Prior to 46 BC the Roman empire followed a lunar calendar that was used to schedule religious festivals, the terms of contracts, and other social arrangements. The problem was that a lunar calendar does not keep pace with a solar calendar. The position of our planet earth relative to the sun gives us one day a year when the north pole is closest to the sun and one day a year when the south pole is closest to the sun. This creates one day a year when there is the most hours of sunlight and one day a year with the fewest hours of sunlight. June 21 and December 21 are the days that mark these changes in our solar year.
A lunar calendar falls behind the solar calendar by about ten days a solar year. We observe this in Morocco because Islam follows a lunar calendar and the religious celebrations come about ten days earlier each year. In 2000, the year I arrived in Morocco, Ramadan began on November 27. It will not be until 2033 that Ramadan is again at that time. (Interestingly, in 2030 there will be two Ramadan celebrations – one starting on January 6 and the second on December 26.)
But back to 46 BC. Because of the difference in lunar calendars and the seasons of the year that are dictated by our position to the sun, the harvest festivals were being celebrated when there was no harvesting. The religious festivals were out of sync with the reason for having the festival.
So Julius Caesar made a decision to change the lunar calendar to a solar calendar. In order to do that, he decided that the year 46 BC would have 445 days so that the new year could begin on January 1 and have 365 days.
That is the longest year on record – until 2020. It is official. 2020 is now the longest year in history. This is not days being regulated by the sun or the moon, but measured by enduring the coronavirus pandemic.
It began in March and we have been waiting and waiting and waiting for it to end. The Moroccan government announces that we will be on lockdown for a month, and then another month, and then another month. After awhile it seems that the monthly announcement is like the ticking of a clock measuring the passage of time by months rather than seconds.
Back in March I remember saying that I had read an article by some epidemiologists who said this pandemic would last for two to three years, circulating around the globe, creating new hot spots until it finally died out. The people I was talking with dismissed what I said, believing it would be just a few months and then it would be over.
But here we are at the end of our eighth month of covid restrictions and the expectation is that it will not be until the middle of 2021 that a vaccine will be available in Morocco. That means we are only half way through this.
We will have to wait.
In our prayer time on Tuesday night, I had the sense that we should pray about waiting. After eight months of coronavirus restrictions we are tired of waiting. People call this covid-fatigue. People are tired of wearing masks, tired of being restricted to their home, tired of not going out to parties, tired of not being able to live a normal life.
The consequence of covid fatigue is that the number of daily infections of covid-19 are rising in many countries. They are rising here in Morocco. Back in June the number of daily cases was in the range of 300 to 600. Now they are consistently above 3,000 and this past week reached over 4,000.
“How long, Lord, how long?” the psalmist asked. (Psalm 6:3) As we enter our eighth month of covid restrictions, we cry out, “How long, Lord, how long?”
At the beginning of our prayer time on Tuesday night I read Psalm 27 and as I was reading it, I thought it would be good to preach from Psalm 27 this week. When we began preaching from Isaiah I said we would preach from both Isaiah and the Psalms during this fall season. So we will look at Psalm 27 today and then return to Isaiah next Sunday.
Psalm 27 is a psalm of David. There is no particular event in David’s life this psalm is associated with although it seems clear that it was written while he was king. He writes in this psalm about an army besieging him which was not a concern before he became king.
Let me pull out four themes from this psalm.
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?
Do not fear; do not be afraid. Why? Because the Lord is my light and my salvation, because the Lord is the stronghold of my life.
I preached about this last Sunday from Isaiah 43.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
We will pass through rivers. We will walk through fire. But they will not destroy us because God is with us.
David wrote about this in his shepherd psalm, Psalm 23
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
How did David know this? Was David speculating? No. David was remembering all the times God had been present with him in times of crises.
When David told Saul he was not afraid to meet Goliath in battle, he said, (1 Samuel 17:33–37)
“Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
David was not a perfect king, a perfect man. I am not perfect. None of us are perfect. But in his imperfection, David had seen God’s hand in the battles he fought, the many times God had protected him from enemies out to kill him.
We have our own experiences. There have been good times and painful times and in the painful times we have wondered where God is, but we have learned with the passing of time that God was with us, even in those painful times.
We have stepped out into the unknown with a measure of fear and anxiety and discovered that we were not alone. God was with us. God is with us. God will always be with us. This is the great comfort in the passing of our years on earth.
We need not fear because God is with us.
Second, as we move through our years on earth, we need to hold on to one thing – our relationship with Jesus.
