Title: Our God Reigns
Text: Psalm 96
Date: July 4, 2010
Place: LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, MI)
Author: Chaplain (Col.) Herman Keizer, Jr., U. S. Army, ret.
This weekend our Nation pauses to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the establishment of our Nation – the intellectual giants who pledged their lives and fortunes to establish a Nation into which God breathed liberty. We watched parades, heard speeches and sang patriotic songs. As a Nation we proclaimed once again the ideals and ideas that we cherish as a free people.
But we all sense again in this year’s celebration that our National life has changed since 11th of September 2001. We are a nation fighting two wars that continue to add names to the list of those who sacrifice for our freedom. Our victory in both wars is complicated by hostilities that resist efforts for peace.
What we do as a nation on holidays like this one is a public liturgy – an endorsement of those ideals and ideas that are sacred to our national contract with each other. We are making a public profession and acknowledgement of what we hold to be a sacred trust toward one another.
Jon Meacham wrote a wonderful book called American Gospel about God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation. In the Book he says, “Religion is one of the most pervasive but least understood forces in American Life . The point of this book is to explore the role faith played in the Republic and to illustrate how the Founding Fathers left us with a tradition in which we could talk and think about God and politics without descending into discord and division.”
In his analysis of our early history he identifies and defines what the Founding Fathers called Public Religion. He says, “The nation’s public religion holds that there is a God, the one Jefferson called the ‘Creator’ and ‘Nature’s God’ in the Declaration of Independence. The God of public religion made all human beings in his image and endowed them, as Jefferson wrote, with sacred, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What the God of public religion has given, no king, no president, no government can abridge – hence the sanctity of human rights in America. The God of public religion is interested in the affairs of this world….. Properly understood, the God of public religion is not the God of Abraham or God the Father of the Holy Trinity.”
“Public religion is a habit of mind and of heart that enables Americans to be at once tolerant and reverent – two virtues of relevance for all, for the Founders’ public religion is consummately democratic. When a president says “God bless America” or when we sing “America, America! God Shed his grace on thee,” each American is fee to define God in whatever way he chooses….Such diversity is not a prescription for dissension. It is a part of the reality of creation.”
These public liturgies have implications for our life together and for the leadership of our nation. There are obligations we, as Americans, take upon ourselves as a Nation when we are so public in our asking this God of our public religion to Bless America. These celebrations place a burden upon us as Christians. Implicit in our prayers as Christians is that we address not the God of our public religion, but the God of Abraham and the Father of our Savior. To help us, as Christians, get some insight into some of the implications of what we do when we celebrate with our nation, I would like for us to meditate on Psalm 96.
Psalm 96 is one of the Psalms identified as an Enthronement Psalm. In these Psalms, Israel celebrates in worship and in liturgy the enthronement, the coronation of the Covenant God, Yahweh, as King. In this celebration and worship, the people of Israel commit themselves as Covenant partners to help create the world over which Yahweh rules and to establish that rule in the kingdom of Israel.
In these Enthronement Psalms we are transported to a different place – a celestial battlefield. We are given a message about events and battles that transcend our world. The Psalms usually follow this sequence:
* COMBAT AMONG THE GODS,
* VICTORY FOR YAHWEH,
* ENTRANCE AND ENTHRONEMENT OF YAHWEH,
* AND A PROCLAMATION OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE RULE OF YAHWEH.
Psalm 96 begins with 6 imperatives.
* SING to Yahweh a new song
* SING to Yahweh all the earth
* SING to Yahweh.
* PRAISE or BLESS his name.
* PROCLAIM his salvation from day to day.
* DECLARE his glory among the nations,
His marvelous deeds among all people.
Walter Brueggemann has alerted us to the 5th imperative “proclaim.” He tells us that this is an interesting biblical word and important for us to understand it’s meaning in this context. It is the Hebrew word basar, “proclaim the news.” This is the word that as a noun becomes the Old Testament word for “gospel.”
