July 15, 2012 Psalm 28: With Song I Give Thanks
2 Samuel 6:1-19 Psalm 28 Ephesians 1:3-14 Mark 6:14-29
Liar, liar, pants on fire – appropriate phrase as we listen to the political rhetoric around us. Satan is the prince of lies, a master of deception, and if so, his presence is apparent throughout our society. Lies are everywhere, they are destructive, none more so than the lies we tell ourselves. It’s so easy to deceive ourselves. Our readings for today give examples of how easy it is to do this.
In our reading from Samuel we hear about how David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. On the surface it seems pretty straight forward, if Jerusalem is to be the seat of the kingdom, you would want the symbol of God there. However, was this what God wanted, or what David wanted? Was it motivated by devotion to God, or political expedience, helping to further consolidate David’s power as ruler of Israel? God was present to the Israelite people in the desert in the Ark. The Ark was even brought into battle, unsuccessfully so in 1 Samuel chapter 4, when it was used against the Philistines and captured. It was a sign of God’s presence and protection, God’s leadership of his people. David, as king, was assuming this position.
David recaptured the Ark and prepared to bring it to Jerusalem in our reading today, a time for great rejoicing and singing as David danced before the Ark. But it wasn’t as simple as that. When the Ark starts to tilt and Uzzah reaches up to steady it, he is immediately struck dead for daring to touch the sacred. David is angered by this and leaves the Ark at the house of Obededom for three months where Obededom is blessed. Seeing this David decides to attempt again to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, however he has learned his lesson. This time he offers sacrifice to God after moving the Ark six steps, and again as he entered Jerusalem. If there was any doubt before as to who is leading who, it is gone now. David once again dances before the Ark, rejoicing at bringing this sacred object to his city, but he also gives God due respect.
David is well-intentioned in bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, but we all know where those good intentions sometimes lead. He doesn’t stop to ask God what God wants and when Uzzah is struck down, he doesn’t respond with fear of the Lord, but anger that God wasn’t grateful to him for the good he was doing him. David had yet to learn the difference between working for the Lord and doing the Lord’s work, as defined by Thomas Green in his book, Weeds Among the Wheat. In the first case, you are busy working for God, doing what you think God wants, in the other you are asking God first what God wants and then doing God’s work, what God wants you to do not what you want to do for God: an important difference. David was busy doing what he wanted to do for God, not what God wanted.
David was well-intentioned, but he was deceived. He had this idea and talked himself into believing it was what God wanted without even checking with God. How often have we done this? We get an idea into our head and we right away assume it was from God when maybe we were just deceiving ourselves. But then, once right with God, David had reason to rejoice.
At this point we get another glimpse into the working of self-deception. Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife, sees David dancing and is ashamed at his fervor, at least that is what she tells herself. Chances are, the love she once had for David had started to grow cold. He had since married two other women, perhaps she was jealous and just looking for a reason to despise him. We don’t know the inner workings of her mind, just that she did not rejoice with David at the coming of the Ark to Jerusalem, she was at odds with her husband-king. This was just an excuse, a justification for the hatred she was already feeling.
Our gospel reading shows us yet more instances of self-deception and justification. Herod wanted his brother’s wife, Herodius, and took her from him as his own. His justification most likely was that he was king and could therefore take what he wanted. John the Baptist acts as the voice of his conscience in condemning him for his adultery. Herod doesn’t like what John is saying, but is politically astute enough to recognize the danger in harming John who is revered by the people. Herodius however has no such concern. She hated John and wanted him dead. When her daughter dances before Herod and incurs favor, she tells her to ask for John’s head, thereby forcing Herod’s hand to kill an innocent man. Her justification for this was her hatred for John.
It’s so easy to justify our actions. We take something that is not ours to take yet justify it by any number of ways, saying, no one will notice, no one will care, it’s no big deal. We take someone’s good name through gossip and justify it by insisting we were only telling the truth, or, everybody does this, everybody gossips, so it’s okay. We say unkind things to and about others and justify it. We rejoice when someone we are jealous of or dislike experiences misfortune. We tell ourselves it’s no big deal, but these lies can become a way of life, blinding us to future lies. We can become so wrapped up in our own lies and justification that they become as truth to us. Lies beget more lies.
When Satan came to Eve in the garden, he convinced her with his lies. She justified her actions saying the serpent made me do it, rather than accepting responsibility for her actions. It seems to me that Satan lies to us in two ways, in telling us we are greater than we are, such is his lie to Eve, or in telling us we are less than we are, in degrading us to the point of despair. Each are lies. Sin doesn’t happen overnight. It is our thinking that eventually leads us to sinful action. How do we get out of this cycle of lies that lead to sin?
Our psalm for today is a lament. Brief and to the point, the writer has taken refuge in the Temple. He is sick or being tormented by wicked people who are the source of his illness or suffering. He calls out to the Lord, saying, “be not deaf to me,” listen to me (1). If God remains silent, then the writer will be like one cast into a deep, dark hole, or cast into his own particular hell. Certainly, without God, this life can be a living hell. He lifts up his hands in supplication to God and prays that God not let him suffer the violence that befalls the godless, those workers of evil who are duplicitous, who speak peace but whose actions are far from peaceful. The writer attributes his problems to evil men whom he had trusted but he doesn’t say exactly what they did to him.
“Requite them according to their work (4a),” the writer says. Give back to them as they gave, not as punishment necessarily, but that they might come to understand their wrongdoing and then repent. Is it more loving to pretend we have not been hurt by the actions of another, or to let them know the consequences of their action so that they might change? Sometimes we need to be brought down, in order that we might be lifted up. We need to be shown the error of our ways and of our thinking so that we might change.
In verses 6-7 the psalmist breaks into rejoicing with an exceptionally long and exuberant exclamation. God has heard his pleas, God has proven trustworthy, and this is reason to rejoice. This is reason to dance before the Lord as David did. The psalm ends with a statement of faith and a prayer.
So how do we deal with self-deception and lies? Through prayer, through turning to God in prayer, asking him to deliver us not just from those outside who seek to harm us, but to deliver us from that which is within us that would harm us, lie to us, through listening to God’s truth, not our own version. This can be hard. It is hard to look at ourselves through the lens of truth and realize that some of our best intentions are not as worthy as we thought, as happened to David, to recognize our idolatries and our lies and ask for deliverance. Yet the end result of such brutal honesty is rejoicing, exulting in our Lord and Savior who loves us despite ourselves, who sees all of our failings and loves us anyway.
And once out of the cycle, the way to stay out of the cycle is through praising God, thanking God constantly. If Eve had been busy thanking God for all the good God had done for her at the time that the serpent called, he would never have been able to plant lies in her mind. But he found fertile ground.
In Ephesians, Paul says, blessed be God, who chose us to be holy and without blemish before him, who redeems us, saves us from our sins, “so that we might exist for the praise of his glory.” (12a) We were made to praise our God, to sing to God with glory and rejoice in our Lord.
The lies that others tell us and that we tell ourselves get in the way of being all we are meant to be, they keep us from praising our God. They can be like an illness, only God has the cure. So like the psalmist we need to turn to our God in trust, asking to be delivered and rejoicing in this deliverance. Then will our heart exult as we give thanks to our God.
Copyright Robertson, July 2012