What is the one thing you want? I looked up a couple sites that asked this question and the answer that came up most often is that people want to be happy. That’s their “one thing”. Parents tell their children, “I just want you to be happy.”
So what makes someone happy? What is the “one thing” that makes someone happy? There are a lot of temporary “one things”. “I just want a good job.” “I just want a new car.” “I just want a new computer.” “I just want to be married.”
We want so many things and think those things will make us happy. But we get the job or car, or spouse and discover that we still are missing something.
The writer of Ecclesiastes reflected on life and said, (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
We make some temporary thing our “one thing” and discover that the “one thing” does not satisfy. We lust for what cannot satisfy. Frederick Buechner wrote, “Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.”
We think happiness will satisfy us, be enough, but happiness comes and goes depending on our circumstances. Happiness does not last. The things we want will not and cannot satisfy. (1 John 2:17 – The Message)
The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.
Blaise Pascal wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”
Making anyone or anything other than God our “one thing” will lead to emptiness. Only God will satisfy.
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
Despite all of David’s failures, despite all of David’s lies and deceit, David had a heart that was drawn to God. After God rejected Saul as king, Samuel told Saul, (1 Samuel 13:14)
But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”
In David’s worst moments, when he had the power of life and death in his hands, he listened to the prophet Nathan and repented for his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba. Although David lusted after many things, ultimately his “one thing” was his relationship with God.
None of has have lived perfect lives and none of us will lead perfect lives, so we need to be encouraged by the example of David that pulls us back to our “one thing”. When we stumble, when we fail, when we are discouraged by the weakness of our resolve to live for Jesus, we need to let Jesus be our “one thing” and return to him as the source of our life and being.
We have talked about God’s intolerance toward idolatry in the sermons from Isaiah. God wants to be our “one thing”. He does not want to compete with the idols in our lives. He does not want to compete with our single-minded pursuit of our dreams and ambitions. It is not that we should not have dreams and ambitions, but that they need to be subservient to our love for God. God wants to be our “one thing”.
When I was a young pastor in Ohio, I spent a lot of time with a high school student named Jim. Jim was an excellent guitar player and musician and his dream and ambition was to be a rock star. We spent hours talking together and what I so much appreciated about him is that he understood so clearly what was at stake in giving his life to Jesus. He knew that if he gave his life to Jesus he had to give up his dream of being a rock star. It was not that being a rock star would be incompatible with being a Christian, but that his dream of being a rock star had to become less important than following Jesus. (Jim did give his life to Christ and went on to study classical guitar. He now runs a music school in Ohio.)
In life there are so many things that pull at us, wanting to be our “one thing”. For some people this is popularity in the world of social media. How many likes did I get? How can I get more likes? How can I get more followers?
For some people this is making a lot of money and there are books and books talking about how to do this with the message that the way to make money and be “successful” is to focus and make this the “one thing” in your life.
But Jesus said, (Luke 16:13)
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
You can be wealthy and love God. You can pursue a career where you can earn a lot of money and still love God, but you cannot make your pursuit of wealth or your pursuit of success in a career your “one thing” and still love God.
God will not tolerate idolatry. God has given everything so you can be in an intimate relationship with him; he asks you to give everything you have to be an intimate member of his family.
I said a couple weeks ago we need to remember that God wants us to be in heaven with him more than we want to be in heaven with him. Our desire for God is exceeded by his desire for us.
God knows it is not easy for us to make him our “one thing”. He knows that we are so easily tempted and pulled by the material things of this world. God knows how much we want and crave approval from others. God understands the temptations of money, sex, and power in this world. So he sent the Spirit to be with us, to help us make our way though this life. The Spirit is constantly reminding us that God needs to be our “one thing:.
Although David was not aware of this when he wrote Psalm 27, he writes about the call of the heart to seek God.
Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. 8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us, urging us to seek God, urging us to make good choices. We can shut out the voice of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit does not stop urging us, convicting us of sin, leading us into an understanding of what is good and true.
David wrote, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face.’” This is the urging of the Spirit in our lives. We are constantly being pulled to be faithful to God. We are constantly being urged to hold on to Jesus. We are constantly being encouraged to turn away from distractions and seek the face of God.
We need not fear because God is with us. As we move through our years on earth, we need to hold on to one thing – our relationship with Jesus.
Third, we live with a certain hope.
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
There is a famous quotation from Benjamin Franklin, an early American patriot and inventor of bifocals, the lightning rod, and swim fins. In a letter in 1789 he wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Death is a certainty and because governments need money, taxes are also inevitable. But we pay no taxes after we die. That is good news. And in this world, there is not universal agreement about what happens to us after we die. As a consequence, death is feared by many and perhaps most people in the world.
