Monday, April 21, 2008

Psa146 - Easter 5, April 20, 2008

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 146, ESV)

Faith Walk;

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;

Did you ever go to camp and do one of those "faith walks." You know how they go, one person is blindfolded and the other leads them all around… up and down steps, around corners, through doorways, maybe even outside… The whole idea is that, if you are the blindfolded person, you're supposed to learn to trust the person who is leading you around. If you're the leader then you are suppose to show yourself as trustworthy. You do it by example, by showing that you can trust someone else, or that you are trustworthy. The "faith walk" is supposed to begin to help you to develop a new relationship with another person, a relationship based on trust. I toyed for a few moments about doing that this morning, pairing up a couple of people who we all know are in disagreement and, put on the blindfold and have them lead each other around the sanctuary. But alas that would be pretty "un-Lutheran" to do that. So I'll just have to trust that you have the image in your head. And I'll leave you guessing who I might have picked.

Trust is very important in life. Just think about how people react when their trust has been violated. Remember the time when you broke a promise to a friend? Remember how you felt when the secret you told came back to you from a different source? Are you loosing money in the stock market, did you trust the word of a financial advisor? It isn't just feelings that are hurt when trust is violated. When trust is violated, relationships are broken.

Life is full of placing our trust in one place or another. In a way life is a faith walk. It's important to be able to put your trust in someone. It's important to learn who is actually trustworthy. Life is a faith walk…. In some sense you have the opportunity to pick who you want to lead you around while you are blindfolded. When I was younger going to youth events around the state of Nebraska and we would often have a faith walk. And just like every other teenage boy, I always tried to get next to some pretty girl; it was a chance to hold her hand… in fact I think that's how I met my wife.

Today's text for this message is the psalm we read together in place of the Introit this morning. The author of this poem isn't known, and we don't know when it was written either. But, some of the language suggests that it was written by someone who was far away from home, experiencing an exile. It makes sense because in the history of Israel they were exiled from the land that God had given them. They had a trust issue with God. They put their trust in themselves. They put their trust in their kings. They put their trust in everything except for their God. In our relationship to God our actions have consequence. God wanted to get their attention so he had them removed from their country and sent to a far away and foreign land… like… North Dakota… or Carthage… you know they just think differently there…

The Psalmist says, "Don't let the princes of this world lead you! They will fail you. They will lead you astray." He must have known it from personal experience. He might have under a government that failed. Maybe we've got something in common with him. In many ways we trust our government far too much. We trust it to bail us out of our financial mistakes. We trust it to get us out of poverty. We trust it to take care of us in times of disaster. We trust it provide for us when we retire. Counting on social security for your retirement? Want the government to take care of your health care? Many would say these things are foolish to place in the hands of any government. We trust it to keep the peace, and we trust it to be just. Peace and justice are very fleeting things; no government has complete control of things. While God has given us government to protect us and keep a lid on sin, we are not to put our trust in it. Governments fail all the time; ask people in Nigeria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan. And don't think for a moment that the United States has some special blessing from God that He promises it will never fall. The US isn't the new Jerusalem. Our government isn't so strong and perfect and perfect that such a thing could never happen. God gives us fair warning "Don't trust in princes." The Psalmist says.

The psalm also warns us not let mere human beings lead you in your faith walk either. Don't trust what human beings say or do. Don't make glorious plans with them. Human beings are most often motivated by self interest, even in the church! It is a part of our sinful nature to think first of ourselves, our money, our desires, before others. When we look at ourselves we know that it is true. We constantly make promises we don't keep. We constantly forget to do the things that we should. Most of the time we want to keep our promises, but there are times when we make them and we have no intention at all of keeping. We know who we are, and we know that other people are the same. But even more than that, our plans are temporary at best. Death is in our future. When we die all their plans come to nothing. Death is the great equalizer. It removes wealth, it cancels plans, it ends partnerships, and it ignores social status. On the day you die, all your plans for this life will quickly evaporate. There's a movie (Unforgiven, 1992) where a killer played by Clint Eastwood says, "It's a [heck] of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have." The character he's talking to replies, "Yeah, well, I guess he had it coming." Eastwood comes back, "We all got it coming, kid." You too, "got it coming." You are not trustworthy. Your friends and family are not trustworthy. Don't trust human beings either.

Life is a faith walk… but, you can't trust in yourself, you can't trust in other people, you can't trust in government. Who can you trust in? Well, the Psalm has an answer for that; it says God is the only one who is trustworthy. "Blessed is he whose help is in the God of Jacob; whose hope is in YHWH his God." When God leads you around, even when you can't see where you are going, you can trust when here leads you.

