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Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

At some point during my years in youth group, for some momentous occasion the nature of which I can no longer remember, I was given a small, imitation leather bound book with the title The Bible Promise Book gold embossed across the front. The font was the same kind you see on the cover of a Bible or hymnal. A sort of topical reference guide, The Bible Promise Book is a collection of verses from all across the Bible categorized according to the nature of the promises of God to which the different verses are supposed to speak. There are chapters with the headings “Anger”, Children”, “Children’s Duties”, “Eternal Life”, “Laziness”, “Lust”, “Parents’ Duties” and “Worry”, just to name a few. When someone is feeling lonely or shameful or tempted, he or she can search the table of contents for the category that most closely pertains to their situation, turn to the right page and find therein verses from scripture meant to provide comfort in their given circumstance. (There is an app for that, too.)

Whatever one thinks about the purpose or methodology of texts like these, their sales numbers do not lie: over 7 million copies of this little book have been sold (and this does not include other versions of the same idea). The popularity of these books speaks to the deep interest we have in what relevance God and God’s promises have for the things we encounter in our day-to-day lives. What does God say about the anger I feel towards others or towards myself? What does God think about my duties and performance as a parent? Am I lazy and is it sinful to be so? God’s promises are an important part of the narrative of scripture and we would do well not to ignore them, but that does not make our wrestling with those promises easy. Many pastors will be able to recall a time when a congregant laid claim to what he or she believed to be a promise of God. Perhaps he was seeking healing from illness or disease or addiction. Maybe it was a concerned parent or grandparent who had strived to “bring up a child in the way she should go” wondering where they had gone wrong. Maybe it was a parishioner who had given financially in hopes of seeing a two- or threefold return. Whatever shape it takes, “name it and claim it” is nothing new.

This week provides an opportunity for the pastor to talk about the nature of the promises of God. Psalm 91 is full of promises and has a long and storied history as a special psalm of comfort for God’s people, both individually and corporately. It is important for us in our interpretation to ask questions like, “Who is this psalm written to or about initially?” or