1 John 4

In his commentary on the Epistles of John, John Stott, an Anglican cleric renowned for his leadership of the Evangelical movement, cites an early Church Father, St Jerome, as saying that when the apostle John was in his extreme old age, he was so weak that he had to be carried into the church meetings. At the end of the meeting he would be helped to his feet to give a word of exhortation to the church. Invariably, he would repeat, “Little children, let us love one another.”  His disciples began to grow weary of the same words every time, and they finally asked him why he always said the same thing over and over. He replied, “Because it is the Lord’s commandment, and if this only is done, it is enough”

John has already emphasized the importance of love in verses in chapters 2 and 3 of this letter, so it would be easy to say, “Okay, brother, we’ve got that now. Let’s move on to something else.” But John wants to make sure that we understand that love is not an optional virtue for the believer. It is to be the distinguishing mark of the church in the world. John goes so far as to say that if you do not love others, you do not know God. So we all need to examine our own lives by this supreme standard.

Yet, note that while love is the inevitable result of being born of God, it is not the automatic result. John states…“everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” The implication is that when we know God in our lives His love manifests itself in love for others. If we are children of the One whose very nature is love, then we will be like our Father. But at the same time, John commands, “Beloved, if God so loves us, we also ought to love one another.” It is not automatic or effortless! There is always room for growth in love.

Note also that truth is an important aspect of that love. John has just spent six verses warning us not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. He did not say, “Let’s just set aside those points of doctrine where we disagree and come together where we do agree, loving those who differ on these matters.” Because these men denied essential truth about Jesus, John calls them false prophets. Love does not mean that we set aside the truth for the sake of unity. We have to exercise wise discernment. Some doctrinal differences are not essential to the gospel, and we do need to love others who differ with us on these matters. But some of these doctrines are important for how we live our Christian lives, where believing or rejecting them will make a difference to our faith. On these issues, we must never compromise truth for the sake of love. To deny what Christ did for us by his death and resurrection or that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, apart from our works, would be to deny the gospel. To deny the Trinitarian nature of God, or the divinity of Christ or His perfect humanity, would be to deny the gospel. We do not practice God’s love if we set aside such important truths for the sake of unity.

The connection between what John says in verses1-6 and his abrupt change of subject in verse 7 stems from what he said in chapter 3 verse 23 “This is His commandment that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” In verses1-6, John explains the first part of that commandment, namely, believing in the name of His Son Jesus Christ. Now, he turns to the second part of the commandment, the need to love one another.

He points us to the supreme illustration of love, the Father’s love in sending His Son to die for our sins. Then he restates the commandment in light of God’s great love.

Our culture uses the word “love” in many different ways: “I love pizza!” “I love the mountains!” “I love my children.” We often think that love is a sentimental, syrupy feeling. So we need to remember the biblical definition of love.  A definition could be that Biblical love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.

At its heart, biblical love is a commitment, and thus it may be commanded. But it is not a commitment without feeling, but a caring commitment. In other words, biblical love involves delight, not just duty. Also, this caring commitment is not just an attitude, but an action: it shows itself in deeds. Those deeds often require self-sacrifice, seen supremely in Jesus going to the cross. The goal of this commitment is the highest good of the one loved, which is that the person be saved, and `conformed to the image of Jesus. John states that, “love is from God,” and then he goes farther and states, that, “God is love.”

Of course, even unbelievers may demonstrate sacrificial love for others. Unbelieving parents often sacrificially love their children or their partners. Unbelieving soldiers may lay down their lives for their comrades. These loving deeds stem from God’s common grace and while such love is caring and self-sacrificing, it never can be genuinely biblical, because unbelievers cannot seek the highest good of the one loved, namely, that the other person may come to saving faith and conformity to Christ. John wants us to know that whenever we see genuine biblical love, it did not originate with the person. It came from God.

To say that God’s love is unconditional is true but as Christians we need to understand that we abide in God’s love only when we obey God.

So, the seemingly simple statement, “God is love,” is not quite so simple after all! But John wants us to know that the foundation for our love for one another is God, who is the source of love and whose very nature is love.

If everyone were easy to love, we wouldn’t need this powerful example of God’s love or this strong exhortation to love one another. The world loves those that love them. But Jesus commands us to love even our enemies

Implicit in what John is saying here is that we must love those who may not be especially lovable or easy to love. There may be people in this church whom you do not love. John says, “Beloved, if God so loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” even that difficult person. It is in these difficult situations that God’s amazing love in Christ shines forth in us. If you’re having trouble loving someone, remember that God loved you while you much less than perfect. If you are His child, then you must be the channel for His love to flow to those who may not be very lovable.

