My Light and My Salvation

Psalm 27

Sunday July 30, 2017

One of the great profound insights of the 27th Psalm is that so much of our faith can be summarized by the first verse: “The Lord is my light and my Salvation, of whom shall I fear.” Fear appears three times in the opening verses: one in each of the first three verses.  I am not sure if it is an accurate saying or not, but it seems to me that fear and love are the two great themes of the Bible that can be summed up in the words of John from his first letter: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  In fact fear seems to be mentioned so frequently in the Bible that I decided to check out a list of things that people are afraid of, and boy was that ever a shocker.

Would you be surprised to learn that Arachnophobia or the fear of spiders tops the list of fears? Or that Cynophobia, the fear of dogs comes in 5th? Or that Trypophobia, the fear of holes ranks above the fear of death? Or that the fear of death out polled the fear of public speaking by only one?

One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, “Mommy, will you stay with me all night?” Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, “I can’t dear. I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.” A long silence followed. At last it was broken by a shaky voice saying, “Oh that big sissy!”

Perhaps it is because so much of life is permeated with fear that the psalmist begins the great psalm of faith with the image of creation as the first attribute of God.  “The Lord is my Light.”

We should be quite familiar with that characteristic of God, for it is the first created act.  It appears that without light nothing would have been created.  We all know its power.  Without light a photographer cannot create his images.  Without light a seamstress, quilter, or weaver cannot work their art.  Without light a painter cannot complete the canvas.  If I were to give a group of adults a simple child’s dot-to-dot picture and a pencil to complete and place them in a closet without light, they would not be able to complete the task.

It is from that account in Genesis and the first chapter in the Gospel of John that light became the image or the lens through which God sees everything. And while that may be somewhat of an abstract theological idea, it is the same concept that security companies use to get you to subscribe to their products.  Their commercial goes something like this:  “If you illuminate the outside of your home, people will be able to see what is going on and therefore those who would do you evil will stay away.” It is the same logic that is applied to streetlights.  Light becomes that which allows us to see things and hopefully see what is good.  And that is what makes it the lens through which we, as people of God should see things.  So if God is our light, then we are to see all through Him or through His eyes or perspective.

Now that doesn’t mean that the objects that we see are not what they are.  It merely means that we see that object or subject differently than the rest of the world.  In my first church was the vice president of one of the city utility companies.  He used to carry a small version of a ping-pong ball in his pocket.  One night at a session meeting when the elders were getting into a rather heated disagreement over something, which I have forgotten, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the ping-pong ball.  He placed it between his thumb and his pointing finger and asked the elders, “What is the color of this ball?

They all answered,  “it is white of course.”

Then he turned his hand over and asked again, “What color is the ball now?”

Of course the ball had been painted in two different colors: the original white on one side and black on the other.

And then he said, “You are seeing the same thing, just from a different vantage point.

How often it is that when the world sees things one-way, God sees the same thing from a different perspective because God is the light of the world. On December 21st of 1988, 18-year-old Lisa Gibson waited at home for the arrival of her 24 year old brother who was returning from his station at a military base in Europe to be home for the holiday.  Lisa was very close to her brother and her excitement was contagious.  I am not sure how, but sometime during the day Lisa heard that the flight on which her brother was traveling, Pan Am flight 103 had exploded in the air over Lockerbie Scotland.  It was devastating news for her.  In 2008, on the anniversary of the downing of that plane, the family members of those who lost their lives on that ill-fated flight met for a memorial service at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, but Lisa Gibson wasn’t there.  No, she was in Benghazi Libya, the country that was behind the plot to take down the plane on which her brother died and in a time following the Arab Spring, trying to prevent what ultimately happened in Lybia from happening.  She was there teaching the leaders of that new fledgling government, conflict resolution.  She said then what is true even after all the other difficult news of Benghazi, (sic) “love is a far better response to hatred then anger.” (BBC News, 21 Dec 2012) That is how God sees things.  It could have been easy for her to witness that event in a very personal way and turn to anger and hatred.  But she didn’t because she saw and experienced that event through the eyes of God.

