Text: Psalm 27
Year C. 2nd, Sunday of Lent
March 11th, 2001
Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church
Web page http://lordofthelake.org
By The Rev. Jerry Morrissey, Esq., Pastor
Heavenly Father empower each of us here at Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church to imitate your Son Jesus Christ by practicing the awareness of Your Divine Presence, in all that we do. Amen.
Title: “Awareness of The Divine Presence”
This psalm is unique in the Psalter because its first section verses one to six are a strong statement of confidence in Yahweh and its second section is an equally strong petition for help in time of trouble verses seven to thirteen. It closes with an “oracle of salvation” from God. This order-confidence first, followed by lament- is not found anywhere else among the psalms. The two sections are even thought by some to be two separate psalms- one of confidence and trust, the other of lament and petition. The lack of any historical or liturgical clues makes it impossible to date the psalm or to locate its original setting.
Close examination reveals that this is, in fact, a unified whole. There is nothing strange about beginning prayer with thanksgiving for God’s favor first, and following, in that grateful awareness, with prayers of petition. Likewise, there is nothing strange with beginning by recalling one’s confidence in God, no matter what the situation, and then proceeding to ask God for deliverance from a new threat. In fact, verse fourteen, the oracle from God, encouraging patient waiting, confirms this. The psalm, then, is for any person under threat or attack by hostile forces of any sort to heighten and strengthen awareness of the reliability of God, and, in that awareness, to ask God for help in yet another crisis, all the while confident that God will hear the cry and respond as he always has. It is awareness of the constant presence of God that is the central thrust and purpose of this psalm.
In verses one to six, “A confession of Confidence in Yahweh,” these verses express unshakable trust, which banishes fear, regardless of the dimensions of the threat
In verse one, “light”: Light is a natural symbol for almost anything positive. As light automatically, by its very nature, dispels darkness, so does God, by his very presence, dispel fear. He is the answer to fear.
“Salvation”: Here used as a synonym for light, it emphasizes God’s ability to give victory, even military victory, despite the odds against it.
“Refuge”: It is not clear what physical place or situation this might be referring to- the Temple? A place of asylum? A strategic spot in a war? A place to retreat to? However, its metaphorical sense is the overriding one here. The “refuge” is faith, aware faith, in Yahweh. Whether in a quiet place like a Temple or a chaotic place like a battlefield, awareness of God’s presence brings safety, surety, and peace.
In verses two and three: Even if the psalmist’s enemies have the strength of an army up against a single unarmed man, the psalmist is confident they will not prevail. No set of circumstances will shake his faith in Yahweh.
“Devour my flesh”: This could refer to the brutal means of being killed in battle, a real pack of wild hungry animals, or an expression for false accusations or all three, as is frequent in poetry. The point is that no matter what the threat or form it might take, it is not more powerful than the awareness of the Presence of our God.
“My enemies themselves…stumble and fall”: It is a basic principle that those who plan or execute harm against the innocent suffer the damage they intend to inflict on the innocent, an example of the law of cause and effect, as you sow so shall you reap.
In verse four, “one thing I ask of the Lord”: This is an amazing statement. The psalmist has boiled down all his needs and wants to one thing. If he has this one thing he has everything. Such succinctness is rare in the Old Testament, which tends to be wordy.
“to dwell in the Lord’s house”: The Lord’s presence is meant. It is symbolized by a picture of living in God’s Temple. His one yearning, after all the world offers has been tried and found wanting, is the awareness of Divine Presence. All other concerns of life are secondary. He stakes his life completely on God, specifically, awareness of God’s presence here and now.
“All the days of my life”: A Jew would typically mean this present, earthly life. A Christian would have no trouble including that, but extending it to eternal life.
“To gaze on the Lord’s beauty”: Two consequences flow from the Presence. The first one is to “behold,” to enjoy, bask in, delight in the extraordinary and inexhaustible beauty of God. To a Jew this would refer to this life only. To a Christian this would continue into eternity.
“To visit his temple”: This is not a good translation of the Hebrew, baqar, which means “inquire.” The sense here is of seeking guidance from God, such as the guidance one would receive from a priest when visiting the Temple. This aspect of God’s presence would not, presumably, continue into eternity. Perhaps this is the reason for not translating it as “inquire.” “Visit” would allow for the eternal sense. However, here and now God’s presence has practical ramifications in the moral realm and the psalmist is not only aware of it but actively seeks it.