I spend a lot of my working week with men in HMP Winchester who it can be very difficult to love or believe have any redeeming features. In such an environment it is that commandment to love one another that is the driving force to keep trying to show God’s love is for everyone and that there is hope and redemption with God’s grace.

I recently read an amazing story that came out of the Korean War. A young Communist officer ordered the execution of a Christian civilian. When he learned that his prisoner was in charge of an orphanage and was doing much good in caring for small children, he decided to spare his life, but kill his son instead. The 19-year-old boy was shot in the presence of his father.

Later, when the tide of events changed, this same officer was captured, tried, and condemned to death for war crimes. But before the sentence could be carried out, the Christian father pleaded for the life of this Communist who had killed his son. He admitted that if justice were followed, this man should be executed. But since he was so young and blindly idealistic, he probably thought that his actions were right. “Give him to me,” he said, “and I’ll teach him about Jesus.”

They granted the request. That father took the murderer of his son into his own home. As a result of his self-sacrificing love, that Communist became a Christian pastor.

Thankfully, most of us will never have to go through that kind of ordeal But  if God so loved us, shouldn’t we work at loving one another in our homes and in this church in our community and our world, even when it is difficult?

“Little children let us love one another” It is the Lord’s commandment and if this only is done it is enough. Amen

I John 2: 1-17

Walking in the light…..

Last week, we saw very clearly that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all, no shadow, no hidden corner…. God is purely light.

And this light is fully revealed in Jesus, God’s son, who came to earth to live among us, show us the way and then opened his arms wide, dying for us.

Our gospel passage records Jesus’ words…. ‘I am the light of the world’.

This week in no uncertain terms John says that anyone who believes and trusts In Jesus, anyone who abides in Him, anyone who has fellowship with Jesus must walk just as Jesus walked….

There is no room for compromise, or an easy complacent faith….

John’s advice encourages an active, disciplined faith… not just a belief, but a life as a follower of Christ.

A faith which is an adventure of growing and learning and walking openly in Christ’s light.

OK – that sounds good – but how, what does it look like for us to walk in the light?

Well John gives us some advice….

The first thing John says is we can walk in his light if we obey his commandments. 

Now when we hear the word commandment we often think of the ten commandments that were given to Moses… a list of directives  – 

to honour and worship God alone…

to not make any other idols,

to not kill or steal, to honour our parents,

to keep a day of rest. 

And of course, Jesus taught further still on these commandments, saying we should love God with all our hearts and mind, soul and strength and that we should love others, our neighbours as ourselves. 

And Jesus fully embodied this teaching….Jesus loved his Father with all his heart, he spent time in prayer and quiet, communing with his Father, 

and in his interactions with others Jesus constantly displayed love, compassion, healing, and goodness.

Jesus served others first. 

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples,

Jesus healed the sick,

he spent time with those who were considered to be unworthy,

Jesus broke divides, reaching out to those in need,

Jesus challenged assumptions.

So, when John gives the advice to obey his commandments, it’s not just about following a list of laws, rather it is seeking to live as Jesus lived. 

To lives in such a way, that we bring hope to others,

we serve one another, we speak out for those with no voice,

we care for the marginalised…

That day by day we make it our aim to share love in practical ways with those around us.

John’s second bit of advice reminds us that we can only walk in the light if we actually get to know the one who is the light…Jesus.    

Now knowing the light isn’t just some vague, whimsical, erratic belief….

It’s not just vaguely trusting that Jesus is real…

It’s not just about attending church, or even doing the right thing….

Knowing the light, means intentionally spending time, getting to know Jesus….

John puts it this way…..he says we should abide in Christ….   

Now the word abiding is used to refer to a relationship that is long lasting, enduring, life long, eternal, constant, permanent, stable, steadfast and unchanging. 

And this sort of relationship takes commitment, time and energy. 

This means we need to be those who are committed to growing in our relation to Christ, we should be those who are committed to reading our Bibles, praying, worshipping,

not just at church on Sunday, but daily. 

Then we can really get to know Christ, and his life will fill our lives and help us to walk in his light.

John then says… we can only say that we walk in the light if we commit ourselves to loving one another, and forgiving one another when we make mistakes and hurt each other. 

You see Jesus lived a life of love and forgiveness…in fact Jesus died because his love and forgiveness was so vast. 

Walking in the light means choosing to forgive, even when it is difficult, even when it hurts. 

Walking in the light means working for reconciliation.

And then finally walking in the light involves a rejection of the world and its ways.

John expands saying the ways of this world are full of pride and are centred on material wealth and riches. 

Today we live in a society which is obsessed with material wealth, on buying things, on craving for more and more.   

