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01:00:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1712 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2012, Psalms

A Sense of Time

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
August 5, 2012

For an audio version of this sermon, click here.


Scripture Readings
Philippians 2:12-18
Psalm 90
Matthew 5:14-16

Last Monday morning, I learned that Mikhail Popov had died. Tuesday morning, I reviewed a number of psalms with Mikhail on my mind. When I came to Psalm 90, I knew it had to be the one for this Sunday.

Psalm 90 is a psalm of great themes. There’s the earth, solid and enduring. Behind and beyond the earth, there’s God, the everlasting One. There’s time, measured in hours and ages. And then there’s us. Time marches on. The earth endures. God is everlasting. But we are a breath. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Two Sundays ago, Mikhail sat at the piano. By this time last week, he was gone. When we heard the news, we were stunned. Stunned, but not surprised. Because we know our lives hang by a thread. We know any one of us could lie down tonight and not get up again. Death is always only a heartbeat, a stilled heartbeat, away. No one gets out of here alive. It’s never a question of “if”; it’s always a question of “when.”

We do our best to keep death at bay. We diet. We exercise. And when that doesn’t work, we expect doctors to wave their magic scalpels and drug companies to cook up their magic potions. But death always finds us.

What do you think, should I go easy on the mortality talk? Is it morbid for us to think about death? Morbid to think about it? No! Morbid to dwell on it, perhaps. But to think about it? To consider our mortality? No, that’s not morbid. That’s a good thing.

Listen to our prayer, our Psalm 90 prayer:

So teach us to number our days
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

In other words, give us a sense of time; give us a sense of time, so we can know how to live, how to really live.

Any of you who play music probably know that it’s really important to have a sense of time. It’s hard to turn the notes into music if you don’t have a feel for the song, for its rhythm and accents, for its structure. That sense of time is really important in a band setting. Without it, you can play all night, but you’ll always be “off” and the songs won’t sound right. Even with a sense of time, you have to listen as much as you play. And you have to pay attention to the bandleader, because the bandleader calls the changes.

It’s the same thing with our lives. If we don’t have a sense of time, if we don’t have a sense of the rhythm of our lives, and if we don’t have a keen awareness of where we started and where we’re going, then the music of our lives is going to be “off.” And if we’re not paying attention to the bandleader—and the bandleader can call changes unexpectedly, the bandleader can decide to wrap up the song at any time—if we’re not paying attention to the bandleader, then we’re not going to get the music of our lives right, and we’re not going to end well.

Most Monday nights, I go to a blues jam in Gahanna. To make music, we all have to have a sense of time. We need to listen to each other and especially to the rhythm section. And we have to watch Patrick, the bandleader. When he calls a change, we change. When he signals for the song to end, we end.

When you’re on the stage there, you do what the song requires. When Patrick points to you, you take a solo. When he tells you to lay back, you do. And when he says, This is it, you follow the cues to slowly fade or to finish the song with a bang. That’s all part of having a sense of time. That’s all part of being in the song. It’s the only way to play music. It’s musical wisdom. And you have to learn it, if you want to play well.

This is our prayer:

So teach us to number our days
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

Lord, give us a sense of time. Give us an awareness of the motion, of the direction of our lives. Give us an attentiveness to the structure and to the limits of our lives. All so we can keep our attention on you and on where you want our lives to go. All so we can contribute to the song.

Listen to Paul. Work out your own salvation, he said. Do it with fear and trembling. But don’t forget that God is working through you. It’s scary when you get on that stage and you have to play. For a while, you can hide behind the other musicians. For a while, you can let the rhythm section do the heavy lifting. But there comes a time when the bandleader turns to you and says, Now! This is your part. And you have to do it. You have to go for it. You have to play what’s been given to you. You have to play what’s been planted in your heart.

Last Monday morning, I learned that Mikhail had died. Last Monday night, I went to play at the blues jam. I started off shaky. But for the last two songs, I played the blues for Mikhail. And it poured out of me in a way it hadn’t before. There was the song. There was the rhythm. There was the shape. And when Patrick turned to me and said, Now! . . . Well, that was no time to be timid. It was time for me to figure out what all the listening and all the playing were for. Time for me to find out what they could add up to.

