Posts Tagged ‘mission’

A sermon preached at Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church

14 November 2022

Video of the service to which this sermon contributed here.

Psalm 67

What does your life point towards? What’s the horizon you’re walking towards? 

Here’s another way to ask the same question, although it may sound like a completely different question: What do you love?

Pastor Scott has recommended to some of us a book by James K.A. Smith called On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. Right now I’m reading a different book by the same author. It’s title is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.

In this book, Smith presses home the point that we are not thinking creatures first and foremost. We are not even credal or believing creatures, first and foremost. Smith believes we are loving creatures long before we get around to the important work of thinking and believing. It’s only in the process of walking towards—or pursuing—what we love that we come to think and build understanding and even doctrine around it.

Smith is a Christian, so he is sure we are this way because that’s how God made us.

James K.A. Smith believes, with Augustine and many of the greatest voices in Christian history, that we inevitably walk toward what we love. What we love becomes our destination. It shapes us and draws us and pulls us toward it.

In fact, we actually become more and more like the thing we love.

I think Smith is right, which is why I float a twin version of that single question this morning: What is your life pointed at? What do you love?

* * * * *

Let’s hear Psalm 67 again:

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.

God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Psalm 67 (ESV)

Last Sunday morning, after ten riveting days back in Colombia where Karen and I serve as missionaries, I sat alone in a Medellín airport lounge as I waited to board my flight back to Miami. Although the lounge had not officially opened yet, the attendant offered that it would be OK if I went in and made myself comfortable. She even offered to have breakfast brought to me if I was hungry.

Things like that happen in Colombia….

I sat there alone in that lounge, processing ten intense days with people whom I love in a country my heart has grown to love, up to my armpits in work I love. I knew that two flights later, I’d be landing in another place I love where I live among people I love, beside a wife whom I love, up to my eyeballs in a different kind of work that I love.

I honestly feared I would break down in sobs from the sheer beautiful weight of it all.

When I told Karen about the intensity of those thirty minutes, she asked why it was such an emotional experience for me. I had to think about my answer. I think it’s because, since I was a junior in high school, God has told my own little story in a way that points me at the beautiful horizon that is all peoples, reconciled in Christ and worshiping their Maker as one family. 

Over the years, it’s become what I love.

On the rare occasion that I ask myself if I’m making this all up, I console myself with the reality that it’s the vision the apostle Paul loved also. I figure the dude makes for pretty good company.

It’s why I cannot wait to have some of you meet our church and my students and our seminary community and our adoptive city in Colombia next April.

I’m a missionary. That’s no better or worse than any other calling. It’s just mine and you have yours. But for almost fifty years, it has kept my life pointed at the vision of this sixty-seventh psalm. In the company of Karen and a few people whom God has placed into my life so that we can walk together, I love this future more than anything else I know.

I want to invite you into that same love … into that same directionality … this morning. I want to ask you to point your lives at God’s dream … his vision … his sovereign longing … his project … his mission. His triumph.

I want to be clear that I’m not inviting you to be more like me. That’s not where my heart is and I’m a very broken vessel in any case. But God has in fact fixed my direction on the future that this psalm celebrates. It’s what I love. I hope you will walk towards it and love it, too.


Sometimes here at Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church, we recite together the Apostle’s Creed. I love it when we do that. It typically moistens my eyes and the emotion of it usually keeps me from getting all the words of the creed out to where my lips can speak them.

I think that strong response comes to me because in that moment we are taking up for ourselves in our time and place a declaration that was important to the Lord’s people many centuries ago. It still speaks to us. It still forms us, even though our time and place are so different than those in which the Apostle’s Creed was first spoken.

Something similar happens in this Psalm.

Psalm 67 takes up the great blessing that was entrusted to Aaron and Israel’s priests centuries before this psalm was written, long before any gathered community of Israelites had lifted it in song. This priestly blessing is preserved for us in the sixth chapter of the Book of Numbers. As I read the Aaronic blessing, some of youwill recognize it instantly. All of us will hear in it the lines that now reverberate in Psalm 67:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.’ 

Numbers 6:22-27 (ESV)

Can you appreciate that this blessing is spoken by the priests of Israel for the people of Israel? We might say that it is Israel-centric. The priest speaks the blessing over ‘the people of Israel’—the text says exactly that—and the Lord promises that when this blessing is spoken over Israel, ‘I will bless them.’