Perhaps after we die there is nothing. This life is all there is. There was nothing before and there will be nothing after. “So eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may die.” Perhaps we are caught in the endless cycle of reincarnation. We have lived many lives and need to learn from this life to benefit us in our next reincarnation.
Followers of Jesus have a different understanding.
Death has always been the world’s greatest enemy.
Job despaired because of the meaninglessness of life. He sat in his pain and misery, grieving for the loss of his children, aggravated by the advice of his wife and friends. He cried out in despair, (Job 14:1-12)
“Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.
2 They spring up like flowers and wither away;
like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.
7 “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. 8 Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, 9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. 10 But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more. 11 As the water of a lake dries up or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, 12 so he lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, people will not awake or be roused from their sleep.
Death has always been the enemy that could not be defeated. The writer of Ecclesiastes concluded everything in this world is meaningless because death is the end for every person – whether rich or poor, wise or foolish. (Ecclesiastes 2:15–16)
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
“This too is meaningless.”
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!
The inevitability of death made all of life meaningless. What good is accomplishment if you have to leave it behind when you die? What good is wealth? What good is wisdom? What good is hard work if you leave all this behind when you die?
Death was the cruel master that no one could escape. No matter how clever, or how powerful, or how intelligent – death won in the end. Everyone in history, the king and the beggar on the side of the road, everyone made the same trip to the grave.
So when Jesus died and was buried, the disciples grieved. Their friend was dead. All the hope he had given them was gone. They thought all was lost. All the bright promise of what Jesus had promised had been ground into the dirt. The devil thought he had won. Death had been challenged and death had once again been triumphant. But then came Easter and death was crushed, defeated once for all time. So Paul burst out in praise: (1 Corinthians 15:51–55)
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
Jesus died on the cross but then he burst out of the grave in a glorious, triumphant resurrection that gives us hope that we too will rise from the dead into a glorious, eternal existence.
We don’t need to be afraid of death. When someone we love dies, it is good to grieve, but because we know what comes after death, we can carry joy through our grief. If you discover you are going to die, it’s ok. It is not the end. You can be at peace and die with faith, love, and hope of salvation.
We have hope because death is no longer the end for us. For followers of Jesus, death is only the beginning.
What awaits us when we die is better than any of us can imagine. At the end of his seven-book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis writes:
And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures… had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
We need not fear because God is with us. As we move through our years on earth, we need to hold on to one thing – our relationship with Jesus. We live with a certain hope.
Fourth, we wait for the Lord.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Waiting is not easy. None of us like to wait. We live in the McDonalds and Burger King age of instant gratification. We walk into a fast-food restaurant and if we don’t have our meal in sixty seconds, we are impatient. We want food and we want it now and most times we get it when we want it.
We began praying in March for relief from the coronavirus and here we are, eight months later, still praying. Some of us have been praying for a long time for the people we love. It is so difficult to see people struggling and we pray for God to help them. We pray for God to change their circumstances. We pray for God to open their hearts to him.
We pray and ask God for help and then we wait. We do not like to wait, but we wait. We wait for a week, two weeks, two months, a year, maybe even two years or even five years or ten years and finally we say enough is enough. What does it mean in the Scripture that God is our help? We prayed and prayed and prayed and nothing has happened, nothing has changed.
“You helped Israel escape from Egypt,” we pray. “Why not help us?” But Israel prayed for help for at least eighty years and probably longer before God helped. That means that no one alive during the Exodus could remember a time when they or their parents had not been praying to God for deliverance. People of faith prayed their entire life for help, for deliverance, and died without seeing their prayer answered. But even so, their prayer was answered – just not in their lifetime. Their prayer was answered in God’s time.
The Hebrews who returned after the Babylonian exile were, with a few possible exceptions, Hebrews who had been born in captivity. Seventy years had passed from the time when the Babylonians defeated Israel and took them away. The prayers of those who died in captivity were answered. Israel did return from captivity to Jerusalem. What was longed for and prayed for did happen, in God’s time.
In God’s time, that is the thing. We pray in our time and have to wait for God’s time.
David wrote in Psalm 40:1–3
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
We need to wait with patience. We need to wait for God’s time.
Jews waited four hundred years for the coming of the Messiah and Paul writes in Romans 5:6
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Why did God wait four hundred years for the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies? Two thousand years after the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus we are still waiting for the complete fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. Two thousand years after the resurrection of Jesus we are still waiting for his promised return? Why so long?
