Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.
Full disclosure—in preparation for this sermon, I believe, was the first time I ever read Psalm 2. I’ve nothing against the psalter, don’t get me wrong. I’m hip to other psalms like 8, 13, 16, 23, 24, 34 and even some triple digit ones like 100, 105, 118, ultra-lengthy 119, 139, 142. (Shout out any numbers you love that I missed. I mean numbers of psalms, not just like, numbers. Cool, a lot of psalm fans out there today.)
Well, because the world is great, I’ve figured out a way to, once again, tell the story of the Old Testament project that Gretchen and Maria and I did, first year. It was an obviously amazing infomercial that played off the Apple marketing campaign “there’s an app for that”—but, rather, there was a psalm for that. There’s a psalm for your sorrow, your revenge fantasy, for gentleness, for you the oppressed or you the oppressor, for justice, for celebration, for anguish, for fear, for joy.
Sojourners contributor Kari Jo Verhulst writes that “the poetry of the psalms preserves the immediacy of human experience…void of the broader perspective that we get well after the moment has passed….the psalms preserve the heart’s cries in language, images, and movements spacious enough to find our own experiences.”
And John Calvin, guy I don’t usually quote in sermons, called the Psalms “the anthology of all the parts of the soul.” And he meant all parts.
David Tuesday Adamo, a religion professor in Nigeria, classifies Psalm 2 as a therapeutic psalm—specifically for stomach pain. I have to admit that yesterday, when I realized I was preaching the day after Jim Lobdell, I had some stomach pain. The African Indigenous Churches, Adamo explains, regard these words as “potent” when read as part of a healing ritual, which includes the drinking of water made holy by these words.
While we wouldn’t classify our baptism as cure for stomachache necessarily, we do know a little something about water made holy by word. While you may be a better biblical scholar than I am and have included Psalm 2 in your life before now, you may have just recognized the words “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” as bearing a striking resemblance to the words that thunder from heaven during Jesus’ baptism.
We as Christians have a specific understanding of the term “God’s son” and we mean Jesus, the Christ, when we say that. But we’ve also learned, probably from Steed Davidson, that earthly kings often claimed to be the son of a particular god, in order to lend themselves that god’s authority. Some interpreters say that this psalm could have, liturgically, been used in royal rituals—and it makes perfect sense that it would appear in the story of the baptism of Jesus, as told by Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. Matthew, greatly concerned with the establishment of Jesus’ authority, and Luke, greatly concerned with social location, would have called upon this familiar, royal phrase to underscore the baptism of Jesus.
And Jesus has more power than any earthly king—and he hasn’t amassed an army or oppressed a people. Rather, he has emptied himself of that power through “suffering, humiliation, despair” and death on the cross.
In Psalm 2, it’s written that God has established a king to bring order to the world, but that all the other kings are running away with it. God has established a rule of law, a coming kingdom, and humans who would even claim the best of intentions are failing miserably to fulfill it.
When we hear the words of this psalm in our world—big and messy—we may wonder if God can really make order out of our chaos. If you read or watched any news today, you’ve been long-distance witnesses to the upheaval in Venezuela, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Uganda, Mexico, the Central African Republic, Somalia…
There are death tolls in the dozens and the capture of a drug kingpin and re-imprisonment of musicians and anti-gay legislation and drone strikes and civil wars and disappearances and protests and crackdowns and unchecked abuse of power.
And, in the midst of it all, there’s a psalm for that.
I told a non-religious friend of mine I was going to preach today, and he asked what I was planning to say, and so I, sort of flippantly, said that I was going to talk about how everything is awful and the only reason we don’t give up is because God has promised to make order out of our chaos. He just sort of said, “oh” and we moved on to talking about something else -- but isn’t that the thing? Isn’t it just that the world is constantly in uproar—with earthly kings plotting against that which will engender the kingdom of God—and yet somehow, here we are, week after week, being read to about that chaos, and responding, “Thanks be to God.”
The last line of this psalm made me laugh. Its contrast to the rest of the psalm is so typical. Wrath, fear, trembling, wicked, perishing, warning—people are going to be dashed to pieces like pottery, it says!—but happy are they who take refuge in him.
As though that’s it. And as though all the folks who are going to be broken with a rod of iron are simply unhappy. I think they’re probably more than unhappy. I think they’re probably dead.
But the thing is, the people of God know who has the last word. The people of God know that this king—earthly or otherwise—is from God and will, therefore, lead them toward happiness.
And since I’m so fond of bringing my horrible jokes full circle, there is, in fact, an app for your happiness! I stumbled upon it earlier this week and am interested to see how I’m able to use it, going forward. The app is called “happier” and basically is an electronic journal of moments of happiness, gratitude, etc. So like, on Monday when I went to Café Yesterday to read like a million pages for homework, Josh, the guy who runs it, put my coffee in the giant Disney Princess mug, knowing without knowing that that would make me happier. I posted a picture of it to the app, and got notifications that it had made other users smile—the “happier” version of the Facebook like.
What I like about “happier” is not just that I post little positive things that occur in my life, but I peruse the moments that have made strangers happy. For other folks, it’s a visit to their horse’s stable, a great grade on an assignment, managing to be on time to yoga class, noticing blooming trees on their way to work. Knowing that people out there in the world are experiencing little bursts of happiness helps me know that there’s a way out of our chaos. In the midst of the trauma and terror of human life, there is also happiness. There is goodness, and there is love, and there is life.
The words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu have been made into a song that we’re going to sing in just a moment, because their simplicity is built on the same confidence as Psalm 2:
“Goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate. Light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, victory is ours, through God who loves us.”