It is too easy, for us to become focussed on owning the latest gadget or piece of technology, to desire a better car or home….

Now these things are not wrong in and of themselves,

but when we make it our hearts desire to seek these things,

to focus on the material, to make decisions that are selfish,

then we are allowing, albeit quite subtly, darkness to slip in….

Walking in the light, says John, involves seeking God’s ways…ways of equality, justice, fairness, peace.

So walking in the light…. Is an active faith…..

choosing to follow Jesus commandments – indeed the very way he lived his life,

it’s about growing in our relationship with Christ-intentionally abiding in Christ,

it’s about forgiving one another and living in love,

it’s about rejecting all that is evil or selfish, and instead seeking God’s way of peace, truth, righteousness. 

If we don’t walk in the light…. We’ll find ourselves walking in darkness….

And then we will encounter problems….

One further quick point……

Walking in the light doesn’t mean we suddenly get it right and become holy overnight…. Rather it is, what it says,

a walk, a journey, a process,

an adventure of transformation and change.   

All the verbs that John uses in this passage are in a form which means they are actions that began in the past, continue now, and will continue in the future.

Walking in the light, doesn’t mean sudden exposure,

rather in means honesty, integrity and transparency, to keep walking in the light,

this is a necessary condition whereby God in his mercy and grace transforms us into something which is holy. 

As we walk in the light God works through us to shine his light into others’ lives.

So, can I encourage you to keep walking in the light – Jesus….

make him your target, your centre, your vision as you journey through life.

And as you leave here today….. have a think what could you do, this week to walk in the light? 

What could you change, what could you be more intentional about that would keep you walking in Christ’s light?

Amen.

1 John 1

Character of God 1 – 1 John 1, (Matt 18:21-35)

There are two things that puzzle me:

What are wasps for? And what is lettuce for?

Wasps – I discover, are pollinators and consumers of garden bugs we probably don’t want.  Lettuce – I don’t know.  It’s a good way of taking balsamic vinegar!  And at 96% water maybe it’s just a drink in itself.

An easier question is what is 1 John for? 

And what does it tell us about God?

In a confused society, it tells us God is from the beginning of all things.

In a pluralistic society, that God is light.

In a relativistic society, that God is truth.

In a lost society, that God knows our way.

In every society, that God has given us life eternal in Christ.

It’s a good book; and it’s a short one.

And in chap 1 I’d like us to explore something of what it tells us of the God we can know for ourselves in Christ.

A word about its authorship, its links and its message

1 Authorship

1 John doesn’t name its author but, having much in common with the gospel of John, the church has always accepted that John wrote it. 

It is written with the wisdom and authority of one who has been ‘around the bazaars’, now bringing teaching, encouragement and warning to Christians at the close of the 1st C AD. 

He may have written from Ephesus, modern Turkey, where he is thought to have spent later life.

Preacher and commentator, David Jackman, has said of 1 John:  There is a deceptive simplicity about John’s style.  So often the simplest vocabulary is combined with the most profound theology.  Ideas that on the surface appear easy to grasp are shown on further investigation to possess ever increasing depth.

So look out!  This book could change your life.

2 Links

1 John has clear links with other books of the Bible – most obviously Genesis, the gospel of John and Revelation. 

John begins this letter:

We declare to you what was from the beginning . . .

It’s a flying start which pulls no punches, reaching back to the beginning of all things when God initiated the universe – the very beginning. And John justifies this astonishing claim, referring to God as word of life, saying:

We know what we are talking about.  We have seen this word of life, we have heard it, we have touched it, and it has touched and changed us.

C.f. Genesis opens, In the beginning God . . .

John’s gospel opens, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word

was God.

Revelation 1:8, I am the beginning and the end, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

1 John opens, We declare to you what was from the beginning.

So the links and the purpose are clear.  The letter is speaking about God himself, inseparable from the Word, the word of life, life eternal which John says was with the Father and has been revealed to us in Jesus.

Straight away in 1 John we learn that God is a good God, a giving God and a gracious God who in Jesus:

  • has shown himself
  • has given himself
  • has brought us a new, full experience of life
  • has lifted our sense of purpose and hope beyond our present existence onto a scale of eternity

John doesn’t want the growing church to be short-changed.  He doesn’t want them to settle for a comfy faith limited by their own imagination.

This is not ‘God in a box’.  John’s message is from the transcendent God who is from the beginning.  And this God is also immanent, one in whom we live and move and have our being.

God is far and He is near.

3 Message

John’s confident and unequivocal opening brings a message about God – We declare to you . . .

What’s the message? 

1  It’s about God’s gift.  2 It’s about God’ nature.

1  It’s about God’s gift,

the word of life, who has come to us in Jesus. 

