Sermon delivered on Trinity 5C, Sunday, July 17, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Lectionary texts: Amos 8.1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1.15-28; St. Luke 10.38-42.
In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“Therefore, God shall utterly bring you down; he shall take you and pluck you out of your tent and root you out of the land of the living” (Psalm 52:5). What was it like for you to hear these words read aloud this morning? How did it feel to recite them together? If I am honest, for me, it’s a bit jarring. It’s uncomfortable. These are not the sorts of words you might expect to hear during a church service. This is not, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). This is not, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you” (Jeremiah 29:11). You’re probably not going to find Psalm 52:5 printed on wall hangings at Hobby Lobby.
But this is why I am thankful for the lectionary. It forces us to reckon with passages of Scripture we may otherwise avoid, texts that reveal to us truth about who God is and what He is up to in the world.Indeed, this psalm teaches us an important aspect of the gospel message: that there will be a day when the wicked will be held accountable for their atrocities, God’s people will be vindicated, and evil will be fully and finally defeated.
To fully understand and appreciate this psalm (or any passage of Scripture), we need to understand it in the context in which it was written. The psalm’s heading gives us a clue: “A maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, ‘David has come to the house of Ahimelech.’” David wrote this psalm during events that are described in 1 Samuel 21-22. At the time, Saul was king of Israel, but because of his sin and disobedience, God had rejected Saul and called David to be king instead. Following David’s famous defeat of the giant Goliath and military successes against the Philistines, Saul’s approval rating began to tank and public support in Israel began to shift toward David.
Saul was angry, jealous, and fearful, so he decides to kill David. David has to go on the lam, and he ends up in a place called Nob, hiding with a man named Ahimelech who was a priest of the Lord. Ahimelech and his fellow priests give David a place to stay and offer him some provisions. But a man named Doeg, who is “The chief of Saul’s herdsmen” happens to witness all of this (1 Samuel 21:7).
Doeg informs Saul that David was sheltering in the house of Ahimelech. Saul summons the priests of Nob and confronts them about aiding and abetting the fugitive, David. Ahimelech admits to it, and Saul is furious. He orders his guards, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled and did not disclose it to me,” but Saul’s royal guards defy his command, refusing to shed innocent blood (1 Samuel 22:17). And so, Saul asks Doeg to slay them instead, and he does so without hesitation. Not only does he murder Ahimelech and 84 other priests, he slaughters innocent townspeople of Nob, “both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey, and sheep” (1 Samuel 22:18-19).
When David learns what has happened, he’s stricken with grief, and he pens this psalm. He laments the wickedness of Doeg, a man who not only commits atrocities, but who delights in them, boasting in his evil deeds (v. 1). The opening verses of the psalm describe Doeg as a deceiver, one who schemes and plots to harm others, one who “loves evil more than good” (vv. 2-4). This is pure, unadulterated wickedness on display. It’s violent and grotesque.
Unfortunately, we do not have to look far to find this sort of evil around us today. We see news coverage about Ukraine and countries in Africa and the Middle East that are ravaged by violence and war. In our own country, innocent children are abused and exploited; vulnerable people become victims of sex trafficking. It seems like every week, we get report of another mass shooting.
What are we as Christians to do in light of this inescapable reality of the evil that pervades our world? Psalm 52 shows us four ways we should respond.
First, we should remember the fate of the wicked (v. 5). The psalm has been describing the sinister plots of Doeg, but there’s an obvious shift in v. 5: “But God…” No matter what a wicked person like Doeg may scheme or plot, it is God who ultimately has the last word. This verse uses violent images to describe the fate of the wicked: a wall being torn down, a person being snatched out their home, a tree being uprooted. All of these metaphors point to God’s wrath and judgment poured out on unrepentant evildoers.
Even though we may not immediately think of it as such, this is a precious gospel truth. We live in a world that has been wrecked by the curse of sin. God’s good creation is marred by the evil and atrocities we have been describing. But the good news of the gospel that God sent His Son into the world to redeem and restore His creation to what it was meant to be. This work, which reached its high point in the death and resurrection of Jesus, will one day culminate in Christ’s return, when the wicked who have not turned to Christ in repentance and faith will be punished, God’s people will be rescued from their suffering, and sin, death, suffering, and evil will be no more. Brothers and sisters, this day is coming.
