In Psalm 80 the Psalmists calls Israel the Vineyard of God. He reminds God that he brought a vine out of Egypt into the Promised Land; and drove out others nations (the Canaanites and Amalekites) to make room for that vine. God planted the vine, so that the vine took deep root and filled the land. The mountains of the Promised Land were covered with the vine’s shade, and the cedars of the Promised Land were covered with the vine’s branches. The vine sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the river. In other words, God’s vineyard, God’s people, Israel, flourished. God’s people filled the land. They planted their crops, built their homes, conducted their business, and worshiped their God, Yahweh. They had peace, and because they had peace, they prospered.
Now, as the Psalmist writes, all that is in the past. Disaster has come upon the people. The Psalmist says that God has broken down the wall that he had built around his people. Now “the boar from the forest” (Which, in Hebrew, is a clever reference to “the kings of the east”) ravages it, and all who pass through the vineyard pluck its fruit.
From a religious point of view, the people of Israel have started to feel as if God has abandoned them.
From a human point of view, the people of Israel have started to feel like those who were attending the country music concert in Las Vegas when a crazed gunman opened fire upon the crowd. They have started to feel like the people of New York and Washington when terrorist flew hi-jacked airplanes and their passengers, and their crews, into the twin-towers and into the Pentagon.
In Psalm 80, the Psalmist makes a plea of behalf of the People of Israel that God might once more let his face shine upon his people so that the nation might be saved.
Three times the Psalmist asks God to turn his face to his people. This plea reminds us of the the Benediction that God gave to Moses, to give to Aaron, with which to bless the people of Israel. In Numbers chapter six we read that Aaron was to lift-up his hands upon the people and say:
“The LORD bless you and keep you: The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Peace is the operative word, for with peace comes prosperity, and long life (In accordance with the promise of the Fifth Commandment). Sometimes God, in the past, the God of hosts, made peace for Israel by helping the armies of Israel drive her enemies out of the land. Sometimes, as in Exodus 23, God made peace for Israel, by making the enemies of Israel turn their backs upon the people, and ignore them, and forget them.
Every small nation hopes that the more powerful nations that surround her will take no notice of her. Every junior-high school nerd (of which I was one) knows that, sometimes, the best defense against the junior-high school bully is to achieve anonymity, by blending into the crowd. Let me say to those who are weaker, to the very old and very young, if ever you are in a situation where a dangerous person is harassing people, your best defense is to go unnoticed. And let me say to those who are able, the best way to protect others, is to draw attention to one’s self.
There are many threats to a nations peace and prosperity, from without and from within. When things begin to go badly, every nation, whether Israel or the United States, calls out for the help of its God; and, even as it does, it starts to look for ways to help itself. Nations always look for two things:
First, nations look for a someone or something to blame. To a point, this must be done. If the watchmen have fallen asleep upon the walls of the city, and have failed to lock the city gate, they must be disciplined.
Let me give you an example. On December 7th, 1941, Husband E. Kimmel was Admiral of the Pacific fleet. Ten days before the attack, he had been warned to protect his fleet from sabotage. Kimmel decided the best way to do that was to anchor most of his ships together, in one place, at Pearl Harbor. Members of Kimmel’s staff say that, before the attack, he made the best use he could of his intelligence resources. His family says that Washington was just looking for a scapegoat. No matter, when the attack came, it was devastating. Kimmel was relieved, busted to Rear Admiral, a demotion of two stars, and replaced by Chester Nimitz.
Likewise, after the shooting in Las Vegas, people started looking for someone to blame. The police were certainly not at fault, they responded magnificently, as did members of the crowd. The owner of the gun-shop where the shooter bought several of his weapons said that he abided by the law. The man’s family members and girlfriend pleaded ignorance of his terrible plans. Does this mean that the shooter alone is to blame? Though we would never absolve the shooter for his actions; as Christians we cannot say that, for we know that evil powers are at work in this world, and it is our duty to confront them, and unmask them, and resist them.
Second, because fixing the blame is not enough, nations also look to fix the problem. In a best case scenario, a crisis forces people to see a problem with clearer vision. Following a crisis, people often start to think out of the box.
Let me give you an example. On December 6 and 7, 1941, the staff of General George Marshall, intercepted Japanese messages that indicated an attack against U.S. forces would come somewhere in the Pacific. The ranking duty officer sent a warning to Hawaii. However, due to atmospheric conditions, the warning was sent by Western Union. It arrived, too, late. It was, in part, because of this failure to use effectively use intelligence that we already had that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called upon his friend Bill Donavan to establish the OSS, or “Office of Strategic Services,” which would become the CIA, “the Central Intelligence Agency.” Today agencies like the CIA and the FBI prevent many evil people and groups from realizing their aims.
