Tuesday, February 03, 2015


Psalm 62:5-8; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31[1]          
I think most of us would have to admit that we are creatures of habit. We have a certain way we like to do things, at a definite time, and perhaps even at a particular place. I think that’s probably one of the reasons why we don’t like change. It throws us off our routines. The older we get, the harder it can become to make changes. And yet, some changes can significantly affect even children. Moving can be hard on us all, young and old. Just moving from one home to another in the same town can be hard on us, not to mention moving to a different place. Changing towns, changing jobs, changing schools, changing grocery  stores and family doctors—it can all be a royal pain in the neck!
I would say one of the reasons why we prefer to keep things the same is because it’s comfortable. We get attached to our routines. We like going about the business of our lives in familiar settings. People know us; they smile a little bigger and interact with us a little more. Even something as simple as driving a car can become a habit. We go the same way to the same places at the same time of day. Most of us who drive can recall times when we have found ourselves driving on autopilot. We’re so accustomed to our driving patterns that we sometimes “wake up” in the middle of driving somewhere and realize we don’t even remember half of the journey!
I think we also get attached to life the way is because we don’t have to think so hard about it. But there is a  problem with our attachments. When we get so connected to the routines of our life, they can control us. We see that especially when we face the loss of what has become familiar to us. A job, a house, a place—the more we’re attached to the more we stand to lose. I don’t have to tell you that we can be deeply afraid of losing what is familiar to us. And whatever creates fear in our lives can control us, because sometimes it seems we’ll do anything to avoid what we fear.
And yet our lesson from the Psalms for today reminds us that our efforts to secure our lives by our own efforts are ultimately futile. In fact, he says that all our efforts to find safety by our own doing put together are as flimsy as a mere breath (Ps. 62:9).[2] And I think, down deep, if we’re honest with ourselves, we all recognize the truth of that. Life goes along just the way we planned and then all of a sudden something comes along and unravels everything. The hard truth is that when we put our faith in our own attachments, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.
The only alternative, from the Psalmist's experience, is to build our lives on God as the foundation of all our confidence and security. Make no mistake about it, our Scripture lesson doesn’t come from the serene reflections of someone who is safe and secure. The affirmation that God is the only truly secure foundation for our lives comes from one who is in the midst of a severe crisis.[3] It’s one of life’s strange twists that we often discover our deepest faith when we go through our hardest trials. And that was the case for the psalmist. His expression of faith comes in the midst of being so viciously attacked that he can say that he is no stronger than a “broken down fence” (Ps. 62:3, TEV).
It’s in that setting that the psalmist affirms that “God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe, and he is the fortress where I feel secure” (Ps. 62:6, CEV).[4] As usual, the psalmist uses images that were familiar to his time and place. But I think the message is clear enough—only God is loving enough and strong enough to provide a sense of safety that will last no matter what.[5] He says it a little differently in another translation: “[God] is my strong protector; he is my shelter” (Ps. 62:7, TEV). I like the way the CEV puts it even better: “God is our place of safety” (Ps. 62:8, CEV). Because of this faith, this hope, this confidence, the conclusion is clear: rather than trusting in our own devices, we are called to “Trust in him at all times, O people.”[6]
I realize that can be very difficult. Other facets of our lives, like savings accounts and real estate and stable careers and homes that are bought and paid for, are things we can see and touch. They can seem more “real” than the safety and security offered through trusting in God. But in a manner similar to what the psalmist said about all our efforts to secure our lives being as flimsy as a mere breath, St. Paul reminds us that “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31).[7] In the face of the temptation to think that what we can see and touch is truly real, St. Paul urges us to carry out all our dealings with the present world in light of the conviction that it is not ultimately real at all.[8]
I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to be a creature of habit. As a matter of fact, I’m one myself. But we need to beware of letting our attachment to what is familiar dictate our lives. The Gospel calls us to go out into this world and risk our lives for the sake of Christ, giving our lives away in love for those around us. I’d have to say that our preference for our attachments can get in the way of that. If we want to live our lives in the presence and power of the Spirit of God, we have to intentionally step out of what is comfortable and let go some of our attachments. We have to take the risk of doing something new and different. We have to put our trust not in the status quo of our routines, but in the God who shelters us in every aspect of our lives, the God who is truly our “place of safety.” When we build our lives on that kind of confidence in God, then we can take the risk of letting go our attachments and live the life of the Spirit.

[1] ©2015 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 1/25/2015 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 216.
[3] Dave Bland, “Exegesis of Psalm 62,” Restoration Quarterly 23 no 2 (1980): 86: “After much thought and meditation …, the psalmist emphatically declares, ‘Only in God can I be silent, confident, content, submissive.’ His conclusion did not come suddenly in one burst of meditative thinking. It had come through a long painful growth, a growth which is at any age painful but unlimited in rewards.” Cf. also H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 16 and J. Clinton McCann, Jr, “The Book of Psalms,” New Interpreters Bible IV:923.
[4] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 216: the Psalm speaks of “a quietness of soul, an inner stillness that comes with yielding all fears and anxieties and insecurities to God in an act of trust.”
[5] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 217.  Cf. also G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Perseverance, 94: “The meaning and the power of the words which are spoken here depend on trust in the gracious presence of God. It is the decisive leading of God’s good Spirit (Ps. 143:10), His taking of our right hand (Ps. 73:23), His refuge (Ps. 73:28; 62:8; 46:1, 2), His being with us (Ps. 46:11; 23:4).”
[6] Bland, “Exegesis of Psalm 62,” 92: “Throughout these verses the psalmist has emphasized the fact learned through his own painful experiences: that God only is his salvation. He had tried to find safety in other things but all failed him. It was only upon God that he found contentment and peace of mind.”
[7] Cf. H.R. Botman and D. J. Smit, "Exegesis and Proclamation: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 'To live.... as if it were not!,'" Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 65 (Dec 1988): 75, where they note that the basis for Paul’s statement is not a stoic asceticism: “The Stoic withdrawal from life, coupled with … an inner avoidance of all true emotional bindings, are for some more acceptable (and at times more Christian) than apocalyptic conceptions. The emphasis in one’s vision of the world is then on ‘the eternal’ and ‘unseen’. For ages, this kind of ‘eschatology’ has been the only one which Christians could really appropriate!” Unfortunately, they observe (p. 75) that the result is that “those concerned with ‘heaven’ often seem to disregard ‘everyday life.’” By contrast, they insist (p. 74) that “Paul derives his perception of the transient nature of things from the Christ event. His eschatology is fundamentally christological. For him the true motive and ground of Christian freedom from the world rests with the ever-present and returning Lord.” Cf. similarly, David W. Kuck, "The Freedom of Being in the World 'As If Not' (1 Cor 7:29-31)," Currents in Theology and Mission 28 (Dec 2001): 591-92. See further Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.4:116, 470, 565.
[8] Cf. McCann, “Book of Psalms,” NIB IV: 924, where his comments about Psalm 62 and Mark 1 seem relevant:  “The prominence of the call to decision in Psalm 62 reminds us that Jesus’ preaching clearly involved a similar call (see Mark 1:14-15). The reality of God’s reign means the creation of a new world with new priorities and values. … a world in which to be powerful is to become like a child (Mark 10:13-16), to be great is to be the servant of all (Mark 9:33-37), to know peace is to bear a cross (Mark 8:34), to experience abundant life is to give oneself away (Mark 8:35).” Cf. similarly, Jürgen Moltman, The Way of Jesus Christ, 157.

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