In verse six: The psalmist is so confident that he senses victory and can imagine offering thanksgiving in the Temple.
In verses seven to twelve, “A Prayer For Help and Deliverance,” having focused his attention on the reliability of God in the past and his presence here and now, the psalmist changes the tone and focuses on his predicament. Never losing his confidence in God, he presents and laments his need with the same intensity as he stated his faith and trust.
In verses seven to ten: The theme of God’s presence, the “beauty” of his face, mentioned in verse four, is now turned into a plea for that presence to reveal itself. “Your face I seek,” “Hide not your face,” ”Do not cast me off,” “Do not forsake me,” –all become petitions now, where formerly they were confessions. The one thing he seeks is the only thing he fears being deprived of. Even should his parents abandon him or their love run out, he prays that the Lord will persist, will “take him in.” God’s hiding or covering his face would be a sign of his rejection and anger.
In verses eleven to thirteen: The theme of God’s guidance, “inquiry,” mentioned in verse four, is now turned into a plea for it. He asks for the “light” to show him God’s way, the “salvation” that will make him victorious over his “enemies,” and the “refuge” to enjoy the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.” The same themes, formerly confessions of confidence, are now petitions of recognition of need. There is no victory over the many individual wars or delivery from the many private hells waged and caused by evil in whatever form without the awareness of the Divine Presence and the powerful protection God provides.
In verse fourteen, “wait for the Lord, take courage”: In the awareness of both God’s beauty and the psalmist’s need, he hears either from God himself or through some agency- a priest, a temple servant, the Scripture- an oracle of salvation. He is told, encouraged, and or ordered to “wait.” If the Lord’s beauty is constantly there, if His Divine Presence is constantly assured, His action is not. His “guidance” and activity in the world can be thwarted and slowed by the very forces that are now assailing the psalmist. So, the believer waits constantly. And God’s deliverance is worth waiting for, no matter how desperate or urgent the situation may appear. The psalmist is told to stiffen his resolve, just as he has heightened his awareness that God is really and always there. God will ultimately do what is best, but for now this is the best God will do. Otherwise, he would have to run the world by violating his own rules and laws, particularly the free will he has given to humans.
So many of the psalms are about false accusers. Is it possible there was so much more of that sort of thing in the days of the psalmist? Likely not. The life and witness of Jesus and to a certain extent, Jeremiah illustrates the dynamics of how and why some people are so obsessed with “good people.” A person, and Jesus is the model, who lives in the awareness of Presence of God, in conscious contact with the Divine dimension, is a source first of curiosity, then irritation, then revulsion, to folks who live in and with lies. These folks are very sure that their inner feelings are the same as outer reality. If they feel negatively in the presence of a person, there must be something wrong with that person, not them. Their feelings determine reality, and therefore, truth. Anyone whose “goodness” shows up brings to the light their evil, anyone whose “joy” shows up their misery, anyone whose “depth” shows up their shallowness, is first a threat and then an enemy who must be destroyed. They are not content with disagreeing with someone. People under the control of evil must destroy that person. That begins by planting seeds of doubt and discredit about their “enemy” among their friends. Gossip usually unfounded, innuendoes, conclusions of intent based on flimsy grounds, etc. are their everyday tactics. When we think about it there are lots of folks like that. We begin to suspect that when we are not in their presence they are talking about us the same way they talk about everybody else. Since there are a lot of folks like that, they easily find “friends” who believe them and the damage begins to spread.
Jesus put up with this throughout his life. We know he loved the psalms and must have found great solace in praying them, especially the ones that pertained to this unfortunate human condition. No group exemplified this more than the Pharisees, the folks who fancied themselves as “righteous” and whom Jesus considered “self-righteous.” They used their outward religiosity as a shield for their inner greed. While, in the end they finally got Jesus and had him killed, at least, it looked that way, though not really the psalms must have encouraged Jesus to not give in to them or give up hope that God would see him through it all. The constant discipline to pay attention to God’s presence despite any and all distractions can be greatly enhanced by praying this and other psalms, in imitation of Jesus.
