Psalm 138
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 18, 2024

Many of us believe it, even if we don’t always see it.  We believe it because the Bible says it’s so and, for some of us, because our experience seems to confirm it.  “It” is the conviction that the Lord is the supreme good. He is the greatest, great both in His might and glory and in His magnanimity and goodness.  As verse six here says, “Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly.”

Today’s Psalm is the first of eight consecutive Psalms from David, the last of which is his last contribution to the book of Psalms. Here David celebrates God’s ultimate superiority as he sings the Lord’s praise before the gods (in all their delusionary self-esteem) and anticipates the day when the Lord shall make “all the kings of the earth” (in all their delusionary self-esteem) sing His praise as well.

David praises the Lord here both by citing the scripturally revealed truth that He is the God of “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” and by citing his own experientially revealed truth that “on the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.”

If we, like David, want to revere and relish God as our Supreme Good, we’d do well to follow his example, and recall scripture and our personal experience.

Eugene Peterson compares the latter to the spikes, or “pitons”, that climbers hammer in the rocks they mean to ascend.  Rock climbers attach to their bodies ropes attached to the pitons to protect them from fatal falls.  As Peterson observes, “Rock climbers who fail to put in that protection have short climbing careers.”

Peterson goes on to say, “Our [spiritual] pitons or ‘protection’ come as we remember and hold to those times when we’ve experienced God’s faithfulness in our lives.  Every answered prayer, every victory, every storm that has been calmed by God’s presence is a piton which keeps us from falling, losing hope or, worse yet, losing our faith.  Each…is an example of God’s faithfulness to us.”  Peterson goes on to say that, as we ascend in the kingdom of God, each piton of a remembered personal experience of God’s past goodness becomes also a stepping stone for reaching our highest aim.

Our remembering both scripture and our pitons of personal experience help us hold to the truth that God, though high above us, remembers us in our lowliness.  “Lowly” in verse 6 means not just the “needy” in the sense of those in want of basic necessities such as food and shelter, but those who, even if well supplied in those necessities, are in want of special grace because of the special challenges they face.  I think of Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday we marked last Monday.  Though his spirituality was complicated, the burden of leading the nation in the crisis of the Civil War weighed him down and gave him a lowliness of spirit which motivated him to seek God’s help by regularly attending church services (typically Presbyterian ones, by the way) and talking with pastors.  Lincoln then said, “I know I am not a great man – and perhaps it is better that it is so – for it makes me rely on the One who is great and has the wisdom and power to lead us safely through this great trial.”

Of course, much of our experience may suggest that the Lord is not a god of steadfast love and faithfulness.  This means, that even with the words of scripture and the pitons of our faithful memory of God’s faithfulness, it is hard to keep believing that the Lord is the Supreme Good on whom we can always rely.

As he sat in a dark room holding his mother’s hand and straining to hear an occasional word from the dehydrated mouth of a woman whose body had been ravaged by cancer, Krish Kandiah recalled one of his earliest memories.  He was holding his mother’s hand on his first day of school, so nervous he couldn’t let go of it.  The warmth of her fingers reassured him as his heart pounded in his chest.  She was his lifeline and security.  Now he was, in her distress, her lifeline and security; and she held on to his hand for dear life, desperate to feel the reassuring warmth of it.  But “those were heartbreaking days,” Kandiah writes.  “One moment I was praying for a miraculous recovery, the next for a quick exit.  I was haunted by God’s conspicuous absence.”  In the long, languishing hours, Kandiah would’ve given anything for a felt experience of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

He thought of something the Turkish theologian, Ziya Meral, wrote:  “Where is God when millions of his children are being persecuted in the most brutal ways?  Why does He keep silent in the middle of persecution but speak loudly in the middle of conferences with famous speakers and worship bands?”  Meral’s struggle to believe led him to consider what Jesus had experienced.  Jesus’ greatest glory came, not in midst of a miracle or a moving message, but in His lonely resolve to keep choosing, when He could have opted out at any time, to suffer for our sake – though it brought Him into the deep darkness of the felt absence of God the Father.  But Jesus held His course by holding on to what He’d received before from His felt experience of God and from His grounding of Himself in God’s word.

In a Gospel Coalition video, John Onwuchekwa gives an apt analogy for what we can do to hold to God as our Supreme Good.  Three years ago, John was watching the NCAA Men’s basketball championship game between Baylor and Gonzaga.  While he intently followed the action on his computer screen, in a group chat he texted friends about the game.  At one point, Baylor rested one of its star players and Gonzaga immediately went on a run to make the game close again.  In the group chat, John, a Baylor fan, fumed about that star player riding the bench.  A second later a friend replied, “What are you talking about?  He’s already back in.”  John then realized that there was a lag in his internet connection.

As the game went on, the time differential between what he heard from his computer and what he saw on it got worse.  He’d hear the announcer shout, “He drills the shot!”, while he was seeing the player still dribbling out of the back court. The lag between the audio and the visual was annoying; but John was so caught up in the game he couldn’t bear to miss a second of it by taking the time to reboot and fix the disjointed connection.

John enjoyed the game despite the technical difficulties.  How did he?  He trusted the announcer to tell the truth in his broadcast.  So John listened to the man’s words and then counted on seeing what his words had promised.  He believed that the event the announcer had just described would soon happen before his eyes; so, that when the announcer described a big score for Baylor, John rejoiced with anxiety-free confidence over that piece of good news even if he had to wait to have the visual experience of it.  Thus, though John had not yet seen it come to pass, he celebrated it as soon as he heard it.

That’s how we can happily live out our faith in God as our Supreme Good.  Due to the world’s brokenness and our own, there is a lag in our communication connection.  But there’s no need to worry.  We can expect to see God’s word fulfilled in our experience.  The word of the Lord may make us wait but it will never let us down!  Hence, we can be joyful in hope and serene in the trust that, whatever we see at the present, the Lord is still and forever the Supreme Good!

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