And, says John, it’s our first-hand experience that makes us believe who Jesus is as we’ve heard his teaching, seen his extraordinary miracles and acts of healing, and spent public and private time with him. We’ve touched him, watched his self-sacrifice and rising from the dead, we have personal experience of who He is and what He can do.

John adds, 1:3-4: We’re telling you of our first-hand experience of Christ, the word of life, so you may share our conviction and hope; and that we may be even more thrilled as we share knowing him together!

Friends, their record is a foundation for our faith too, encouraging us to step out in trust and grow in our experience of Christ by his Spirit.  Their experience is important evidence for us.

2 The message is about God’s nature

‘God is light’ 1:5  (later, ‘God is love’ 4:8)

Seeing the light is an expression that has often been used to describe Christian conversion – notably the apostle Paul, who, meeting the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, described seeing a blinding light.  He saw the light; he accepted Christ.

Darkness and light are compared and contrasted by John in this letter and in his gospel.

1:5  God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

Both parts of this sentence are instructive. We understand better what light is when we are told that darkness has no part in it.  There is then no darkness in God; he is purely light.

1:6 challenges cheap faith and compromise.

If we say we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.

This is one of those simple, but far reaching, statements which causes us, who deal in shades of grey as well as black and white, to search our lives and our motives.  Whatever they may have been or are, we are challenged to recognise that we fall short of Jesus who said:

I am the light of the world,

and of whom John wrote in his gospel as

the true light who enlightens every person.

Jesus added, Those who follow me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

The problem with belonging to a fallen race is that it is uncomfortable being compared with Christ, the living embodiment of a pure and holy God who lives in unapproachable light.  Jesus saw the problem, saying, Light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. All who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

In the recent Caribbean storms, the authorities tried to guard evacuated homes at risk of burglary.  In Miami looters raced police to damaged shops.

Remember too Peter, having taken an amazing catch of fish at Jesus’ direction, saying,

Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!

Thank God that he does not compromise.

And thank God that, though he is pure light,

In Christ he is also forgiving and accepting. 

1 John 1:8-9,

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

= make us clean from every kind of wrong.

As Christians we are learning to live with Christ who is the light; and to live more openly in the light.  For in John’s own words, v7,

If we walk in the light as God himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

John tells us:

  • In a confused society God is from the beginning.
  • In a pluralistic society, God is light.
  • In a relativistic society, God is truth.
  • In a lost society, God knows the way.
  • In every society, God offers us life eternal in Christ.

1 John will show us how.

Psalm 62 – A Prayer of Trust

Humans come into the world as vulnerable creatures completely dependent on their parents for their survival. For people to develop a healthy capacity to trust they need to experience an emotional attachment to a nurturing parent. If the relationship with the parent is disrupted, the attachment will be threatened and the capacity to trust will be damaged. Later in life it may be more difficult for them to trust God.

The good news is that God can heal our wounds. He can rebuild our capacity to trust.

The Lord is our rock. This is a recurring theme in the Psalm we have read today. In fact Psalm 62 states three times that the Lord is our rock; in verse 2 and 6 “He alone is my rock and my salvation- and verse 7 “My mighty rock my refuge is in God,

God alone is our rock.

In the Old Testament rocks were quite significant. In the wilderness during the sudden storms in the Middle East shepherds and sojourners would often shelter under a large rock. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness without water God told Moses to strike a large rock and water poured out; and sacrifices were often made to God using a large rock as the altar on which the sacrifice was burned.

And in Psalm 62 the Lord is described as our rock. The word rock could also be interpreted as a fortress. And we all need a rock , a fortress in our lives from time to time. Yet sometimes when we are going through a really difficult season in life we only look to ourselves to be our shelter from the storm to be our own rock.

Simon and Garfunkel sang about being your own rock in1966 in their song appropriately entitled I am a Rock

The problem is no matter how strong you are, eventually you will face something that is bigger than you. Eventually you will find that being you own rock or island doesn’t work. And then we become anxious, maybe even frightened about our ability to cope. Trying to be our own rock may work for awhile, but it cannot last .We may try but we cannot run away from our anxiety, from what is in our minds and hearts. It is then that we may look to family or friends to be that rock for us but that does not always work out either. We often come to realise that the people we are looking to for reassurance are dealing with their own pain and cannot support us in ours.

That is where Psalm 62 meets us and addresses our anxiety head on. One of the most helpful parts of the book of Psalms is that it does not gloss over the reality of fear and pain. And the reality is we cannot be our own rock and other people cannot be our rock  They may be able to listen and empathise but they are not able relieve our anxiety totally.