But, the Psalm isn't just speaking in generalities; it tells us exactly why God is trustworthy. "Because" it says, "God is the one who created the heaven and the earth, the sea and everything in it!" It sounds like the creed we are going to confess in just a few moments. God created everything, he preserves and protects is. He has an interest in how it all goes. If can make it he guards and keeps it. Psalm 121 says it like this.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2, ESV)

In those days the false religions put their altars on top of the hills so that they could be seen all around. The psalmist is saying, "I look up to the hills, but my help doesn't come from there, it comes from the God who made the hills."

There's more though, and here is where the faith walk becomes even more interesting. God is faithful and trustworthy forever. Even when 'blindfolded' people are oppressed, He helps them. Here the Hebrew language for oppressed means economically. It means to not have the resources one needs to live. God helps those who are lead through hunger. He leads prisoners so that they become free. He helps the blind to see. He leads the humble people who have no place to call their own; and even the widow… God helps, you see, no matter where He leads you on your faith walk. No matter what the situation He places you in. When your trust is in "the God of Jacob" you will find that He is faithful.

Sometimes we find it difficult to trust in the "God of Jacob." Many of you know that it is true from personal experience. As you go through life, as you go on the faith walk, sometimes you trust God a lot, and sometimes you don't feel like you can trust him at all. He just doesn't lead us where we think we should be led. No one wants to go through an illness that threatens our life; no one wants to get old and unable to care for you, no one wants to loose a lifelong friend. We struggle with God just like Job did. God allowed all that happened to him to happen. He lost everything and found himself sitting in ashes, scraping the sores on his body with a broken pot. He didn't like it and he complained to God. "I'm innocent! He insisted." God's answer to him wasn't an answer we like to hear. "You don't know what you are talking about… I'm God and you are not!" I've told you before about a poster that used to hang in my parents house. "There are two fundamental facts of human enlightenment. There is a God. You are not Him." We do not understand how God works, and He doesn't work the way we expect. It's not unusual, because sin constantly threatens to separate us from God. While we are walking around blindfolded, we will at times try to pull our hand out of God's hand so that we can rip of our blindfold. We don't always trust where God is leading us. Those are the times when God is most faithful. If you remember the Gospel lesson from last week, Jesus is the one who said that no one could snatch us out of our Father's hand. (John 10).

The point is that we are not, and can not be faithful. God is, and always will be faithful. We see it most clearly in Jesus Christ. He shows us exactly how faithful God is. "I am in the Father and the Father is in me." "I and the Father are one." What you see me doing… you see God doing. Jesus was faithful in everything. People came to him for help and he helped them. People came to him with their sin and he forgave them. In fact the psalm describes Jesus perfectly;

who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

Jesus Christ is God who is faithful. He loves the least, the last, and the worst. He loves unfaithful you. He loves unfaithful me.

Just exactly how faithful is God in Jesus Christ. He is so faithful that He allows himself to be nailed to a cross and suffer great pain. He is so faithful that He is not willing for us to suffer eternal separation from God, even though our unfaithfulness deserves just such a punishment. We unfaithfully follow the God of Jacob, thinking first of ourselves, imagining that God is unfaithful because he allows us to suffer. We want God to act as we would have Him act. But God is too faithful to do things our way. Instead he does things his way. Just look to Jesus on the cross to see God's faithfulness in action. He bears the pain and suffering of the whole world. He hangs bleeding and dying for the forgiveness of sin. He is so faithful He knows the only way to save us from our sin. We can't be faithful, so Jesus is faithful, even unto death, for us.

Life is a faith walk… Jesus Christ the faithful one, places your hand in his, right there next to the nail print. No one can snatch you out of His hand. He leads you on your faith walk through all kinds of interesting places. He leads you in places you would never go yourself. He leads you through pain and suffering but promises that you will be better for it. Even though you are blindfolded you can trust in Him to lead you because he is trustworthy. He proves it through His willingness to die for you. He proves His is faithful by His resurrection from death. If He can control death, He can control life. Remember Death, the great equalizer; the canceller of plans, Jesus defeated him. It didn't thwart Jesus plans. Jesus Christ wasn't a mere mortal man; He was God and Man together, united. He alone is worthy of trust. He is God himself.

The psalm begins and ends the same way. "Praise the Lord," is says. Praise him because of what he has done. Praise him because he is worthy to be praised. Praise him because he alone is worthy of being trusted. Life is a faith walk… Trust Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, keep your heart and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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