Trinity 9 Sermon, 2017
Psalm 54 (Introit, Trinity 9)
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Psalm 54, which is the Introit this day of the church year, the Ninth Sunday after Trinity, is a prayer of David, fleeing from Saul. He was hiding, then, among the Ziphites, and when they learned of it, they hunted David to earn favor with Saul.
David was surrounded by enemies.
He was in terrible danger.
So he cried to God:
“O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might. O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves” (Psalm 54:1-3).
That’s the right sort of thing for Christians to ask when they’re surrounded by enemies.
But asking this does something to David.
While he’s asking God to intervene, he comes to realize that he’s already delivered by grace. It’s as though he says: “I’m surrounded by enemies. I don’t know if I’ll live or die. But I do know what my final fate will be either way: I will go to the Lord. He will deliver me.”
While David’s still surrounded then, with that request for God’s intervention still upon his breath, he continues with a confession of who God is:
“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will return the evil to my enemies; in your faithfulness put an end to them” (Psalm 54:4-5).
This is in no way evident in the moment.
David speaks by faith, not as a prophet. He doesn’t know that he’ll be spared physical death and put on the throne of Israel.
He might be caught by the Ziphites and handed over to Saul to be murdered.
But—David is a believer.
He trusts that God works all things together, even martyrdom, for those who love Him (cf. Romans 8).
That’s how and why he’s able to conclude this psalm in this way:
“With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies” (Psalm 54:6-7).;
Whether David lives or dies, the Lord has delivered him from every trouble, for the Lord has delivered him from sin and Hell by providing a Messiah, Jesus the Christ, as his Substitute.
David realizes this while surrounded by enemies and asking God to deliver him.
He doesn’t know what the Lord will do.
But. And. He knows that it will be good.
This is the foundation of prayer and the essence of faith.
When we ask God to help us—we’re in our most natural state.
It’s the relationship of sheep to shepherd, children to father, beggar to king.
The Lord has not only the power to do good but also the wisdom and desire to do good.
David is unashamed to ask God for earthly gain—that he wouldn’t die but be delivered from the Ziphites. This is a good and fine prayer.
And, at the same time, he is at the mercy of God.
He trusts that God will do what is best.
While David doesn’t know what the future holds for him, he does know what eternity holds.
He has a Helper, the Messiah, who has and will uphold his life, and that Helper has already delivered him from every trouble.
The Psalms, like our prayers, can be categorized in many ways, but at their base they’re always a petition, or a praise, or a mingling of the two.
We sometimes ask God for things without literally saying so. And we ask for things, sometimes, by complaining about something else.
But in every case, a prayer in Jesus’ name is a prayer asking God to be true to His compassion and mercy, asking God to respond to injustice.
When we confess our sins—our hurts—our fears—we’re petitioning God for His forgiveness and mercy, His intervention.
When we thank God, we’re praising Him.
When we confess who He is, what He’s done, that He’s a good and gracious God, our helper, that, too, is also praise.
In Psalm 54 David begins with his immediate need.
He has a real request based on a real need.
He wants the Lord to deliver him from the Ziphites.
But this psalm is also a confession, praise, that the Lord has the power to help and that David has the right to ask for help despite his sins.
God cares about David and the problems in his life.
God cares about you and the problems in your life.
In asking for a basic need David remembers. And so he praises God, confessing who God has promised to be—His helper. David remembers and confesses what God has already done—He has delivered him from every trouble.
In Psalm 54, David moves from petition, asking for help, to confession, praising God for who He is and what He’s done.
The Nicene Creed shows us that our prayers can work the other way.
In the Creed, we confess who God is, and so we praise Him.
We praise Him for His wondrous works of mercy, for His revelation to us as Holy Trinity, for the Incarnation, for the gift of faith, and on and on.
In the Creed, we praise God by confessing who He is and what He’s done.
But in that praise we might remember our need and be moved to petition God for help.
When you confess that Jesus “will come to judge the living and dead,” do you not think of the coming judgment, the need for the forgiveness of sins, for a blessed death, a good death, for a speedy conclusion to this sad life, and the coming, joyful reunion with the saints in glory?
Just as David’s petition led to his confession of faith, so our confession of faith in the Creed leads us to petition God for help.
This is what the Christian life looks like—
To believe that God has delivered us by the death and resurrection of His Son, from sin and hell, even while suffering.
In the midst of our suffering, we ask God for help, but we also thank God for who He is and what He’s already done.
When it seems like justice fails and the wicked prosper, that there’s nothing to live for, that all is for nought—when we are in need, we confess: “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life” (Psalm 54:4).
And, most importantly, He has already delivered us from every evil by the gift of His Son, who lived and breathed and bled and died for us, our Substitute.
You are God’s children by Holy Baptism.
As a shepherd cares for his flock, a father for his children, and a king, beggars, God desires to hear your petitions and to help.
You are our Lord’s Bride by His declaration.
You are His confidant and friend.
He Himself has not simply invited you to pray, but He’s commanded it, decreed it to be so.
So our prayers are faith speaking who we are in Christ: beggars who ask God for things because we have no ability to provide them for ourselves.
We’re sheep who require His protection and food.
We’re His children whom He must instruct and nurture.
We’re His own Body whom He must feed and strengthen.
And we’re those who rejoice in wonder, who praise Him, in natural response to His mercy, not as flattery, not simply because He deserves it, but because there’s no other way to respond—to be—than to abandon ourselves, forget our embarrassment and pride, and sing because He’s good and He’s made us to sing, to confess, to praise, to pray, to give thanks.
“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life” (Psalm 54:4-5).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!