Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

A gateway to the Psalter - On the Wings of God

The Wings of God

As we continue through Lent looking at the Psalms, this morning we are going to look at the message we receive from Psalm 91. It is believed that Psalm 91 was actually written by Moses as he sends the ‘spies’ into the Promised Land. We read that story from Numbers this morning but lets look at it again.
Moses and the Hebrew people have spent 40 years wandering through the Sinai peninsula desert. This was a time of preparation for God’s people. His purpose for taking them on this long route to the Promised Land was to teach them that they could put their trust in him - that God would provide everything they would need. And certainly he did that through this journey. Every need they had was met - he fed them, he gave them water, they had clothing and shelter. He gave them the Law which was to help them live in an orderly society together; he gave them a means to worship so they could know the peace of living a thankful life; he protected them when they were in trouble….. He did it all for them - for 40 years he took care of them. So now they are poised on the banks of the Jordan River and God says - “OK. Here you are. You are ready to cross over into the promised land - you are ready to go over to the land of milk and honey. You have been in the desert all these years and now you are moving into the land which has abundance of grass and water and fruit and harvest like you have never seen. And all you have to do is go in and claim it.” Sound easy enough. But the Hebrew people were a little unsure. Who knows what might be in that land we have never been in before? Who knows who might lurk across that river. We just aren’t sure……
So God says - “Alright. To prove to you what a great land this is I have given you, send 12 people over into the land to scope it out and then report back.” Seemed like a good idea so across the river the 12 spies went. So after a while they came back carrying fruit so big that they had to carry it on litters and poles…… Wonderful, delicious, plump fruit the size of they had never seen before. And the people were really excited. Wow! Look at that and a great excitement spread throughout the people….. until the spies gave their report. “Yes, there is luscious, wonderful food in that land of milk and honey. More food than we or our sheep could ever need….. but giants inhabit the land.” Oh no - Giants. Oh well, it was good while it lasted. Guess we are stuck on this side of the river in the desert forever. Oh woe is us. “Wait!” two of the spies said - spies named Caleb and Joshua “Remember what God has done for us. Remember how God has helped us through the desert and helped us get here - don’t you think God will continue to help us? Don’t you think God will help us defeat the giants? God is not going to abandon us when we cross that river. We can do it!” “Oh, we don’t know…” the people said. Sounds pretty scary. I don’t think we should chance it.” And so they bantered back and forth for a while until the “We don’t think we can do it” people overruled the “God will help us take the land” cry of Caleb and Jacob. And because they did not trust that God would protect them, they decided they should just stay put on their side of the river.
The story then continues in Numbers with God grieving over his people. “How can they not trust me?” God cries out. “ Look at all the things I have done for them. I freed them from slavery in Egypt, I led them through the waters of the red seas, I provided food and water and clothing, I gave them a way to worship and the law to make their lives easier, I have been with them every step of the way through this wilderness journey - and yet they cry out that they aren’t sure whether I will continue to help them?” What utter frustration God must feel! He’s got to be thinking - what more could I do? W
hat more could have I done for them to get them to understand how very much I love them?
I wonder if God sometimes feels that way about us?
Years ago, on the old Candid Camera TV program they interviewed a big burly truck driver—a man of about fifty. They asked him what age he would be if he could be any age he wanted. There was a silence for a while as the trucker thought its over. What was he thinking? Was he hankering for age 65 and retirement so he could trade his Kenworth four-and-a-quarter semi tractor down to a John Deere riding lawnmower? Or was he yearning for age 18 and the chance to go back and take some turn he had missed? The trucker thought it over. Suppose he could be any age he wanted. Finally, he turned to the interviewer and said that if it was up to him he'd like to be three. “Three? Why three?” the interviewer wanted to know. "Well," said the trucker, "when you're three you don't have any worries.” When I first heard the interview I thought the man was trying to be cute. I now think he said something wistful. What he knew was that when you are a child, and if your family is running the right way, your burdens are usually small. You can go to bed without worrying about pipes freezing on a cold winter night. You don’t wonder if the tingling in your leg might be a symptom of some exotic nerve disease. You don't wrestle half the night with a tax deduction you claimed, wondering whether some federal person might find it a little too creative. No, you squirm deliciously in your bed, comforted by the murmur of adult conversations elsewhere in the house. You hover wonderfully at the edge of slumber. Then you let go and fall away. You dare to do this not only because you expect that in the morning you are going to be resurrected. You also dare to do it because you are sleeping under your parents' wing. If parents take proper care of you, you can give yourself up to sleep, because somebody else is in charge. Somebody big and strong and experienced. As far as a child knows, parents stay up all night, checking doors and windows, adjusting temperature controls, driving away marauders. They never go off duty. If a shadow falls over the house, or demons begin to stir, or a storm rises, parents will handle it. That's one reason children sleep so well. Their nest is sheltered and they love it, as they should. I think children might be alarmed to discover how much adults crave this same sense of security. Adults need to be sheltered too. Some of us have been betrayed. Some of us have grown old and are not happy about it. People get rejected or they get sick. Some are deeply disappointed that their lives have not turned out as they had hoped. Others have been staggered by a report that has just come back from a pathology lab. Still others are unspeakably ignored by people they treasure. To all such people, to all of us, the psalmist speaks a word of comfort. It's one of the great themes of the Scriptures: God is our shelter. He will cover you with his wings like a hen protects her chicks and under his wings you will find refuge. The image here is that of an eagle, or maybe a hen—in any case it's a picture of a bird that senses danger and then protectively spreads its wings over its young. An expert on birds once told me that this move is very common. A bird senses the approach of a predator, or the threat of something falling from above, and instinctively spreads out its wings like a canopy. Then the fledglings scuttle underneath for shelter. The move is so instinctive that an adult bird will spread those wings even when no fledglings are around! Sort of like that Mom move in the car when you hit the brakes and your right arm immediately reaches over to protect the person in the passenger seat…. What Psalm 91 does is to express one—one of the loveliest, one of the most treasured moods of faith. It's a mood of exuberant confidence in the sheltering providence of God. Probably the psalmist has been protected by God in some dangerous incident, and he is celebrating. Psalm 91 says no evil shall befall us. When we have cashed out some of the poetry and then added in the witness of the rest of Scripture, what we get, I believe, is the conclusion that no final evil shall befall us. We all know that we can believe God with all our heart and yet have our heart broken by the loss of a child or the treachery of a spouse or the menace of a fatal disease. We know that. Everyone in this sanctuary knows that. And yet, generation after generation of saints have known something else and spoken of it. In the mystery of faith we find a hand on us in the darkness, a voice that calls our name, and the sheer certainty that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God—not for this life and not for the life to come. We may be scarred and shaken, but, we are also loved. We are like fledglings who scuttle under the wings of their parent. The forces of evil beat on those wings with everything they have. The pitchforks of the evil one, falling tree limbs in the storm, rain and hail—everything beats on those wings. When it is finished, when evil has done its worst, those wings are all bloodied and busted and hanging at wrong angles. And, to tell you the truth, in all the commotion we get roughed up quite a lot. But no final evil can get to us because those wings have never folded. They are spread out to be wounded for our transgressions and bruised by our iniquities. And when the feathers quit flying, we peep out and discover that we have been in the only place that was not leveled. Yes, we have been bumped and bruised and hurt. Sometimes badly hurt. The truth is that, if we had not stayed under those wings we could never have felt the body shudders and heard the groans of the one who loved us so much that those wings stayed out there no matter what came whistling in. This is the One who protects us from final evil, now and forevermore.