The early meaning of basar, in the books of Samuel, is used to report the outcome of the battle, or the death of someone in a battle. (For example: The son of Zodak and the Cushite come running to David to report the death of Absalom). The news communicated can be good or bad. The word refers to speech that transfers the significance of an event from one place to another. It is used to make the events of one place present and real in another place. (In Viet Nam my commanders would ask for a SITREP – SITUATION REPORT. They were asking their subordinate unit commander to tell the details of a battle being fought outside of the vision.).
The second meaning is from the book of Isaiah. Here basar is used as a theological word. It reports a victory God has won a battle elsewhere that is decisive for the present time in which the report is made. Like the summons of Cyrus to be the helper of Israel and how Yahweh taunts the other gods (Is 41:25-29).
In Isaiah the message really matters. The message tells of matters of life and death, victory and a defeat that concerns the gods. Their defeat is made known to the people.
This Psalm reports the out come of that celestial battle which have a decisive effect here in the present, where the news of the outcome is spoken and heard. The gospel of Yahweh, which is to be sung and recounted among the nations, is this “Yahweh is to be feared above all the gods.”
The other gods are not absolute or legitimate.
They are IDOLS,
empty of power
incapable of doing anything.
The Psalmist points to the highest irony, Yahweh even made the heavens in which the gods are said to dwell.
Therefore we can sing.
“For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, he
is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the Lord
made the heavens.
Verse 6 moves us from the celestial battlefield to the sanctuary where the great gospel of the Lord is announced. The mood is described with no action verbs, because the action has been complete.
There is a new mood,
a new situation,
a new atmosphere.
In the throne room now there is honor, majesty, strength and power.
In vv. 7-10a, the Psalm presents eight imperatives that demand a response from the community that hears the victory of our God.
* Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations,
* Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength,
* Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name,
* Bring an offering and Come into his courts.
* Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness,
* Tremble before him, all the earth.
* Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
With the word “say,” Israel at worship is not simply to celebrate God’s victory in its own life, but Israel is to reach outside its own circle, to circulate the news which is addressed to the entire world, “The Lord reigns.”
The good news to the nations is that Yahweh, the God of Israel, rules and judges all the people of the earth with justice and equity. The nations of the world are to align themselves with Yahweh because their gods have been defeated and de-legitimated.
We cannot dismiss this with a yawn that signifies that there is nothing new here. We Calvinists know the importance of the Sovereignty of God and His majesty. But in this Psalm, we are not called to recite some old theological lessons learned. No, the Psalm calls us to once again enthrone God. To again act on the message we have heard and sing a new song.
God’s victory is always news and always new. Brueggemann says the proclamation, the retelling, is the moment of dramatic actualization. The “there-here” dynamic of news lets the news be received, affirmed, celebrated and acted upon.
In Psalm 96, the whole world received the news of Yahweh’s surprising victory with joy. Their world was under threat. Our world, too, was and is under a deep threat. The before the wall-came-down-world cringed under the claims of an atheistic and alien sovereignty in which whole nations were enslaved no longer exists. Messengers came to us with astonishing messages. The streets of the enslaved cities, like Leipzig, were alive with celebration and acclaim of our God.
While my wife and I were living in Europe we saw the great testimony of the wonderful victory God had wrought in Eastern Europe. We worshipped and rejoiced in historic old churches. We had fellowship with military chaplains from Eastern Europe whose governments had just established a chaplain program. We were singing with them like the Psalmist:
* Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
* Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
* Let the field exalt, and everything in it!
* Then shall all the trees of the woods sing for joy.”
But the fall of Communism and the end of the cold war has unleashed other forces-radical Islam- that has challenged our world in new and terrible ways.
Our nation wants to praise the strength of its arms and the rightness of its cause, but the changes in our world have surprised us and shocked us even though we are the most powerful nation in our world. Our military might is tested and frustrated in many new and different types of conflict.
Terrorism is not new in our modern world, but for us in the United States the terror was always someplace else. We could ignore it; we could distance ourselves from it and choose not to see what was there to see. Most of us saw little of the devastation of the genocide in Rwanda, where hundred of thousands lost their lives to the most primitive instruments of terror and death. We did not see the concentration camps and the murder of innocents in Bosnia. We dignified this atrocity by calling it “ethnic cleansing.”
