Monday, July 30, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: The Boomerang Principle

Preached on Sunday, July 29, 2012

Scripture readings: Psalm 7; Matthew 7:7-23

As a child I was very confused about what Jesus said: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12) Children can be very practical, and this turned out to be not very practical advice. I thought it meant that if I was nice to other kids, they would be nice to me. But, you know, that doesn’t always work on the playground, or anywhere else for that matter.
Entering California from the north; Mt. Shasta in the clouds

The truth is that, being so practical, I saw doing to others as a kind of bargain. It was (potentially) a way of obligating other people to treat me the way I wanted to be treated. It was a way to get what I wanted.

When that failed, it became my way of being better than other kids. It became my way of earning points with Jesus who told me to do this. Looking at it this way made me both self righteous and unhappy at the same time; which explains so much about so many so-called “religious” people.

It’s a real failing. It’s a great scandal of the church. It requires a lot of insight in order to catch yourself at it, and it takes a lot of well aimed repentance when you do, because it grows like a weed, and it sends roots everywhere.

This is the temptation that hides behind the anger and the confusion of David who may have written this psalm, or the person who wrote this psalm for David’s royal family after him.

The anger revealed in this psalm, by David or one of the kings of the royal family of David, comes from a betrayal of the bargain implied by doing to others what you would have them do to you. There was a tradition that David stood for, and his family (as the royal family) stood for after him. It was a tradition of humble gallantry and generosity to friend and foe alike. They were not always good at the tradition, but it was the bargain they lived by.

David had started out as a simple shepherd boy who drove the predators from his father’s flocks and played his harp and sang to the sheep to calm them. Then he killed the giant Goliath with a sling shot and he became a successful commander of the troops under King Saul, and (at the same time) a sort of musical therapist for King Saul.

Little cinder cone next to Mt. Shasta
The Lord had chosen David to be king in Saul’s place, and David knew this, but he never said anything about it, and he never raised his hand against the king. David loved Saul and Saul’s family. He never bargained for his own importance or power. Sooner or later, it was always given to him.

King Saul grew suspicious of David’s influence even though Saul had given David that influence. Saul tried to kill David, and David ran away, and lived in the wilderness. Other fugitives were drawn to David so that he became the leader of something like a rogue militia; but he never used his men in any kind of resistance against the King. David protected the villages and tribes on the frontiers of the kingdom, and Saul would sometimes take his army out to catch David, and kill him and his men.

David, out in the wilderness, became a kind of Robin Hood who protected the defenseless, and raided the tribes who tried to raid the people of Israel. David had chances to ambush and capture and kill King Saul, but he refused to do that. In the end King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in a war against some of the enemy tribes, and the people made David king, in Saul’s place.

But Saul’s own tribe, the tribe of Benjamin, often played a part in resisting David and the kings who were descended from him. They accused David of treachery, and they treated his family’s claim to the throne as a trick and a fraud.

Sometime; in David’s time, or in the time of the kings who followed, there was a crisis in the kingdom. It was centered in Saul’s tribe, in the tribe of Benjamin. David and his family would have seen this crisis as a betrayal of their heritage of gallantry and generosity toward Saul and his family.

We are told (in the ancient heading of the psalm) that Cush was behind it, but we don’t have any idea who or what “Cush the Benjaminite” was. We don’t know if it was an individual, or some tribal unit of Benjamin. We don’t know what Cush did; only that it was of great danger to David, or his to family, or to the whole kingdom.

What would David have done? David would have reacted out of a sense of betrayal; with outrage and righteous indignation. This is what he would have felt that first time when he lost everything; when (in spite of his ferocious loyalty) his master, Saul, turned against him; when his colleagues in the royal court spoke against him to the king, and conspired against him.

Headed south through Sacramento Valley, northern California
“If I had done this…!” “If I had done this…!

David would have written that, if he had done to others what others were doing to him, he would have deserved the crisis that threatened to destroy him. If he had said about others what others were saying about him, then he would have deserved the crisis that threatened to destroy him.

David would have said this directly to God. He would have made it into a song in which the heart could wring every ounce of fury out of it. Here we have that song and it shows us a kind of miracle in which the personal outrage of David turns into a prayer that prays its way through fury into the strange peace and wisdom that follow. “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness.” (Psalm 7:17)

“O Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands – if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me, or without cause have robbed my foe – then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.” (Psalm 7:3-5)

Psalm number seven is a song written for worship. It is a song to sing when the bargain breaks down, when trust is broken, when loyalty and generosity are betrayed, when the hurt goes deep.

David would have sung this song in the wilderness. The kings who ruled in his name would have had this song sung in their behalf in the temple Solomon had built. Jesus grew up singing this song about the betrayal of trust, the betrayal of generosity, and the strange peace and wisdom that follows.

Headed south through San Joaquin Valley, central California
This psalm shows us a kind of life with God that is common to all the psalms, but we are not always able to put it together. The psalms show us a way of life that is much too big for us. It stretches us by giving us more than we know what to do with.

This psalm is both fierce and serene. Some people are drawn to a ferociously intense faith. Other people want something calmer and they are afraid of that fierce faith.

Some people are drawn to a serenity of faith, and there are other people who are afraid of that serenity. They think it is a betrayal of the intensity that exists in God, and which God desires to share with us. How dare we quench God’s “flaming arrows”! ((Psalm 7:13)

Psalm number seven has a special lesson for us here. I was surprised by this. I was reading the comments written by the early Christians in the first few centuries of our faith. They lived ferociously intense lives in a world that was often violently opposed to them. They lived in a world that held them in contempt. Those threatened, endangered Christians saw, in this psalm, a special lesson about the ferocious intensity and the strange serenity and wisdom of the goodness of God.

