KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
A sermon on Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
February 24, 2019
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, o Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
To begin this morning’s sermon, I want to call your attention to the illustration on the front of your bulletin. The usual drawing of the First Baptist Church building has been replaced this morning by an image that you’ve probably encountered before. Originally it was a poster created by the British government to be used during World War 2 to increase the morale of its people. However its history is a bit more complicated that that…
The poster was created by the British Ministry of Information during the summer of 1939. Great Britain had not yet been officially dragged into the war, but the storm clouds on the horizon could not be ignored. A series of three posters were created to inspire the people in the event of an invasion or mass bombing of its cities. One of the posters read “Your Freedom Is in Peril—Defend It with All Your Might.” And a second one read, “Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory.” [sic] The third one is the one that has been reproduced for your bulletin cover—“Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Almost 2.5 million copies of the poster were printed and stored until the time that they would be needed. But that day apparently never came. While the first two posters were issued and widely displayed throughout the nation, the third was allowed to languish in a warehouse until they were turned into pulp as part of a paper salvage campaign less than a year later. A very few of the posters escaped and were displayed, but such instances were rare and not officially sanctioned by the government.
The posters had been largely forgotten—until two copies of the original poster were purchased from a second hand book store in the year 2000. The new owners framed the poster and publically displayed it in their shop. There it received a lot of attention and, eventually, in 2006, there was a newspaper article about the poster that received a lot of attention. The story was picked up by news services and distributed widely throughout Great Britain. Once story of the poster had been uncovered, the rest, as they say, is history…
In addition to the commercialization of the poster being made into signs, posters, t-shirts, stickers, and who knows what else, its message of “Keep Calm and Carry On” has been the subject of dozens of internet memes and parodies over the last several years. I bet that you have come across some of them somewhere down the line. Actually, some of them are pretty funny. Here’s a partial listing of some of my favorites:
- Keep Calm and Call Mom.
- Keep Calm and Buy Shoes.
- Keep Calm and Pour the Wine.
- Keep Calm and Carrie Underwood.
- Keep Calm and Carry On, My Wayward Son.
- And perhaps my favorite—The picture of the Tudor Crown on the top of the poster was replaced by a picture of Yoda of “Star Wars” fame with the words, “Calm you shall keep and carry on you must…yes, hmmmm.”
The poster’s message of “Keep Calm and Carry On” could very well have been referring to today’s passage from Psalm 37. The original intent of the poster was to encourage the people to display the famous British “stiff upper lip” when facing the horrors and deprivations of the coming war. Such fortitude would be necessary in the coming months from German bombing raids on British cites—especially during the “Blitz” on London in the summer of 1940. The psalmist‘s concern is not so much about facing an attack from a hostile power as much as it is confronting the age-old question that has troubled God’s people since the beginning: “Why do the wicked seem to prosper even while the godly suffer?”
Psalm 37 is one of nine psalms generally designated by scholars as a “wisdom psalm.” That is, this is not a psalm that is directed as a prayer or praise to God. Instead it is directed at the people, offering wisdom for living in the same way that the book of Proverbs puts forward advice for living “your best life now.”
Three characteristics of a wisdom psalm include:
- A sharp contrast between the righteous and the wicked
- Advice about conduct that results in either welfare or misfortune
- Comparisons that are used to encourage one to good conduct
Psalm 37 certainly fits the bill…
Psalm 37 illustrates the differences between the wicked and the righteous. This is set up in the opening sentence, the one that reads “Do not fret because of the wicked.” The Hebrew word for “wicked” is ra-ah’, which means one who does evil. The interesting thing about this word is that is it derived from a root word that means “to make a loud noise and to crush.”
That’s a telling statement, isn’t it? It is the wicked who make loud noises even as they go about their evil deeds. Isn’t it true that those who are accused of doing evil will often very loudly protest that they are innocent with whatever means they have at their disposal?
A girl that I dated back in high school had a mother that was from way out in the country. (Anybody ever hear of Clay, Alabama? It is the main town in an area known as “Happy Holler.” I promise that I am not making this up…) Anyway, the mother’s name was Faye and she was absolutely delightful. We got along great. One thing that I remember about Faye was that she was full of country wisdom. It seemed as though she had a homespun saying for almost every situation that arose. One saying that I particularly remember her quoting on more than one occasion was this: “It’s the guilty dawg that barks the loudest…” (Really—that’s how she said it…)
It seems as if there is something on the news most every day where someone is accused of wrongdoing—some new government scandal uncovered, some corruption exposed, some unscrupulous deal gone down. And of course, such breaking news is invariably met with the most vehement denials with the accused claiming to be totally innocent of any crime. Occasionally, it must be said, it is proven that the person is actually innocent of the charges. More often than not, though, the charges are eventually confirmed. When it comes to politics, I think Faye was on to something: “It’s the guilty dawg that barks the loudest…”
A second characteristic of the wisdom psalm present in Psalm 37 is that it gives advice about conduct that results in wither welfare or misfortune. The advice is twofold.
It starts with the opening words of the psalm: “Do not fret…” It is interesting to note that those same three words “Do not fret” occur three times in these eleven verses. Verse one says, “Do not fret because of the wicked.” Verse seven says, “Do not fret over those who prosper in their way…” And in verse eight, it says, “Do not fret—it only leads to evil.”
