The Sovereignty of God

July 9, 2018

A Homily for Trinity 6

July 8, 2018

All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ

 

Text: Psalm 93

 

Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

 

            As we have been studying the Psalms this summer, I have used a term that you might not be familiar with, or if you are it might have  negative connotations for you  because of certain theological  camps that place a high emphasis on it. That term is of course the sovereignty of God. While Calvinists’ and neo-Calvinists’ high emphasis on this leads to some theology that might make us uncomfortable, we should not shy away from understanding that the Lord is sovereign over all the earth. In fact, I would posit that this should give us a great deal of comfort.

            As we look at Psalm 93 it will be clear what it means to trust and believe the Lord is sovereign  – but for now let’s start by setting a baseline definition that the Lord is the royal king over all the earth, and not only that but he has power and control over the heavens and the earth. This doesn’t mean that human beings are automatons who only react  as God animates us, or that sin hasn’t caused destruction that wreaks havoc upon the land and in our lives. We still have a will, we are still learning to submit that will to the will of God, and we still see the pain of sin in the corruption of our own nature, the corruption of others’ nature, and in the corruption of the natural world.

            Yet, even as we think about how sin and wickedness can cause problems in our lives we can help but remember Joseph and his brothers. His brothers who at first wanted to kill him, but were then convinced  to spare his life, and eventually to sell him into slavery. Then we remember Joseph’s wise words, many years later, after he went through much suffering because of their envy. To his penitent brothers Joseph said: “you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good.” This good was not merely his best life today – but good for the still small clan of Israel, and eventually good for the whole world with the birth of Christ, life, death and resurrection of Christ.

            We know that there will be times of suffering, and hardship, and that there will be times when we’ll wonder what God is doing. There may even be times that we will have to dwell in the mystery of pain, never receiving an explanation as to why. However, regardless of what life brings, we can be confident that the sovereign Lord is working things out for the good of His kingdom, and our soul. So it is that even in our darkest hour, even when things seem hopeless, we can rest in the eternal hope of the life we find in Christ. We can rest knowing that the Lord is good, and more importantly that He is sovereign, which means he has the power to make things good.

            I think, we want to understand that there is a tension between the will of man and the will of God. One of the best examples of this comes from the story of Exodus. As we read it, we read that Pharaoh hardens his heart. Then, we also read that God is hardening Pharaoh’s heart. We don’t know which comes first, nor do we know if God wanted, could he have softened Pharaoh’s heart? No, we see here clearly that there is a tension between the wills, and a mystery in that tension not only in our daily lives, but in our salvation as well. I think, the best place to find ourselves is being comfortable in that tension, and delighting in knowing that the Lord is sovereign, and faithfully praying the words of the Lord’s prayer - “thy will be done,” that our hearts would be submitted to the will of the Lord.

            Now, let us start to explore what this Psalm shows us about God and his sovereignty.

            One of the most interesting things for me as we’ve gone through these Psalms has been to see how the Psalms, and others in scripture set about the task of describing God. It is fitting that right before we delved into the Psalms we had St. John’s description in Revelation 4 – where we saw the magnificence of God. So magnificent that we feel both awed, but a little overwhelmed by the surreal description of what the Lord is like.

            Last week, in Psalm 99 we see the Lord seated upon a throne of cherubim. Perhaps, we could say that he is seated upon a throne of praise. Again, this description lets our mind wander and doesn’t give us a great deal of clarify as to what God looks like – but lets us have a clear vision of who God is.

            This week again, we learn of his garments, but we aren’t told of the color or style of his robe and his belt, but of its character. Ultimately – this is the end goal of biblical poetry – to know about who God is. The Psalmist writes: He has put on glorious apparel – most translations end up stating this something along the lines of He is robed in majesty, and his belt is a belt of strength. Being clothed in glorious apparel or being robed in majesty are fairly synonymous ideas and what we want to understand is that His appearance is that of the utmost glory.

Like previous Psalms we see at the center of this Psalm is the glory of God – for God is clothed in splendor and glory. We aren’t to imagine God putting on a sweet jump suit that is bedazzled in gem stones that says “glory and splendor,” but rather we are to be left awestruck by how great the Lord is. Be awestruck at how much bigger, and grander He is than all the problems that we face on earth. We are amazed how much bigger His glory is than the trails that we struggle with, we are comforted how much stronger He is than those whom make us fear that we might lose our life.

            God is certainly robed in majesty and this majesty is astounding, reminding us that He is worthy of our praise.

