Sermon on Psalm 16:5

by David Atkins on March 30, 2008

I often say, "Everything I know I learned from my clients." Of course that is not totally true, but I must say, that if it weren't for my clients I would really be missing out on a lot in the world. They tell me what movies they like, what is happening in the financial world, and they especially suggest books to read. So, when, a few months ago, one of my clients asked, "Have you read The Secret, or listened to the tapes?" I had to admit that not only had I not read it or listened to tapes, I hadn't even heard of it. She went on to say that it had really changed the way she looked at life and had helped her develop a much more positive and optimistic attitude. Before I had time to trek on over to Barnes and Noble, a copy of the CD was on my desk, so I listened to it.

The first half hour of listening was testimonies of how "the secret" had changed people's lives, how they had turned from mediocre, boring people into rich, successful, fulfilled people, receiving everything they had ever wanted in life. Falling prey to this great marketing strategy, I couldn't wait to hear what "the secret" was, so I kept listening. Finally, they informed me that the secret is, as they put it, the "law of attraction." They asserted that you can attract anything to you, and, as a matter of fact, whatever comes to you, you have attracted. In essence, you create your life. You create the riches, you create the poverty, you create the healing, you create the suffering. You are in control. The world, they say, is like a catalog, you just put in your order and you will get it. The universe wants to give you whatever you want.

Wow! Sign me up! But wait a minute. Are you telling me that when my husband dies at 53 of a heart attack that I ordered that? Are you telling me that when I am diagnosed with cancer that I ordered that? Are you telling me that when my nine year old son dies in a collapsed sump hole that I ordered that? I don't think so. Oh, I might jump on the train of attraction if I am given a $10,000 bonus, or a woman with the most beautiful voice in the world becomes my wife, or my child receives a four year scholarship to Harvard or West Point. Oh yes, I just might agree that my positive thinking and eternal optimism brought me all these joys and delights.

However, my Bible suggests a different view of life. When I read Psalm 16, I come up with a different conclusion as to how the world works. From the very first verses in that Psalm to the end, the psalmist asserts clearly that all is from God. Look with me at verses 1 and 2: (You will find this in the pew Bibles on p. 601) "Protect me, O God; I trust in you for safety. I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; all the good things I have come from you."

That sort of shatters any idea that I have control of my world, that I can "order up" whatever I want. Look a few pages ahead in your Bibles to page 708, Proverbs 16:1 - "We may make our plans, but God has the last word." and verse 4: "Everything the Lord has made has its destiny; and the destiny of the wicked is destruction."

I guess the Bible doesn't need confirmation from scientists, but it always makes me feel better when one of the greatest minds of our life time agrees with the Bible. A few months ago a new biography of Albert Einstein was published. I learned about it from an article in the religion section of TIME magazine, summarizing his view of God, so, the next time I was in Costco, I purchased a copy. (They have good prices on books, you know.) I quickly turned to chapter seventeen, "Einstein's God." Here are a couple of statements from that chapter.
"Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player." (pp. 391-392, Einstein, Walter Isaacson)

When asked in a rare interview whether he believed in God, Albert Einstein replied, "I'm not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws." (p. 386, Einstein, Walter Isaacson)

So turn with me again in your pew Bibles, to Psalm 16:5
You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need;
my future is in your hands.
When I opened my study Bible to that chapter a few weeks ago, upon learning that it was the Psalm for today's worship, I sawI had written the date, October 28, 1975. That was the day I discovered this chapter and verse 5 became a cornerstone for my life from that time on.

Please look at your Bibles and read this aloud with me: (p. 602)
You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need;
my future is in your hands.

I find this verse at the same time the most comforting and the most challenging verse in the Bible. Over the years I have come to realize that this sweet little affirmation is actually a very radical statement. Look at the first phrase of verse 5: "You, Lord, are all I have." If that is a literal truth, I have nothing except God! Whatever I perceive as belonging to me does not. Ownership of anything is an illusion, whether it be material things, physical wellness, relationships, or status. My mother who is approaching 95 years of age and is losing her sight, hearing, and mobility frequently reminds me that we do not have control over our bodies.