Our lives are like that. God calls us. He gives us a place in his “band.” He shows us the song. He runs through the basic changes. Then he expects us to play. We listen. We pay attention. We feel the rhythm. We sense the pace and the mood. We notice the direction the song is going in. And when it’s our turn, we play!

How is God calling you? What music does God have for you to play? Paul knew the song he needed to play. He had a mission. He was God’s chosen apostle to the Gentiles. And he had a sense of time. For him, the time was now. The time was soon. The time was almost over. He knew, he had a sense that time for him was running out. That his life was being poured out like a sacrificial offering, that for him the song was nearly over. So there was only one thing for him to do: to keep playing.

How is God calling you? What music does God have for you to play?

You are the light of the world, Jesus said. That was Israel’s job. To shine with the light of Almighty God. To burn with the brightness of his glory and his faithfulness for all the world to see.

You are the light of the world. That was Jesus’ job. When Israel kept the torch hidden away, he took it up. He brought it out into the open. He let the light blaze and burn brightly. In fact, he let it burn so brightly that it burned out. But on the third day, it burst into flame again. And the flame was distributed to his followers.

You are the light of the world. That’s the church’s job. That’s our job. That’s your job, your calling. That’s the song you’ve been given to play.

In my experience, music is not a private thing. Sure you can play when you’re alone. You can enjoy the melody and the harmony. You can lose yourself in the rhythm. You can enter the pictures that are conjured up by the lyrics. But music is not a private thing. Music really becomes music when it has an audience. And I’m not thinking about the adoring, worshipful audience that cheers the latest pop sensation.

I’m thinking of an audience that is reached by the music. People who hear their own stories being sung. People who are lifted up by the joy of melody. People who are touched in their sorrow by the minor key. I’m thinking of people who are changed by the music. Maybe only for a moment. But maybe in a lasting way. Because they see something, because they hear something, because they feel something that transports them to a new place, to a new vision, to a new hope.

You are the light of the world, Jesus says. Shine your light for people to see. That’s the reason you are the light. It’s not for your own sake. It’s not for you to enjoy in private. You are the light of the world! So let the world see. Let the world hear you sing, hear you play. Let the world catch the melody and the rhythm. Let the world join in with new harmonies to take the song into wonderful places you never imagined. Shape the song together. Improvise. Don’t lose the structure, the form. Hold on to the direction. But improvise.

How is God calling you? What music does God have for you to play? And remember, the music is not notes on the page. It’s what’s in your heart. What God has placed in your heart. You have a story to tell. You have a love song to sing. The love of God. The love of Jesus. And now is the time for the music. Now is the time for the light to shine. Time may almost be up. But until then, we play. Until then, we shine.

So teach us to number our days
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

Lord, give us a sense of time so we can work out our salvation with fear and trembling, so we can sing, so we can play your song.

In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.


01:00:00 pm, by RAArbogast , 1206 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2012, Psalms

Knitting in a Senseless World

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
July 22, 2012

Scripture Readings
Psalm 86
John 14:18-24

I wonder if it’s a good thing, what I’ve been leading you through this summer. Especially after what happened in Colorado a few days ago. I’ve been preaching on various verses from the psalms, verses that have struck a chord in me for one reason or another. But now James Holmes has struck a chord of his own. And it’s an ugly one, full of sharp edges and jarring dissonance. With that hideous chord still ringing, how can I preach on another verse from the psalms and the chord it plays? How can I? But how can I not?

So far this summer, I’ve preached about taking pleasure in the Bible, about being for peace in a world that’s for war, about trusting God in the face of our fears, about Jesus being our deepest desire, about responding to God’s grace without concern for how it pays off, and about embracing God’s answer to the problem of sin. I think there are lessons for us to take to heart in all of those sermons, because the psalms have something to say about how to live in this world with its tragedies and agonies. Perhaps today’s verse will have something to say as well.

Listen. It’s a prayer. It’s our prayer.

Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
knit my heart to you
that I may fear your Name (Psalm 86:11).