That is why the writer of Psalm 62 emphasizes again and again God alone is our rock and our salvation. God is my rock and my strong refuge.

And this brings us to the good news of the Gospel Jesus is the rock of our salvation. Jesus the Son of God was no stranger to anxiety. Throughout his earthly ministry he was hounded by critics, undermined by religious leaders, scorned by people in his hometown. In the garden of Gethsemane hours before his suffering and death Jesus’ anxiety literally reached a fever pitch as he sweated drops of blood. But Jesus never tried to be his own rock or island. He did not find shelter from anyone in his family or from his friends the disciples or from anyone else. Instead in his suffering and death Jesus became our rock and shelter from the storms of life.

In the same way as in the Old Testament the rock in the wilderness was broken to give water to the thirsty Israelites Jesus was broken on the cross to give us living water. The living water of eternal life. He died for those of us who have been faced with the realities of life, who have been levelled by the storms of life.

In recent weeks we have struggled with events in this country that just rendered people helpless and hopeless. People who, through no fault of their own, have lost all that was precious to them. We have witnessed the emergency services helping and supporting, bravely risking their own lives to rescue others. But after the initial emergency where can people turn to give them hope for the future. Where can those of us, not directly involved,  in these events lay our anxieties and fears.

In God, our rock and, our salvation.  God can heal and rebuild trust  where all seems lost.  God is the constant in a troubled and divided world. God sent us his Son to show us how to trust despite our vulnerability.   Jesus’ death on the cross is the final and ultimate expression of God’s indiscriminate compassion and love. God loves us unconditionally, as we are and not as we should be because nobody is as they should be. God is our rock and our salvation. In God alone can we trust

“Trust in Him at all times O people pour out your heart before Him God is a refuge for us” Amen

Psalm 66 – A Prayer of Joy

PSALM 66

If I were to invite you all, on a count of three, to make a joyful noise, what, I wonder, would be the noise that you would make? Well, let’s do it! Forget for the moment that you are polite well behaved Anglicans, and allow yourselves to make whatever noise the word joy provokes in you. With actions if you wish!

One, two, three…….!!!

Psalm 66 is described on, our pew leaflet as a Prayer of Joy – and that is made clear by the opening words. But those opening words are easy to misunderstand. We read: ‘O be joyful!’ and we tend to assume that this must have something to do with feelings. But in the original Hebrew, the meaning is not ‘feel joyful’, still less ‘feel happy’. The meaning is: ‘Make a joyful noise! And that is good, because joy is a physical thing that  comes from deep down within us. The writer Thomas Wolfe says of joy: ‘It is first of all a physical quality; then it is a quality of spirit.’

This ties in well with what we experienced a few minutes ago – joy is not simply or even mainly a question of feeling something. The Anglican writer Harry Williams,  popular in the second half of the 20th century, claims in his book ‘The Joy of God‘ that joy goes deeper than feelings, even though feelings spring from it. He suggests it is a way of knowing or seeing. 

Now if I were asked: knowing or seeing what? I would answer:

‘Knowing or seeing that life has meaning & value & beauty’; and I would suggest that to know that is also to know God. And furthermore, it is to know that joy is God’s gift, not our achievement.

There are many sources of joy, and they are by no means only found in religious contexts. Harry Williams suggests that, sometimes at least, we can and should find joy in our work; in nature; in art and music; and especially in relationships and within our own self. He describes it as: ‘a way of seeing and knowing that opens up the world to us’. And it often comes when we least expect it; many of us will have read C S Lewis’s great spiritual autobiography, ‘Surprised by Joy’. But wherever and whenever it comes to us, there can be no odubtign its importance. Another writer, Rollo May, claims that:  ‘Joy, rather than happiness, is the goal of life, for joy is the emotion which accompanies and fulfills our nature as human beings.’

Let’s go back to psalm 66. It falls into three sections:

(1) Thankfulness for deliverance in the Exodus from Egypt.

(2) Thankfulness for more recent deliverance from foreign conquest.

(3) Personal thanks of an individual who brings sacrifices to the temple, in thanks that a time of suffering has passed.

There are two important points here:

First, the writer’s thought moves from the corporate to the individual – which reminds us of the importance of shared joy. I suspect that some of our modern worship songs may be too individualistic in their expression of joy: too much ‘I’, not enough ‘We’. That burst of joy we shared a few minutes ago was very much a corporate experience.

