Psalm 27 and Matthew 4:12-23

Faith is more about being faithful than believing something in your head.

Third Sunday after the Epiphany Year A

January 26, 2020


“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

These words conclude the psalm we read today, Psalm 27.

We didn’t read these words, though,

because the persons who long ago selected the Sunday lectionary readings

decided to leave out this last verse.

Perhaps, they thought,

we didn’t need the inspiration to take courage,

to wait for the Lord.    Who knows?


If I were in charge, I would not have left out the last verse;

and by the way, I’d include the other verses they left out too.

Take a look, pull out your green inserts,

You’ll see, we not only didn’t get the last verse,

we skipped verses 2-4 as well—

Verses crucial to the integrity of the psalm.

Verses we need to hear, so I’ll read them for us, from the top.


The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.

3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;

though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.

4 One thing I asked of the Lord,that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.


What was it that led the decision to leave out these verses?

Why talk about evildoers and adversaries devouring our flesh?

And why remind us that that life sometimes feels

as if enemies encamp around us?


I’ll daresay every-one of us here in this room

has experienced the same kind of fear that the psalmist expresses here.

Spent at least one night, awake,

starring at the clock at 2 am or 4 am,

worrying about a loved one,

or grieving and wondering if you’ll ever be able to sleep again.

We are people often anxious about our health,

Or about a new relationship,   or one that has fizzled,

or losing a job….

Anxiety is like that uninvited and unwelcome guest

that won’t leave your house when you’re ready for bed.

Anxiety is so awful that we often can’t lie still when we do get to bed

and even stubbing your toe on the way to the bathroom is a kind of relief.

At least you can be angry rather than consumed with worry for a while.


When we read the psalms, we read the real emotions of the Hebrew people.

We read about the fury one feels

when life’s circumstances are plainly unfair.

The psalms shout with joy,

scream with outrage,   cry in fear,

and in all their vulnerability,

they give us a roadmap to enter into an honest relationship with God.


Psalm 27 is a perfect example,

It is as candid as they come.

The psalmist fears…alienation from God.


My love for this psalm began a few years ago,

when I was working as a chaplain in the hospital.

Only a few weeks into my training as chaplain

I was called to the ICU to see a patient who was having a panic attack.

I had already met this woman, and her husband,

twice before    doing my daily rounds,

and I’d found them faithful, committed Christians—

from a serious bible denomination.

Susan was confident and hopeful, even though her condition was serious.

She had a pink prayer blanket from her congregation on her bed

and a bible in her hand.


When I arrived in Susan’s room

after being called on this particular day

I found her by herself;

She was red in the face

and sweating, with her oxygen mask plastered against her face.

She was struggling to catch her breath and

I was surprised to see her looking so distressed.


I said hello and she thanked me for coming, and then she said,

she didn’t know why, but she couldn’t rest or relax,

she was so anxious, and she asked me to read her some scripture.

I picked up the bible on her bed

and asked her what she would like me to read.

Anything, she responded, closing her eyes.


Oh my, I thought, note to self, you are really new at this,

You have to be prepared with scripture next time.

I fumbled through the epistles for the right verse on this occasion,

knowing that Susan knew the bible better than I ever will,

and praying that I’d not begin reading something

that we’d both regret once I got into it.


Honestly, I can’t remember what I picked out,

but I remember reading aloud something from Ephesians

and simultaneously reading ahead silently to see what was next

and deciding to end it after about four verses, wishing I’d been in Philippians.

By this time,   I was sweating.


I then asked Susan what her favorite psalm was,

and she said Psalm 27, so I read that:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.


I read the whole psalm and paused, and then we talked.


Whom shall I fear?

The psalmist sings, “no one, no thing”

because the Lord is my light, my salvation, my stronghold—

even though enemies surround me,                my heart shall not fear,

though war rises up against me,         yet, I will be confident.


Yet, what Susan told me,        just after we’d read that psalm was of her fear.

“I know if I am afraid,” Susan said, “it must be a sign of my lack of faith in God.”

Susan said she was praying for God’s wisdom,

Asking God why this sickness was happening to her

and wondering if she’ll ever feel whole again.


We talked a long time…(her husband came in and quietly sat by her side)

She and I talked about Job and his long suffering,

and how God tells Job that his friends are wrong;

Job’s suffering was not about something he’d done.

I told her that I didn’t know why she was suffering,

and that I’m not sure we could understand God’s wisdom even if we heard it,

(isn’t that what God told Job?)

and I told her that I think

faith is more about being faithful than believing something in my head.


This is the realization that the singer in psalm 27 comes to

Faithfulness is action.

And Faithful following is what calms the fears of the psalmist

“One thing will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple, I will offer oblations with great gladness and make music to the Lord. For in the day of trouble God shall keep me safe”

A life of faith is about being faithful.

Faithful following.


Matthew gives us a great picture of this in his gospel today.

Jesus walking by the sea and calling out to Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John, “Follow me, I will make you fish for people.”

And they dropped their nets and followed him going throughout the region and proclaiming the good news.


These disciples experienced their faith…

Following a rabbi who confronted those in power,

Who spoke to religious leaders of their hypocrisy,

and called out the crushing poverty of his day.

The disciples must have wondered at times,

couldn’t they have just stayed at home– fishing?


But they took the risk of following this leader, Jesus

And learned that the life of faith does not deny doubt or pain.

Like the psalmist, the disciples

reject the self-fulfilling belief that God created us to live in fear,

and find that in their patient listening, searching, looking for God’s goodness, their lives are richer by far.


The presence of fear does not mean you have no faith. Max Lucado

Fear visits everyone. But make your fear a visitor and not a resident.


Susan asked me what to pray for,

I told her I pray for courage, taking a cue from Psalm 27

Courage to face the trials of this life

knowing and trusting that Christ loves me and

invites me to be part of God’s kingdom.



Just as we come to know love by loving.

We grow in faith by being faithful.

Share with God your deepest fears

Lay your anxieties before Christ,

And do not live in fear.

We are the Lord’s, whether we live or whether we die,

we are the Lord’s beloved.

Thanks be to God.