Sermons from St
Sunday, 21st July, 2019
The choir brings the music of the psalms to our worship here every Sunday. The sung words of God's people, addressed to God. These are sacred words, words from the followers, the faithful, to the one true God. In a world of shadows, dangers, temptations and uncertainty, the faithful man and woman calls out to God in the psalms. They call out from the depths of human emotion – they call out in anguish, they call out for God to avenge their enemies, they call out for comfort, they call out for spiritual direction.
It is the weakness and helplessness of the man or woman who cries out in the psalm, which is revealed. We can identify with the psalmist, as fellow men and women – with daily trials and worries.
You don't have to look far to see people in distressing circumstances, or who are spiritually lost or fearful. And each one of us here will, at some time, have experienced these very things. It is the vulnerability of the person, at the mercy of external forces, and their own weak nature, which is what this is all about.
The psalms were the hymns of the people of Israel, which were sung in the temple of Jerusalem. They were, crucially, sung collectively by the whole community, in the place of holiness and sanctuary.
In the cycle of daily prayer in the Church of England, through morning, evening and night prayer, the whole book of psalms is covered every three months. This legacy to the modern church from the founding faith of Judaism, is one of the gifts we have received. The daily prayer, the corporate prayer – where we may attend as groups in church daily prayer services, is the continuation of the practice of psalm singing in the temple in Jerusalem. Even if we say the daily prayers privately, at home, we are joining spiritually in that corporate prayer, with other Christians. There is power and strength in these acts of worship – divine blessings.
What of the psalm the choir has sung here today? Its short introductory line is 'O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?' Then follows a description of what the individual needs to do. This amounts to advice to follow strict moral code of behaviour. It is not the prescriptive adherence to Jewish laws of sacrifice, but rather – doing the right things, to avoid gossip, who do not fight with their neighbours. They follow the path of peace and speak truth. We are invited to follow this advice.
It is important to remember that there is a fundamental difference between the people of Israel, who first sang the psalms and the Christians who came later to sing the psalms. The Christians have had the revelation of the risen Christ given to them. This transforms the understanding of the psalms. The ideal in the psalm points to the messiah, the divine majesty. The retired bishop of Liverpool, James Jones describes, in his commentary on the psalms, the ideal, the model of the good man in today's psalm, who speaks only truth, and does no evil – as the portrait of Jesus. James Jones also describes the superhuman nature of this behaviour, one that we will struggle to come close to fulfilling.
James Jones wrote his commentary shortly after he recovered from his heart attack. In the book he reflected on how the psalms were a vital source of prayer, when he was feeling weak and ill. The cries from the heart, common to all of the psalms, resonated with him, when his illness meant devotions were difficult, through physical weakness. It is clear from what he writes, that he was made stronger through the reading of the psalms, during his illness.
In following the guidance of the psalm today, which takes us towards Christ, we are made stronger, in faith and action. If we follow the moral path, then we are closer to God, we have the protection of action inspired by God. We sow acts of goodness, and we reap a harvest of goodness, for many. Our actions of goodness will enable peace of mind and conscience, keeping fear at bay.
The place where we worship here, gives protection and strength. The Holy Eucharist, our focus – at the heart of today's service, is the remembrance of the sacrifice made by Jesus for all mankind. In awe, we approach the altar, to receive these gifts of love.
When we go out into the world, at the end of the service, we will be sent out – being told to go in peace, to love and serve the Lord. That is our mission, our instructions. In our daily prayers, we will seek the Lord again and again, asking for strength and faith, to fulfil our Christian mission. We cannot do this alone. We need guidance and strength from God, from the Holy Spirit, and the salvation from Christ. Our mission is to keep close to God, to not be drawn away from the path towards him. This is as much an emotional undertaking as one of thought and action. Prayer, reading the bible and openness to learning more about God, this rule of life enables actions of inspired Christian discipleship. We continue anew on our journey, mindful of our own weakness, but determined to grow in strength of faith.
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