            In the same way, we see his belt, not as a descriptor of what God physically looks like, but as a metaphor for us to better understand Him The belt, of course, holds the outfit in place. We wear belts to keep our pants from falling down, to keep our shirts tucked in, in the armor of God metaphor in Ephesians we are reminded that ancient soldiers wore belts to keep their breast plate in place. Here, we might imagine an ancient king with a sash around His waste in order to hold his robe in place. The strength of the Lord reaffirms His majesty and glory. His glory would be muted with out strength. Without strength his majesty would be dull.

            No, much like we discussed the last couple of weeks, the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. We fear Him not because He is bad, or vindictive, but because He is good and He is powerful. Let us never forget this, but instead of running from His will, let us submit our hearts to that will, that we would partake in ushering in the kingdom of heaven.

            The Psalm starts with a statement: The Lord reigns, or the Lord is King. As this psalmist talks about God’s reign throughout the psalm, it is unclear when he understands when God comes to the position of reigning – but we know from elsewhere in scripture that the Lord is not only the creator that brought all into being – but that he Has always been the king over all of it. He has reigned for eternity. Like we discussed last week – he was always king, He is King, and He will always be king.

            We then shift our focus from God’s glory and kingship to His creative abilities, our translation says: says He hath made the round world so sure, that it cannot be moved. This understanding of creation might give us pause. Certainly, we have seen that creation is good, that although man and nature have been corrupted by sin, our will often longing for the thing that is the worst for us, and nature faltering and at times causing tremendous pain in our lives do we see the world as unmovable?

            I think here, like with the imagery of the Lord’s apparel we want to understand this in poetic terms. The order of creation cannot be changed – a rock is no less a rock if we decide to call it something else, a sparrow is no less a sparrow if we decide to call it a pigeon. No we cannot rule over creation – and although many have tried, often to their own demise. Only God can create, and change the world around us. We are called to care for it, we tend for it as a gardener tends for a garden. The laws of nature, and the order of creation do not change, no matter how hard we may try.

            We now come to the Lord and His throne. We are reminded that the Lord’s rightful place over the earth is a throne – the poetry here tell us that it has been established of Old, but the reality is, is His throne is eternal – with no beginning and end. We see here the frailty of our own intellect, we see here that God’s majesty is so much bigger than us that we cannot fully comprehend it. However, the verse ends with this reminder – that yes – the Lord is eternal with no beginning and no end.

            Now the Psalm turns from a discussion of the enthronement and majesty of the Lord to the way of the world. We are told that the floods are risen, so much so that they cry out, the waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly. Yet, the Lord is mightier.

            Now, before we delve into this we need to set the ground work of understanding. I think I have mentioned this before – but it comes up a fair amount in the Psalms and in the scriptures – the ancient Near Eastern culture saw the sea as a place of chaos. Water didn’t bring life, so much as destruction. We see this even in our own time – we have a fascination with water because while we know that it does bring life, we also know that it cannot be tamed. We know that water can ripped through the canyons of our land destroying all in its path. Yet, it can seem so placid. We often fail to comprehend how powerful the floods and the sea are.

            There is a three-fold understanding that we can have of this section – the Lord reigns over nature, over Baal, that is false gods, and over chaos. Think of our fears – so many of them stem out of a fear of nature, a fear of the gods that so often rule our hearts, and a fear of chaos, a fear that we will lose control. So, what a great comfort we are given when we see the Lord as ruling over these forces in our lives.

            First, we are reminded that the Lord rules over nature, this doesn’t mean that nature isn’t corrupted by sin, that nature doesn’t fail us and crumble around us at times. No, we use care around the water, we are caution at the edge of cliffs, but even over the most might storm, God is mightier still.

            This doesn’t help us with the question of pain. For we know that in a blink of an eye the world around us can change. We know that a tsunami can wipe our an entire village, an earth quake can eat up a city, and hurricanes and fires can wipe out towns. No, we are not saying that nature does not damage – rather we are saying that the Lord is mightier than even that.

            We may not always have the answer as to why these tragedies happen, except that which saint Paul said – that nature is in bondage to corruption that stems out of the fall of man – yet it longs and groans to be set free. Sin and the fall has made that which was created to be enjoyed by mankind a force of chaos, a force that often destroys the world around us.

            Ultimately in this groaning to be set free, the same longing that we have – we know that the Lord will restore or recreate nature, like he is recreating us. One day nature will be as it was created. Its former glory that shows the glory of the Lord will be made right.

            In this section it would have been clear to the contemporary reader that the Psalmist was not only talking about the natural world, but of the gods of the natural world, whether it be the predominant pagan god known as baal or other gods that we see in ancient Near Eastern writings. The psalmist makes it clear – our God is mightier than your god, our God rules over the other gods, and over the other kings.