I am glad that Jesus did not return earlier because then I would not have been born and have the privilege of being part of his kingdom. How many future generations will have the privilege I have had? We wait. Our children will wait. Our grandchildren will wait and we do not know when it will come to an end.
We wait with patience because we wait for God’s time, not our own time.
We wait with hope.
Psalm 33:20–22 We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
In the years and decades that we wait, we do not give in to despair. We do not give up. We keep praying because we know the heart of God leans toward us. God cares about us. God is active in our lives and active in the lives of people we love.
Circumstances may lead us to give up, but we hold on with faith to our hope in the Lord.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters about holding on with hope. These letters are written from a senior devil to a junior devil and describe events from their perspective.
Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
We hold on to Jesus with hope, despite the circumstances.
The prophet Habbakuk wrote, (Habakkuk 3:17–18)
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
We wait with patience. We wait with hope. We wait with longing.
Psalm 130:5–6 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
I have worked as a night watchman inside a building where I did not look for the sun to rise, but I did watch the clock, waiting for it to get to 6 AM so I could go home and get some sleep. I never had to watch for the sun to rise but I know that hours in the night seem longer than hours during the day.
When I was a young pastor in rural Ohio, I became certified as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). I did this so I could be exposed to a part of the town I might never see as a pastor. When there was a call, we would drive to the station and get in the ambulance and go to where we were asked to go. I discovered that there were an amazing number of calls in the middle of the night. People would not feel good during the day but then during the night when they could not sleep, their anxiety would increase and they would call us. Most of the time, they could have called earlier in the day or the next morning, but it is difficult to wait in the night for the morning to come.
A watchman stands on the city wall, looking out to see if any danger is approaching. All night long the watchman looks out to see what can be seen from the light of the stars and moon. Time stretches out and it is difficult to wait. He waits eagerly because as soon as the sun comes up it will be easier to see if danger is approaching and someone else will come to watch so he can go home to sleep.
So the watchman waits for the morning with great longing. The circumstances have not changed and the psalmist is eager for relief from his circumstances. He waits and waits. He knows the sun will rise. It is inevitable, but he has to wait for it to rise. As surely as the sun will rise, his circumstances will change. He waits with faith that God will act.
The wait can be a long wait. Abraham and Sarah waited most of their adult life for a son. Israel waited for at least eighty years for help to escape the oppression of slavery in Egypt. Israel waited for four hundred years after the last of the prophets before John the Baptist came to announce the arrival of the Messiah. Simeon waited for years until finally he saw Jesus who had come to be dedicated in the Temple. We have been waiting for almost two thousand years for the return of Jesus.
We do not give up waiting. We wait with hope.
When I thought about how Psalm 130 reflects my own experience, I thought about the Village of Hope.
In March 2010 the Moroccan government abruptly deported the parents of the children at the Village of Hope. It broke my heart. I made about eighteen trips a year to see the parents and children of the Village of Hope and now they were cut off from me. I was not permitted to see them.
It was not until 2018 when the oldest kids turned eighteen that I was able to visit them. We began making plans to help them transition into young adulthood and then covid-19 struck, smashing all our plans. So once again I stand on the wall, looking out, waiting for the sun to rise.
Some of the children are now in university and making their way. Some are in good situations with families who are supporting them and encouraging them. But there are still some who are struggling. We need money for tuition for some of the children and don’t know where to turn in this covid year to find the funds we need. We need to find trade schools for some of the children who did not pass their bac.
So as I stand on the wall looking out, I see glimmers of light that show the sun is rising, but it is still dark for some of the children.
I have no choice, I have to wait. It hurts to wait. It is painful to wait. I want so much to help and don’t know how to do this. I want so much to find homes for these children where they can be encouraged as they learn a trade.
We all have people we are praying for. We all are longing for people we love to open their hearts to Jesus. We are all praying for people who seem trapped in their circumstances.
We all need to remember that we do not need to fear because God is with us. We need to hold on to one thing – our relationship with Jesus. We need to remember that we live with a certain hope. And we need to wait for the Lord. We wait with patience. We wait with hope. We wait with longing.
So I am waiting. I am waiting with hope. God is so much more creative than I am. God is so loving and so powerful. God will work in the lives of the Village of Hope children.
God is also at work in your life and in the lives of those you care about. Wait with confidence because God will act in his time. God loves you and the people you love. He has plans for you. God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message ends Psalm 27 with this:
I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.