“AN OLDIE BUT A GOODIE”

PSALM 91

SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            I looked up the top selling songs of all time, well at least in the past couple of centuries, and I was surprised that the Beatles or Elvis did not crack the top five. An Elvis song, “It’s Now or Never” was the number eight selling single of all time, and the Beatles? Well, they made the list at number twenty which was, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Let me tell you the top five selling songs of all time. Number five is “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets. Number four is “In the Summertime Time” by the British rock group Mungo Jerry. Number three is Bing Crosby’s version of “Silent Night.” Number two is “Candle in the Wind” by Elton John and the number one selling single of all time is “White Christmas” once again by Bing Crosby.

            Today, we are going to focus our attention on what I believe to be one of the top ten Psalms in the Book of Psalms. Number one on the list would be Psalm 23. No other Psalm comes close to that Psalm in terms of popularity, but I venture to say Psalm 91 would make the top ten. It has been redone and updated by Amy Grant in her song, “Angels Watching Over Me” as well as a song we sung at my mother’s funeral, “On Eagles Wings.” And I want to read the Psalm in its entirety so we get the sense the tenor of the entire Psalm and then I want to make five comments about it. Let’s begin reading.

 

            You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

            will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.

            For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;

            he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge;

            You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

            or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

            A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will  not come near you.

            You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

            Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,

            No evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.

            For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

            On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

            You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

            Those who love me, I will deliver;

            I will protect those who know my name.

            When they call to me I will answer them;

            I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.

            With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

 

            I want to make five comments about this Psalm. First of all, I want to say something about the author. Whoever wrote this Psalm thought the world of God. It doesn’t identify the author. A good number of folk think it’s Moses because the Psalm just before this one is a prayer of Moses so they say the next one is probably from him as well.  If Moses wrote it, this really is an oldie but a goodie. 

            Anyway, whoever wrote it thought the world of God. So did a missionary to Nigeria named Tommie Titcombe. Once he was on his way to a village where the witch doctors had warned him not to visit. On the outskirts of the village was a rope across the path with fresh human heads attached to it. All his guides fled. He fasted and prayed for a night, and then entered the village and preached the Gospel.

            He survived and lived to a ripe old age.  And when he was on his deathbed, Raymond Davis, the director of the mission board for whom he had worked in Nigeria all those years was with him, and Tommie said, “Ray, I’ve told you many times that long ago God gave me Psalm 91 as my special portion of Scripture.  There are 33 promises in that Psalm, Ray, and God has fulfilled every one of them for me, most of them many times.” 

            Thirty-three promises. I didn’t count them. I trust Tommie is right.

            Second, note the target audience of the Psalm. I’m sure you are familiar with that term. A target audience is a particular group of people at which a film, a book, an advertising campaign is aimed. For example, watch the evening news and you get all sorts of ads for pharmaceutical products. Watch a football game and you get a lot of truck and beer commercials. Watch golf and you see a certain kind of enhancement product as well as a ton of ads about investment companies. These advertisers have identified the people most likely to watch these shows and target them with products of most interest to them.

            With that in mind, note the target audience of this Psalm. It’s abiders, some translations read “dwellers,” who live in the shadow of the Almighty. In other words, these words, these promises are directed to those who draw daily, habitual strength from the Lord, who maintain an intimate relationship with God, who draw near to God regularly, so near that they abide in his shadow. These promises do not apply to everyone. They don’t even apply to every Christian The target audience here are abiders. These promises apply to them. Of course, if we want to move into this category then they can also be for us, but the ball is in our court.

            Third, I want us to note the promise. I’m going to roll all thirty-three promises that Tommie claimed were in this Psalm into one. Here's the promise: If we abide in God, nothing will shake our faith in God. Snares, arrows, deadly pestilence, shoot-outs at noonday, nothing will shake our faith in God. As we run the bases of life, God will guard our souls.

            In 2005 talk show host Conan O’Brien began to tell jokes about the martial arts fighter and actor Chuck Norris whose credentials included the TV series Walker, Texas Ranger, and a host of B movies in which Norris basically defeats entire armies by himself. Somehow the jokes took off.  The satirical “facts” about Norris’ toughness and masculinity propelled him to global superstardom.  Here are a few of them:

            There is no evolution. There are just creatures Chuck Norris allows to live.          

