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Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us – so that your ways may be know on earth, your salvation among all nations.

May the people praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you God; may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

When I was in university, I played on the club volleyball team. At Redeemer (where I attended) there is a varsity team that plays in the OCAA – the Ontario Collegiate Athletic Association; which means they compete against other colleges from all across Ontario. The club team on the other hand was a (slightly) lower caliber of competition – which also required a lower commitment threshold for practicing and game schedules. We played against other Christian colleges and post-secondary Bible schools. The play was always fun and the competition – particularly against Tyndale University from Toronto – was always fierce. The Redeemer U team competed in the finals every season I played, and we won 2 of the 3 years I was on the team.

If I recall correctly, in my last season, we had a particularly strong team; we even took a couple sets from the varsity team in the annual club/varsity game. Because of the strong team we upped our set play game. In addition to the standard middle quick sets, outside shotgun, or middle step behinds; we incorporated cross plays, tandem stack plays, X plays, and the occasional backcourt stack plays.

We it all came together it was a beautiful thing to watch – and an even more beautiful thing to be a part of. As an outside power hitter having the opportunity to do a cross play and hit from what is hopefully a wide open off-center middle position with the whole court open to swing away at is a simple satisfaction unparalleled in my volleyball career…

But when it didn’t work… Oh man. It was a mess.

I remember one game distinctly: we were playing one of the lowest tier teams in our little league – a small Bible college from Kitchener. And, admittedly, we came in cocky and overconfident, and we tried too much. We tripped over each other, forgot plays, missed routes, and – honestly – we embarrassed ourselves. I remember stepping in from the outside hitting position to run a tandem tight-side to the middle. In this play the middle hitter fakes a quick and the setter puts up a meter ball just to the middle hitters left, and the power hitter comes sneaking in to smash it down, hopefully unblocked and to the hole in the defense just behind the attack line. However, I missed the call and the setter put up a high and outside line set. As I leaped up to make the hit, I watched the ball sail right over my head and be perfectly placed for that outside hit – but of course, there was no one there and the ball landed on the ground, a point for the other team.

After that first game (which we lost) our coach pulled us all together between sets and said, “Ok guys, enough. Forget fancy. Go back to basics. Fundamentals only. Don’t forget what you’re here to do.”

In our presumption, we had made much of ourselves, forgotten or ignored the basics, and so we lost the plot. In that moment as an athlete, you have a choice: humble yourself and heed the coach or double down in ignore the game falling apart around you because “I can do it; we’re better than this.”

Psalm 67 is like the coach saying, “Remember the basics; back to fundamentals. Don’t make it more than it needs to be because you distract from the purpose.” When I was in seminary I had a professor who liked to say, “Remember: keep the main thing the main thing. You will be tempted by distractions and lesser things – but keep the main thing the main thing.”

The opening line of Psalm 67 is an echo of the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6: 24-26. In Judaism this blessing is foundational to the identity of the Jew. In the blessing God is putting his name on his people, identifying them as his own, binding himself to them in covenant fidelity, and assuring his blessing of mercy and grace, presence and peace. 

As we’ve seen, it is easy to take such fundamentals for granted and to separate the identity from its necessary consequence by adding on so many secondary goals and purposes that we lose the point. Christians are guilty of this, churches are complicit. Psalm 67 is the corrective.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us” (vs. 1) Remember who you are; remember that in this way God has named you with his own name; remember that mercy and grace, presence and peace come to you from him; he has given you an identity and a purpose. “… so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.” (vs. 2) 

Your purpose – the purpose of your being blessed and named by God, as God’s – is that his ways may be made known; so that his salvation might be proclaimed. And, get this, not to you (who already know it), but for those who don’t yet! 

And it goes a step further: God’s ways are made known among the nations in order that “the nations be glad and sing for joy” (vs. 4) The fundamental core is the call to worship! “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.” (vs. 3 & 5)

It seems to me that as Christians in the west (especially in places were there is residual impact of centuries of Christendom) and in many contemporary churches the operating principle (the core identity) has become justice and mercy ministries, or social agencies, or stitch and bitch clubs; so many people think the point of church and being Christian is to raise up “good” people who do “good” things; that the point of Christian institutions (like schools) is to keep ourselves distinct from the influence of the world, and so bubbles become walls.

Now, let me be really clear – don’t hear what I’m not saying: many of these things are good. Christians – by our very definition – belong to a body, a community, a fellowship; and so, we must love one another, give for one another, encourage one another, and uphold one another; without deep and authentic community I truly believe the church in the west will fall. And Christians who are transformed by the gospel will transform their communities and cities for the wellbeing of those on the margins; and as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds and as we come to see the truth that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16-17) Christians will build institutions under the Lordship of Christ.

Christians and Christian churches must be about evangelism and reconciling lost people to God through the atonement of Jesus. In that way, churches are missional – churches are sent out to the world. Yes and amen.

But the question remains: is the main thing the main thing? Or, from Psalm 67, “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.” (vs. 7)To fear in this context is to be awe struck, to marvel at the majesty… it is to worship.

Recently I have been reflecting on this quote from John Piper in his book, Let the Names Be Glad. He writes, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. So worship is the fuel and goal of missions.”[1]

As we try to keep the main thing the main thing, let’s remember why we are here: to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 1). And to be sure, worship is bigger than singing songs of Sunday – but it’s never less. And yes, our work is accomplished as worship to God; our schooling is a song of praise; our anti-racist efforts are a proclaiming the awesomeness of God; our welcoming the alien and stranger are an anticipation of the gladness of the nations. 

But, while all that will one day end, and while there will one day (Lord willing, one day soon) be no need for those efforts, the day of worshiping our God will never end. And that is worth remembering – because that is who we are.

I praise you, God; may everyone praise you. I sing for joy, may the nations be glad. God, bless me and keep me; make your face shine on me and be gracious to me; turn your face towards me, Lord; and give me your peace. In this way, may I know your name on me. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

[1] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, 15.