And that is just the way that it is with God.  When the world sees chaos, God sees an avenue to order.  When the world sees greed, God sees a way to turn people’s hearts to generosity.  When the world sees violence, the Lord raises up people who will bring peace. When the world sees epidemic, the Lord sees a way to heal.

Now I have to be careful here because I do not want anyone to think that when God sees a person suffering from illness that God thinks that that is good.  No, I believe that God is truly saddened by many illnesses and diseases in the world.  But I do believe that when God looks at what we see as the end of something, he sees the possibility for a new beginning, if we could see it the way that God sees.

And secondly the psalmist says, “The Lord is my Salvation”.  In its root form, salvation means to be saved.  But saved from what: danger, disease, poverty, and confusion? No, not really. Saved from fear –perhaps?  From death – physical death no, but spiritual death certainly!   But most of all salvation means to be saved from sin, and sin is something that we don’t talk about very much anymore.

It was way back in 1973 when Carl Menninger the founder of the Menninger institute in Topeka, Kansas published a book titled “Whatever Became of Sin?”  This was a rather revolutionary event because a noted psychiatrist was now raising a theological issue that had been with the church for centuries.  As a psychiatrist, he saw people who struggled with guilt and how it had negatively affected their lives.  And in that treatment he says forgiveness has the greatest healing quality.  And where does forgiveness come from?  Well, to the great psychologist it came for God; forgiving us for our SINS, not our mistakes, our miscalculations, or our errors, but for our sins.

A century earlier, Phillips Brooks the Episcopalian Rector of Trinity Church in Boston, preached a sermon with the same title.  He chose one bible story found in the 32nd chapter of Genesis to illustrate his point.  It goes like this.

When Moses had ascended Sinai the second time and was delayed in returning, the people of Israel complained to Aaron that the God that Moses was obeying had not done much for them in their minds and they wanted to get back to their old gods and their old ways.  So Aaron asked the people to collect all of their gold jewelry.  Once it was received he cast all the gold into a mold and placed it in an oven and produced a Golden Calf that the people worship as a familiar god from their time in Egypt.

When Moses came down the mountain and saw what had happened he was furious.  In the tone of a wounded and betrayed leader he calls out to Aaron asking what had happened in his absence.  Moses said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”  One could almost make a comedy routine out of that. “I threw it in the fire and it came out a calf!”  Give me a break Aaron.  That is worse than my dog ate my homework so I can’t turn it in and it is really a strong reminder of what has happened in our society, for the time has come when few people take responsibility for anything, let alone that which is a sin.

In my last church I had a youth director who was rather stern about this concept of sin.  It was seen in her understanding of apologies when someone did something seriously wrong or hurt another kid in the youth group in some way.  To use the usual exchange of “I am sorry” she said was to lighten grace.  “Most of the time when someone says, ‘I’m sorry’ to us we just hunch our shoulders and say, “that’s OK,” She would say. But that is really what Dietrich Bonheoffer, the great German theologian of WW II calls “cheap grace.”

Her goal of course was to get the kids to see that injuring another person violated a relationship and in the Biblical sense that made it a sin, and to merely be sorry, blocked forgiveness.  It was a very difficult change of behavior that she was after, and I am not sure that it worked all the time, but I do have to admire her for trying to get the kids to think theologically about what they were doing.  So whenever words were spoken that insulted a person or belittled a person she would make the two sit in a chair and look each other in the eye.  One would be require to ask, “Will you forgive me?”  For at that moment the power to forgive rested with the offended.  And that is how salvation works.

Mistakes are a part of the learning process.  Poor judgments are part of the maturing process.  Lapses in memory are part of the aging process.  But the forgiveness of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is bestowed as forgiveness on those who sin.

Interesting isn’t it that the psalmist uses two words that cover all time continuums:  “The Lord is my Light” rules over what we see now and in the future.  “The Lord is my Salvation” rules over what was in the past.

Blessed be the Lord who is my Light and my Salvation.  Amen