Then, secondly, the psalmist, whoever he was, knows that the reality of pain and suffering is not denied by joy. Joy comes on the far side of distress. Archbishop William Temple wrote: ‘The Christian joy and hope do not arise from an ignoring of evil in the world, but from facing it at its worst.’ Lament and joy do not deny one another. Indeed it may even be that we only really know the meaning of joy when we have been through the mill of pain and suffering. Psalm 51, which is regularly said or sung on Ash Wednesday, is definitely a psalm of lament; but it also contains this verse: ‘You shall make me hear of joy and gladness……that the bones which you have broken may rejoice.’ Those extraordinary words do not flinch from acknowledging the reality of suffering – and of God’s part in it – but they see light in and beyond the darkness. Hospices can be the most joyful of places.

The Psalms, as we know but may sometimes be tempted to forget,  come from Jewish Scripture; and I sometimes think that  Jews have a deeper understanding of joy than Christians.  If you’ve ever been to a Jewish wedding you’ll know what I mean. The recent recent production of ‘Fiddler on Roof’ at Chichester Festival theatre, which I know some of you have seen, brings this out beautifully. Jesus – a Jew –  found joy in the depths of his own being and wanted to extend it to his disciples: ‘I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy complete.’ And in the prayer book of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in north London, which some of us from this congregation have had the privilege of visiting, we find these words: ‘On the Day of Judgment, we shall have to account for any good thing we might have enjoyed but did not.’ Now there’s a challenge if you like: to imagine a God who asks us, at our own judgment, not: ‘Why were you not holy enough, virtuous enough, or successful enough?’, but….. ‘Why did you not enjoy your life enough?’ 

May God grant to  us all the precious gift of joy.  Amen.

Psalm 130 – A Prayer of Hope

Last week Emma spoke to us about Psalm 44 –

A prayer when God is silent – the outpouring of the heart to God at a time of national need when He seemed not to answer.

Today we look at Psalm 130, set in a more personal context – A Prayer of Hope

Last week the Psalmist cried to God in despair:

Why do you sleep, O Lord? 

Wake up, do not reject us for ever.

But he ended with a note of expectation:

Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

Today, like a rising graph, Psalm 130 begins:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

And it ends:

He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

(I.e. The Lord will redeem his people from all their sins.)

It’s is a personal prayer, an honest prayer and, above all, is a prayer of hope. 

In the classic film Clockwise John Cleese as a school headmaster is on a nightmare journey to get to an important conference where he is to speak.  But everything is going wrong and it will get worse. 

He says, It’s not the despair.  I can take the despair.  It’s the hope I can’t stand!  He couldn’t bear the hope of succeeding being dashed.  When our hopes are high and are dashed, it’s a long way to fall.  So we long to know God is ready and able to help when call out to him.

Psalm 130 has 8 verses. 

first 4 set the scene.

next 2 are the response of the writer. 

last 2 are encouragement to us.

Scene – response – encouragement of others.

1 The Scene set – vv1-4

v1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice!

You’d be amazed at how my prayer life picks up when I’ve got a problem!  True for many of us, I expect.  When life is going well for us, it’s easy for our prayer to be superficial.  When there’s a problem, when I’m under pressure, it gets a whole lot more intense!

The good thing about such times is that God has our attention – the attention He deserves all the time.

In Psalm 130 God has the psalmist’s attention.  This is honest, heartfelt prayer – the sort God loves.  It’s not going through the motions, not to impress us or others, but opening the heart and mind to Him.  It’s prayer we’re all capable of; not rehearsed and polished, but spontaneous, undefensive and real.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

If you are ‘down’ today as we come to this psalm, pray it each day of the coming week and let it lift you up.

Further, v3 reminds us that this is the prayer of a fallible person, like you and me:

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities (take into account my sin, my short-comings), who could stand (in front of you)?    No-one.

It’s a matter of logic.  Paul said in Romans 3,

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Our perfect, glorious creator-God is himself the benchmark.  The glory of God, perfect love and holiness, are the yardstick. Why not? They must be.

But, v4 continues, there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

Here’s the first tangible sign of hope.  Possibility of forgiveness however we may need it – so God may be revered.  So that He may be loved and respected for his grace to us.

He is the one truly worthy of the title Reverend which we apply to clergy; let alone the old Irish usage of Your Reverence.  I think I prefer what I was once called – Your Vicarage – but that may have been tongue in cheek!

God is the benchmark of our lives, the gold standard for our living, a merciful, forgiving Father, calling out our love, gratitude, humility

and respect.

This is why there is hope is at the heart of Psalm 130. It is a prayer of hope, ready to use out of the box, for each of us personally.  It isn’t talking about hoping for the best. It speaks of expecting the best from God whose past actions in Jesus calling us to be his friends assure us of his future trustworthiness.

Paul again in Romans 8 reasons it like this:

If God is for us, who is against us (that matters)?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not with him also give us everything else (we need)? . . . Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness,

or peril, or sword (knife or gun)? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. . .  Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sure hope is a logical outcome of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  As a consequence we may live – ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven – every day into eternity. It is indestructible hope from God, having nothing to do with optimism, health, wealth or the weather.