Not only should we remember that his day is coming, but we should pray for God’s justice to prevail. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the psalms as the prayer book of the Bible. As we read and pray the psalm, we learn the vocabulary of prayer, the kinds of things that we ought to pray for. This is significant because the psalter may lead us to pray in ways we might not be inclined to if we were left to our own devices.
Tish Harrison Warren, an author and Anglican priest in Texas, recently wrote an article for Christian Today which I would commend to you. It has a rather provocative title: “Go Ahead. Pray for Putin’s Demise.” The article is about Psalms like this one that point to God’s judgment on the wicked, as well as those that explicitly call for it—For example, Psalm 10:15 says, “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.” She argues that these psalms were written and included in Holy Scripture for times such as the ones we’re living in: “These psalms express our outrage about injustice unleashed on others, and they call on God to do something about it.”
These psalms help us to take seriously the reality of evil and to recognize that evil cannot ultimately be overcome by human efforts, but through God’s divine work to bring about justice and peace. Warren concludes by saying, “I still pray, daily and earnestly, for Putin’s repentance. I pray that Russian soldiers would lay down their arms and defy their leaders. But this is a moment when I’m trusting [not only] in God’s mercy but also in his righteous, loving, and protective rage.” May we join her and the psalmists in praying for God’s justice.
Third, we should respond to the coming judgment by examining ourselves. After the psalmist vividly depicts the fate of the wicked in v. 5, he tells us how the righteous respond to the judgment of the wicked: “The righteous shall see and fear.” This may seem like a strange initial reaction. After all, as Christians, we know that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and that in Him, we need not fear God’s judgment, for in Him we have forgiveness from our sins, and nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:39). While this is certainly true, at the same time, we must acknowledge that evil is not just something that is out there, it’s in here, in our own hearts.
This is something God’s people Israel seemed blind to in the time of the prophet Amos. The book of Amos begins with the prophet announcing judgment on many Israel’s enemies: Syria, Philistia, and Phoenicia; the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Moabites. We can imagine Amos working his original audience into a frenzy as they salivated at the thought of their enemies getting their just desserts.
But then comes a curve ball: Amos begins to announce God’s judgment on Israel too! In today’s OT reading, speaking through the prophet, God says, “The end has come upon my people Israel” (Amos 8:2). The majority of the book of Amos is devoted to God denouncing the unrepentant sin of his own people: their sexual immorality, their idolatry, their oppression of widows, orphans, and the poor. While Israel was quick to recognize and condemn the sins of their neighbors, they were slow to see the sin in their own lives.
This is a reminder for us to be watchful lest we become blind to the evil that can take root within us. May we pray for the God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden” to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts” by His Spirit.
Finally, in the face of evil around us, we should trust in the Lord. In contrast to the wicked person who trusts “in the abundance of his riches,” in v. 8b, David proclaims, “But I trust in the steadfast love of God, forever and ever.” He demonstrates that trust in the Lord in v. 9 when he says, “I will thank you forever, because you have done it.” What has God “done”? This statement refers back to v. 5, which, as we’ve seen, announces God’s ultimate judgment of the wicked. But that doesn’t seem to make sense. The psalmist says, “You have done it,” but the final judgment hasn’t happened yet. So what’s going on here?
David is so completely confident that God will do what He says He will do—bring the wicked to account—that he can speak of it in the past tense, as if it has already happened. God’s promises are sure, and David can trust in them completely. Brothers and sisters, this is what it looks like to live by faith. As see evil in the world around us, as we suffer from it personally in our own lives, history is moving towards a definite point, that God is making all things new, and that one-day evil will be fully and finally defeated.
We know this because Christ has already sealed this victory through his death and resurrection. As our communion liturgy reminds us, “Christ has risen from the tomb and scattered the darkness of death with light that will not fade . . . And though the night will overtake this day, [God] summon[s] us to live in endless light, the never-ceasing sabbath of the Lord.” May we rest in the good news of God’s sure and certain promise to bring an end to evil, wickedness, suffering, and pain, and may we pray for God’s justice to prevail—for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.