What Will People See?

Hi Friends!

I ventured into the Old Testament for this morning’s sermon when I saw Psalm 67 in the lectionary.  What beautiful words from the Aaronic blessing in this psalm! Here is my sermon, as well as the video of our worship service in its entirety. Enjoy!

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 16, 2020

Psalm 67

What Will People See?

I thought we would take a break from the New Testament this week and spend a little bit of time flexing our Old Testament muscles.  We have spent the past couple of weeks in the lectionary, toggling back and forth between the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s Letter to the Romans, neither of which felt particularly inspiring to me when I looked at this week’s passages, so I decided to look and see what the Old Testament offerings were.

Which is how I found myself in the Book of Psalms.  I do not usually preach out of Psalms – sometimes I will use them as a secondary text, but they always seem to kind of preach themselves, I never feel like I have much more to add.  But for some reason I was compelled to look at the Psalm this week, Psalm 67 – most likely a little divine nudge.  And I did not even make it past the first verse when I just stopped and exhaled.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.

If ever there was a time to pray that God would be gracious to us and bless us and shine his face upon us, that time is now.

There is a lot happening in our lives right now.  COVID-19 has effectively turned our world upside down.  Trying to reopen schools is proving to be complicated and stressful.  We are gearing up for a presidential election that we know is going to be contentious and ugly.  The harsh reality of systemic racism in our country, while understood more now than it once was, still has not been resolved.

And this is just the stuff we are all collectively dealing with.  I know on personal levels people are dealing with their own stress and conflict and trauma and grief.  People are awaiting test results, facing difficult diagnoses and experiencing loss.  People have lost jobs and businesses.  People are making decisions where there are no good choices.  Tensions are high.  And while we know we are supposed to love one another, the truth is we are snapping at people – or firing back comments on social media – a little quicker than we used to.

Life is not easy right now – in a way that it never has been before.

And while I do believe that we will get through this – and that, like I said last week, Jesus is guiding us through this storm – reading this psalm was also a really good reminder for me that God is being gracious to us and blessing us and making his face shine upon us in the midst of these hard times.

The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs that were composed throughout Israel’s history.  Many of them are attributed to King David.  They vary in length and style and purpose.  There are psalms of laments and thanksgiving; some psalms make petitions and others offer reassurance.

This psalm, Psalm 67, is a psalm of thanksgiving – a call to praise God, even in the midst of hard times.  And the powerful thing about these words is that they were written 3,000 years ago; they have stood the test of time.  Our world – our chaos, the mess that we are in right now – is not going to bring them down.  They are still just as true – and as real and as attainable – as they were the psalmist first spoke them.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.

This particular psalm – Psalm 67 – includes this Aaronic Blessing, referring to Aaron, the brother of Moses.  Back in the Book of Numbers, which is the fourth book in the Old Testament, following the narrative of Moses, God speaks to Moses and tells him to tell Aaron and his sons to bless the Israelites.  The blessing God tells them to bestow upon the Israelites is the following from Numbers 6:24-26:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

This passage, of course, is referenced in today’s psalm in verse one, which says:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.

The literal translation of this means, “May God look at us,” or, “May God smile at us,” or, “May God show favor on us.”  When the psalmist continues to talk about judgement on people and guiding the nations in verse four, they are saying that, despite the tension in the world, God will show favor on people and protect them.

On the one hand, these words actually bring me a lot of comfort right now.  And I do believe they are meant to reassure us; that, in the midst of the chaos of the world, God’s face is shining a light upon us.

On the other hand, I also believe these words are meant to challenge us.  Because when that light is shining upon us, we have to wonder what it will illuminate.

Now, more than ever, we must ask ourselves this question:  When God’s light is shining upon us, what will people see?

When God’s light is shining upon us, will people see love, acceptance, compassion and kindness?  Will they see groups of people trying to talk through their differences with grace and in a spirit of friendship?  Will they see us, as a human race, serving the marginalized, embracing diversity and helping the least of these?

Or, when God’s light is shining upon us, will people see hatred and hostility?  Will they see name-calling and opposition?  Will they see emails, texts or comments on social media that, perhaps, were sent too soon?  Will they see ugly division and harmful discrimination?  Will they see us, as a human race, tearing one another down?

In this moment of chaos and confusion, when God’s light shines upon us, what will people see?

I do think, to some extent, this pandemic has brought out the best in people and also the worst in people.  On the one hand, there are many days when I log onto our nightly prayers and I hear stories about people who have sent cards, dropped off meals and made phone calls people both inside and outside our community.  Our mask-makers deployed back in March and donated thousands of masks when they were needed most.  I see the way you all, as a church family, are holding one another in prayer – not only saying you are praying for one another, but by really praying in an on-your-knees and storm-the-heavens kind of way.

But on the other hand, I have also seen moments where the light God shines upon us perhaps reveals a side that is not as compassionate or kind or caring.  A side that is mean and oppressive.  A side that shows disregard for the good of others.  A side that uses the Gospel as a weapon of hatred instead of a bridge towards peace.

And I understand that this is hard and that everyone is doing the best they can, but sometimes I just think we can do better.  I would hate for others to see the light of God shining upon us right now and for it to reveal anything less than the love and grace that is found when you put your hope in Christ’s resurrection.

This is going to sound so cliché, but we are living in unprecedented times.  But here is the oddly comforting thing about scripture’s role in all of this – this is nothing new.  Chaos and confusion and tension are nothing new to this psalm – to the world is was written to or the worlds who have leaned on it for over 3,000 years.  The world was turned upside then and yet there was this promise that God would continue to bless the people of Israel.  And so, even though our world is turned upside down today I do believe that God will continue to shine God’s light upon us and bless us.

But this is our charge.

When that light shines upon us, grace needs to be revealed.  Kindness needs to be revealed. Compassion needs to be revealed.  Justice needs to be revealed.  Friendship needs to be revealed.  Love needs to be revealed.

The Gospel needs to be revealed.

Friends, our world has been turned upside down.  But God is still shining light upon us and blessing us.

What will people see when that happens?

So – when that light shines upon us, may it reveal the Gospel we are called to proclaim, the Church we are called to be and individuals in the Body of Christ that God is looking upon with favor.

We can do this.  Love wins, remember?

To paraphrase verse 1:

May God give us grace and blessings and look at us and smile.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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