Epiphany 3B

January 19, 2015

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Mark 1:14-20

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Jonah 3:1-5, 10

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 62:5-12

    Author: Doug Bratt

    The author of Psalm 62 is clearly under some kind of duress whose cause he hints at, but doesn’t specifically identify. That lack of specificity makes this psalm’s sentiment something to which anyone under some kind of duress can relate. Whether what harasses us is individual, communal or even creational, most of us, like the psalmist, know what it is to feel vulnerable. Those who want to preach on or teach this text may want to explore with their congregation or students what sorts of strong enemies people face.

    The stress the psalmist’s apparently mighty enemies cause him and his search for relief from it seems to lead him to reflect on the durability of himself, his enemies and his God. After all, crises have a way of causing us to reassess those things on which we previously relied. When those things that we assume are sturdy prove, in fact, to be flimsy, we naturally look for some sort of “rock” on which we can stand.

    The beating heart of Psalm 62 is its affirmation of God’s reliability, of God’s incomparable strength. In fact, that affirmation stands at the psalm’s beginning, at its very center and at its ending. God is, according to verse 2, a “rock” and “fortress.” Verse 6 again asserts that God is a “rock” and a “fortress.” In verse 8 we read that God is a “refuge.” The poet even ends Psalm 62 by insisting that God is “strong.”

    Taken together, these vivid images point to a God whom nothing can shake, a God who is the same, yesterday, today and forever. Even the combined forces of Satan and his allies, sin and death, can’t dislodge this sovereign God from God’s throne.

    Just as importantly to the psalmist, however, Psalm 62’s images suggest that God’s strength is a source of strength for the poet. God is his “fortress,” Someone in whom the poet can find rest and protection from those who harass him. As a result, the psalmist believes that he doesn’t have to lash out or fight back against his assailants. He can find his rest in God alone. Or as some translations render verses 1 and 5, he can wait in expectant silence, confident that his strong God will soon act to rectify his situation.

    The psalmist recognizes he needs such intervention because he feels like a “leaning wall” and “tottering fence.” It’s as an image of something that’s been already made flimsy and can be easily knocked down with little more than a good shove or gust of wind. While this may allude to the poet’s advancing age, it more likely simply refers to his vulnerability to his enemies’ attacks.

    By contrast the poet portrays his enemies as formidable. They fully intend to topple him. The harassed psalmist feels so flimsy that he thinks his enemies won’t need crowbars or wrecking balls to knock him down. He frets that all they’ll need are the gusts of wind that are deceptive and destructive words, perhaps slander and gossip, to knock him down.

    Yet as the psalmist again reflects in the middle of the psalm on God’s durability and reliability, he begins to reassess both his and his enemies’ might. He recognizes that because the Lord is so strong and reliable, he too can’t be shaken, even by the tremors that are his enemies.

    The repeated use of the Hebrew word ak, translated as “alone” in verses 1, 2, 5 and 6, at least suggests the psalmist has sought refuge in other sources of protection. It implies he’s fled to other “fortresses” for safety from his enemies. Yet the psalmist has come to conclude that while his enemies may hound him, God will protect him. While his nemeses may slander him, his honor can’t be rattled because his honor comes from his firm God.

    In fact, upon further reflection, even those enemies prove to be flimsy and fleeting, especially when compared to the poet’s mighty God. Whether they’re “highborn” or “lowborn,” rich or poor, mighty or powerful, those enemies amount to little more than a puff of air, a bent word. In fact, even when taken together people are little more than the vapid and fleeting breath that we take. While they may try to throw their weight around, people are, in reality, lighter than a breath.

    Having reassessed both his own and his enemies’ strength, it’s as if the poet is prepared to pass on that lesson. Deep theological truths such as God’s reliability and faithfulness become the grist of his personal confession. First, it’s as if he gives himself a good lecture. He reminds himself to find his rest, to wait in silence for God.

    The psalmist then turns to his contemporaries. Having remembered his lesson about God’s strength, he’s prepared to teach the people around him. In fact, the psalmist basically repeats his confession of verse 1 in verse 8. “Trust in him at all times,” he tells the people around him. “Pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” After all, it isn’t just that our enemies are little more than a puff of smoke. It’s also that our efforts to protect ourselves by somehow enriching ourselves can’t buy us security. God is our only refuge, our only source of protection from those who want to harm us.

    It’s not until the psalmist has spoken to his enemies as well as lectured himself and his contemporaries that he finally turns to God at the end of the psalm. Yet even then his words of praise serve as a profession of faith. He asserts that God is a wonderful combination of strength and love. From God’s deep treasure trove of loving strength God responds to those who faithfully receive God’s grace with the gift of life.

    Fruitful preaching and teaching on this marvelous psalm might focus on the contrast it draws between human flimsiness and divine loving strength. It might also ask how we can let God move us from theological truths such as we find in verses 1 and 2 to making those truths our own profession, such as in verse 5 and 8.

    Illustration Idea

    The Wartburg Castle is the formidable fortress in Eisenach, Germany in which Martin Luther’s protector, Frederick the Wise, sequestered him following Luther’s excommunication by Pope Leo X and his refusal to recant his heresy at the Diet of Worms. It provided a safe haven from his pursuers for Luther in which to translate the New Testament into German. The Wartburg Castle was, in fact, so formidable that it still stands today.

    But even there, Martin Luther didn’t feel completely protected. At least according to legend, the Reformer so acutely felt the devil’s attacks that he heaved an ink blot against a wall to try to chase him away. After all, while all sorts of fortresses may seem to offer us protection from our enemies, only God the Fortress can offer any real safety.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Corinthians 7:29-31

    Author: Stan Mast