Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 7 You are my refuge

When we were growing up the summer holidays were long, and carefree, and the sun shone every day. (Or so it seemed). We had loads of friends on our street, and we rode our bikes, played tennis, and did lots of things together. The game we loved playing, though, was what we called pom pom home. It was like hide and seek - except the person looking for you had to get back to base and shout ‘pom pom I see Gary’ for me to be caught. Again. The whole idea of the game was to make it home, to get back to base, then you were safe. You couldn’t be caught. You were safe.

This morning, we’re thinking about taking refuge, finding shelter. So what comes into your mind when you hear those words - refuge, shelter. Perhaps it’s huddling under an umbrella, when the rain comes tumbling down, finding some protection from the elements. You get the same idea with a bus shelter - when you’re waiting for a bus, you can stand in under it, to get out of the rain or the wind.

With the children going back to school, though, I began to think back to the best time of the school day (and it wasn’t the home time bell, but it was just better than that) - breaktime and lunchtime. If it wasn’t raining, we were allowed out into the playground. You could play football, or chasies or swop football stickers or pogs or top trumps. If you were ever annoyed by someone, or someone wanted to fight with you, then you knew what to do - get close to Mrs Malcolmson / Osborne / Clarke / Barr. The dinner ladies took no nonsense. No one would dare come near you if you were beside them. The dinner ladies were a shelter, a safe place. A person was a safe place, a refuge. And that’s the idea that David shows us in verse 1. ‘O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save me and deliver me from all who pursue me.’

The title of the Psalm gives us some idea of what is happening - ‘A shiggaion of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning Cush, a Benjaminite.’ And verse 2 shows why David needs to take refuge in the Lord - ‘or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.’ David fears for his life because of his enemies, and in particular this Cush boyo. So he takes refuge in the Lord. God is (firstly) David’s refuge. Is he your refuge, your shelter?

Next, in verses 3-5, David maintains his innocence before his judge. Do you see the way he says ‘if, if... then let’ this happen. He’s appealing to God the judge. If I have done this and there is guilt on my hands - if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe - then let my enemy pursue and overtake me. If this was true, then he would deserve for his enemy to triumph over him. He feels so strongly, he feels wrongly accused, so he cries out to God, who sees all and knows all.

Whenever you’re accused of wrongdoing, how do you handle it? Do you go on the attack? Or do you take it to the Lord, your shelter, your refuge? David it takes it to the Lord in prayer. He appeals to the judge, and rests his case. Selah - that pause, that turning around.

From verse 6, we see David owning God as his vindicator, the one who will show and prove that David is in the right. I wonder would you talk to God like this? ‘Arise, O Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies; awake my God; decree justice.’ Do you see the action of those three lines? Arise, rise up, awake. God, don’t just sit there allowing this to happen. God, get up and do something! It’s almost like the words that will be heard when the schools start again - get up, you’ve to be in school! And what is it that God has to do? Not go to school, but to act as judge.

David seems to be impatient with God - that God is slow to do his job. That God is slow to act on David’s behalf. Have you ever found yourself in the same boat? The wicked seem to get away with their wickedness. Come on, God, don’t let them get away with it! Don’t let them accuse me falsely!

In verse 8, it almost looks as if David has gone too far. He may well be right to be cross with the accusations. He may well be right to call on God. But is he right to claim verse 8? ‘let the Lord judge the peoples. Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity.’

It’s one thing to claim to be innocent in one particular charge. It’s another to claim to have righteousness and integrity. All the time? In everything? No slips, no faults, no secrets? It’s one thing to ask for God to judge others - but do we really want God to judge us? To come under his searchlight? The God who searches minds and hearts, who knows what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, what we’re desiring.

This is a prayer - ‘bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.’ David is looking forward to the day when the wicked will be stopped, when the righteous are secure. but how can we be sure that we’re part of the righteous, rather than the wicked who will be stopped? How could David be so certain? Was he trusting in his own righteousness, and his own integrity? Is that what we need to do as well? Reckon on our own right standing? Try to impress with our integrity?

Would we be willing to stand before God and say these words? To stand before the God who sees on the inside, without the need for x-ray vision or truth detectors or any other tricks. He searches minds and hearts. How can we be vindicated? How can we stand in the judgement of God?

We find the answer in verse 10 and following. ‘My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.’ David is vindicated because he knows that God is his shield and his saviour. He has taken refuge in God. And in these verses, we’re given a tour of God’s armour, his weapon room. Those who take refuge in God are behind his shield. But those who don’t, they’re on the receiving end of the other weapons of God: ‘God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day. If he does not relent, he will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows.’ Now that line in the middle, ‘If he does not relent’ - the Bible translations are divided. Some go with our version, and the ‘he’ is God. If God does not relent, if he doesn’t provide mercy, then he will express his judgement...

Other versions reckon that the ‘he’ is talking about people. So they’ll say ‘If a man does not repent...’ But it’s the same end result either way. If we repent, if we turn to God, then he will receive us and give us refuge. But if not, then he will express his wrath against us.

Here’s why David is upright; here’s how David has righteousness and integrity - he hasn’t worked it up himself - he has received it, through repentance, through the Lord relenting.

By taking refuge in the Lord, the righteous judge, David is counted as righteous. For any who will not repent, God is presented as the righteous judge. Those who do not repent are in the firing line. The sword, the bow and arrow, all aiming at the sinner. To rebel against God is to sign up for the enemy, to stand in opposition to God, to fight against God. That’s the position we’re all in by nature, and unless we have done something about it, then we’re still in the firing line. God is angry at sin - not an unpredictable, vindictive anger the way some people might be; but a perfect, holy indignation against sin, all that dishonours him and rejects his way.

Alongside God’s anger, we’re also afflicted on the inside. It’s as if David brings us to the maternity ward to give us an examination. The wicked man is pregnant with evil, conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment. Our sin comes from inside, and destroys us from the inside.

It’s almost like one of those Tom and Jerry or Roadrunner and Wile E Coyote cartoons. ‘He who digs a hole and scoops it out, falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.’ Our acts of sin return on us, and destroy us. By continuing in sin, not only are we our own worst enemies, but also, we have God as our enemy.

David finds comfort in these verses, as he looks forward to the end of evil enemies. But this might be the wake-up call we need. Perhaps you will consider your ways, and realise the end of your own path. It doesn’t have to be that way.

You too can experience the assurance David knew. You can also be confident of standing in the judgement. You see, God is our refuge, our shelter. Out of his great love for us, he turned his weapons on his precious Son. Jesus bore the punishment we deserve. Jesus died the death we deserve. He takes away our sin, and instead he gives us his perfect righteousness - the righteousness that David knew as his own, a gift from God.

Many’s a time in our neighbour’s big back garden, we would sneak about, trying not to be caught, trying not to be found out. When we made it to the base, when we took refuge there, we were safe. It didn’t matter how much the catcher complained.

When we take refuge in God, the accuser can shout all he wants. But he is powerless to change God’s verdict on us - the judgement revealed before the day of judgement: there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. That’s why David turns to thanks and praise - for his righteousness. Can you sing his praise today?

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 13th August 2017.

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