- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: March 19 2020 March 19 2020
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.Psalm 84:1–5
The Introit today from Psalm 84, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”
Luther called the Psalms "a precious and beloved book … a little Bible." 1 For me, the Psalms are sort of my go to for prayer, especially in difficult situations, difficult times, and the days we are living in are becoming more difficult by the day. If I have prayed with you at the hospital, over the phone, in person, you know that I have probably looked to the psalms for a sure and comforting Word of God before prayer.
The Psalter is the Christian's prayer book. In fact, it is unique, it stands alone, as the only book of the Bible this is a collection of prayers. Prayers written in response to specific historic events in the life of Israel, but composed and crafted, in a way that God's people of all time and all places can pray the psalms as if they are their very own prayer!
So today, we will take up Psalm 84 as our prayer in the face of our current daily situation of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, frustration, disappointment. Of course, Psalm 84 is more than our prayer to God, it is first and foremost God's Word and promise to us. As one wise theologian once said, we only say back to God what He has first said to us.
Psalm 84 has been called a Zion Psalm, that is, a hymn that focuses on Zion, the Jerusalem temple where the divine presence of God dwells. It has also been labeled an Assent Psalm; a psalm that is sang by pilgrims on their way up to the temple for worship.
It is a psalm of comfort, assurance and hope in the One true God—who gives strength to His people, who bestows His favor on those who trust in Him and who withholds no good thing from His people.
Psalm 84 begins with the Psalmist longing to be in God's house. "How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God."
These words bring to mind Psalm 122, "I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" Psalm 27, "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple."
While people who lived in Jerusalem had daily access to the temple, most Israelites were only able to travel and come to temple once a year! Separated from the temple, the psalmist expresses an eager yearning, a longing to return. This longing is what many homebound and shut-in Christians over the centuries have yearned for—to be in God's house for worship.
A most appropriate psalm today, when 99% of you are watching and listening from home and are unable to be here in the Lord's house today. Thankfully, with today's technology, we are blessed to able to stream our services every Sunday for those who are sick or unable to be here for whatever reason.
And yet, nothing can take the place of being in the Lord's house! In fact, the Psalmist says in verse 10, he would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God—the least of those in the temple—than dwell in the tents of the wicked! “For one day is your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”
The psalmist even envies the birds who find a home and shelter in God's temple! Lucky birds! Oh to be one who could live in the temple itself!
The longing and yearning to be in the Lord's temple is of course a yearning for God Himself, to be in the place where God dwells, the place where He gives life, peace, comfort, hope, joy and strength—the place where He revives the souls. "Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” 2 Blessed the psalmist says. "Blessed are those who dwell in your house … Blessed are those who strength is in you." 3
We often use this term blessed to mean fortunate and blessed by God, or we might refer to someone as a blessings to us—that is a gift. Not far off actually. Blessed is to have received God's gifts. Blessed is a condition or state of being in God's good grace and favor. Blessedness come from being in a right relationship with God.
God created Adam and Eve and Genesis 1:28 says "And God blessed them." And ever since they forfeited God's blessings, God's favor in their rebellion, it has been God's desire to return His people to a blessed condition—even as we heard last week in God's promise to Abraham. 4
Psalm 84 declares that blessedness comes from dwelling in the presence of the Lord. Blessedness comes from the Lord who gives strength to His people. Echoing Psalm 28, "The Lord is the strength of His people; He is the saving refuge of his anointed." Strength in the Bible is associated with refuge, with shelter and with protection. Psalm 46 says, "God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble."
By ourselves we have no strength. Without the Lord our refuge, we are weak and helpless. We can do no good thing. We can't even defend ourselves. We are 100% vulnerable. The children's song is spot on; "we are weak, but He is strong." With the Lord there is strength, there is power, there is might! Not in ourselves, not in our abilities, not in our conventional wisdom, but in the Lord there is strength for the life and the road ahead.
Verses 6 and 7; "As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion." As God's people pilgrimage their way up the mountain to the temple, the closer they get the stronger they are! The closer they are to God, the stronger they are. Even through the Valley of Baca, literally, “the valley of weeping.” Luther translates this in the Small Catechism the “valley of sorrows.” The journey may be long and difficult, but with the Lord as their refuge and strength, they can even pass through this most difficult valley of life. This echoes Psalm 23:4, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
The “valley of the shadow of death” as we have come to know it by heart could translated and rendered "valley of deep darkness." It is not just in the valley of death, but in all of life's deep and dark valleys that the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd will not leave His sheep. He will guide, He will protect, He will see us through!
Friends in Christ, beloved of God, how we ever need these words today! There is much fear, much anxiety and confusion amongst us. We don't know what the days ahead will hold. But we can be absolutely certain, that there is never a time, never a valley in our life, that the Lord is not protecting us with His rod and guiding us with His staff. Come what may, He is our strength and our shield! This is not simply the words of the Psalmist, it is God's promise to you!
We with the Psalmist long to be in God's House, to be in the presence of God. But it is God who comes to us! It is God who came down and took on our flesh and blood. It is God who "was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary," who is the Word of God made flesh! Jesus is the Word of God who bestows on us God's grace and favor. Solomon's Temple in all its beauty was gorgeous, breath taking, exuding the very presence of God. But now someone greater than Solomon is here! 5 He is the true and lasting temple of God. He, not the temple, is the place where God is found, where God is present. He is the place of worship in spirit and truth, whether one is in Samaria or Jerusalem, Rome or Mecca. At the corner of Elizabeth and Garfield or from the confines of your home, Jesus is the One who brings all the blessing and all the gifts of God! Jesus is the One who gives strength the weary, the One who "gives living waters to the thirsty soul." 6
Jesus is both Lamb of God, who was slain, sacrificed for sins—yours and mine—and the Good Shepherd of God, the Overseer and Shepherd of our souls. 7 He it is who gives life to the dead, who makes sinners saints, who gives us grace upon grace, hope in the midst of hopeless situations, joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the midst of chaos.
This is not an argument for disregarding the Third Commandment or saying that being here in this place is irrelevant. No! Absolutely not! It is from this altar and this pulpit that the Incarnate Word of God is proclaimed and comes to us physically, literally into our ears and into our mouths to give us life, to give us strength, to give us hope, peace and joy.
Today we long to be in God’s house. Maybe even in the days ahead we will long to be in God’s house together. But whether we are in God’s house today or tomorrow we may rest assured that we are sheltered by the Lord God Himself.
God is both the "sun," the source of life, and the "shield," the protector of life. 8 Even amidst of the Anfechtung 9 (struggles) of life, it is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than dwell in the tents of the wicked!
The Lord God is our strength and our shield. He is the saving refuge of His anointed and He will see us through. He will give us strength,—His strength to meet the days ahead.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
- Martin Luther, Preface to the Psalter (1545), vol. 35, Luther's Works (AE), 254.
- Psalm 84:4.
- Psalm 84:4, 5.
- See Genesis 12:1–9.
- See Matthew 12:42.
- John Mason Neale, trans., "Draw Near and Take the Body of the Lord," Lutheran Service Book, 637.
- See I Peter 2:25.
- Psalm 84:11.
- German word meaning “an attack” or “an assault.”
Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at nettleton@StJohnsFC.org or at 970-305-2420.