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07.04.10 A Nation’s Prayer, Psalm 138, Sermon Summary

by on July 5, 2010

Summary points

  • True freedom is a gift from God, and is the freedom to serve others in love
  • Our reason for existence, both individually and nationally, is tied to our freedom
  • To find purpose in life, have no other gods before Jesus’ God, pray, and serve others

Freedom is a concept that is dear to every American. And it should be, because to be free is divine. The great theologian Karl Barth spoke about the freedom of God. He said that only God is absolutely free. By emphasizing the absolute and exclusive freedom of God, Barth reminded us that we humans cannot experience true freedom until and unless God comes to us and liberates us. The good news of Christianity is that, through the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and Spiritual presence of Christ, we can experience divine freedom.

Jesus taught this also. According to Luke, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the captives, recovery of site to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free. And I am the way, the truth, and the life.” True freedom comes from Christ, because true freedom is divine.

True freedom is the gift of God in Christ. Only God can make us free, which is why the first commandment is that God’s people shall have no other gods before the LORD God of ancient Israel. God created us for freedom, and God’s desire is to set us free, and we can be free only if we have no other gods before the God of Jesus.

Psalm 138 begins with the words, “I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the gods I will sing your praise.” These words refer to the Creed of Ancient Israel, “The LORD our God is one, and we will love the LORD our God with all our heart, mind, and strength” (Deut6.4-5). It is also a profession of fidelity to the first commandment. And the rest of the Psalm shows these opening words are a confession of faith in the truth that we can only be free if God sets us free.

Verses 3 and 7 give us the occasion of this confession of faith. David—warrior, king, and religious devotee—is oppressed by some enemy. The enemy was menacing and vengeful. While “walking in the midst of trouble,” David called out to the LORD, and God made him strong in spirit. God preserved him through this trial.

In verse 8 we discover that David’s faith is rooted in a belief that our lives have purpose. He has hope because he believes there is something from God for him to do. God intends to accomplish something through us, and God will not abandon the work of God’s hands. In David’s words, “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me.”

These are comforting words in times when we feel like our lives have no meaning. Whether we’re locked in a job that doesn’t seem to contribute to the world, or whether we’re retired and suffer under the monotony of too much time on our hands, or whether we’re between school and work and don’t have direction in our lives. Some of us have discovered that we’re actually quite alone, and we wonder if the world would notice if we simply disappeared. Our lives appear to have no purpose, and that can be despairing.

But according to this Psalm, there is a reason for our existence. As long as we have our existence, our lives have some purpose. And when there is nothing else to point to, sometimes the purpose of our lives is simply to pray. Psalm 104 says, “I will sing to the LORD while I have my being.”

This truth of God’s purpose applies as much to nations as it does to individuals. God’s purpose for Israel is to cultivate messianic hope; for Egypt it was to provide for God’s people during a famine, and to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to the cries of oppressed people; for Babylon—both the historical Babylons of the Bible and the metaphorical Babylons of our day—it is to create circumstances where God’s faithfulness can be revealed.

God’s purpose for us and for nations is rooted in our freedom. In Galatians 5 Paul writes that, “for freedom Christ has set us free. But we do not use our freedom to indulge our sinful nature, but rather we are to serve one another in love.” This is the purpose of our lives—to serve one another in love. If you’re feeling like your life has no purpose right now, (1) have no other gods, (2) pray, and (3) find an opportunity to serve someone. There you will find meaning in your life.

What about the purpose for our nation? In Psalm 138:4-5, David prays that all the kings of the earth may see the goodness of God and praise God. This is how others “hear the words of God’s mouth,” when you and I live according to them. Our national purpose is to so conduct ourselves in the world, that others will experience God’s goodness and give praise and thanksgiving to God.

I think it’s important to remember what true freedom is, and what true freedom is for. I think it is especially tempting for us Americans to violate the first commandment to have no other gods before the LORD God. We enjoy so many freedoms that we are easily forgetful of the freedom for which Christ has set us free, the freedom that is true freedom, the freedom that gives not just license but purpose to our lives, the freedom that makes us truly human, the freedom that is divine freedom.

True freedom is not the independence our founding fathers declared on July 4, 1776. True freedom is the ability to serve others in love. And on this Fourth of July, may we be appropriately grateful for our freedom. And may we also be responsible with our freedom. In the name of Christ.

Thoughts regarding the Lord’s Supper: Verse 2 teaches us something about the nature of worship. David bows down towards the holy temple of God. We see that ritual is appropriate in the worship of God. We worship God not only with our minds and our voices, but with our entire bodies. When we pray, some of us lower our heads, some of us raise our faces, some of us lift up our hands. When we celebrate the sacraments, we sprinkle or plunge into water. We take, bless, break, and give. We sip or dip. We process. In the words of Psalm 138, we bow our bodies towards God’s holy temple. . .

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