An Opportunity

Welcome to our 23rd “Boost from the Bible,” as we delve into the depths of God’s Word to find sustenance during this strange, COVID time. Let us begin!

The biblical passage that we will be reviewing is Psalm 27, a fairly short psalm. As I begin, I would like you to please recall your feelings during this long experience of “COVID America”: what has this time period meant for you? For others close to you? For your faith? Now let’s apply those feelings to what I read as I read the 27th Psalm to you, written – like the 23rd Psalm and many of the other psalms – by David.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;  whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life;  of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes—
    they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,  my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me,  yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.

For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent; He will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek His face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.
    Do not hide Your face from me. Do not turn Your servant away in anger, You who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
10 If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. 

11 Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.

13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;    wait for the Lord!

A lot has been made, during these last 6 months, about how we should “not be afraid,” with different people making different statements about “what not to be afraid of doing or not doing.” You may know that, heavily sprinkled throughout Scripture, are God’s messages to “not be afraid,” and “do not fear.” Sure enough, right away in the 27th Psalm David writes: “The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?” Just a couple verses later David adds, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear….”

Now to be without fear, according to the Bible, is not simply to be without the kind of fear that John wrote in his first letter is the opposite of love, no; It is to be without fear in your heart so that you can make more room for something else to live in your heart – namely God’s love, in the form of love for your neighbor…love for your enemy…and love for your Lord, yes, but – since we have so much of that love placed in our hearts to use every day – ALSO love for every single person you meet, every day. EVERY person? If that sounds like a burden, it doesn’t have to be, as we rely on the Spirit’s power and ability to offer love to others, through us.

But notice that I said a second ago that we are called to love every person we MEET. But at COVID time, HOW CAN WE MEET? We certainly are isolated from each other physically, and I know that, at this point, we are all feeling a bit fatigued by our week-after-week isolation. But here is where two verses in our Psalm 27 are particularly helpful for us – combined, they are our “Boost from the Bible” today. Let me quote from verse three and verse six phrases that are SO RELEVANT to our situation today.

In verse three we read, “Though an army encamp against me.” In verse six we read, “For God will hide me in God’s shelter in the day of trouble; God will conceal me under the cover of His tent….”

Do you see the parallels between then and now? “God will hide me in God’s shelter in the day of trouble” – presently we are “sheltering in place.” “Though an army encamp against me” – which is an image of being surrounded – and we feel surrounded by this virus. But, based on this Word from God, let’s see our “sheltering in place” as being at God’s place; as David put it: “God will conceal me under the cover of God’s tent.” And God will do that. God will.

You see, perhaps David wrote this Psalm 27 while he was running for his life – when King Saul was doing everything he could to kill David – with David hiding in order to save himself for later – for a later time when David is king and can lead Israel. David tells us through this psalm that sometimes what takes courage is to stay away; that what takes courage is to take precautions, and, in a sense like David did, “hide in God’s shelter in the day of trouble.” But even more important than that is what you do WHILE you are hiding in God’s shelter. David writes, “God will conceal me under the cover of God’s tent” – and it is GOD’S TENT because David takes the time – while hiding away in God’s tent – to get closer to God…to renew his faith, to grow his spiritual life…which is also true, at this time, for us: AN OPPORTUNITY….

An opportunity to Pray more to God. An opportunity to open your mind up to God. An opportunity to open your heart and soul up to God every day about a whole HOST of things going on for you at this time – every one of these darn days that seem to blend into each other until suddenly May is September! Reading passages in the Bible and thinking and meditating about them. These are the things you can do while you are sheltering in the day – it’s a long day! – in the “day” of trouble, while you are under the cover of God’s love…of God’s tent.

And while you are concealed and growing in the Lord…more and more ready for the time when COVID is gone…God also puts you in a place where you can see your role in the future: “God,” David said, “God will set me high on a rock.”

That’s what happened to me when I went “on leave from call” and left my first congregation after two years there. I didn’t know if I would ever be a pastor again. At first I somewhat cynically kept substitute preaching at various places because I needed the money. At that time I was determined to do something other than being a pastor. But God was more determined than me.  While I was “sheltering-in-place,” away from full-time pastoring, God was feeding me spiritually – putting me in special places and meeting extraordinary people who gave me spiritual insight. I served part-time in congregations in which I could both learn and teach — congregations where I gained confidence enough to be a pastor again. During this time I observed at least 20 churches in operation; I was mentored by at least 4 different people; God set me on that high rock so that I could see clearly. And, two years after I quit, I was back at it as a full-time pastor. That time when I was “under the cover of God’s tent” – listening to God through others – was one of the most important times in my life.

You know, deeper really than any particular time period – deeper than even this COVID time period – there’s always an existential question that we humans always need to ask – so long as we listen for the answer. David asks and answers this question in this 27th psalm.

First, please remember that when difficult things happen in our lives that, as sinners, we will often react negatively at first. That’s just human. Even thoughts of blaming God can surface. David—ever honest David – confronted this feeling in Psalm 27, written when he felt isolated and in danger: “Your face, O Lord,” he pleaded, “do I seek. Do not,” he implored God, “do not hide Your face from me!” He added, “Do not cast me off; do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” Perhaps thoughts like these have entered your mind; I have talked with a few who, especially during COVID, have shared with me similar thoughts.

You know, we can hide in God’s tent at this time, guarded by God’s Spirit, and yet, in our sinful flesh, still feel abandoned by our Creator and Savior. That’s all right; tell God your doubt in Him; God can take it. But David wants to share with us one more thing from the 27thPsalm; what he wrote that concluded this psalm. David wrote, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” David is telling us that faith overcomes our feelings of abandonment – that faith in the future that God has in store is the best medicine for our maladies.

But David proclaims one more thing – one more thing he learned on the run and hiding out, sheltered by God. “Wait for the Lord,” David exclaims. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

God will help us wait. Of the nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, one of them is “patience.” To wait for the Lord is to wait with high expectations. To wait for the Lord is to acknowledge God as Lord; to wait for the Lord and the Lord’s timing is to lift God up…confident that the God who made you is greatly to be praised! Amen.

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