Who do We Think We Are?Lent
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
And extol him with music and song. That’s how Psalm 95 opens. It’s a song of praise and jubilation. Let me ask you, when is the last time you felt jubilation and joy and thanksgiving in the presence of God?
We don’t experience much of that in the western Protestant churches these days. It’s seldom like the celebrations we see in victory parades when the home team wins a championship. My experience is that it’s more like the mood on the beach at Dunkirk: We just got our backsides handed to us, and in the cold and damp, we’re casting our gaze to the seas hoping for rescue.
But I can imagine there are times when we do experience that kind of joy and celebration. Do you go to the sing-along Messiah at the Royal Theatre? I suspect that’s a fantastic experience.
The Psalmist calls out for celebration and gives us a reason. For the Lord is the great God,
The great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
And the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
And his hands formed the dry land.
When you look, you can always find evidence of the greatness of God in nature.
I find lately that comes when I gaze into the night sky with my star-finder app and look for the stars and planets. Have you seen Jupiter and Venus and how bright they are on a clear night? Valerie and I were at Olympic View golf course Sunday night to attend our grandson’s seventeenth birthday dinner. We braved the cold night air to just stand and enjoy the sight of the two planets.
I’ve been struck by a thought lately. When I see photos from the James Webb telescope, or even the Hubble telescope and think about the vastness and grandeur of the universe, its really almost too much to take in.
And then, when I remind myself that the One who created all this is the same person I talk to when I pray, the thought is almost too much. Just as David wrote in Psalm 8: When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. My prayer is a bit different. It goes like this. Lord, you are so much greater than anything I can conceive of; and we’ve done so much to mess up our lives and your world. Why do you even bother? Why do you even care?
The question is, who am I after all that what I do even matters? Who do I think I am?
Who do we think we are?
Isaiah said the kingdoms of the earth are fine dust on the scales in God’s eyes. When you consider the vast scale of our universe, they are not even fine dust.
Have you visited the Grand Canyon? When you enter the park on the highway into the south rim, as you approach, you first notice cars in a parking lot. Only when you exit your vehicle and walk to the stone wall and railing do you see the canyon open in all its red-hued splendor. Now, that’s a breathtaking moment. I think God put it there for that very purpose—to make us say, “Wow.”
So who are we in relation to the magnificence of our creator? Dust on the head of a pin, hardly worthy of notice? Cosmologically, that would be accurate.
If this sanctuary represented the size of the known universe, you’d need a microscope to find planet earth. We wouldn’t be worth even looking for.
And yet, the Psalmist, inspired by God, says something entirely different. Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care. That’s who we are: the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. In other words, we are the beloved of God. Why? Don’t ask me, but we are the ones for whom he sent Jesus to die on the cross to redeem us from all our brokenness.
Speaking in cosmological terms once more, Paul says that Jesus is the lamb crucified before the foundations of the earth. Figure this out: Jesus’ death and resurrection were foreseen and built into the very moment of creation.
But the psalm ends with an admonishment. This is fitting as we are in the season of Lent.
He writes: Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’” We read the passage about the waters of Meribah earlier. What happened that God was so displeased?
Remember all the wonders they had seen as God rescued them from slavery in Egypt: parting the Red Sea, drowning Pharoah’s army, receiving the law on Mount Sinai, and being led, fed, and cared for every step of the way.
And yet, they grumbled and complained against God and Moses for bringing them out where they thought they’d die.
They complained and wanted to return to Egypt despite all the fantastic ways they witnessed God’s hand upon them.
Remember that it was God who let them get thirsty. Providing water would have been easy. That cloud that followed them could have rained every night and sent all the water they needed. There is any number of ways God could provide water.
But he let them get thirsty. Why? So when God provided water, it would be one of those extraordinary “Wow!” moments. And maybe because they were constantly complaining, it was what was needed.
God doesn’t always rescue us from our predicaments. And sometimes, it requires patience on our part.
If I didn’t like what was being served for dinner, my mother would quote her mother and say, “hunger is a good sauce.” Message received. Bringing water out of the Rock was planned to demonstrate God’s blessing and holiness.
But when the moment came, we read in other versions that Moses and Aaron were in a bad mood. Instead of letting God’s glory shine, Moses angrily railed against them and struck the Rock. God did bring water from the Rock but told Moses that would cost him—he would not enter the promised land.
I think of times and ways God could have used me to be gracious or touch others. I perhaps spoiled the moment with anger, selfishness, defensiveness, or bad behavior.
I said that, in my opinion, the mainline church of North America is not having a great time of it. It sometimes feels grim, and past days of glory come to mind.
I’ve been following news of a revival that seems to be breaking out—if that’s what revivals do—on the campus of Asbury College in Kentucky. A student brought what he thought was a simple and ordinary message on repentance and started responding by the hundreds to the point that people are flocking to the university to experience what’s happening. They come in such numbers that city authorities have posted signs on the outskirts of town saying, “Asbury is full, no room for visitors.”
That kind of revival is more of an American than a Canadian experience. Still, I was thinking: What would I do if a routine sermon brought that kind of response? The answer is that I don’t know what I’d do. But I’ve been praying, as you have, about our experience here and now. I have a clear notion about something.
I believe God is at work in our discouragement and that something new is coming. I have no idea what it is, but I am reasonably certain about what we should do until then.
We should stay open. God will act in ways we cannot anticipate. It’s natural to look back on the days of former glory, so to speak. But Egypt, in that sense, is gone, and the way is forward. God will act. We just cannot anticipate how. So stay open to something new.
We need to stay together. In times of discouragement, looking for someone or something to blame is tempting. Now is the time to practice the fruit of the Spirit: kindness, gentleness, patience and so forth. Do what’s right and do it joyfully in unity while we wait.
Like the most interesting man in the world says when he holds up a bottle of Dos Equis beer: “Stay thirsty, my friends.” Stay thirsty for God and accept no substitutes.