Monday, 16 January 2012

Find a fool

Preached this yesterday:

Psalm 14: FIND A FOOL

I was a bit surprised when I came to prepare Psalm 14 to discover just how important it is. It is a Davidic Psalm, which means that it was written by King David, the man who gets called the sweet psalmist of Israel in 2 Samuel 23.

but as interesting as that is, the real reasons why this Psalm is so important I would summarize by saying God, the Bible and Jesus.

The first reason is the obvious reason, God spoke it so it is the word of God.

The second reason, which I’d half forgotten, is that this Psalm is repeated almost word for word later on in the book of Psalms, Psalm 53, only a few words are changed, the word LORD is replaced by God, there’s an added reference to the scattering of bones of the enemy, and there is most likely a new tune, if you check the heading that comes with the Psalm. Why is it so? Well you read them yourself and make the comparison,

but I am quite sure that God doesn’t say the same thing twice in two different places without a reason, in much the same way as you may choose to say to children under your care, be very careful crossing the road because we don’t like getting run over, even though you have said it many times before and even if those children can now repeat it even before you say it. That is the whole point! You don’t want them to forget! It’s why there are 4 gospels that tell us about Jesus, not just one!

And I take it that God does not want us to forget any of his Word but especially he doesn’t want us to forget this Psalm.

The third reason this Psalm is important is that it is a Psalm about Jesus, quoted in Romans chapter 3, but we will get to that in a while.

Right now I want to ask the question who is a fool, you see that the Psalm begins with the words ‘The fool’. The fool has said in his heart ‘God does not exist’

And probably the big distraction to get out of the way is that ‘fool’ is not about intellectual ability.

I felt like a fool in 1980, and many times since may I say, but on this occasion I was sitting quietly as a second year sociology student, and the tutor, who clearly wasn’t a fool by anyone’s estimation said, surely no-one here believes in the idiot notion of human nature any more, to which I foolishly said, I do.

Now the tutor, and lots of other people, thought that they had found a perfect example of a fool, but a fool in this Psalm is not just about not being clever or not keeping up with the programme, because as you can see in verse one, the defining characteristic of the fool is the man who says, ‘God does not exist’ or if you have another translation in front of you, ‘There is no God.’

That is pretty clear isn’t it; being a fool is not about an intellectual limitation, it’s about taking the view that the God of Israel—remembering that it is David king of Israel who writes—doesn’t exist, isn’t there.

Now once we’ve worked out that being a fool is not about being stupid…

I mean the world is full of stupid people isn’t it? On July 2 1982 Larry Walters attached helium balloons to his deckchair and rose to a height of 4.6 kilometres with the plan of shooting some balloons with a pellet gun so that the deckchair would slowly come down. He hadn’t meant to go that high, the original plan was about 10 metres or 30 feet. He shot some balloons, accidentally dropped the pellet gun overboard and eventually caused a 20 minute blackout in Long Beach California when the cords from the balloon got tangled in powerlines.

We are not talking that sort of stupid. Psalm 14 says it is about refusing to acknowledge the existence of God, which means that one of the new atheists, undoubtedly brilliant men, like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, comes much more easily to mind.

Now they undoubtedly fit the bill of people who say that God does not exist, but there are just a couple of other things to notice in verse 1, and the first is that it is not just an outward denial that we are talking about, it is an attitude of the heart. So yes, there may be an intellectual component but actually there is more going on here, it is an inward, personal attitude that says no, God is not there. And add to that the second half of the verse brings in the matter of action

‘They are corrupt; they do vile deeds. There is no-one who does good.’

Now that additional information makes it immediately harder and easier to find a fool. Harder, because we all know atheists, at least one person who will loudly and prouldly announce, ‘There is no god, it is all just superstition’ and so as soon as the Psalm begins, we think we’ve nailed the person it’s talking about,

and it turns out that we sort of have, but sort of haven’t, because it is talking about an attitude of heart which may or may not be publicly expressed, and overflows into wickedness of action, it is not just someone who thinks bad thoughts but who does bad things. That may have been Christopher Hitchens and it may be Richard Dawkins but if we are honest neither of them are particularly obvious as wicked people; actually there are plenty of people in the world where we might say much more easily, no they are corrupt, they do vile deeds,

in fact once you bring the whole question of what people do into it, you’d want to finger far more public 20th century atheists like Joseph Stalin, or Mao Zedong, or Hitler who said ‘Nature is cruel, therefore we are also entitled to be cruel’ ; people who both actively denied God and went out of their way to kill people, Christians included, who opposed their ideology.