This is Israel’s blessing … spoken by Israel’s priests … at the conclusion of Israel’s worship … for the sake of Israel’s future.

Yet, brothers and sisters, in the economy of God, the blessing that God’s people experience in any moment is impossible to grasp in closed hands. It always wants to trampoline … to boomerang … to crescendo off of the people into blessing for others. 

There is a centrifugal force at the core of all of God’s blessing. It longs to propel itself outwards beyond its point of first landing. There is a hard-wired generosity in the interaction between God and his people. For those of you who know Scripture well, there is always an Abrahamic energy in God’s particular blessings. They always have ‘many nations’ in view, just as Abraham was promised that the blessing the Lord laid upon his shoulders in Genesis chapter 12 would cause the blessing of many nations.

So we shouldn’t be surprised to find this Aaronic blessing taken up as it has been centuries after the fact in Psalm 67, our text for today.

In a spirit of worship, Psalm 67—centuries later—picks up the words and the cadence of that ancient blessing and sings it out. Now, though, these worshipping voices declare that what Israel has discovered and understood and lived must become the experience of all peoples.

Verses 1-3 capture the gist of the psalm and declare the restlessly expansive nature of God’s blessing to Israel. 

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon usSelah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Psalm 67:1-3 (ESV)

Make us an example of salvation/grace!

Use us! Allow us, Lord, to receive all that you have done for us and to pay it forward!

This is very far from self-protectiveness, from grubby self-interest, from ‘God is on our side!’ This is on the other side of the world from religious nationalism.

It is the ancient prayer, even the most ancient prayer of Israel. It speaks of an inherited, learned, disciplined seeking of God’s face. But this blessing is not merely for us. God’s blessing lands among us, Israel declares, so that we might become an instrument in God’s hands, so that he could through us fulfill his redeeming plans for all nations.

Now we are not, you and I, we are not ancient Israel. But we are New Israel: old Israel now caught up and re-forged in a New Covenant with the very same Lord of Israel. So it makes sense for us to find ourselves in this ancient prayer of Israel. It makes sense for us to long for God’s smile, as the daughters and sons and fathers and mothers of ancient Israel did every time they heard the priest pronounce these words over them.

It makes sense for us to find our lives pointed towards a future where all the peoples rejoice in our God. It makes sense for us to love that future … as we love almost nothing else.

Can you see that? Is that getting into your heart, or perhaps fanning the flame of something that’s already there?

Now here’s a second point that builds on the first…


Why would the development that is prayed for here be a source of joy for the nations? Why would Israel’s hope land among all peoples as good news

The reason given in Psalm 67 may not be the only reason for all the peoples to praise Israel’s God after they have learned that he is also their God. But the fact that it’s the only reason given in this psalm means that it’s probably the main reason?

What is this reason, what explains the psalmist’s desire to see the nations praise him? In the text, it’s expressed like this: God will judge with equity … and guide the nations upon the earth.

In particular, that first declaration—God will judge with equity—is an expectation that shows its face throughout Scripture. The very same expression occurs multiple times in the Old Testament psalms and prophets, and it’s intended to signal a major change in the reality you and I have experienced. Scripture is often reluctant to tell us how and when or at what velocity this judgement with equity will occur, but it assures us that it’s a key component of the Lord’s project in his world.

What we babbling, anxious nations cannot fix by ourselves, the Lord will one day repair. Our most unsolvable conflicts will in fact become sorted out as he judges … as he restores to order what has become hopelessly twisted. The outcome is that ‘the nations’ will be re-oriented towards peace and filled with joy. They will beat their swords, as one version of this thing has it, into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. The instruments of war will be converted into the tools of planting and harvest.

Now I know that this anticipated future clashes with at least two sets of mind that we bring into worship together this morning. 

On the one hand, we are skeptical and even cynical realists. We know how merciless and unyielding our world’s battles are. This all sounds too good to be true. It sounds too utopian for people like us, who will not be fooled … who will not let our hopes spin out of control.

And it is too good to be true. Unless, that is, it is where the Sovereign Lord intends to take history. Then all our dumbed-down expectations are too miserable to be true.

The second assumption is going to obligate me to use a little bit of technical language, so bear with me.