This word “fret” is a way too tame and polite translation for what the Hebrew word means. The word used here actually means “to be hot,” “to be furious,” “to burn,” “to be incensed.” The word does not mean just to worry over something, like we often mean when we use the word “fret.” No—the word means to actively burn with anger toward someone or something.
In verse eight, the psalmist warns us to stay away from the kind of anger that burns within us. He says that because that kind of anger only leads to evil.
In Ephesians 4:26, the Apostle Paul counsels the church, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” I am sure that you all are aware of the short term and the long term effects of anger on the physical body. These are all well-known. The dangers of long-term anger include hypertension, ulcers, digestive disorders, headaches, insomnia, depression, and heart attacks among others. Anger is a natural emotion. We all feel anger from time to time. There is no getting around that. It is how we handle it that determines whether or not it becomes evil for us…
There is also a spiritual dimension to anger that is sometimes overlooked. James 1:20 tell us, “Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” The Bible is clear on alerting us to the dangers of long-term anger. Anger not only breaks our relationship with others toward others, but it also breaks our relationship with God.
The witness of the Scriptures is not that anger is to be always shunned. After all, Jesus was angry enough to drive out the moneychangers from the Temple—with a whip no less. To say that he was fired up about what was going on there would be an understatement for sure…
Another instance from the gospels—In Matthew 10, people were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed by him. You may recall that, at first, the disciples tried to prevent the children from coming to him. Verse 14 says that Jesus was “indignant” when he found out what was going on. New Testament scholar Clarence Jordan, in his own inimitable way, translates verse 14 as “Jesus blew his stack.” Not exactly the kind of thing that we would have normally expected of Jesus, now is it?…
The point is this: anger can be a beneficial emotion—when it is anger about the right things. And when it is expressed in healthy ways. Yes—we should be angry about injustice. Yes—we should be angry when someone bends the truth for their own ungodly purposes. But the psalmist counsels us not to let our anger be an occasion for sin.
Instead of fretting about the wicked and letting our anger get the best of us, the psalmist gives us this advice: trust in God. In Psalm 37, it says, “Trust in the Lord…Commit your way to the Lord…Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” The antidote for the anger that we feel is to put it in God’s hands…to give that burden to him and let him take care of it.
Sometimes during our morning prayer time in worship, I will invite us all to pray in the silence for “someone that you find hard to love…someone that you find hard to forgive.” Years ago, one church member confided in me, “I hate it when you ask us to make that prayer. There’s a person in my past that I cannot love nor forgive no matter how hard I try.” That is a difficult thing to do, isn’t it? But I would say this: the anger inside will not go away either—until we can change our hearts. And that can only be through the power of the Holy Spirit. The anger that we continue to harbor inside of us will continue to eat on one’s soul—and one’s body—affecting one’s relationship to God and others—unless—and until— it is turned over to God…
The third thing about Psalm 37 that characterizes it as a wisdom psalm is “comparisons that are used to encourage one to good conduct.” For the righteous, the psalmist says that their righteousness will “shine like the light and the justice of their cause like the noonday.” He says that God will give them desires of their heart.” He says that they will inherit the land and shall live securely in abundant prosperity.
In Romans 17, the Apostle Paul writes once again, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone…Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” This is also the promise of Psalm 37. The psalmist writes that God will foil the plans and purposes of the wicked. He says that the wicked will be cut off…that they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb that is here today and gone tomorrow….that it won’t be too long and the wicked will be no more. God’s timetable may not be ours—but the promise of psalm 37—and of the rest of the Scriptures—is that there is a reckoning coming for those who would live with no regard for the Lord’s ways…
In his classic book on the spiritual life Your God Is Too Small, author J. B. Phillips wrote a parody of the famous words of Jesus that begin the Sermon on the Mount. Though they were written a generation ago, they still as relevant today as they were then in describing the world in which we live:
- Blessed are those who push: for they will get on in the world.
- Blessed are the hard-boiled: for they never let life get the best of them.
- Blessed are those who complain: for they get their own way in the end.
- Blessed are the blasé: for they never worry about their sins.
- Blessed are the slave-drivers: for they get results.
- Blessed are the knowledgeable people of the world: for they know their way around.
- Blessed are the troublemakers: for people have to take notice of them.
It is still the way of the world, isn’t it? It is descriptive of those who have left God out of their lives and live by their own rules. It is true that for a while that the ungodly are prospering. No one would say that is not true—not even the psalmist. But the message of Psalm 37 is that we are not to be deceived. The wicked will be dealt with in God’s own time…It will not continue on indefinitely forever.
Psalm 37 advises us to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” So here’s what we are to do: Continue to do the things that the Lord has called you to do. Continue to seek the path of spiritual growth and life. Continue to let the Spirit inhabit you and bring about the change that God intends in your life. Continue to do the things that build up and enlarge the Kingdom of God here on the earth. And do not worry about those who are ungodly. “Keep Calm and Carry On”—the rest is in the powerful and just hands of the living God.
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
 Adapted from J. B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1961), 92.