It’s the third clause that really struck me: knit my heart to you. That’s not the usual translation of the biblical Hebrew. But it is a good translation, this one from the Book of Common Prayer. The Hebrew verb refers to the joining of one thing to another, in this case the joining of my heart to . . . something. The best candidate here for that something is God. And the image chosen by the translator is evocative. Knit my heart to you.

My mom used to knit. It amazed me as a little boy, how those two needles would convert a skein of yarn, or two or sometimes three, into a scarf, or a sweater, or a pair of slippers, something to keep us warm during a cold, damp winter in coastal Maine.

Knit my heart to you. Take my inmost being, Lord, the deepest core of who I am, and entwine its threads with the fiber of your being. Isn’t this what Jesus had in mind when he said, I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you (John 14:20)?

Theologians use the word perichoresis to describe the deep interrelationships among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Those interrelationships are so snug and so thorough that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One. To hear Jesus tell it, somehow you and I are caught up in that One-ness. It’s a mystery. It’s a spiritual reality that we can’t discern with our ordinary perception. But we can pray for it to be real: Knit my heart to you, O Lord.

Who can make sense out of what happened in Colorado? No one, I suppose. That’s why we call it a senseless tragedy. Senseless or not, it still happens. Senseless or not, we can’t seem to stop it from happening, from happening somewhere.

Here’s what I want to do. I want to turn away. I want to find a safe place. I want to hide. (Maybe you feel the same way.) I want something to cling to, something solid, something I can depend on. I want to be on a rock that doesn’t quake. I want to be in a fortress that doesn’t fall.

I want to be a little boy at his mother’s feet, watching her knit and purl balls of yarn into a sweater that has a dog on the back. I want to know that my dad will be home in a few hours. And I want them both to reassure me that the thunder and lightning won’t come near us. And I want it to be true. I want it to be real. Not just something that parents tell their kids to reassure them when there are no guarantees and when they have no control.

What I want is God. Knit my heart to you, Lord! Knit my heart to you. And this isn’t about false confidence. This isn’t about wishful thinking. This isn’t about keeping all the trouble and tragedy and pain away. Jesus was one with the Father, but he still went to the cross. He went to the cross. Only that was not senseless. It was something that made more sense than anything in the world, before or since. And if I want something to cling to, something solid, something I can depend on, then I can cling to the cross and to the one who dies there.

Listen. Listen to our prayer.

Knit my heart to you, Lord,
that I may fear your Name,
that I may honor your Name,
that I may hold your Name in reverence.

What’s in a name? It depends on the name! And the Name of God is a name like no other. It’s not the written letters of God’s Name. And it’s not the verbal utterance of God’s Name. It’s the Name itself.

God’s Name expresses in shorthand everything that God is and everything that God does. God’s Name invokes the promises and the faithfulness of God. God’s Name recalls the Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, the covenant with David and the glory of God in the Temple. To fear God’s Name is to kneel before the cross and to fall before the risen Jesus. To reverence God’s Name is to recall, in the face of the senselessness in Colorado, that God hears the cries of people who call out to him in pain, that God is not indifferent to their suffering, that God will bring justice to this world, that God will dry the tears, and that in the end God will make all things well.

When our hearts are knit together with God, we don’t then necessarily grasp the ways of God in all their hiddenness. And we don’t necessarily find a way to make sense out of what is senseless. But we are gripped by the fact that God is greater than we are, that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, that God’s ways are beyond our ways. And we are in awe. And without escaping from the world, we can be at rest in the world.

I suppose that’s enough. I did have to say something. No matter how senseless the tragedy, there is something right about stopping to hear from God’s Word. And no matter how the earth may be quaking and the fortresses may be falling, there is also something right, something blessed, about taking the bread and cup of the Table. Because that bread and that cup unite us with and knit our hearts to the one who died on the cross. Which was the most sensible tragedy of all time.

In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.


01:00:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1169 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2012, Psalms

Sin Gets Out of the Way

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
July 15, 2012

Scripture Readings
Psalm 65
1 Timothy 1:12-17

Sin gets in the way. It gets in the way, and there’s not a thing you or I can do about it. We were made for God. And we were made for each other. But sin gets in the way. Sin is pollution. Every time we sin, the atmosphere gets murkier and we can’t find our way to God. Sin is poison. Every time we sin, somebody falls to the ground dead and we’re a little bit more alone.