All of us who are evangelical Christians—if that’s not you, please be patient while I talk a little inside baseball—have been born and raised during a period of history when a ‘stingy eschatology’ rather than a ‘generous eschatology’ has been the Majority Report. It’s how we’ve understood, how we’ve been taught, eschatology, which is another word for where God is taking his world.

What does that mean? Well, at the risk of caricature, a ‘stingy eschatology’ understands God’s purpose to be to save a few people and maybe a handful of peoples while the rest are lost. 

A ’generous eschatology’—clearly, my language stacks the deck in favor of my own point of view—reads Scripture to promise the redemption of a population that it insistently calls ‘all the peoples’. 

Over years of studying this stuff, I have arrived at some convictions around a ‘generous eschatology’. I think that the fact that we’re a mostly Gentile church, comprised of non-Jewish nations, of ‘all the peoples’, shows that God has been active on this front quite triumphantly for about twenty centuries now. And it looks to me as though he’s just getting started.

You see, as Jesus and the apostle Paul both teach us never to forget, each in his own way, salvation is of the Jews …. And for the nations.

Our Psalm 67 beautifully expresses this conviction. Its writer and those who worship by singing its song consider that this is a gorgeous reality, one worthy of pointing our lives towards … one worthy of loving as we love few other things. I think so, too. I invite you to join the chorus.

Even if you’re not yet singing this song, let me point out that it’s the very thing I’m describing that explains why we at WEFC continue to do this quaint thing of ‘sending missionaries’.

It’s because we believe the Bible. And we love its generous Author.

So we can never keep his blessings for ourselves. Or even want to.


Do you find Fall in New England profoundly satisfying to your soul, perhaps in words you can’t express? The golden leaves … The ‘football weather’, as my late father loved to call it.

Did you bow your head in thanks over breakfast this morning?

Did your car start right up today? Were you able to squeak out the mortgage payment last month? Did your wife call you ‘honey’ again? Were you able to leave the house unlocked while you walked the dog? Did you walk into that school in peace on Tuesday and vote for the candidates of your choice? Do they know your name at church? Has your son’s sobriety reached all the way to six months?

These are fragments of Providence. 

There is more than one way to translate verses 6 and 7. The tense and mood of the Hebrew verbs are tricky. But let’s just take the ESV as it stands, because it’s at least as good a presentation as any of the alternatives:

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.

God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Psalm 67:6-7 (ESV)

The words look back on a recent harvest that will put bread and milk on the table for some Israelite family:

The earth has yielded its increase.

The locust or a dry spell at the same time could have made it a different kind of winter.

God’s providence builds the pray-er’s confidence that God, our God, will continue to bless us:

God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us.

But do you see what happens next. Even in this moment of deep gratitude for what God has done for us, the psalmist looks out at all the rest of humanity and almost wills upon it a relationship with God, a knowledge of God, the salvation of God. No matter how different those people are than me, how different their skin color, how crazy their language, how impenetrable their customs, the Israelite who prays this psalm longs for them to know the LORD:

…let all the ends of the earth fear him!

The psalmist’s life is pointed at something. It is expressing the thing it most loves: the idea that God’s redemption should finally reach the ends of the earth.

This is the promise to Abraham, that ancient father of many nations.

This is the Great Commission.

This is lives pointed to a horizon where all peoples will song God’s praise.

This is, among other things, what we call missions … a core feature of our live together in Christ that we remember this month with particular clarity.

It’s not a technique. It’s a posture. 

It’s not a method. It’s a deep, abiding love.

Last night I sat in a different airport, this time in a departure lounge of O’Hare Airport, putting the final touches on this message. I reviewed Pastor Scott’s design of this Missions Emphasis Month at our beloved church.

THEME: “I (the Lord) Do It . . . We Do It”

  • For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it.” Isaiah 48:11
  • God does missions for his own sake . . . so, should we.

I’m not sure that I know any truer words.

The Lord will have his triumph in history according to his calendar and in his way. History will not end in ashes, but rather in glory. 

Will it become your love? Will it become the thing you walk towards, the horizon to which our lives are pointed?

Our moment will distract us with pathetic little lies like these:

  • As long as you have your health, that’s the most important thing.
  • Family is everything.
  • He who dies with the most toys wins.
  • If it feels this good, it must be right.
  • Everything hinges on the next election.
  • I need to have this.
  • It’s all about you.

These are all lies, some of them more well-intentioned than others, several more plausible than the others.

But wouldn’t you rather live in this?:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

May it be so.


Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.


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