Sermon for October 6, 2019

Readings: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 • Psalm 37:1-10 • 2 Timothy 1:1-14 • Luke 17:5-10

This week’s theme is to Don’t let circumstances shake your faith. The prophet Habakkuk asked God how long he would be crying for help. The Lord told him there is an appointed time, stay watchful. As Paul instructed young Timothy, he told him to not be afraid or ashamed of suffering, to dry his tears and rekindle the gift of faith God had given him. Luke records the disciples asking for more faith, after Jesus tells them to keep forgiving others. Do more than is required; wait longer than you think you should; put your trust in God and he will give you your heart’s desire. The sermon focuses on Psalm 37.

Do Not Fret

Psalm 37:1-9 (NRSV)

Prior to the sermon, have Psalm 37:1-10 read from the NRSV.

Introduction: Share something you find yourself worrying about. Ask the congregation to share some of their worries. Explain that worry is normal, but when worry becomes consuming, it can cause great distress.

Psalm 37 begins with a clear command, “Do not fret.” Easier said than done. Fretting can be defined as being constantly worried or anxious or being in a state of anxiety or worry. We all find ourselves there from time to time, but staying there is a different matter. After all, there is much we can fret about. We can fret about our past. Just because the past is behind us doesn’t mean we don’t find ways to bring it into the present. Dredging up past mistakes or times others have done us wrong can occupy a lot of mental space needed for other things.

Have you ever nursed an old scar back into a fresh wound? Has a past shortcoming been worked over in your mind enough to convince you there’s no need to try again? The past has a nasty way of accumulating more and more to fret about. Surely, it’s permissible to fret at least a little about the past! But there it stands in our reading today. “Do not fret.”

But wait, there’s more. If we somehow find a way not to fret about our past, we still have the present to deal with. How quickly upon waking up in the morning are you confronted with a barrage of things to worry about in your day? Wouldn’t it be wise to fret a bit over these unavoidable things in our day? Approaching deadlines, difficult conversations and unavoidable appointments may convince you that a little fretting is called for. We don’t want to be naïve after all…right? But there it is again written unflinchingly in this passage: “Do not fret.”

Ok, fine! I can see how fretting over the past wastes time and fretting over the present can be a hindrance. But what about the future? Now, surely that’s an area we should have free reign to fret over. We can’t predict what will happen tomorrow and so much could go wrong. The possibilities to fret are endless. And I have found that when I think about the future, I become one of the most creative people alive. I can imagine all kinds of scenarios that any sane person would have no need of fretting over. So, surely, we are free to fret over the future…right? No again! This passage doesn’t put any exceptions on the command “Do not fret.” And, just for extra measure, the command “Do no fret” is repeated, not twice, but three times in a span of only eight verses. One to cover our past, present and future. So, it seems we must deal with it. But how?

This Psalm provides its own help. For starters, just because the Psalm begins with the command doesn’t mean it stands there alone. It is based on something, a reality that brings the command forth. Notice how it begins:

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. (Psalm 37:1 NRSV)

The Psalm begins by acknowledging the temptation we may have to fret over “the wicked” and even to be “envious of wrongdoers.” When we look around our world, we don’t have to look very long before we see many injustices, wrongs and just flat-out evils. In many cases, it even appears that this is the path to success and a lavish lifestyle. The old saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them” may start sounding like wise counsel.

The Psalmist tells us why we shouldn’t fret or be envious of wrongdoers. It won’t last. We are given a vivid illustration that our lawns this time of year can verify—“they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.” That’s not a lot of staying power. Grass may look good when it’s green, but we know what happens come fall. The green grass “fades” and “withers.” These two descriptions the Psalmist uses pulls on something we all long for—permanence. Does anyone really want to be part of something that you know won’t last? Don’t you want to at least contribute to something lasting? Is this not why death is such a devastating enemy? Death stands in the way of our desire for permanence. That is what we can look forward to if we hitch our wagons to wickedness and wrongdoing. Nothing lasting will come of it.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday. (Psalm 37:3-6 NRSV)