C.f. Book of Common Prayer ‘General Thanksgiving’:

We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

2 The Psalmist’s response vv-5-6

His response to God’s steadfast love in expectation of his saving help, was to say:

v5  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.

He cried to God from the depths, but he also had a secure hope.  He wasn’t clutching at straws, nor chasing shadows, nor heading for any port in a storm, nor saying ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’. But he committed himself to the God he knew who had been faithful, loving and patient his people:

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.

In 1000 BC the writer didn’t have the rich treasury of the whole Bible that we have. Just the first 5 books, and likely a few others.  He fed his heart and mind through these and their stories of God’s known character and blessing.

His repeated phrases in Psalm 130 emphasise his decided course of action. And he compared himself to a night watchman – city, army, factory, ship – waiting for daylight when his shift would safely finish.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord

more than watchmen wait for the morning,

more than watchmen wait for the morning.

The psalmist, looking to God, didn’t expect to be disappointed:

I’m waiting, my soul is waiting, I’m watching;

I’m fully expecting God to resolve all that troubles me and my people, even to resolve the needs and contradictions of my own life.

Finally

3 The Psalmist’s encouragement vv7-8

. . . of his people, friends, family and neighbours.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For 2 good reasons!

For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

And with him is great power to redeem.

It is he who will redeem his people from all their sins.

He uses his love and power to build us up, not break us down.  To save us for himself.

Paul again, in 2 Corinthians 1:20

All God’s promises find their ‘yes’ in Jesus.

In other words, whatever God has done and has promised to do for us is worked out through the amazing death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It has been said, No-one saves us but ourselves.  No-one can and no-one may.  But I believe that is false, and hope-less. We cannot pull ourselves by our own boot laces.  Just try and you’ll see why!  Neither can we atone for our own sins.

But in Christ God comes to us, forgives us, makes us his friends and gives us his Spirit.  There is no better hope for today and tomorrow.

Pray this week for those leading and those participating in our children’s summer Bible week, DABS, that they too may experience new hope in Christ on whom all hope ultimately rests.

Psalm 44  A Prayer When God is Silent

The Psalms, as we have already seen in recent weeks, cover all of life’s experiences. 

The Psalms are beautiful, powerful prayers…. they address God with a deep honesty, frankness and urgency…. They give voice to our inner thoughts and inner turmoil…

As we consider Psalm 44 today – this is especially true.

Psalm 44 addresses God with a heartfelt honesty and transparency.

Now I just want us to imagine this situation….

Imagine you have a very good friend,  someone who knows you well, someone who has known you for a long time, someone who has helped you out with all sorts of things in the past.

A month ago, you rang them, but they weren’t in. You were upset and sad, but you left them a message asking for help. Now in the weeks that have gone by you have heard nothing…

What does it feel like to have no response?  Maybe you’ve started to wonder what is wrong?  Maybe you’re questioning why they’ve not responded, after all they would normally get back to you? 

Maybe you started thinking you’ve perhaps done something to offend them? Maybe you think they’re being rude or forgetful? 

You probably feel hurt, confused and sad. Why is your friend silent? Maybe you’re thinking what’s the point?

And that brings me to Psalm 44.

Israel sang this Psalm regularly in the Temple to voice a faith that was hanging by a thread. It begins well by noting how God had brought the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt into the Promised Land, driving out the Hittites, Hivites, and Jebusites in the process.

Verse 1 says: O God, our ancestors have told us what deeds you performed…in the days of old: you…drove out the nations, but them you planted…not by their own sword did they win the land…but [by] your right hand…

As Psalm 44 opens, it reads like a Psalm of praise for a God who saved his people from slavery.  Things started well for Israel; and in the following centuries, though Israel didn’t always stick with God, God stuck with Israel. 

Psalm 44 expresses gratitude for God’s faithfulness.

A Temple worship leader voices it in these words: You are my King and my God; you command victories for Jacob…not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. But you have saved us from our foes…In God we have boasted…we will give thanks to your name forever.

Trusting a faithful God, Israel had learnt to rely, not on its own resources, but on God.

So far, so good!

But at v.9, there’s a dramatic change in the Psalm, which you may have noticed. It turns abruptly from praise to complaint:

“God, we’re your people. But ‘you have rejected us…abased us, and have not gone out with our armies…You have made us like sheep for the slaughter…sold [us out] for a trifle …made us a laughingstock…Because of you we are being killed’” [vs. 9,11, 14, 22].

