From Zoan to Zion- Psalm 78 Sermon, August Prayer Service
Text: Psalm 78
Theme: From Zoan to Zion
Intr – Have you ever noticed how frequently you do use parables on your interactions? I can assure you that you use it on almost a daily basis with your family, with friends, or at work.
Let me illustrate how I know that. Asaph, the author of Psalm 78, lets us know he is going to “tell a parable to teach the people of God.” The main teachings from it are:
_The importance of having memory;
_The goodness of the Lord;
_The necessity of passing it down to the next generations.
We usually think of parables as made up stories to parallel with real life. But this is not the only way to do so. You can use also examples from History, or experiences from your personal story of life, as you lead hearers to relate it to their personal life. That’s the point a parable is all about: they correlate to daily life.
How does Asaph do it? He accomplishes it by taking us for a trip from Zoan to Zion. He resorts to History as he puts forth his parable-song. He starts from the Captivity in Zoan, Egypt, where the people of God used to be slaves, and he leads us using many examples to Zion, the Promised Land – the land of freedom, the City of God where He dwells among His people. The whole narrative is sprinkled with facts that build and extensive parable for the life of the people.
As it is for our life today as well. I invite you now to listen to some parts of it and see and realize how they work as a parable for your daily life as well. It’ll be, as our daily life always is, a succession of law and gospel episodes. People’s unfaithfulness contrasted with God’s love and patience.
_Verse 11: “They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.”12 - In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders 18 They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.” Do we ever forget God’s good gifts, falling for the temptation of complaining about how we feel forgotten or forsaken? Surely, this is not a rare episode in our lives...
_Verses 21 and 22: “21 Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, 22 because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.” The Lord hates sin, He doesn’t tolerate it. He punishes sin harshly. That is how we would be punished – if Christ would take our stead. The Father sent His son to be punished in our place, so his wrath was deflected from us, and we are saved by His saving power.
_Verses 23 and 24: “23 Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, 24 and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.” Where sin is abundant, God’s grace is superabundant. Luther once said “Sin boldly”. Some detractors try to see incoherence here, but the Reformer was consistent with the biblical teaching. Sin boldly means that we shouldn’t diminish our imperfection to small errors here and there. We need to acknowledge the complete wretchedness we are in. That’s when we can understand better God’s Grace. God loves boldly. He forgives boldly, He rescues us and endlessly pours His Grace on our lives.
_Verses 32 and 37 expose how unfaithful we can be: “32 In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe. // 37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant.” We humans are always demanding and expecting better proof of God’s work.
_God remains faithful to His promise though, as verses 38 and 39 show: “38 Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. 39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.”
_Moving forward, we are reminded of our recurrent lack of memory: “41 They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. 42 They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,” Sometimes we insist in remembering things we should forget. But then when it comes to what we should always remember – God’s works and grace for us – we become forgetful people.
_But again we hear the comforting Word of God full of Grace and forgiveness: “52 Then he led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53 He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54 And he brought them to his holy land, to the mountain which his right hand had won.” God, in Christ, leads us like a flock. We are his sheep, we belong to him. As we belong to Him we are daily reassured of his Care, Love and Salvation. We are reassured that even though we are forgetful, resentful, ungrateful people many times, He never ceases to come to us, to redeem us from our transgressions. He invites us to receive this forgiveness, and also to share it with others.
_After everything that happened, unfortunately History repeats itself: “56 Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God and did not keep his testimonies.” In our imperfection, we fail, we fumble, we fall.
_But so does God’s Mercy and love. They repeat themselves constantly: “72 With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.”
In a way, when we read through Psalm 78, it feels like Asaph invites the people of God to sit down on the lawn, stay still and enjoy the movie he is going to show them. Actually, the film he is showing them is a rerun of the rerun of the rerun. The book of Psalms could be called “The Reruns of God”. Again and again His people are reminded of God’s works in the past so they realize again His Endless love, and pass it also down to the next generations.
Does this sound like a boring plot? Well, that’s human life. That’s your life and mine. We are people constantly presented with God’s mercy and love, and then fall from it again. And then we are drawn closer again. And then we complain again. Reruns of reruns. I would say though that is a really good movie. It may not have special effects wonders or remarkable photography. But the reality of life supersedes any extra effects. Fiction, dreaming, wondering is somewhat good sometimes. But truth and real life are stranger than fiction. Real stories defy logic.
That’s why the Word of God comes down to earth here, to our daily real life, into our "strange" routine, bringing His promises to our context - instead of trying to create a "fiction" about life of constant happiness, prosperity, and happy endings only plots. It goes to the reality behind the self deceptions and convenient fictions. In every story the teller is usually the hero - us. But when it comes to our spiritual life we just can’t be it. We try to forgive ourselves and others, as we are forgiven by Christ, but it is way beyond our supposed superpowers. What we hear from the mouth of the Hero - Jesus Christ, is that He is always forgiving, no matter what. He forgives us, and then leads us in the hard but most needed path of healing ourselves, and our neighbours as well, with His Word, with His love, with Him alone.
Cc – Here we are back to the beginning, to one of the main points of Psalm 78’s parable: “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and othe wonders that he has done., so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;” Parents are called to pass these teachings, memories, facts, down to children. The Word of God is permanently relevant. We can keep telling parables daily so people see the Word of God applied to their lives.
That is such a beautiful parable about God’s endless love and Grace, from the Bible to our daily life! It wraps our lives with grace, and leads us to share with the next generations the plot that, amidst many difficulties, will get us from Zoan to Zion; from the slavery of sin to The Happy End with Him. Well… actually, to The Happy Without-End.
-BRUG, John. A commentary on Psalms 73-150.