            This acts as a reminder to us as well – God is stronger than any god we may erect in our hearts – whether it be a god that we can see as being intrinsically dark, like addiction, or a god that we don’t yet recognize as a god – like wealth or status or any number of other things that we put our hope in. God is bigger than all of these things.

            It may be that you are struggling with a darker god like addiction to a substance, to an action, or even to a mindset. That this addiction is affecting the way you interact with others, whether it be by being so enslaved to it that you shatter the relationships or your pursuit of it causes the ones you love to stop trusting you. If this describes you today, please know that God is bigger than these addictions – that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get help to break them, but that in getting that help you should also be learning to throw all your cares upon the Lord, to trust in Him completely, to allow Him to fill the voids that only he can fill.

            In the same way – we often throw our hopes upon things to be our salvation – our hope – the promise for a better life, the promise that only God can fulfill. We think that if only we had a little more money we would be happier. If only we were a little more successful we would find love. If we had an entire day to discuss this we couldn’t exhaust the list of things that people put their hope and trust in in the place of God – like pets, citizenship, affluency, possessions, and the list goes on and on. All of these things are fine and good, pets can bring us a tremendous amount of joy, we are thankful for our country, we are thankful for whatever financial blessings that we are given, we are thankful for our success, we are thankful for the things in our lives, but we are thankful to the one who can fulfill our lives and the giver of all good things, for we know that our lives will never be fulfilled by any of these. The only place that we find our hope and peace is in God. We rest our hope in the Lord alone. Do we see this ordering – we do not place our hope in these other things – but we place our hope in God, giving thanks for the good things in our lives.

            Take care not set up false idols in your heart, and when you find that you have – flee from them, flee completely for only God can give you the peace that you long for, only God can give you the security that you long for. This Psalm reminds us that whatever gods we may have created in our hearts – the Lord God is mightier than them, so throw all your cares and put all your hope in the Lord alone.

            Finally, God is sovereign over chaos. There may be times in our life and in the world that seems like chaos is ruling – whether it be times of political uncertainly or natural disasters. Times such as these are certainly scary – yet even over this chaos the Lord is still sovereign. However, we don’t want to be lulled into think that the Lord will always bless us in material ways – rather he is intently interested in bringing about His kingdom. So earthly kingdoms will rise and fall, the waters will rage, the world will swirl madly around us – but the Lord is still Lord.

            We may travel through dark valleys of despair, or through meadows of joy – but regardless we are still the Lord’s beloved children, and He is still working our salvation. So, no matter how chaotic the world around us seems, do not despair, we know the promised hope of an eternity of worshipping and walking with the Lord and what a good thing that is?

            The Psalm ends with this simple reminder: Thy testimonies, O Lord, are very sure: holiness becometh thy house forever.

            We are reminded that Holy Scripture is true, that we can put our trust in it. We read it in context as we read this Psalm. We read poetry as poetry, we seek to understand how apocalyptic literature works so we don’t end up trying to guess a date for the Lord’s return, we read narrative as narrative so that we meet Christ, see Him for who he is and get to know Him, not recreating him in our image, but praying that we would be recreated in His, and read instruction as instruction that we would be learning what it means to live a godly life.

            Truly, as we delve deeper and deeper into the word of God we may wrestle with some things we read, we may struggle, but we start to see that yes indeed His testimonies are in very sure. They are how we come to know God and how we come to see that He is good and He is trustworthy.

            The final phrase of the psalm is sometimes translated: holiness befits your house, O Lord forevermore. The beauty of holiness, the goodness, the purity of it belongs to the dwelling place of the Lord, it over comes it, and completes it. Let us never forget that the Lord is both sovereign and good. Let us never forget that His sovereign goodness culminates in His Holiness. So let us also be given to a pursuit of holiness, not found in ourselves, but found when we submit our hearts and minds to the Lord of lords and the King of kings, found when we place our trust in the saving grace found in Christ.

            This week we delved deeply into the sovereignty of the Lord. Perhaps this is a new concept for some, and for others, perhaps this is an old term that you learned more about. However, if you walk away with nothing else, walk away with these two concepts. In the salvation found in Christ we come to understand God’s sovereignty from an eternal perspective. He is not preparing us for a better life in the here and now, though a life spent out for Christ, regardless of how the world looks at it is very good – for God is preparing us for an eternity with God. In His sovereignty he is also a gentle shepherd that works out all things for the eternal good.

            Second – when we talk about the will of the individual and the will of God – we as individuals and as a Christian community want to be submitting our hearts and minds to God’s will. While we have autonomy it is in God, and In His will that we find our true freedom.

            So, let us then be constantly focused on our eternal hope that our hearts and minds would not be chasing after our own desires but rather be chasing after the will of God.

            In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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