Sermon March 8, 2020

“The Truth of the Lie”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Psalm 121
March 8, 2020

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
Psalm 121:7i

If you were to ask me if I believed the words found in the 121st Psalm to be true, I would answer with an unequivocal “yes.” God has been with me and sustained me through the dark times of my life. I have never doubted God’s presence, never feared God’s abandonment, never wondered “why me” when life went sour. Oh, I am wise enough to know that others have not been so blessed. Life has knocked them down. From where they are writhing on the ground, they do not think of the benevolence of God but only of their own despair and disappointment.

So, there are two ways of looking at what life has dealt us and they are polar opposites. The first is to see, despite the darkness that descends, a light that has never been extinguished, a hope that lives in faith. The other is to see only the wave that has crushed you rather than the beauty of the sea. None of us, of course, lives out our lives always occupying one of these extremes. Rather we live our lives on a continuum and vacillate throughout our lives between seeing the sea and seeing only the wave.

Perhaps this is why in times of death when we formally mourn those we have lost we turn to the 121st Psalm. It accomplishes for us what we at times cannot accomplish ourselves. It lifts us beyond the stark given of death to the fulfilled promises of God.

It is, if you read it literally, a lie to say, as verse 7 of Psalm 121 states, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.” It literally is not so. Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laurate, was not spared the horrors of Auschwitz. The truth of the 121st Psalm is not found by reading it literally. It was Walter Brueggemann who stated a deeper truth about finding the deep places of our lives:

“The deep places in our lives – places of resistance and embrace – are reached only by stories, by images, metaphors and phrases that line out the world differently, apart from our fear and hurt.”1

So, let these words of hope speak as they were intended — not as literal reality, but as a hope that resides despite the darkness. Let me suggest three conditions that must be maintained if the 121st Psalm is to speak with power.

First, never deny the darkness. Second, never forsake the power of God. Third, never take any moment in time to be the final moment for God.

The first condition, never deny the darkness, may sound counterintuitive. It is the darkness that I seek to overcome. Looking it square in the face is a daunting task that I would rather avoid. Who wants to be reminded of the burden we have been asked to carry?

You’re right. Dwelling on life’s negatives leads to a negatively lived life, but that is not what I am suggesting. The problem, as I see it, is that people of faith sometime believe problems should not beset them, that God will do exactly what Satan said to Jesus when the devil quoted some verses from Psalm 91

9Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
    the Most High your habitation,
10 no evil shall befall you,
    no scourge come near your tent.

11 For he will give his angels charge of you
    to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

However, Jesus knew a Pollyannaish faith was no faith at all. It will not endure when the difficult days of your life beset you. Ask the father who lost his child, the mother who watched one of her children embrace darkness. Their faith survived not because they denied the darkness but because they had the faith and courage to live through it. Do not deny the darkness. Look for the darkness to become a background for the light that brings hope.

Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? He knew what was coming. It is true, He wanted to escape what awaited, but denying the reality of what awaited Him was not an option. His path must be our path, too.

This brings us to our second condition. If the first is to never deny the darkness, the second is to never doubt the power of God. What would have happened had Jesus doubted the ultimate power of God. When he knelt and prayed that Thursday night so long ago, He ended it with, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) In the end, even Jesus had to rely on the power of God to overcome the darkness before Him.

And what of Satan? How giddy he must have ben when Friday came and the cross was raised. Finally, his dream was realized. The very Son of God — murdered by a thankless humanity. Satan’s way of deception, fear and hate was vindicated that day. Satan’s heart must have soared.

But Satan had underestimated the power of God. Unbeknownst to him, Sunday was coming and not even the forces of hell could stop the stone from being ripped away. The One Satan thought he had crushed, rises.

If we are never to deny the darkness nor forsake the power of God, the third condition for making Psalm 121 real is to never take any moment in time as the final moment for God.

Have you not known this to be true? Have you not triumphed over despair and loss, have you not seen beyond night to dawn? Oh, it is not always easy. The darkness can be devastating and seem to last forever. But something unseen is happening. On the other side of the earth the Sun is shining and at some point, the sun crosses the meridian. For you, for me, the night is still dark, still no different than a moment ago. But the light of the sun is no longer on its downward ark. Despite the darkness, it has begun to rise. It will come. Indeed, at midnight, it has already begun.

No, God is not done with you or with me. Remember there is a Sunday coming and at dawn long ago, Satan and his minions met their match.

With these three conditions met — never to deny the darkness, never to forsake the power of God and never take any given moment as God’s final moment — the words of the 121st Psalm can become the deepest truth we have ever known. “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.” So God has and so God shall. Let us pray…..

1Internet: Accessed March 4, 2020:

iPsalm 121

1I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?

2My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

3He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

4He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

5The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.

6The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

7The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

8The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.