Sin gets in the way, and there’s not a thing you or I can do about it. Not a thing. To quote the psalm,

Our sins are stronger than we are.

In other words, sin is a potent adversary, so potent that we don’t have what it takes to do battle against sin and to come out on top. And this isn’t theory. This isn’t mere theology. This is reality. Sin is a problem for us. Sin is the problem.

Sin gets in the way. We were made for God, but sin tears us away from God. Sin convinces us that worship doesn’t matter, that we can be "spiritual" without praying, that we can serve the truth without hearing the Word, that we can satisfy our hunger without coming to the Table.

Sin gets in the way. We were made for each other, but sin puts a wedge between us. Sin convinces us that we have every right to our anger, that it’s okay to take it out on our family, and that we don’t have to apologize.

One of the reasons the Adam and Eve story has such staying power is that we all recognize ourselves in that story. We would have done no better. We, too, would have betrayed God. We, too, would have turned from each other. We know this, because we’ve done it ourselves.

We have betrayed God. Not shouting it from a hilltop, but quietly going about our lives as if there is no God, as if God has never spoken, as if God has never come to us in love. And we have turned from each other. Not declaring open war, but quietly pursuing our own personal life, liberty, and happiness above all else.

So sin gets in the way. It gets in the way, and there’s not a thing you or I can do about it. Not a thing. We can’t overpower sin; it’s too strong for us. And we can’t run away from sin; it’s already inside us.

There’s only one hope. And it’s not a thing that we do about it. It’s a thing that God does about it. The psalm says,

Our sins are stronger than we are.

Don’t we know it? If we’re honest, we do. But that’s not the whole statement. That’s only the problem. I haven’t mentioned the solution:

Our sins are stronger than we are,
but you will blot them out.

Sin is pollution. It’s an ugly haze that comes between us and God, so we can never find our way to God. But God blots out our sins. God clears away the haze. And our direction becomes clear. God clears away the haze and turns us toward the cross of Jesus Christ. Which is exactly where we were meant to be.

The psalm continues this way:

Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there!
They will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple.

In other words, God chooses his children and draws them toward his dwelling place, draws them toward the place where God is present in grace and mercy. That place is the cross. Exactly there God is present, dealing with sin, taking sin out of the way.

And, of course, God does not choose us and draw us to his merciful presence alone. God chooses and draws an entire people, a new family of God. When we come to the cross, we are not turned away from each other any more. We can’t be turned away from each other, because together we are turned toward Christ. This binds us together with one another and undercuts the power of sin that wants to wedge itself between us.

Not that we don’t have disagreements and conflicts. We had quite a discussion at Men’s Breakfast yesterday, talking about last Sunday’s sermon. We had our differing opinions and judgments. But above all, we had a shared loved for Christ and we had the love of Christ himself, who makes us brothers and keeps us brothers—unless, of course, we surrender to the divisive power of sin. But it’s from that power that Jesus delivers us.

Think about Paul the Apostle. Earlier in his life he was Saul, Saul of Tarsus. In that former life, he spoke out against Jesus and his followers. He went after those followers with violence. Yet when he was chosen, when he was drawn to the One on the cross, everything changed. He wasn’t a blasphemer any more, who rejected the work of God and used his energy to overturn the work of God. No. He joined in that work himself. And he wasn’t a violent persecutor of the church any more. Not at all. In fact, he became a brother to the people he found standing there with him at the foot of the cross. Which is the place where sin—sin with all its power, sin that is too strong for us—the cross  is the place where sin is blotted out.

This is what God does through Jesus Christ. Sin gets in the way—we were made for God, we were made for each other—but sin gets in the way; sin keeps us from God; sin keeps us from each other. But through Jesus Christ, God clears away the pollution. Through Jesus Christ, God neutralizes the poison. Sin is blotted out. Sin loses its power. And we are set free (Heidelberg Catechism, A2). We are free to worship God. And we are free to gather as one new family of God at the foot of the cross.

