(A sermon based on Psalm 118 preached on Sunday, September 7, 2014)
Sometimes we find ourselves in a tight spot. We find ourselves confined; we find ourselves shut in with little room to move. Figuratively (and perhaps literally) speaking, we find it hard to breathe.
We find ourselves wondering how we got there. We need to take a good hard look at our situation so that we can acknowledge what we need to acknowledge and confess what we need to confess and face what we need to face.
After all, it is just possible that we put ourselves in the tight spot that we are in. Oh, I know—believe me, I know—that family background and social circumstances and other people’s actions and other factors play into the choices and decisions we make. Still, when you get right down to it, our choices and decisions are our own. “The Lord has punished me severely,” the speaker in our psalm says (v. 18a). So sometimes we find ourselves in a tight spot because we have put ourselves there; sin does have consequences, after all. Things we do, relationships we betray, words we say, shortcuts we take, ethical corners we cut—they can hem us in.
The speaker in our psalm speaks of being surrounded by enemies (vv. 10-12). While he sees what has happened to him as being the judgment of God, not all difficulty is. Not all suffering comes because we have done wrong; some suffering comes because we have done right. Bad choices can get us in trouble but so can good choices—so can even the best choices! We may find ourselves surrounded by enemies because we have chosen to live, by the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, as much like Jesus showed us and told us to live as possible. Jesus himself said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). And, as 1 Peter puts it, “(I)t is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” Still, we need to be careful how we think and talk about being “persecuted”; we do well to take Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words to heart: “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”
So sometimes we find ourselves in a tight spot because we have done wrong and sometimes we find ourselves in a tight spot because we have done right. And sometimes we find ourselves in a tight spot without having any idea why we are there; sometimes the best we can say is, “Things happen—and they sure are happening now!”
Given what is going on in the world right now, I hardly need to remind you that the tight spot we find ourselves in can be the result of events that involve the great big picture in this great big world so that while we are impacted we are impacted along with a whole lot of people and we may be much less impacted than others are. So, for example, the people of Syria and Iraq are suffering greatly because of the ISIL threat but we feel pressure and stress because of the possible implications of that crisis for our nation and for the world.
The speaker in our psalm had been in a tight spot but now he celebrates—and the people of God join him in celebrating—because the Lord has brought him through. He gives credit and praise to the Lord because only the Lord could bring him out of his tight spot; we should give credit and praise to the Lord for the same reason. Let’s face it, while we should do all that we can to help ourselves—so long as we help ourselves in ways that are true to the life of Christ in us which means in ways that reflect our love for God and our love for others—when all is said and done, only God can see us through and only God can get us out.
That’s why we celebrate this day as the day that the Lord has made. We are Sunday people because Sunday is Resurrection Day. Because we are resurrection people, every day is Sunday because every day the Lord brings life to death, victory to defeat, and deliverance to captivity. Every day is the day that the Lord has made because Jesus is alive every day and because in Christ we are alive every day.
“I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord,” proclaims the speaker in the psalm (v. 17). As Jesus said to Martha just before he raised her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Death and events that feel like death hang over us like a dark cloud, but in the crucified and resurrected Christ the death sentence is lifted and life now reigns where death once ruled. That is what we celebrate on this and on every other day.
The psalm begins and ends with the summons to “give thanks to the LORD” because “he is good” and “his steadfast love endures forever!” That love was shown most clearly in the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; that love is shown clearly to us in the ways that God sees us through in this life and in the way that he will carry us into the life beyond this life.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!