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A Cry of Trust
by Ajit John
Reading from Psalm 78:1-39
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
5 He established a decree in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach to their children;
6 that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their ancestors,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
11 They forgot what he had done,
and the miracles that he had shown them.
12 In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
17 Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out
and torrents overflowed,
can he also give bread,
or provide meat for his people?”
21 Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of rage;
a fire was kindled against Jacob,
his anger mounted against Israel,
22 because they had no faith in God,
and did not trust his saving power.
23 Yet he commanded the skies above,
and opened the doors of heaven;
24 he rained down on them manna to eat,
and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained flesh upon them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall within their camp,
all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
30 But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
31 the anger of God rose against them
and he killed the strongest of them,
and laid low the flower of Israel.
32 In spite of all this they still sinned;
they did not believe in his wonders.
33 So he made their days vanish like a breath,
and their years in terror.
34 When he killed them, they sought for him;
they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast towards him;
they were not true to his covenant.
38 Yet he, being compassionate,
forgave their iniquity,
and did not destroy them;
often he restrained his anger,
and did not stir up all his wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and does not come again.
We have in Psalm 78 words for the people of God, caught up, as we are today, in something deadly. We are given a picture of what stirs up God’s anger.
God is mad because the people he loves, even to the point of his own self-emptying, are unable to connect the dots from recent history to trust. So, for example, they distrusted God and indeed mocked his saving power despite having eaten the manna rained down in abundance each morning. When God heeded their demands for a varied diet, they were given quail. Even with such recent and powerful reminders of God’s power to sustain, the people were unable to trust God for deliverance from local enemies.
The application in the present pandemic seems obvious. Remember your own history with God and connect the dots. Was there an exam at school that you feared and you succeeded beyond your wildest expectations? Was there a job you badly needed to support a young family and a door opened against all odds? Was there a loved one desperately ill and is now fine? A psalm like this one invites us to tack on a personal addendum to the mighty acts of God for Israel. If we do, we will be more likely to trust God now and in the future.
We can never predict how long a pestilence will last. Nor can we tell who will suffer the most. But we can and must cry out to God in a way that he longs for us to do — that is to say, a cry for mercy undergirded with trust. Our prayers can celebrate God’s faithfulness. It’s neither hubris nor presumption.
The Reverend Ajit John is an associate priest at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux, a vibrant multi-ethnic parish in Toronto, Canada.