The Psalm gives us something we can do in place of fretting. “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Now we are coming to see how we can stop fretting. It’s by knowing the one who is faithful, the one in whom we can put our trust. That makes sense, right? We typically only fret about things that we don’t trust will turn out for our good or for the good of others. I think it’s safe to say that most people never go to bed fretting over whether the sun will rise in the morning. We don’t really give much thought to it—we just know that after we go to sleep, at the appointed time, the sun will rise. Every. Single. Time. This is what we can see the Psalmist trying to say in this passage. He wants us to know that the Lord is faithful. Everything else may let us down. Things in our past, things in our present and things in our future. But the Lord has been faithful to us in our past, he is being faithful to us right now in our present, and we have his Word that he will be faithful in the future. The gospel we celebrate today is that God’s own Son, Jesus, is the faithfulness of the Father given to us in our past, present and future. No matter how dark the night, this Son will always rise, bringing us into his light.

So, this command about not fretting is not arbitrary but rather it springs from the promise of God’s faithfulness. God tells us to not fret because he has taken it upon himself to do away with all wrongdoing and wickedness, setting things right in his own time and way. As children who live in and trust in the Lord, we can exchange fretting with doing good. The evil we see around us and even the wrongdoing we may have had to endure will not last. It’s the good life of the “promised land” that we have been brought into through Jesus Christ. We could go as far to say that Jesus is the “promised land” that the Father has brought us into. It’s in him that we “live” and “enjoy security.” There’s our provision for permanence that we so long for.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. (Psalm 37:7-10 NRSV)

Some of the verses in this Psalm may sound transactional in tone. But reading them in light of God’s kept promise in Jesus we understand them as descriptions of reality rather than prescriptions for potentiality. In other words, it’s not our “taking delight in the Lord” that obligates the Father to “give you the desires of your heart.” But when we take delight in the Lord, we find that he is truly the one our heart desires. C.S. Lewis captured the same thought with the Westminster Catechism in mind. Listen to how he explains this connection between command and reality:

The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him. – C.S. Lewis

So, instead of seeing our “doing” as an obedience that conditions God to act, we do good as an act of faith in the goodness of God. We are created to be lovers of God and lovers of one another. This is the delightful life we are given to participate in. This is the “good” we can do in place of fretting over all the wrongs we see.

As we “commit our way to the Lord” we do so trusting that he is the God who acts, setting everything right. Evil, wrongdoing and all wickedness, in others, in ourselves and in all creation, will not have the final word. These are the things that will “fade like the grass.” So again, we are reminded not to fret. When we fret we forget. We forget that God is just and righteous, setting things right according to his character and heart. We forget that evil doesn’t triumph in the end. Out of such forgetfulness, we are led to fret. When we fret, we run the risk of acting out of anger and vengefulness. We will end up doing the wrong we were fretting over in the first place. If we take it on ourselves to fight evil with evil, we have lost our footing on the sure foundation of Jesus; we took a walk out on a limb that is sure to be “cut off.”

So, whatever wrong or evil you have been assaulted with, don’t fret! Jesus is your “vindication” and “justice,” and your resurrection to an inheritance where all is set right—permanently. When you find worry or anxiety rising this week, pull out this Psalm and read it again, reminding yourself that God is in control, that Jesus can be trusted, that in the big picture, there really is nothing to be worried about.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life and the sermon

  • Share a time when anxiety or fear caused you to either make a rush decision, or a wrong decision.
  • What do you find that you fret about the most? The past, present or future, and why?
  • Why do you think God would command us not to fret or worry?
  • How does fretting over our circumstances affect how we view God?
  • The command “Do not fret” in Psalm 37 is an example of a command that is built on a promise. Discuss why this is important. Can you think of other commands that are grounded on the reality of who God is? Does this make keeping God’s commands make more sense or easier?
  • Do you find it easier to stop something when you have something else to replace it with? Discuss this dynamic as seen in Psalm 37.
  • Share an aspect of God’s character or promise that helps lay our fret or worry aside.

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