Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Friedrich, Caspar David, 1774-1840. Hiker Above the Sea of Fog, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58620 [retrieved January 18, 2022]. Original source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog.jpg.
Drawn Out and Delivered: Psalm 18:2-11, 16-19
Have you ever heard the word “Theophany?” It means “an appearance of God.” In one her commentaries on this text, Dr. Wil Gafney says that this Psalm, known as a royal psalm of thanksgiving, is a Psalm that is as much about God manifesting into the world as it is about thanking God for acting in one person’s life. It is a Psalm that is about God who is as real as the stone foundations of our home, as the volcano that exploded from the ocean yesterday near Tongo, as the smoke that billows from our chimneys on cold nights... A God who is as real as the dark of night and just as inscrutable. This is the God that is described, and thanked, in this Psalm. This is a God that is at work in creation and is concerned on behalf of creation. When the author of this Psalm has needed help from a force greater than themself, they called upon this God of smoke and darkness and earthquake and fire. They were confident that if God could act in the world through creation that they could also call out to God for Salvation.
We don’t usually know exactly who wrote much of the Bible. So many parts of what we know as a book existed for generations and generations as stories passed along, sometimes in worship, sometimes around campfires, sometimes sung, together, to remind people of how they were connected to each other and to God. And, sometimes, by the time things were gathered and written down, they also collected guides for interpreting them. Dr. Walter Brueggemann argues that the notes before some of the Psalms that say “a Psalm of David” are likely more an instruction on how to better understand these Psalms than a clear indication that David actually wrote them. That being said, this Psalm is clearly connected to part of David’s story and the connection can help us understand the connections between God’s manifestation in this world and God’s action on behalf of God’s creation.
This song of thanksgiving is also found in 2nd Samuel 22, one of the books that details David’s life and rise to prominence. In his commentary on the text, Steven McKenzie argues that the Psalm was developed much later than the life of David and likely ended up being included later as a way to help people understand just how thankful David was to be saved from the hands of King Saul, his father-in-law and political rival. David, who would begin the project of the temple in Jerusalem and would bring the ark of the covenant to the city. He would become a king deeply invested in making a space for God’s throne, God’s presence to reside. And, he would overcome significant political and personal conflict to become king. It makes sense that later people would hear his story, in particular, and could imagine the king who created a resting place for God, thanking the Creator for his own salvation.
Most of us aren’t King David and most of us won’t be building a temple anytime soon, though we work together regularly to maintain this Body of Christ. And, most of the time, especially in the most ancient parts of the Bible, as Dr. Gafney reminds us, when they talk about salvation, they are talking about the salvation of an entire people. In the United States, and in much of Christian tradition, we’ve lost some of the idea that God’s restoration is communal and not always individual. I think we need to read this Psalm with that tension in mind. The God who appears here is connected to all creation even as the testimony of thanksgiving we heard and read today is an individual describing their own personal deliverance.
Last night, as I worked on this sermon, I heard that a colleague of mine, who is going through her third bout of covid, who suffers from debilitating long covid, has been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. She lives in a state that has taken few necessary precautions to protect their citizens and so many have died because of it. My prayers for her, as I wrote last night and as I preach this morning, are for both individual deliverance and communal salvation. As I wrote, I also prayed for those being held hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. My prayers for them were individual... that those four people would be released alive and that the one who held them would repent and begin to make amends... but also communal... our Jewish neighbors are often targeted by antisemites. I wish for their communal deliverance from this bigotry that has killed so many. As the hostages were released, alive, last night, the words of the Psalm, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies” held much stronger resonance than mere hours before.
While I didn’t attend Sarah’s recent workshop about exploring and sharing times when you have felt close to go, she did tell me about her plans for the class and her hopes for the people who attended. She’ll be running a zoom version soon. I hope some more of you will consider taking it. What I found to be particularly helpful, as a pastor, about her class, is that she asks people to think not just about their whole lives of faith, but about particular moments and how you might describe those moments with God. Maybe your story would sound something like this Psalm: “My God delivered me. I see God in the majesty of the roiling creation around me. If God can do this, then God can help me.” Or, maybe it would sound like Psalm 117: “Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol God, all you peoples! For great is God’s steadfast love towards us and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever!” God is manifest is both of those kinds of stories, obvious in individual deliverance and communal restoration, in the thick darkness of night and in the brightness of fire. Whether you find yourself in need of being drawn out of mighty waters in your individual life or in a communal situation, I pray that you feel God drawing you out and delivering you. This Psalm reminds us that God delights in us... in God’s creation. May we delight in God, with whom we wait and work for deliverance.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Wil Gafney, “Epiphany 2,” in A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2021)
Also, Wil Gafney: https://www.wilgafney.com/2022/01/07/epiphany-2/
A Definition of Theophany: https://www.britannica.com/topic/theophany
Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003)
Steven L. McKenzie, "Psalms," The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994).
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.