Written by Bryan Niebanck
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.Psalm 27:5
When I see the faces of Ukrainian wives walking across the eastern border of Poland, it is hard to imagine how they are feeling. They have left behind their homes, many extended relatives, and their husbands, who were forced to stay behind and fight if they were between the ages of 18 and 60. They had no words to share with reporters. They were shocked. Waiting for buses. Most of the refugees fleeing into Poland figured that they would be gone for a few days or maybe a few weeks, until the northern aggressor was pushed back and it was safe to go home again. Now, they have no idea what they will come back to. The destruction is becoming more and more widespread. They are worried about their husbands every minute. When I see those faces, I am moved to bow my head with them. There are no words that can make it right. But the people who drove all the way from Germany and sometimes France, offering places to stay, shows that people care. It shows that people are doing whatever they can to provide. And this is a stronghold that many can find for a short while, even when so much else is uncertain.
When I read Psalm 27, I find it appropriate. Ukrainians fear Russian aggression. They fear the leaders that are responsible for that aggression. They fear the soldiers who are following orders, many of whom were told that they were going to be welcomed when they crossed the border. Other nations fear what this means in the long term. Will they be next? People in Russia fear being arrested for speaking out. They fear the drastic decline in their economy. Here at home, we fear how we are going to afford these rising gas prices. We fear for friends and family who are abroad. We fear because we do not know what is going to happen.
Psalm 27 begins with an answer to this fear: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). The fear that we are facing worldwide understandably takes away from our concept of God. We forget about God because all this seems to be more important. After all, millions of peoples lives in danger is extremely important. But in the midst of fear, for whatever reason that we may feel it, we need to know that the Lord is with us. We need to remind ourselves that we can always find hope in God. As we have said and Christians have said time and time again, the world is going to try to distract us; it is going to try to horrify us and terrify us so much that we forget about all else. We will lose all hope in God and forget to turn to God for help. This is at times the most important front that we fight. When we are run over with and conquered by fear, God’s army has lost a warrior. Try to see some good in what is happening. Focus on the helpers. See the Europeans traveling across countries to help their Ukraine neighbors. See the Russians protesting in the streets to make a statement, even though they know that they could be arrested for it. See how Kyiv was expected to fall within days, but somehow, some way, the Russians have been kept out of its center and President Zelensky is still there defending the capital with everyone else. There is a power here stronger than we have ever seen recently. It is the power of hope. It is the power of a united front.
Last week, we were encouraged to remember what God has done for us. Remembering is one way to worship the Lord, our God. Remember the moments where God has met you, in trials, in joys, and in your fears. Know that God has led you out before, and God will lead you and God’s people out again. But we are not going to be taken out of all suffering just yet. While we are here on Earth with a task to work on – as each of us that is still here has some task that God wants us to do – we need to stay attune to God. We can be shocked. We can be horrified. We should be. But do not let it turn you away from your reliance on God. When you do find yourself slipping – this is inevitable – turn yourself back as soon as you can. This is what we can repentance.
Read another verse of Psalm 27 again: “When evildoers assail against me to devour my flesh – my adversaries and my foes – they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; through war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:2-4). Whether there is a physical war or a spiritual war being waged against you, know that if you are on God’s side, God will protect you. That does not always mean that your life will be spared, but you will have that one thing: to live in the house of the Lord and to behold the Lord’s beauty.
There are a couple of things to think about personally when we think about repentance. How do you need to change your heart and/or turn back to God? Have you played a part in harming another person? Did you push people away with acts of injustice or ignore a neighbor? Did you contribute to acts of polarization or lose the way of hope? Have you not been faithful to God or your family? Have you kept a hidden sin to yourself, hidden deep down, that no one knows about, and you keep telling yourself that it will be okay? Have you just simply lost hope? If you responded positively to any of these questions, you need to repent of them. You do not necessarily need to tell your neighbor, but you need to tell God. And just like you do when you ask for forgiveness from your family – which probably happens a lot – you ask forgiveness from God, and then you actually do it. But it is not that easy. How can I – how can you – lead yourself in true repentance without turning around after service and making excuses, like God doesn’t have to be bothered with that small thing with everything else he has to worry about!
Dr. Laura Schlessinger suggests four R’s of repentance. I am not sure whether she suggests these in a religious or secular context, but I am sure it applies to both. The first step that we need is responsibility. She notes that “we have to recognize that we have done wrong.” Part of the point of this message is to help you recognize it. You have done wrong if you find yourself lacking hope, or lacking inspiration. Quite honestly, the wrong that you have done is paying too much attention to worldly things and not enough to Godly things. The second R is regret. She notes, “We must have true remorse for doing wrong and for the pain and problems we’ve caused.” If we do not have true remorse, we will not care enough to take any further steps. There are many people who recognize that what they are doing is wrong, but they do not care that it is wrong and they keep right on doing it. You may keep right on doing wrong because we are imperfect human beings, but separate yourself from those who don’t care whether they do wrong or right. Once you manage to feel true remorse, you move on to the third R: Resolve. Dr. Laura notes, “We must be committed never to repeat the act regardless of the temptations or situation.” This is very hard. We covered temptations last week, especially how the devil would wait for an opportune time after we beat him once, twice, or thirty times already. We will always be tempted to give into temptation, but the resolve comes in when we figure out a way not to. We could say, for example, that when we face this particular temptation, instead of being down and depressed that we have it, sit down right then and there and pray about it before you fall into it. This is a fine example of resolve. Usually prayer will redirect you and help you to stay true to your commitment. Whatever that temptation might be, try that method of prayer. And finally, still more difficult, is to repair. She notes, “Repair the damage we’ve done, or at least do what we can to apologize directly to the injured party.” In wartime, this is often done through reparations, so that the affected countries can repair their infrastructure. Aggressors are also held accountable at the end of war and usually removed from power one way or the other. If you need to apologize to God, do so, and repair the damage by committing to a new relationship with God. Start spending more time with God. Make a new resolve. If you need to apologize to your neighbor, do that as well.
This is all to draw us closer to God, as we walk through six themes of Lent. Remembering what God has done for us helps us to be confident of the future. But, more than remembering, repentance will help us to commit to being with God through that future, and not again forgetting what God has done. That is what the world wants of us, but what God wants of us is our hearts. Let us conclude with these final words of the Psalmist, who has become convinced that there is nothing to fear if he can concentrate on being with God. He proclaims, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:11-14). I ask of you the same. Wait for the Lord. Let your heart take courage. Whatever fear you have, the Lord is your stronghold. With the Lord, you can never lose faith that you will see the beauty of God in God’s home. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
15:2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
15:3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”
15:4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”
15:5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
15:6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
15:7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”
15:8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
15:9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
15:10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
15:11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
15:12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
15:17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.
15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates….”
27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
27:2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall.
27:3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
27:4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
27:6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
27:7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
27:9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
27:12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
13:32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.
13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”