We have to say there is no doubt in King David’s mind as to who the fools are. They are his enemies, in verse 4, they are the ones “who consume my people as they consume bread, they do not call upon the LORD.” But actually, when we think about it in those terms, there are many fools in the world.

We were up at CMS Summer school this week and had a wonderful time, including catching up with the Clarks from this congregation, andy and Nicole Clark and also Michael and Caroline Clark and their kids, who are going off to Munich for Michael to teach theology.

We heard news from every corner of the world, many wonderful things, and some awful things. did you know that in Eritrea, which is next door to Ethiopia, the Christians are undergoing terrible persecution. They are taking Christian leaders and putting them into containers. They are taking those containers and burying them, so that the men inside suffocate. These Christian leaders are being buried alive.

There are other stories too, I hope that if you don’t already, you will get hold of the magazine from the Barnabas fund which comes out every month and find out how Christians are suffering for being Christian in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Sudan, Egypt, and many parts of the world, if only so that you can be prompted to pray for them on a regular basis.

The point of what I’m saying is that to be a fool is not simply to verbally or perhaps mentally deny that there is a God, that is, to be an atheist, but to carry that action out into the world. Jesus said that the two greatest commands are to Love God and to love your neighbour; the fool is the person who says, well there is no God, and who hates his neighbour and eats him up, he doesn’t love God, he doesn’t love man. That’s what a fool is.

And indeed once we realize that there is your picture of a fool, you actually realize that the question better asked is, who is righteous? Is there anyone who doesn’t act and think like a fool at least some of the time.

All of the people are all fools, some of the time. If Abraham Lincoln didn’t say it he should have.

Really, is there anyone righteous? Anyone who really does love God and love his neighbour?

Now we know that there must be righteous people, because David speaks of them in v 5. “God is with those who are righteous.”

Again in v6, “You sinners frustrate the plans of the afflicted, but the LORD is his refuge.”

And when we come back next week, we will hear even more about righteous people.

But for the moment, let’s look at ourselves not just from the perspective of David who writes the Psalm, but from the perspective of God himself.

vv 2-3

In other words, when God looks down on us, he finds no-one righteous.

That very idea is taken up by Paul when he quotes this very Psalm in Romans chapter 3, let me turn there now but if you have Ps 14 in front of you, please stay there while I read.

Romans 3:10-18

Paul, writing to Christians, picks up David’s Psalm and says that is absolutely true; possibly even truer than David knew. We are all fools! We are all people who say in our hearts, “God doesn’t exist”. What sort of person are you when no-one is looking, when not even family members are noticing? That is the person that God sees, and he sees people who think he doesn’t see them because they don’t see him, and when we are convinced that even God doesn’t see what we do, then we act accordingly.

So who is righteous?

Notice that David himself is righteous, the writer of this Psalm; and not because he is good! The second time this Psalm comes back, when it is pretty much repeated word for word in Psalm 53, is very shortly after Psalm 51 where David confesses and repents of adultery and murder. He is not righteous because he does good things!

Look with me at v 7

v 7

Here David is speaking as someone who is not a fool, but as someone who calls and cries out to God. Zion is the hill where Jerusalem is built. Jerusalem is the city of David, where God is not because he has to be, but because he has promised to be, and that is why David, in the face of fools, can call out for Israel’s deliverance to come from Zion. God will hear and rescue him, and everyone who with David calls out.

And this is of course where the Christian turns, for exactly the same hope. When Paul takes up this Psalm in Romans 3, he uses it to prove that there is no hope at all for any human being, because we are all corrupt in God’s eyes. We all have our own way of saying, “God doesn’t exist”, whether it’s in our secret thoughts, or our secret actions, or in the way we treat each other when we think we can get away with it.

But the very next thing that happens in Romans 3 is that Paul points us to the Lord Jesus, who is presented as a propitiation through faith in his blood. All the terrible things that we fools do, and that quite rightly deserve the terrible judgement of God who looks down from heaven and sees that all have turned away and become corrupt—all those terrible things have been paid for by the death of Jesus on the cross. He is our propitiation; he pays for all the wrong we’ve done, he bears God’s anger against our foolishness..

And so Psalm 14 isn’t in the end just a lament over fools, or over intellectual limitation, or over evil deeds; it’s a prayer of trust that the God who saved king David from his enemies will also save us, if we will put our trust in Jesus, so that there is for those who trust God nothing that will separate us from his great and powerful love revealed in Jesus Christ.