Sermon for 22 Pentecost Yr B

22 Pentecost Yr B, 24/10/2021

Ps 34:1-8, 19-22 

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Praise God the Deliverer”

Psalm 34—which was also the psalm for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost—has the following superscription: “Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” This superscription has a background story involving David in 1 Samuel 21. David is on the run, fleeing from Saul, fearing for his life. He flees to the city of Nob, which is located between Gibeah, Saul’s hometown, and Jerusalem. Nob was a city of priests, and David approaches the priest Ahimelech, who gives the holy bread to David and his men. David then continued to flee from Saul, going into enemy territory, to the Philistine King Achish of Gath—perhaps he was hoping he’d be safe there, and offer his services as a soldier. At any rate, David, wondering how the Philistine king will receive him, puts on an insanity act, scratching the doors of the gate and letting spittle run down his beard. King Achish has no time for such insane behaviour, he has too many other crazy folks to deal with, and so David continues to flee from Gath, escaping to the cave of Adullam. 

The NRSV Lutheran Study Bible, with this background story in mind, gives Psalm 34 the following title: “Praise for Deliverance from Trouble,” the deliverance from trouble being the threat of Saul and the enemy King Achish. So, David would have praised and thanked God for such a deliverance. The Good News Bible has this title: “In Praise of God’s Goodness.”

So verses 1-3 highlight the importance of praising God. David, after being delivered from his life-threatening situation, invites God’s faithful people to join him in praising God. The first three verses are David’s call to worship God. Notice that, for emphasis, David employs four verbs, he and God’s faithful people are to: bless, praise, magnify and exalt the LORD. All of these verbs stress the importance of worshipping God after some kind of troubling circumstances. 

That reminds me of the following story: There were three old monks whose monastery was burned down by an invading army. 

The monks escaped and lived in the forest. They found a beautiful glade which they called their cathedral. Since they were now old, their voices cracked when they sang. However, every evening they sang Mary’s song, called “the Magnificat,” based on Luke’s Gospel. This song of praise to God reminded the monks how God had delivered them from that invading army. So too, as people of faith, hopefully we too will remember to praise God each day for the many and various ways in which God delivers us from troubling circumstances.

In many spiritual assessments used by hospital chaplains and hospice spiritual-care coordinators, measuring gratitude toward God is one way of assessing the spiritual vitality of patients. The psalmist expresses great praise toward God and undergirds this praise with a deep sense of gratitude.

In current positive psychology practices, gratitude is considered one of the most powerful positive forces in the lives of healthy, resilient people. People with an attitude of gratitude overcome tragedy more easily, are more likely to reach out for help, and will likely experience a greater sense of well-being. Gratitude doesn’t mean a naive denial of life’s difficulties. Rather, gratitude understands that life can be full of suffering and unfairness but intentionally seeks to name those things that bring measures of joy and moments of beauty. 

The psalmist identifies himself as the poor, oppressed soul delivered by God. Are we not all the poor and oppressed? There are many kinds of oppression. If we do not suffer from physical poverty, we may be awash in the meaningless luxuries of a consumer society that leave us spiritually impoverished. God is for us, offering liberation from oppression of all kinds. When we experience liberation from oppression, physical suffering, emotional suffering, or spiritual suffering, a natural expression of our gratitude is praise of the Lord. We want to share this experience with others, and so we encourage others to “taste and see” the Lord’s goodness for themselves.1 And that reminds me of another story.

Two merchants decided to sail to a certain city in order to buy some highly profitable merchandise. They were about to set out when one of them fell from a ladder and hurt his leg so badly that he couldn’t possibly travel. As the ship could not be detained, his companion embarked by himself, leaving behind the man with the bad leg, who cursed Providence for the miserable luck that had deprived him of a fine profit. Before long, however, word arrived that the ship had sunk at sea with the loss of all its passengers. Then the merchant thanked the Lord for having made him hurt his leg, thus saving him from a certain death, and begged forgiveness for questioning His wisdom. 

The moral is that a [person] must always praise God for whatever happens to [her or]him, no matter what that is. Everything is for the best in this world, even if it does not seem so, for it sometimes comes to atone for our sins, or to save us from a worse fate, or to bring us even greater good fortune. And this can be seen from the story of the merchant, whose injured leg was a blessing in disguise.2

Coming back to the psalm, we are reminded in verses 4, 6, and 19, that the psalmist, David, and all of God’s people will have fears, trouble, afflictions and misfortunes. Life is full of ups and downs. We may, like David, even face life-threatening situations. However, David reminds us that God will be with us. God will be our refuge. God will deliver us; maybe not when or where or how we want or expect God to act. Rather, when, where and how God chooses to act. That, too, is the important lesson Job learned through his suffering and God’s delivering him and restoring him from his suffering in today’s first lesson. Job, in response, is grateful to God, as well as gracious and generous towards others. Which reminds me of the following story of Lynne M. Deming.

[Lynne writes]: Some years ago I received a cancer diagnosis and endured a six-month chemotherapy regimen. During those months, I resolved to determine what good could possibly come from my experience (in addition to my remission!). One positive result is that I am able to advise, listen to, commiserate with, and pray for others I know or encounter who find themselves in a similar situation. In the same way, we can perceive this psalm as one of hope that can inspire persons in similar situations.3

So, may we in all our circumstances of life, like David, and like countless other faithful people, be able to praise the LORD our Deliverer. 

1 Devotion by Jane Herring, in: Disciplines: A Book Of Daily Devotions 2015 (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2014), p. 229.

2 Jewish Folktales Selected and Retold by Pinhas Sadeh (New York, Toronto, et al: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1989), p. 285.

3 Devotion by Lynne M. Deming, in: Disciplines: A Book Of Daily Devotions 2015 (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2014), p. 309.