’t it reassuring that God’s power extends even over these calamities, and that the God whose power extends over nature is the same God who gives us strength. Such a God is to be the focus of our worship; such a God is to be the focus of our lives. We’re called to join in with the heavenly host and praise him.

The trust of the Psalmist as he contemplates God’s power revealed in a fierce storm is the type of trust Jesus encourages us to have when we pray, “your will be done, your kingdom come.”[4]

When we encounter storms on our journeys, and sooner or later we all will, we should remember that it’s only in God Almighty that we find security. When it comes to the bottom line, there is nothing you and I can do unless God either wills it or allows us the freedom for it to happen. This may seem as a restriction on our sovereignty, but true freedom can only be found by humbling ourselves and by placing our faith in God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Friends, as you leave this morning, go out into God’s world living up to your calling. Go out into the world and be a doxologist! Amen.



[1] Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1950: Mentor Books, 1961), 15.

[2] Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for this Urgent Time. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 97.  See all the Lutheran Book of Concord, pages 343ff.

[3] For a discussion on how love changes as we mature, see Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (1956: Harper & Row, 1974), 41ff.

[4] Matthew 6:10. See also Luke 11:10.