Which is some of what goes on when we come to the Table. First of all, that’s an act of worship on our part. Our approach to the Table is a  faithful response to the God who comes to us and gives himself to us in Jesus Christ. It’s a faithful response to the God we were made for. At the same time, our approach to the Table is an expression of our oneness, that we were made for each other. God has drawn us to Christ together. And we share his body and blood with one another. We do this because the power of sin—sin that would keep us from God, sin that would keep us from each other—the power of sin is broken.

God be praised!

In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.


01:00:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1549 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2012, Psalms

Who will be saved?

Sermon on Psalm 87
Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church,Columbus, Ohio

For an audio version of this sermon, click here.

Scripture Readings
Psalm 87; Psalm 86:9
Romans 5:18-21

My thinking on the subject of salvation has evolved over the years. The question, simply put, is this: Who will be saved?

For the first part of my life, that wasn’t a question at all. If you had asked me, Are you saved? I would have answered, Saved from what? Then I met Jan. Then I met the church. Then I met Jesus. Then I met John Calvin. And so, for the second part of my life, I knew who would be saved and what from.

The Bible is clear enough. Our Reformed confessions are even clearer: God’s chosen ones are saved from eternal damnation. They are saved because of Jesus Christ, because of his death on the cross. Salvation comes to them through faith. And that faith is a gift from God, a creation of the Holy Spirit. Lots of people have faith. So lots of people will be saved.

But the Holy Spirit doesn’t do the same work everywhere. So lots of people don’t have faith. And they are lost, lost forever. For the second part of my life, that was how I answered the salvation question.

But in the third part of my life, some things happened to shake me up. First, my mother died. She never really had a genuine faith in Jesus. She had a sort of generic faith in “god.” But she never really grabbed hold of Jesus—or Jesus never really grabbed hold of her. My father died two and a half years later. I can’t say he ever had any faith at all.

So what about my mom and dad? Are they saved? Or are they lost? Are they destined for everlasting misery, along with all the countless multitudes from families and peoples and nations among whom the story of Jesus and his love was never heard or never took hold? Is that really God’s plan? For the third part of my life, I had some powerful doubts about the answer to the salvation question.

Several years ago, one of my colleagues tried to console me just after assuring me of the hopeless destiny of my parents. I wanted to smack him. And not just because he dared to pronounce the fate of my parents. No, I wanted to smack him because the entire picture he was painting, because the story he was telling, seemed so false to the promises of God and to the hope of the gospel. My reaction told me that I had reached the fourth part of my life as far as the salvation question is concerned.

Who is saved? These days I think that’s the wrong question to ask. Because it’s not the point. By that I don’t mean to say that there’s nothing to it. Last week I said the kingdom is not the point. I certainly didn’t mean to say that there’s nothing to the kingdom. Far from it. So, too, with the question of who is saved. There is something to it. But not in the way I had always imagined.

The cover of the June 27 issue of the Christian Century magazine announces its theme: Why We Can Hope Everyone Will be Saved. The main article is titled, “A Hopeful Universalism.” And in the editor’s remarks, there’s a story about an encounter between Lewis Smedes—from the Christian Reformed Church—and the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Smedes, a student of Barth, once asked him if he was a universalist. Barth answered, No. Then he referred to the Scripture that says Christ died for the sins of the whole world, and he said to Smedes, If you’re worried about universalism, you had better begin worrying about the Bible.

So, what about the Bible? Reading through Psalm 87 this time around, I was stunned. The United States has been wrestling with the immigration question for years now. We just can’t decide what to do with so many people who have been drawn to the US.

With that in mind, listen to Psalm 87. It’s a poem about Jerusalem and foreigners. Here’s what the Lord says about those foreigners:

I count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me;
behold Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia:
in Zion they were born.

Egypt and Babylon, historic enemies of Israel, always a threat; Philistia and Tyre, troublesome neighbors; Ethiopia, exotic and distinct—all of them welcomed into the Holy City. And the Psalm continues this way:

Of Zion it shall be said, Everyone was born in her . . .
The Lord will record as he enrolls the peoples,
These also were born there.