The four clients I saw this last Friday morning made it very clear that we own nothing and we do not control our own lives. At 8 a.m. I sat with a faithful Christian woman who had married a Pastor with the expectation of a loving and satisfying marriage only to discover that in private he was a very abusive man. She lost her marriage and expected security of family to this abuse. At 9 a.m. I sat with a woman who, until two weeks ago, was enjoying being the head of her department in a large corporation. She is now on stress leave, and has lost the joy and fulfillment of her career due to an unexpected change of management in the corporation. At 10 a.m. I sat with a 57 year old mother who has lost four of her five children, two at birth, one to murder, and another to cancer. At 11 a.m. I sat with another mother who, in the last three years has lost her husband to a hunting accident, her only son to a stroke at the age of 39, and her elderly aunt to heart failure.

Each of us could tell our own stories of loss, whether it be financial, relational, material, or physical.

When I say, "You, Lord, are all I have," I am saying, "All I have is the Lord, Yahweh." There is, however, good news when we remember who Yahweh is. Yahweh, the Lord, is also known as "I am." What a mysterious title. What does that mean? I understand that title, "I am" to mean "I exist." To me it means, "life is." So I can say, "All I have is life." But that is the good news, because life is eternal. Life just is.

There is a common belief that the opposite of life is death, and that if I die, I no longer have life. I don't believe that for a minute. The opposite of life is not death. Life has no opposite. It just is! The opposite of death is birth, and life is constantly manifesting itself in new forms. Life never ends. Life transforms. That is the Easter message. Take a walk in the woods and you will see life in its various forms and stages. As Eckhart Tolle says, the decay we see is not death, it is simply molecules rearranging themselves. God, as Paul Tillich puts it, is "the Ground of Being." God is existence itself. There are transitions to new forms of life. And I am not in control of the form that life is going to take. So when I say, "You, Lord, are all I have", I am really saying, "Life is all I have." Because God is life. That is enough. That is the good news.

Once I realize I am not in control, I am able to go to the next line in the Psalm: "You give me all I need." Again, a seemingly innocent and sweet statement of faith, and yet, another radical statement. This would imply, if taken seriously, that everything I receive comes from God and everything I receive is exactly what I need, even what I call suffering.

How can I say that pain or suffering is what I need? Because suffering is the surgeons knife that carves a space in our lives for the grace of God. Suffering is the artisans hand that pounds and stretches and molds the clay into a bowl so that it can carry the blessings of life that are intended for us. The challenge to us is to make room in our lives for what we call suffering as well as what we call blessings so that we can experience the fullness of life. Suffering humbles us so that we can become receptive to the gifts of God. And then we no longer call it "suffering." We call it God's good gift to bring us to the place of immense joy in being connected with God's love.

So, after exhausting ourselves with trying to make everything work out correctly, according, of course, to our view of the way it is supposed to be, sometimes we stop. We become quiet. We may sit and look out the window and observe a bird sitting contentedly in a tree or on a fence, and we remember:
This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought of rocks
And trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world. O let me ne'er forget that though
The wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world: why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heaven's ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!

And then we are able to say with the Psalmist in verse 5
You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need;
my future is in your hands.

Ah yes, still one more radical statement: "My future is in your hands." You mean, I have no control over the future? I think we can say, "yes" to that question. I can make plans, but God holds the future. Remember what we read in Proverbs 16:1: We may make our plans, but God has the last word. In one sense, there is no such thing as "future." There is only now! Have you ever seen the future? Can you be in the future? No. It is a mental concept. It is a thought, an illusion of the mind, for in reality all we have is this moment. When we go to an even deeper theological understanding as God as "I am," we are saying that God is timeless. So when we are in God, in the "isness" of life, we are also experiencing the timelessness of our existence. In a sense, there is neither past nor future, for all that has happened or will happen is contained in the "I amness" or "isness" of God. It is our thinking that is connected to the past or future. It is our minds that take us to time and space, but in the spirit, in the heart, there is only this moment, and it is filled with the wholeness of being. In this moment it is simply life happening.

And when I live in this moment I see that all is good. I see that I can totally trust God. I see that I will receive what I need in that moment. Remember Jesus' words as recorded in Luke 11:9-13. (Passage on ask, seek, and knock - and "Would any of you who are fathers give your son a snake when he asks for fish? Or would you give him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!")

This trust in God is what makes it possible for the psalmist to continue his hymn of praise and thanksgiving.

Let us read verses 7-ll together from the pew Bible. Page 602.

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