They see the God whom (the psalm says) “expresses his wrath every day”. “He will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows.” (Psalm 7:11-13)

And then, what; what happens? We expect God to thrust with his sword and to release his arrows, and what happens next?

In this psalm the God’s arrow never leaves the bow, but the target falls into a hole he has dug for himself. God’s sword never makes a thrust, but a liar is cut by his own lies. Those who betray the bargain, those who betray the innocence of others and their trust and generosity, betray themselves. “The trouble he causes recoils on himself.” (Psalm 7:16)

Headed into San Bernardino Mts. in southern California
Those who reject graciousness impregnate themselves with their own rejection. “He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment (or lies).” (Psalm 7:14) It is as if they cast a spell upon themselves.

Eugene Peterson has a more vivid way of putting this, in his paraphrase/translation. “Look at that guy! He had sex with sin, he’s pregnant with evil. O, look! He’s having the baby – a Lie-Baby!” And, as Peterson puts it, “That’s what happens, mischief backfires, violence boomerangs.” (Psalm 7:14, 16)

This is the moral and spiritual intensity of God. This is the anger of God. God relentlessly allows us to throw our boomerangs. His righteous sentence is that we will go on throwing these boomerangs of ill will, and anger, and frustration, and selfishness, and lust, and unfaithfulness with the design that these boomerangs will come back upon us.

We are the wrath of God upon ourselves. We see this clearly in other people's lives, and it is true of us, as well.

But the boomerang principle breaks down, because it is not your usual boomerang. When we through this boomerang, it often hits its target before it comes back on us. Those who were going to be hurt by their own intentions and by their own actions had hit David first, and he felt it. He was in pain.

This hurt made him into a volcano that seethed with anger and indignation. It also made him into a volcano with intelligent and trusting eyes that could see God’s wrath as the boomerang. Those who hit him would hit themselves as well.

David saw that the real evil of this world was the evil of the boomerang throwers. David’s thoughts began with the pain of the injuries that others caused him. In the end he saw that the fact of most lasting importance was not the harm that the boomerang throwers did to him, but the harm they did to themselves.

This is not the way we think. God has designed his righteousness and judgment not as a form of punishment, but as a method which allowed the throwers, and their throwing business, to disable themselves. They would make themselves a dying breed.

In the center of this song the whole world gets gathered together by God as a fellowship of boomerang throwers. We will all stand together for the judgment of God.

"Rim of the World" in San Bernardino Mts.
When the writer says, Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness.” He is not claiming to be better than his attackers. He is claiming to be in the right when they have done him this wrong. But David trusts that he will also stand in that fellowship of boomerang throwers.

David knows that God is a God “who searches minds and hearts”. (Psalm 7:9) David knows that his own mind and heart will be searched. David would face more that the working of an impersonal law of the boomerang. He would face his personal responsibility to a personal God.

God is all about relationships. This is what we mean when we say that the God of the Bible is a God of covenants. God covenants and holds relationships with his creations. God, by nature, shields what he has made. God shelters what he has made. This is why David sings about, “My shield is God most high.”  (Psalm 7:10) This is why he sings, O Lord my God, I take refuge in you.”  (Psalm 7:1)

God is angered by the breaking of his shields and the invasion of the shelters he has put around his creatures. But God, in his anger, does not forget the value of those shields and shelters. They are made for people. They are made for souls. God continues to deal with us as people and as souls.

So the psalm tells us that, in this anger God, searches hearts and minds; just as a loving parent searches the heart and soul of a child who has done something wrong. God relates and deals with us as people, even though he rules us “from on high”; from a level we cannot imagine.

In the end, Jesus says that the people who call him “Lord” and who think they have done all kinds of wonderful things for him will have minds and hearts that are unrecognizable to him. Jesus tells us that he will say to them, “I never knew you.” Just as the worst evil in the psalm is the evil that people boomerang upon themselves, so there is an evildoing that makes our minds and our hearts unrecognizable to God in Christ.

The wisdom of Jesus that says, “Do to others what you would have them do to you,” is not a bargain, or a way of earning points, or a way of obligating others, or obligating God.
A bit of freeway near the San Bernardino Mts.

It is the humble gallantry and generosity that imitates the grace of God. It is God’s way of teaching us to live in his grace and to get familiar with it, to get used to it; to do for others what God has done for us. It is really the grace of God in Christ for us.

It is God’s heart and mind. It is what we see when we look at the cross of Jesus. Jesus knows us (he recognizes us) when he sees the way of his cross in us. We take refuge in the Lord when we abandon the boomerang life and trust him to be our shield, when we go forth and live as he says, with gallantry and generosity for others.


  1. Wonderful, inspired post. God is working in me to abandon that "boomerang life", and more and more, I am trusting Him to be my shield -- great is His faithfulness.

  2. Boa Noite Pastor..
    Fiquei muito feliz em ler sua postagem .
    Uma excelente para de um culto que muitas vezes meu pastor também gosta de pregar .
    Fico muito contente quando vejo blog falando a palavra de Deus.
    Estou carinhosamente seu blog
    muita paz e muita luz,Evanir.

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  5. Pastor Dennis, thanks for your words.
    My son is a member of the Baptist church.
    It helps the local Pastor and serves members.
    God bless you.