Can you imagine an immigration policy so generous? Everyone, without exclusion, will be counted as a native-born resident of Jerusalem, as a member of Israel by birth. No matter where they are from, no matter what role they have played in Israel’s history, they will be embraced.

We have people who refuse to accept that President Obama was born in the US. They want to declare him disqualified for office. We have state legislators and county sheriffs who want to demand documents from people who look like they maybe don’t belong here. But in Zion, the city of God, things are different. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is eligible. Everyone is a citizen. No wonder Psalm 86 says,

All the nations you have made
will come and worship you, O Lord,
and glorify your name.

Now listen to what Paul says in Romans. And let him say it. Don’t interpret away its plain meaning. Don’t try to nuance it. Let it sink in first. Let it sink in for a long time. Let it challenge the questions and answers that have defined our grasp of grace. Listen:

Just as one trespass resulted in
condemnation for all people,
so also one righteous act resulted in
justification and life for all people.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so also through the obedience of the one man
the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)

The picture is of sin as a totalizing catastrophe from which no one is excluded and then, correspondingly, of salvation as a totalizing blessing from which no one is excluded.

The Bible speaks with many voices. One of its voices is a universalist voice. There’s no need to ignore or to downplay that voice. And there’s no need to force the many voices of the Bible into a single formula that accounts for all the variables. No. We can forget about formulas altogether. Salvation is not the product of some calculus. Even if it were, in any equation the world-embracing love and mercy of God would remain constant.

Which isn’t to say that faith doesn’t matter. Of course faith matters. Of course it matters how you and I and anyone else respond to the gospel. But it’s not first of all or even second of all or third of all a question of our individual salvation. It’s a question of responding to the grace of God let loose in the world through Jesus Christ. It’s a question of receiving that grace, embodying that grace, multiplying that grace, sharing that grace.

God is working. God has been at work from the beginning, building and blessing what he has made. To Abraham God promised blessing. And he assured Abraham that the blessing would flow to all the families of the earth. When we let the Bible’s all be all, then the Who will be saved? question recedes. It’s not the point.

Which isn’t to say that the church doesn’t engage in evangelism. The church always has good news to tell. But the good news isn’t that you, the individual standing in front of me, can be saved. That’s a parody of the good news. That’s like holding up a steering wheel and saying, Look, here’s a car!

No, the good news is that God is loose in this world, that Jesus Christ is God’s answer to the world’s mess, to the world’s pain, to the world’s glut of sorrow and misery and death. The good news is that light has shined in this darkness. The good news is that God will make everything new in Jesus Christ. The good news is that a new world is coming, a renewed world with no more death or mourning or crying or pain, a world of peace, a world of laughter and singing, a world of light and color. And the good news is that no one, no family, no people, no nation will be left out. All the families of the earth will be blessed. When the heavenly city arrives, the citizenship rolls will show that everyone was born there. And all the nations will worship the Lord and glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Are my mom and dad saved? Will I be saved? Will you be saved? Who will be saved? That’s not really the question, is it? God is at work. God has come in Jesus Christ. And he will come again. The question is, How will you respond to this news?

In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.


12:30:00 pm, by RAArbogast , 1165 words  
Categories: Pentecost 2012, Psalms

Made for Jesus

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio

For an audio version of this sermon, click here.

Scripture Readings
Psalm 73
Colossians 1:15-20
Matthew 6:31-33
The writer of Psalm 73 is struggling. She’s struggling to stay on her feet in a world that’s out of balance (cf. v. 2). She’s hungry, hungry for the kingdom of God. And she’s thirsty, thirsty for the justice that comes with the kingdom. But in the end, that won’t satisfy her. Because that’s not her deepest desire. No. The psalmist finds her center somewhere else. The fulcrum of her life, of whatever balance she has, is here:

Lord, who do I have in heaven but you?
And having you I desire nothing upon earth (v. 25).