Likewise, after the shooting in Las Vegas, Caleb Keeter a guitarist in the band that was onstage had a change of heart. He issued a series of Tweets that are still available on twitter. He said and I quote:
I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with concealed carry licenses, and legal firearms…they were useless. We couldn’t touch them for fear police might think that we were part of
the massacre and shoot us.
Keeter went on to speak of the insane amount of firepower available to the assassin, and he concluded by saying: We need gun control right now!
I was military officer. I am a gun owner, shooter, and hunter. Some of the best people I have ever known have been hunting and shooting since they were children. Today, even some old-time shooters think we need better gun regulation. Despite a U.S. gun-death rate four times higher than any other nation with our level of affluence, this is not likely to happen. The window for change appears to be closing. In 1992, almost 80 percent of Americans though we needed tougher gun laws..Today, fewer than 50 percent think we do. Why? Two reasons. On the one-hand, it may be that America has been influenced by the “near miss” phenomenon. Each time we who observe some shooting, we count ourselves among the survivor, and we become more resistant to the threat. By resisting gun control, people are asserting confidence in our own ability to cope. On the other hand, gun-control has evolved into big business and partisan politics.Extremest on both sides keep people from meeting in the middle.
I will say no more about the politics. There are other forums for that discussion, and I am no expert. However, I must say this. It is purely theological:
A gun fascinates in ways that many people cannot grasp. Yet it is not just the gun that fascinates; it is power itself. There are many kinds of power: The power of nations, the power of politics, the power of the sword, the power of the gun, the power of explosives, the power of the automobile, the power of the tool, the power of wealth, the power of knowledge, the power of youth, the power of beauty, the power of an idea, the power of love. According to the book of Colossians, “the principalities and powers,” or, at least the archetypes of these powers were created “in Christ.” This means that the powers possess potential for great good. The same explosive that terrorist use to blow up a building, is used by engineers to build roads through the wilderness. However, the powers exist in a fallen world, and thus the powers possess potential for great evil, too. (If you want to know more about the powers, I have posted a series of sermons on the
The truth is that people have always “used” the powers, or, more correctly, been used by the powers. Some few people use power to lift others up at their own expense. Jesus certainly did. He said that he came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Some people use power for good to lift-up themselves and neighbors, too. In a best case scenario, “all boats rise.” Some people use power to lift themselves up at the expense of their neighbors. They climb over others to achieve their own ends. Other human beings are so fascinated and dominated by power that they use it not so much to lift themselves up, as to put others down. Of late, the world seems filled with sadist who are not hurting people to get ahead and achieve something for themselves; but hurting people just for the dubious pleasure that hurting people brings. I wonder what perverse thrill the assassin of Las Vegas knew for less than ten minutes that was worth the lives of so many people?
After a disaster, whether caused by enemies foreign or domestic, nations look first to their leaders. In Psalm 80, the Psalmist asks the LORD to let his hand be upon “the man of his right hand,” “the son of man,” whom God has made strong for himself. The Psalmist is referring to Israel’s king. The Psalmist says that with the right leadership, the nation will follow God, and God will make his face to shine upon the nation, that it might be saved, and live to worship God.. As Americans we pray God for strong leaders will do the right things, and put the good of our whole nation ahead of money, or power, or narrow special interest.
Of course, in a democracy, we are all leaders, and we can all take steps to improve the world in which we live. We can all seek the truth. We can all examine ourselves, and the role we play in the society in which we live. When we have achieved clear direction, we can talk about it with others. We can write letters to leaders. We can vote. To do something is better than to do nothing.
Does this mean that we can always fix what is broken? It does not. Psalm 80 was a prayer that was appropriate for ancient Israel and still appropriate for us. For Israel, as for us, the answer to the prayer is sometimes in the future. The Psalm contains Messianic expectations, and Jesus himself saw it. According to Mark 14:62, when the High Priest asked Jesus Christ if he was the Son of God, the Messiah, he answered using several phrases highlighted by this psalm. He said, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
After we have done all we can to prevent violence, end the war on terror, and put everything right with our world, we still have one thing we can do to attain a measure of security that this world will never offer: We can attain an assurance policy. The writer of Hebrews says that faith in Jesus Christ is “the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And St. Paul says that the policy is available to anybody, despite any pre-existing conditions—such as sin and illness. In Romans 10, he said, “If you confess with your lips that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, God will sign you up right away, and you will be saved.” And in Romans 8, he talks about the policy’s wonderful coverage. He says:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.