But terror now has an American face – in New York City, in Pennsylvania and in the Pentagon. Terror has come home to America. We can no longer hide from it or ignore it.
If we are truly “One Nation under God,” our quest for peace in response to this terror must reflect the character of our God and King and not the God of public religion.
First, we have the assurance of a message that comes from the deep recesses of eternity. The God of our fathers and mothers has fought a battle for this world against all the powers of evil and darkness and he has won. He has defeated death and the devil in the person of his obedient Son, Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call the Christ – the Messiah of God.
Second, Our King Jesus is one who brings mercy, righteousness, justice and peace. Our actions must reflect the character of this sovereign. God wants to remake the world in his image.
* “He will judge the peoples with equity.(v10)
* “He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.(vl3)”
Our God intervenes in the world to look after the claims of the weak ones who have no power, to establish a new power center, and a new value center. He overcomes the fickle, the arbitrary, the capricious, and the exploitative social order.
A world, with Yahweh enthroned as the King, is one of fresh possibilities. Our world must strive to rid itself of social practices of inequity, unrighteousness and untruth, because the King would have them banished. Instead of infidelity and injustice, we can call for fidelity and justice. Where there is poverty, we can bring plenty. Where there is slavery, we can proclaim freedom and cut the captive bonds. The cacophony terror must give way to a new symphony of justice, mercy and peace. For we all have a new song to sing together.
The telling of the message and the story is our task, yours and mine. The fruit of our coronation worship and enthronement thanksgiving must be manifest in our carrying the good news to the world. This is the work of evangelism, the telling of a new life made possible by the victory of the one who invades our world ever day with his power and mercy.
To celebrate God’s enthronement rightly, we should imagine what the king of Israel must have experienced when he led Israel in the coronation and re-enthronement of Israel’s Covenant God using these Psalms in public worship. The king could not ignore the agenda and the political platform that God had set for him. He was Yahweh’s king! It was the God of Israel who established the nation and set the values for the nation. The king of Israel was trapped in his worship. He could not beg off the implications of the message he helped Israel sing in public worship.
What do we say to our political leadership? We are the remaining world super power. What does it mean when a nation sings “send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” while fear now makes us leery of refugees, especially those from the Middle East and those who come illegally over our southern borders? What does it mean for a nation to recite a creed that professes “all men are created equal” and yet within our own nation we oppress people because of gender, religion, race and economic status? What does it mean when we deploy military forces based on racial and economic considerations? Why Bosnia and not Rwanda: Iraq and not Sudan? What does it mean that our National profession holds that God has endowed us with certain inalienable rights, like life, and then slays the fetus waiting to pursue life?
The truths we profess in our public worship of the Triune God are the agenda we should pursue or our public worship becomes a sham and a disgrace. We must nt collude with the political parties and their worship of a public God and the gospel of free market economic democracy.
We need to sustain our President, his advisors, and our legislators in our prayers. But we need to tell them that their agenda for peace and justice must reflect the purpose of the God we worship. We need to make our voice heard in the Public Square, discussing and analyzing these complex issues.
Israel and the Christian Church have Songs and Psalms to remind her of past good news. Israel’s past was a gospel that celebrates the God who said to her, “I brought you out of the land of Egypt. I brought you out of slavery. I brought you out of political captivity. I brought you out of sickness. Israel was to go get that memory from out there in the past and bring it to the present. Israel was to be an evangelist and proclaim what her God did and does for her. And then Israel was to lift up her delivering God again in proclamation and worship. Publish the news, “Our God reigns,”
I know that many of you here today have stories that fill your heart with the reality of God’s power in your life. There are Psalms and hymns for you to sing. Psalms and hymns that help you sing up the memory of what God has done for you in the past. Bring the news here from out there in your private life! Publish it here! Publish it where you work and play! Enthrone God anew because he has been the faithful one in the midst of your darkness and in the abundance of your joy. Our songs give voice to the majesty, faithfulness, and the mercy of God.
If someone asks what you did in worship on this July Forth, we can all join to say: “We enthrone our God on our praise. We want the entire world and especially our country to know that “Our God reigns.”
And all God’s people said, “Amen.”