            Chuck Norris counted to infinity.  Twice.

            Chuck Norris is why Waldo is hiding.

            When the Boogeyman goes to bed at night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.

            This ongoing silliness had a brush with reality a few years ago when NPR reported that a bakery in eastern Europe, which had been repeatedly robbed, facetiously put a life-sized cardboard cutout of the actor in its front window.  These words were posted alongside:  “Premises Protected by Chuck Norris.”  The robberies immediately stopped.  And one local tough guy quietly asked if he could get Chuck Norris’ autograph.

            God has it all over Chuck Norris. God can move both heaven and earth, and he is guarding our soul. If we abide in God, nothing can shake our faith in God.

            Fourth, note the supernatural resources at our disposal. Charles Swindoll in his book Living Beyond the Daily Grind says, “I firmly believe this song deals with our spiritual enemies, the Devil and his demons … because our enemy is supernatural in strength, we need supernatural help.” The Psalmist says, "God gives command of his angels concerning us."

            Speaking of supernatural help, there are approximately three hundred direct or indirect references to angels in the scriptures. Three hundred. That is a lot of talk about angels, and according to a Time Magazine/CNN poll, 69% of American adults believe in the existence of angels; 46% believe they have their own Guardian Angel; almost one-third say they have, at one time or another, personally felt an angelic presence in their life. Furthermore, if there is such a thing as a universal idea, one that cuts across cultures and religions it is a belief in angels. Not only do Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the monotheistic religions have angels, but Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism do too. Winged figures appear in primitive Sumerian carvings, Egyptian tombs and Assyrian reliefs. Angels litter the metaphysical landscape from ancient times to the present.

            The biggest hazard in all this fascination with angels, however, is that it can take one’s focus off God, the God who created these ministering agents in the first place. Twice the angel messenger in Revelation tells John, "Do not worship me! I am a fellow servant with you and with your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!" (Rev. 19:10, 22:9)

            Angels are a sign of God's interest in us, of God's desire to guide us and protect us. What do we think? Are we part of the majority of folk who believe in guardian angels? I love that moment in the comic strip Family Circus when Billy comes into the house all torn and tattered. He looks like he has been in a wreck, then a fight, and then dragged for a mile or two by a team of runaway horses. He looks awful and he asks, “Do guardian angels take days off?”

            Sometimes it seems that way, but the psalmist would say, “No.”

            One final comment. This psalm in incredibly comforting. So comforting in fact it deserves to be read regularly. I suggest monthly.

            When I was twelve years old, I saw the movie The Pit and the Pendulum starring Vincent Prince at the Capital Theater with a friend. It scared the bejeebers out of both of us and the only problem was we got out at dusk and had to walk home, but he lived a block closer to the theater than I, so I had to walk the last block alone, by myself, in the dark. I didn’t walk. I ran home. Since I am here standing before you today you know I made it home safely. I didn’t, however, count on what would happen to me after I climbed into bed.

            The lights went off, but not my mind. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to keep the big, strange, scary world at bay. And if we’re perfectly honest, we all still do that from time to time.

            Except we’re lying in bed at night worrying about ISIS, or that unexplained lump on our neck, or our kids or that meeting we have tomorrow or the next asteroid that’s expected to veer toward Earth, and we are tempted to pull the covers over our heads to protect us. Of course, in such moments, the Scriptures never counsel us to whistle a happy tune, or distract ourselves with a deep-fried Snickers bar.  Nor are we commanded to ignore our anxieties and just get our act together. Instead, the biblical writers tell us to run for cover. The Psalmist tells us to take cover under God’s wing. He describes God as a place of shelter, a refuge, a fortress..

            That assurance is more than enough to get us through the night. Of course, we need to dwell. We need to abide. We need to live in the shadow of the Almighty. If we want to live into the reality of this psalm, we need to make sure we put God on our calendar each and every day. Not just Sunday. Amen.