To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.
Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.
When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Do any of you ever have something that keeps you up at night? Something that causes you to just lay there full of adrenaline and thoughts racing? I have had a lot of those nights this last year from the pandemic to the election to the cold weather shelter to the ICE contract. One thing that has been really getting me riled up this last year is the PCUSA Board of Pensions. The Board of Pensions is the pension board for presbyterian pastors, providing insurance and a pension upon retirement. Its goal is to care for pastors. However I have been learning more and more about how the way they invest our money is in harmful industries such as fossil fuels. I have been working with a group of people to try to get us to lead with a prophetic voice and move away from fossil fuels as a source of wealth but we have been stonewalled at every turn. It has been so frustrating and I often find myself running circles in my head about all the different ways to engage or argue our way out of this.
Today’s scripture is a Psalm of David and he finds himself awake at night pondering his life and desiring for God to change his circumstances. I can just imagine him pacing back and forth saying, “Answer me when I call, O God of my right!… How long shall my honor suffer shame?” We see in this Psalm, David jumping around from talking to God, then addressing himself, then calling out those who have harmed him. This Psalm sounds like a late night rant one would have inside their own head. (this idea comes from Shauna Hannan at Working Preacher.) David is so upset about people smearing his name and making up rumors that he cannot sleep as he ponders how to move forward and charges God with this help.
I can’t help but think that so many of us have had these experiences that keep us up at night. Adrenaline filled moments where we argue in our head and create what we think is the perfect argument to convince someone they were wrong. There is so much happening in the world today that can cause us to lose sleep. Perhaps you are worried about climate change and the increasing number of wildfires and hurricanes and climate refugees. Perhaps you are worried about racial justice as we watch and hear about the trial of Derrick Chauvin for killing George Floyd only to be reminded of the violence of more police shootings and mass shootings too. Or perhaps you are worried about the pandemic as our county moves backwards because the community spread is so high and you wonder if we will ever be able to return to safe in person activities.
And while we do not hear a response from God in this Psalm today, we see some coping mechanisms for learning how to sleep. Historically, this Psalm has been paired with Psalm 3 to bookend a monastic day. Psalm 3 talks about waking in the morning and Psalm 4 talks about going to bed. This is what is often called an evening Psalm. At the end of the Psalm, after David has pleaded with God, argued with his detractors (who are not in the room with him), and thought about his plight, David turns to what he knows is true about his God. “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” I will lie down and sleep in peace, in shalom, because my God gives safety and is in control. David says that God has put gladness in his heart. And now he is able to sleep.
I have wondered this week about how I might lean into what I know about God as I stir at night trying to fix the world. The beauty of this Psalm is that it shares this unique and wonderful intimacy with their creator. David knows that his God is there for him and loves him. His God understands the pain. Our God, the God of David, is one who cares so deeply for us that she created an entire planet for us to care for and live in. Our God is one who cares so deeply for us that he became human and lived amongst us and was killed for that love. Our God is one who cares for us so deeply that they broke the power of death over us and calls upon us to live for them and trust them with all that we are.
This does not necessarily solve all of our problems. It is not a magic fix. God is not a genie in a bottle. But God does love and long and desire for each and every one of us to be living a life filled with abundance. This God should shape how we pray and how we trust. So the next time you are working yourself up at night, think about the power of our God, think about the love of our God, think about the grace and abundance of our God, and perhaps let go of your worry for the night and trust the world into God’s hands while you sleep. In the morning you will be refreshed and filled with God’s rest, fully charged and able to bring God’s love to a weary world during the day.