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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let Your Face Shine Peace (Psalm 80.1-7,7-19, Romans 1.1-7)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 19, 2010
Some Music Used 
Anthem: "There is No Rose" (Britten); Trio: Lynda, Morgan, and Maddie Shuler
Offertory: "Tidings of Comfort and Joy" (arr. Maddie Shuler)

Cong. Hymn: "How Deep the Father's Love"

Let Your Face Shine Peace
Texts: Psalm 80:1-7,17-19; Romans 1:1-7

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

bulletin artwork by Lynda Shuler

Today we are going to talk about peace. That’s something I think most of us could use about now… only six days ‘til Christmas. Have you finished your shopping?

Certainly we understand what peace might mean relative to hectic and busy lives. But that kind of peace is really just the outer layer or overflow of something much deeper, and that is what our scripture text gets at this morning.

That deeper and more significant kind of peace is peace with God. And just because God loves us (which most people might agree with) doesn’t mean that we all feel like we are at peace with God.

Today we will mainly look at Psalm 80, but we will see through Romans 1 that what is promised and held out as good news of peace in Psalm 80 is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as described in Romans 1. 

A Common Refrain

There is a refrain repeated several times in Psalm 80. You heard it three times in the selected verses read in the service today. That refrain is this:

O Lord God of hosts, restore us; Cause your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. (vv. 3, 7, 19)

Those may not be the words you and I use, but isn’t that a common refrain in our life? Or shouldn’t it be?

bulletin artwork by Kathy Larson
God help me! I’m in over my head… I’ve turned away from you… I can’t handle the stress… I’m lonely… I’m afraid. Isn’t that cry to God our deepest cry for help?

The people of Israel knew where that help came from. It came from their God – the God of Israel. And unlike the gods of all those around them, God couldn’t be bought or bribed. They also recognized two important things in the narrative underlying this Psalm: 1) they had strayed and were not at peace with God; and 2) only God could really do something about that.

And so, they cried out; the Psalmist cried out: “O Lord God of hosts, restore us; Cause your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.”

What We Need

Let’s look more in depth at the first half of that refrain: “Restore us; Cause your face to shine upon us.”

In those two phrases we very much hear what we need. We need restoration; we need peace with God. That’s what God “shining His face” means. Even across the cultures and the years, that’s not hard to understand because it is still so close to our own experience. My own kids know the gist of it, even as I did as a child. I could tell when my father was displeased with me, without him even using words. And I’ve been told the same. After an argument or having to discipline them one of the girls has asked me, “Dad, do you love me?” Even as I answer with words, “Yes, I love you!” they are looking for more – for that smile and twinkle that puts truth to the words. They are looking for my face or “countenance” to shine upon them. It’s simply a vivid and personal way to understand what it means for things to be right between two people. And it was a common Hebrew way of describing peace with God. Maybe you know the old Hebrew blessing, “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

The Psalmist describes well what it feels like to not be at peace with God. Listen again to verses 4-6:

How long will you be angry with the prayer of your people? (v. 4) – I’ve felt that way, like not only are my prayers not going anywhere, but maybe God doesn’t WANT to hear my prayers.

You have fed them with the bread of tears, and you have made them to drink tears in large measure. (v. 5) – If you’ve known tears – real sorrow – you’ve probably asked the question whether God caused it to be. This Psalm is not answering that question, but is describing the sorrow of making tears our food when we are not at peace with God. 

You make us an object of contention to our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. (v. 6) – Likewise, this is not teaching that God punishes us by making people laugh at us. Rather, it is describing some of the emotion and struggle we experience when we are not reconciled with God.

“Restore us and cause your face to shine upon us” – God, do you still love me? Like my own children (or me, for that matter), what we need is more than the words.

What God Has Done (and what these have to do with Christmas)

The Psalm gets to this “more than words” down in verse 17. The Psalmist recognizes that to make things right, God will have to act. Listen:

Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, upon the son of man whom you made strong for yourself. (v. 17)

It is most likely that the Psalmist envisioned this “man of God’s right hand” as the king of Israel. With God’s blessing or anointing on the king (by this time it would have been one of David’s grandsons), the people might be called back to a right relationship with God. And the envisioned result is in the next verse:

Then we shall not turn back from you; Revive us, and we will call upon your name.” (v. 18)

Surely another great king like David would make this easy!

This actually sounds like pretty classic bargaining with God, though I said earlier that the God of Israel didn’t work that way. (That doesn’t stop us though, does it?!) It is a familiar pattern to me. God, I’m not doing well, so I recognize that I probably have disobeyed you and I need your help to get back. If you’ll just help me out of this situation, I promise to do and be better!

So much right and so much wrong in that. Yes, our turning away or not trusting in God is problematic. If we do not have peace with God that often translates into not having peace in the here and now. But the solution is not for us to make promises, but to trust in God’s promises.

Look with me at Romans 1 for a moment, to see what God has done.

Whether the Psalmist could see it or not, the New Testament writers see God’s promises written through the pages of their Hebrew scripture. Paul introduces his letter by saying that he is a servant of Jesus Christ and set apart for the Gospel (Good News) of God, which God promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy scriptures. (vv. 1-2) That’s God’s promise – that He would save… that he would establish peace and a way to be at peace with Him.

And this is what all this has to do with Christmas: Paul goes on to describe Jesus in terms of God keeping His promise to save. And it is this very description that ties Romans 1 together with Psalm 80 and with the birth of Christ. Remember Psalm 80:17 – “Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, upon the son of man whom you made strong for yourself.” Now listen to Romans 1:3-4…

[God’s son] was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh… [and] declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.

The hope in Psalm 80 was that God would anoint and choose the “man of His right hand” to accomplish the salvation or help that we need so much. Romans 1 declares Jesus as the anointed, chosen, and PROMISED heir to King David and the one God declared Savior through His power.

This is the Good News to the ancient Hebrews, to the Romans of Paul’s day, to us today, and in the Christmas story. Jesus is God’s way of making peace and demonstrating His peace to the world. And I don’t just mean “peace to the world” but “peace with God for all who believe.”

That’s where Paul turns next. It is through Jesus that we receive grace and are sent to the world. That’s what Romans 1:5 is about when it says, “…through [Jesus] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake….”

Through Jesus Christ, God has acted to let His face shine peace on us that we might extend the Good News and experience of that peace throughout the world.

Peace on Earth

I began with asking if you had finished your shopping. But God’s peace is far deeper than not being rattled the week before Christmas. The real gift of these scriptures is the promise that God HAS acted in Christ for us to know true spiritual peace. That’s more than words in a book; that is God acting in human history, and that’s what we celebrate at Christmas – God coming near to smile upon us in the deepest sense of that phrase.

Not only does that deep peace address life-long and substantial questions of our relationship with God, I also believe it can bear fruit in our day-to-day life as we “rest” in the security of that fundamental relationship with God.

And that is not just a gift to be received, but also a gift to be shared, as scripture reminds us that God has made things right with us so that we might share the news with others. That’s where peace on earth begins. Amen.

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