Sermon for July 18th, 2021
25 With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless; 26 with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse. 27 For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. 28 It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. 29 By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. 30 This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him. 31 For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?— 32 the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe. 33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights. 34 He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. 35 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand has supported me; your help has made me great. 36 You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. 37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed. 38 I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. 39 For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me. 40 You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. 41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. 42 I beat them fine, like dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets. 43 You delivered me from strife with the peoples; you made me head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me. 44 As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me. 45 Foreigners lost heart, and came trembling out of their strongholds. 46 The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation, 47 the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me; 48 who delivered me from my enemies; indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries; you delivered me from the violent. 49 For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. 50 Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.
Psummer of Psalms IV - Psalm 18, Part II
Three drunk men were standing on the top of a tall building one windy evening. One of the men said to the other two, "You know, this wind is so strong, I bet I could jump off and the wind would blow me right back up here. The second drunk man said, "that's crazy--I bet you another drink you're wrong!" So the first drunk man took a running leap off the building, dropped down, and sure enough after a few seconds came right back up, landing on the top of the building again. The second drunk man, said, "Wow, I've got to try that!" He leaped over the edge and went crashing down to the ground, fortunately landing in a garbage dumpster, which saved his life. The third man looked at the first man, shook his head, and said, "You know, Superman, you really can be a jerk when you drink too much."
Sorry, that's really the only good Superman joke I know. But I also know that the comic book superhero known as Superman was invented by two Jewish kids, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, growing up in the 1930s. Any good Jewish boy attending synagogue would have been familiar with stories of heroes in the Old Testament, like Samson with his super strength, Elijah who could outrun the wind, and flying angels with names ending in "El" (Gabriel, Raphael, Michael). Remember that Superman's birth name on the planet Krypton was "Kal-el" which in Hebrew means "Voice of God." And of course, there is Moses, who (like Superman) was put in a basket by his birth parents, floated down a river (or a galaxy) and discovered by adoptive parents who raised him among foreigners. Moses too, was given superpowers by God, and instructed to use them for the benefit of humanity.
Why all this talk about Superman? Well, when I read the second half of Psalm 18, I wonder if Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster read it too, in their synagogue days, and if perhaps it inspired them when they created the character of Superman?
In Psalm 18, King David recalls all of his God-given "super powers."
Verse 29: "By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall."
Verse 33 & 34: "He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze."
Verse 37-39: "I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed. I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me."
Sounds like a superhero to me. And of course, you'll remember that young King David, when he was just a "superboy" killed the great Philistine giant Goliath--perhaps the Bible's original and most terrifying "super-villain."
But there's a shadow side to this super-hero poem. The same King David who, in the first half of the Psalm rejoices about how God saved him when he was powerless, says in verse 40:
"Those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine, like dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets."
David may have been a super-hero, but he sure wasn't a saint. Today, comic book and superhero fans all know of the Superhero code: "With great power comes great responsibility." These were the last words of advice given to a young Peter Parker (or, Spiderman) by his Uncle Ben.
King David wasn't evil--far from it--his heart was usually in the right place. But time and time again, David abused his great power and ignored his great responsibility, causing devastation and harm to the ones he loved most.
Despite that, David never gave up on God, and God never gave up on David. In the last verse of the Psalm (verse 50) he says of God: "Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever."
Fast forward about 1,000 years and one of those descendants of David--a man named Jesus of Nazareth, said "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." Or, to paraphrase, "With great power comes great responsibility."
Jesus had superpowers too: He walked on water, calmed the storms, fed the multitudes, healed the sick, raised the dead, and (my personal favorite) caused a fig tree to immediately wither and die. But when his followers wanted him to pull a King David and make their enemies wither and die, Jesus pulled a new kind of superhero move: He said that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
And his greatest act of power was laying down his own life, submitting to death on a Roman cross, in order to save all humanity from our sins--from our own vengeful tendencies to abuse power, to harm others, and to put our own selfish interests first.
After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus made this promise to his followers (and to us!). He said in Acts 1:8 that "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
With great power comes great responsibility. The power Jesus promises is the power of the Holy Spirit. And the responsibility is to be his witnesses, in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
So...I want to introduce some superheroes to you today. Michael Simants and his family have spent the last decade living into that great responsibility to be God's witnesses to the ends of the earth. Through the power of God's spirit, they have done amazing things; they have faced herculean challenges; and they are getting ready to do it all over again. May God bless them in their endeavors, and may their story be a blessing to us today.