My message titles never end up being what they start out as. I began a week ago thinking about God’s protection and our sense of privilege. We studied, to some degree, Psalm 91. This is a call for God’s protection from our enemies.
The following is the prose I wrote to prepare for Sunday. (although delivery is somewhat different)
I love the pictures the psalms paint for us. Sometimes they are pastoral and peaceful; sometimes they drum up images of enemies and great battles. Great writing often brings us into these kinds of contradictions. The psalmist do not let us down. There are prayers lifted up to God for protection that often call into play the help of the Messengers and the prophets. There are prayers of lament that leave us wondering why we even bother or care. Then there are great psalms of thanksgiving, of God’s grace, and never-ending love.
Psalm 91 does not let us down. All that I have mentioned comes into play. The psalmist calls out to God, knowing that God is there to protect and care; to help defeat the enemy. Then, at the end God speaks of the loyalty and honor that is given to those who as it says, “call on me”.
I have a problem with much of this. For those who believe in an interventionist being who steps in front of the freight train for us, saving each one for themselves, you may find a true connection with the psalmist. I on the other hand, find this a difficult step to take.
If we call on the angels to save us, the messengers, then who is to say that the enemy is not calling on the same God for their end ? There is an idea that we deserve this life, this country, this land. There are thoughts that because we are privileged, deserving, and even entitled, that we have all of God’s protection. We are the righteous ones. We are right with God. If something bad happens then we are separated from God through our sins as if God is taking sides and today we might not be on the right side; the correct side.
If we live this kind of faith it can put into question how our faith relates to others in our lives. From the beginning of history wars have been fought over who is more right [righteous] than another. The winner must have an in with God.
The early church pitted Roman Catholics against Reformers as if one was more right than the other. That certain rites and rituals would gain you more access to the Holy than others; Protestants against Jews, Christian believers against Muslims, and on and on it goes. Wars, pain, suffering, bombing, murder, separation continue all because of righteousness with God. Politics and power, religion and identity all call on who is more right. Even on our own soil there continues conversations about immigrant Canadians like ourselves, new-comers to this country, and the Indigenous Peoples who lived here long before any of us arrived. Who is right and who is wrong?
The psalmist points to protection from our enemies but the question that arises for me is, “Who is my enemy?” If the hand of God is truly on this chess-board we call life, then why does there need to be a winner and a loser? Can’t there be a draw? Why is there needless suffering and death if God is in control?
Would it be better to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” The protection the psalmist seeks and the protection we all crave is not just for the chosen few but for ALL.
The psalmist wrote and shared what was known and felt at the time; in the context of living in war zones with enemies all around. I would dare to say many of us do not live or have never lived in that kind of fear. I would dare to say that our thankful hearts pray more for our neighbors and not against those who would do us harm.
It’s like the two football teams praying before the game – each for a win. Better to pray for no injuries than a conference title.
If we were writing a psalm today perhaps the words would be poetic and beautiful just as Psalm 91 begins but then perhaps, we would pray for the Holy Spirit to help us open our hearts and minds to new insights; new thoughts about where faith can lead.
Do you feel God’s presence in your life today? Do you call out to God for protection from your enemies? OR do you pray that God’s love that dwells within you will be made known to the world – to all your neighbors?
My prayer is that each of us can be open to the Spirit, to the unconditional love of God – a God that offers such love FOR ALL. We can be lifted up on “eagle’s wings” and soar high above the clouds. We can lie deep in the valleys and find rest. May our openness to God’s love be with us all, always.
What will you psalm look like today?
*meme found on pintrest.com