July 9, 2023. Sermon Title: Who Holds Your Fate?

First Mennonite Church

July 9, 2023

Who Holds Your Fate?

Text: Psalm 16:1-11

Yokoi Kenji, the Colombian/Japanese corporate coach and lecturer says, “Not all will be well always. Time will come when there will be something that is not right in life.” The late theologian and novelist, Frederick Buechner, describes that truth with more vivid imagery. When describing his young family’s sense of well-being, he writes, “We were a world very much to ourselves up there on our mountain, and by and large, all was well with us. But down below there was another world, where by and large, not all was well. Friends got sick and died there. Accidents happened to people we knew. Children much older than ours got into all sorts of grief. Couples divorced and men lost their jobs. . . In the world below was a stormy sea with waves all around us. But we were on the top of our hill; it was the only place safe and dry. [But] A day will come when the wild waves will wet us and the wind will lash at us and the great beast browsing from below will raise its head and notice us at last.”[1]   

The opening words of this psalm are a cry to God for protection. Many other versions, put it this way: Preserve me, O God! This succinct cry expresses the essence of our daily prayers, both for ourselves and others. But as we will see in the following 10 and a half verses, the psalmist confesses God’s protection, not only during our earthly life but even after death. Therefore, even when this psalm opens with a plea, the thrust of it is a song of praise and gratitude for God’s protection.

Preserve me O God, is a human perennial prayer, which is reflected variously in five other places in the Book of Psalms: (17:8; 25:20; 86:2; 140:5; 141:9). So also is the claim that God is a refuge for those who come to him.

“Preserve me, O God!” is the heartfelt plea we can pray in these perilous times we are living. For the person of faith, the need to be preserved by God is ongoing. There is a constant danger, not only of physical harm but also of all sorts of things that disquiet the soul and mind. There are all kinds of forces that want to sway us from our place in Christ, thus we pray: Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

But following this plea comes a torrent of praise. The petition for preservation, the psalmist makes, is one truly grounded in the confidence of God’s faithfulness. You see, the power and authenticity of all prayers arise from the level of trust we have in God. Prayers can be half-hearted if trust in God is half-hearted as well. When in our minds we think we can take care of our needs, the level of trust in God is not as solid as we would like to believe it is. But when it dawns on us that even our every breath is only possible because of God’s mercy, we cannot take anymore anything in life for granted; thus we pray: “You are my Lord;I have no good apart from you.” You are my Adonai, the faithful God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the children of Israel. You are the one who provided bread and water in the middle of the desert. You are Adonai who provided light and protection day and night as they wandered. You are the one who gave them rest in a land flowing with milk and honey. For the psalmist, God is his treasure, protector, and delight.

How do you call God in your prayers? Do you find true satisfaction in the Lord?

Along with the recognition that there is no good apart from God, the psalmist recognizes a community that shares commonality with him in his relationship with God. He delights in the holy ones in the land, they are the noble ones. There is a people with whom the psalmist delights being in their company, the saints, and glorious ones. These are people who also trust God and find in him refuge and all goodness.

In whose company do you feel much at home? Because there is also a group of people the psalmist seeks to avoid even mentioning their names. He also refuses to share in what gives them delight. These are those who have chosen other gods. Those who do not call God, Lord, nor find delight in him.

 In verse five, the psalmist declares, The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The imagery of God being the choicest portion assigned to the psalmist draws from Israel’s portioning of the land when they first entered the Promised Land (Joshua 19:9). Each tribe was assigned a portion of the land. Having a portion of the land meant having a permanent dwelling place, security, sustenance, and fulfillment. But the Lord is also the psalmist’s “cup.” The cup symbolizes joy, feast, and ultimate fulfillment; thus, the psalmist exclaims, “You Lord hold my lot.” “You Lord hold my fate.”

In this simple, yet confident declaration, the psalmist declares how profound his confidence is in the Lord. God holds control over the psalmist’s entire existence, not only in the present but also when he faces death. The psalmist is thoroughly confident that his life and everything he faces in life do not happen by accident, chance, or luck. Everything he is and has originated in God. Everything that happens to him is not by fluke. But neither are they the result of his own achievement nor wit. Security in life cannot be achieved by our own strength. Everyone who entrusts his or her life to the Lord will be given a depth of stability that nothing will be able to shake. To them will be given profound joy and peace even in the midst of difficulty. To them will be given a sense of security that not even death can undermine.

As we know, human fear of death motivates in them the frantic attempt to find security, joy, and peace most frequently in material abundance. But the people of God can say confidently, “You Lord hold my fate.” God holds our destiny; thus, we are secure in his care.

Upon confessing that the Lord holds the psalmist’s fate, he bows in worship:   
I bless the Lord, who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Verse seven is variously translated due to the difficulty of the Hebrew. Here are three examples:

I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. (KJV)

I will bless the LORD who has advised me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night. (NASB)

I shall bless LORD JEHOVAH who counsels me and my kidneys teach me in the nights. (Aramaic Bible in Plain English) That is a literal translation from the Hebrew.

In Hebrew physiology, human emotions and desires come from the kidneys. The heart is the place where the will and intelligence emanate. 

Therefore, the psalmist expresses his deepest gratitude that YHWH offers him counsel even in the area where humans have the weakest control, the place where deep and strong emotions and desires come.

Therefore my heart (and here is the exact word for heart is used) is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also rests securely.

Body, soul, and entire being find counsel, comfort, joy, and security in the Lord.

The psalmist confesses that God will not give him up to Sheol nor let him see the pit.
In fact, the Lord will “show the psalmist the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Although it is possible that the psalmist did not have a doctrine of the resurrection, his full confidence in the Lord led him to declare in the most vivid ways his trust in God, both in life’s joy and suffering. There was nothing that could disconnect him from his relationship with God. In both life and death, he knew God was with him.

As I said, even when it is possible that the psalmist did not have a doctrine of resurrection, the truth of those words came to be realized in Christ Jesus. Peter saw in the words of Psalm 16 something God literally fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in Acts two, verses 26-28.

Psalm 16 beautifully articulates the Christian life experience where suffering and glory are inseparable. We glory in the promises of God and delight in his love and care, yet we realize that life can be difficult. We can live confidently that we have a refuge where we hide when the storm comes. Our God hides us in Christ, as Paul says in Colossians three, verse three. That is why we can say with confidence, “God is our refuge.” In some cases, life in Christ itself is the reason for suffering.

Just recently it was reported that a Mennonite pastor died in prison after 17 years of hard labor and torture in Vietnam. Life and death do not happen by mere chance because our fate, destiny, or lot is in the hands of the Lord. Thus, we can say with confidence the truth in Paul’s words: If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:8, 9).

May the Lord impress his word in our hearts. Amen! 

Pastor Romero

[1] Frederick Buechner. Listening to Your Life, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1992, p. 44, 45.