Those words from the psalm hit me hard when I read them this time through. And they hit me hard the last time through. And the time before that. And it’s not just reading those words. It’s praying them. It’s saying those words to God. It’s saying them to Jesus:

Jesus, who do I have in heaven but you?
And having you, Jesus, I desire nothing on this earth.
We encourage each other to seek the kingdom of God. We encourage each other to pursue the values and the virtues and the vision of the kingdom. It was there in the ordination form this morning, how we try to give life the shape of things to come. As a minister of the Word, I have talked about and preached about the kingdom for twenty-five years, twelve of them right here. But for all that, the kingdom itself is not really the point. My desire, if I pray those words from Psalm 73, my desire, if I say those words to Jesus, my desire is not for the kingdom. My deepest desire is for Jesus himself.

Now it’s probably the case that if we seek Jesus first, we’ll get the kingdom, too (cp. Matthew 6:33). But Jesus, not the kingdom, Jesus is the point. To know Jesus. Not to know about Jesus. Not to know correct doctrine. Not to know what Jesus is building in the world. No. To know Jesus himself. To know Jesus the way you know a friend, the way you know a brother, the way you know a husband.
Evangelical Christians talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus. That phrase never sounds right to my ears. Yet when I read the psalms and when I pray the psalms, when I say words like these to God, to Jesus: 

Jesus, who do I have in heaven but you?
And having you, Jesus, I desire nothing on this earth

when I say that to Jesus, I certainly am talking about a relationship. It’s a relationship that puts everything else in its place. Nothing else comes close. There’s Jesus, and there’s nothing else, nothing at all.

So, of course it’s a relationship. Jesus, through his Word, through his Spirit, through the water of Baptism, through his body and blood at the Table―Jesus gives himself to us. He gives himself to us and that is our deepest desire, because that is exactly what we were made for.
In Genesis 2, God makes a man. Then God tries to make a companion for the man. God tries all sorts of options. But none of them work. Until, finally, God makes a woman, makes her for the man and makes her from the man. Then the man says, This, at last, is it. This one is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh (cf. Genesis 2:23).

Finally! But not exactly. Man and woman, that’s not it. That’s not what we were made for. No, we were made for Jesus. Made to know him and his love. Made to hear his voice. Made to take hold of his body. Made to be one with him.

It’s wonderful what the Catechism says about this. I put it in the liturgy this season: through the sacrament of Holy Communion, the Spirit unites us more and more to the body of our Lord, so that we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (cf. Heidelberg Catechism A76). Jesus is the one we are made from. And he is the one we are made for.
Listen to the Apostle in Colossians 1. Everything―over and over he says, everything―everything is from Jesus, by Jesus, in Jesus, for Jesus, with Jesus. Every part of this creation finds its ultimate connection in Jesus. We are meant for Jesus.

Jesus, who do I have in heaven but you?
And having you, Jesus, I desire nothing on this earth.

I desire nothing on this earth, because I wasn’t made for anything on this earth. Not for my wife. Not for my children. Not for my brother. Not for my friends. I was not made for this work. I was not made for music. I was not made for justice. I was not made for love. I was not made even for the kingdom of God.

No. I was made for Jesus. You were made for Jesus. And you have Jesus. He has come to you. He comes again. He gives himself to you. He washes you in Baptism. He talks to you through the Word. He feeds you at the Table.
If your life is like mine, then it’s filled with all kinds of things. And if you’re like me, there are all kinds of things you desire. Smooth skin. A happy marriage. Graeter’s ice cream. First place. A long, healthy life. On and on.

But what is all that? Is any of that what you and I were made for? No. Not at all. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with those things, in and of themselves. But none of them are necessary. None of them make us human. None of them are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.

But Jesus . . . We are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Jesus satisfies our deepest need, which is our need for him. He looks after the rest of our needs, too. So he will bring the kingdom, the kingdom with its justice, the kingdom with its balance. But the kingdom is not the point. Not the first point. No. Jesus is. Jesus alone. Only Jesus.
I don’t know exactly what that means. Not myself. Not on my own. But I have a feeling that if I keep praying those words from Psalm 73, that if I keep saying those words to God, if I keep saying to Jesus,

Jesus, who do I have in heaven but you?
And having you, Jesus, I desire nothing on this earth

I have a feeling that if I keep saying that to Jesus, it’s going to change me. It’s going to change who I am. It’s going to change what I desire. And well it should. Because I’m made for Jesus. So are you.

In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.

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