A sermon on Psalm 9 and Revelation 21
Preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church of Independence, Missouri
By Rev. Elizabeth Meador Strobel
March 8, 2020 – The Second Sunday in Lent
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
When my enemies turned back, they stumbled and perished before you. For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgement.
You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever. The enemies have vanished in everlasting ruins; their cities you have rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.
But the Lord sits enthroned forever, he has established his throne for judgement. He judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with equity.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion. Declare his deeds among the peoples. For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Be gracious to me, O Lord. See what I suffer from those who hate me; you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death, so that I may recount all your praises, and, in the gates of daughter Zion, rejoice in your deliverance.
The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught. The Lord has made himself known, he has executed judgement; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. The wicked shall depart to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish for ever.
Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail; let the nations be judged before you. Put them in fear, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human.
There are things in life that simply make us feel hopeless – things that keep us from seeing a way forward. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children are told that Narnia is under a curse that makes it always winter but never Christmas. This was C. S. Lewis’s way of explaining hopelessness to children. Always winter – cold, bleak, icy, treacherous – but without the joy and hope of Christmas.
You know what that feels like, right? Maybe some of those violent crimes I heard about on jury duty have happened to you or people you love. Perhaps you’ve gotten a scary diagnosis lately – or worse, your doctor has said you need “more tests” before anything is determined. Maybe fear of the coronavirus has you down. Maybe the political climate has left you fearful. Maybe your bank account is running low, or you’re concerned about your children, or you simply just feel unsettled about life right now. Or perhaps your personal life is just fine, but you see the world around us and think that all the hunger and racism and greed makes life pretty hopeless.
The Psalmist knew what it felt like to feel hopeless. In Psalm 9, traditionally attributed to David, he says to God “See what I suffer.” He lists enemies, violence, and warring nations. He may have meant feeling hopeless in a literal battle, or perhaps it was some other situation that felt like war in his soul. Either way, the Psalmist feels hemmed in by wickedness, and yet still he rejoices. He says “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” How can someone sing praises to God while under siege? Because he believes this truth: “For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.” When it feels like the things that siphon away hope are closing in on us like a brutal army, we remember that God gives us hope so that we don’t perish.
Emily Dickinson says “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Hope is the thing that sings inside us like a sparrow, that lifts us on wings like eagles out of whatever mires us in despair. Hope doesn’t make all those things go away – what hope does is direct the eyes of our heart toward the promise that one day, all will be well. Maybe not today, definitely not yesterday – but one day. Because the same God who inspired the Psalms thousands of years ago also promises us in Revelation that one day, God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” We have hope that God will not forget us in our need, because God has always been faithful to us. Beloved, if you have faith in God, then you must also have hope. Because without hope, even faith perishes.
Rabbi Hugo Gryn tells a story of time he spent in Auschwitz as a child. “The family was deeply devout, steeped in orthodox Judaism—and even surrounded by the horrors of the camp, they managed somehow to huddle secretly in a corner of the barracks to observe the Jewish festivals. One Hanukkah, young Hugo was shocked when his father, lacking the necessary candles for the festival, instead took a precious bit of margarine—part of their meager food allotment—and used it as fuel for the lights. When Hugo protested that they shouldn’t waste their only margarine by burning it, his father reminded him that Hanukkah was about hope. ‘You and I know we can live for up to three weeks without food,’ he said. ‘You can’t live properly for three minutes without hope.’"
Friends, for people of faith, hope is what keeps us going. Now, I’m going to get real for a minute – I’ve heard some pretty hopeless talk around this church in the last two weeks. It usually goes like this: “Oh, I understand why you’re going to a different church, ours just isn’t very big.” “Well, I wonder if we’ll be able to find a new pastor that will take on such an aging congregation.” “What are we going to do without you here to do _____.” “Your last day is going to feel like a funeral.” Hear me, all of these things are said with love – and I get that they’re words of grief. But I’m about done hearing y’all talk down about yourselves. This church, this place, is the body of Jesus Christ, God incarnate and Savior of the world. This place proclaims the gospel that is the good news of salvation for all humankind. This place is filled with some of the most fiercely compassionate and hardworking people I’ve ever met. I get it, your pastor leaving is a bummer – if I could make that not hurt, I would. But this is not winter without Christmas. Change is not reason for hopelessness. Even grief is not a reason for hopelessness. God has always been faithful to this church – and that’s not going to change. And when we have God, we have hope.
My friends, we are people of hope. That’s who we are. When we have faith in Christ, then we have faith that all things will be made well. We have the gift of hope that one day the things that drag us down will go away. Hope that the things that make us anxious on the nightly news will be no more. Hope that all God’s children will be treated with justice and love and equity. Hope that we will never again have to say goodbyes. Hope that one day we won’t even have to hope anymore because God’s redemption of the world will be complete. But until then, we hope. We place our hope in the God who never forgets us, never leads us astray, who is our stronghold in times of trouble. As the Psalm says, “those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Thanks be to God. Amen.