When all is said and done, it really is the awareness of the Divine Presence that matters. When we plough through all of our petitions, the things we prayed for throughout our lives, it really boils down to the awareness of the Divine Presence. So long as we remain aware of God’s presence in our hearts, lives, beings, really all is well. We look back on our lives and on our prayers and realize that all those troubles and hardships, doubts and wrong turns, taught us something very valuable. Through them all we learned not only about the awareness of the Divine Presence, but God became personal to us. He became the “Lord,” “our Lord,” in an intensely satisfying and rewarding way. “Lord” is not just some theological title we assign to him in order to maintain our orthodoxy. It is a name, one of several names we have for this loving and beloved Presence who has taken up residence in the temple of each person who invites him to do so. The Lord cares not where he lives, but how we live and he knows we cannot live without him. So, he comes. He stays. He sits. He abides. He laughs with and even at us. He laments with us. He simply is always there, there for us. All the other things on our agenda, even the noble petitions in behalf of others, pale by comparison to his presence. The Lord is my light and my salvation, and yours, and anybody else’s who accepts him on his terms. And so the worst thing, the only really bad thing, that could happen, is experiencing his absence. Jesus himself got a brief jolt of that on the cross. It was not only the last moment of his earthly life; it was the worst moment. He experienced it for us in order to let us know that without the Presence, there is no life, no point to life, no desire to live life.
Awareness of the Lord’s presence dispels fear. There is no earthly or heavenly power, no combination of all of them, which is stronger than God. Being aware of the presence of God is a gift, not a right, eliciting gratitude, not complacency. Because it is a constant gift, it must be constantly asked for, never taken for granted. Waiting for the Lord to make his presence and power felt helps us to surrender to his will.
Presence: God is present everywhere. In fact, there would be no “where” at all if God were not present. However, we are not aware of his presence automatically and undeniably. We have to concentrate. We have to put our mind on “pause” and look more deeply into whatever we are looking at, if we are to penetrate the veil of ordinary perception and see into it or beyond it. That’s just the way it is. We might wonder just why God set it up the way he did, but we will probably never know, at least on this side of reality. There are, however, some things we do know. We do know we have a lower and a higher brain, the hypothalamus and the cerebral cortex. We know that our lower and older brain has much more in common with the animal world than with what we like to think of as the strictly human world. The lower and older brain knows nothing of the presence of God or really anything of the “invisible.” It is strictly as stimulus-response brain. It must be stimulated by some other reality- real or imagined- if it is to be put into motion, if it is to work. The higher and younger brain is different. It can muse. It can think of realities without the actual physical stimulation and so it can “sense” the invisible. The higher brain is much more attuned to realities like atmosphere, aura, tone, mood, etc.- realities that are not realities at all to the lower brain. We also know that current estimates are that we typically use one-tenth to one-fifth of our newer brain. This fact, if it is a fact, is used to indicate that no one is truly stupid, just intellectually lazy. That may or may not be so, and probably is at least half wrong, however it gives us reason to believe that the eighty to ninety percent of our higher brains are meant to function in the eternal realm rather than the time space one. Indeed, the little bit of our newer brain that we do use is used mostly in transcending time and space and thinking about things in larger than time space categories. All the arts, sciences, technologies and religions that we have on earth are really the result of transcending the narrow present, where animals and arrogant humans live, and exploring the vastly broader “present” in order to interpret reality in a larger context than the immediate. It is precisely that apart of our brain, that fourth-fifths to nine-tenths, that is most open to the Presence. It is that part that apprehends the truth of which poetry, by the use of the one-tenth or one-fifth of the higher brain, music, architecture, sculpture, literature and philosophy speak. Indeed, we can say that that outer sphere of our higher brains is the sacrament of the rest of our newer brain, the sphere that puts into human thought, language and action what the inner self-brain intuits as truth, beauty and goodness. Of course, in the process of translation, this purity runs into evil and can be diverted, polluted or even destroyed. Worse, it can be distorted to look like truth, goodness and beauty, when, in fact, it is not. That is what the psalmist is intuiting in this psalm and why he prays constantly for the victory of the Presence over absence of truth, goodness and beauty. That Presence is so much within us, and consciousness of Him in the depths of our higher brain, that we must discipline our limited, but easily distracted, consciousness to pay attention to God. That’s what all the Psalms, indeed the entire Scripture, are for.
Waiting: The older brain, with its need for immediate stimulation in order to work, and the outer edges of the newer brain, with its awareness that we have only limited time to live, both grow impatient at what they perceive to be the inactivity of God. It is only when we enter into the inner recesses of our higher brain that we can being to understand how much activity of God is invisible to the human eye and functional brain. God is always working and working on our behalf, but not requiring our “understanding” in order to function well. Amen.