Relying on God, Israel expected victory; instead, the nation has been crushed and shamed. We don’t know the particular battle to which the Psalm refers. What we do know is things started well for Israel, but ended in a debacle; prisoners had been taken, the army decimated, the nation now a joke.

It was incomprehensible. According to the Psalm, Israel had been faithful to God. If the nation had defied its covenant God; or if Israel had started to worship idols, punishment may have been appropriate.

But Israel wasn’t guilty: v.17: ‘this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant.  Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way’.  And so, a perplexed Psalmist demands an explanation.

We live at a great distance from Israel’s pain described in Psalm 44; but if your faith is at all serious, it too will be shaken to the core at some time. You may have already been confronted by an incomprehensible God who doesn’t always supply answers.

Two/three generations ago, after 2 world wars in which much devastation and evil was seen, many gave up on God…. For those living in the post war years, their experience was a disaster that reduced faith to rubble. 

Maybe you listen to the news reports – disaster after disaster, war after war, tragedy after tragedy, famine after famine….and wonder what is going on?

For others, the decline in influence of the Church of England in national affairs raises questions, after all we are currently closing churches month after month as elderly saints die.  And though many continue to worship, some feel like the battle has been lost, and that there’s no point trying to pass on the faith to our children and neighbours. We can wonder, where is God – what is happening to our nation? Is God silent?

Perhaps the pain in your life has been much more personal. You started out well, maybe even as a happy Christian. But then came one heartache after another- a betrayal, a health crisis, a death. Though you fought bravely for a while, you now feel like giving up, convinced that God has passed you by. Where is God?  What is happening?  Is God silent?

How do we respond to what feels like defeat?

In defeat, Israel refusing to stifle its disillusionment by singing happy psalms. Israel fought back, using an angry psalm like Psalm 44 as a weapon in the fight. Though it begins as a psalm of praise, it becomes a damning indictment of God.

It accuses God relentlessly: you rejected us…You…made us…sheep for slaughter… You have sold your people…You have made us the taunt of our neighbours…You’re to blame for our defeat, and we want an explanation. God, if you’re asleep, rouse yourself; wake up, and tell us, why”.

Have you noticed that when their faith hung by a thread, biblical people as often as not, fought with God? In the UK, on the whole, we’re too polite to pray like that. When our faith hangs by a thread, we’re more likely to sulk and then slink away.

Israel fought back in Psalm 44, and even preserved this angry Psalm for later use!

The Psalm, notes Old Testament scholar John Goldingay, places all the blame on God, and exempts others.

Scapegoats could presumably have been found: – a failure on the part of the generals, or insufficient weaponry. But Psalm 44 ignores all human factors, convinced that with God in charge, nothing happens without his knowledge.

If we believe that God is ultimately sovereign over all things, then, no matter what pain we face, we’re likely to end up blaming God, as did Israel.

Psalm 44 is bold in its rage at God for what’s been lost. Is that how you and I pray? We’re reluctant to voice our anger at God, afraid to use words that might shock God.

Biblical prayer isn’t as reticent; it begs, roars, It complains, demands, and tells God: “we don’t deserve what’s happening to us. Do something!”

Psalm 44 is like the Book of Job. In his pain and loss, Job demanded of God, “Explain yourself!”

But the truth is that in the Book of Job, as here in Psalm 44, God doesn’t explain himself; as you may have discovered, our pain is sometimes met by divine silence. That’s why Psalm 44 is almost never read in church, and why it doesn’t show up very often in our hymn books, and why preachers tend to avoid it.  It appears to offer no good news when things go badly.

So is that it when faith hangs by a thread?  When God is silent… How about this: a disaster or failure at least forces us to reassess our faith?

We want faith to reward us; “God, I believe in you”, we say, “but I want you to look after me, such that if trouble comes, it will be minimal”. A conditional faith like that explains why, when trouble comes, some people give up on God and walk away from the church.

But faith in Psalm 44 isn’t conditional; it’s unconditional. That is: it’s a faith that’s ready to fight, that hangs on at any cost, and that endures agony in the absence of a miracle or any sign of God’s presence.

You hear this faith that hangs by a thread in Jesus’ final, chilling cry from the cross, when all seemed to be lost: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

At the lowest moment in his life, Jesus experienced God’s absence. And yet in that hellish moment he still cries out to God, unwilling to let go. 

There’s maybe one more sliver of hope in Psalm 44. Its last verse addresses God like this: Rise up…Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love’The Psalm ends by appealing to what Israel had been taught about what lay at the core of God’s character, steadfast, abounding, love.

Every visible proof of God’s power and protection had disappeared. “But Lord”, cries the Psalmist, “if your love has gone, there’s nothing left. If you are still steadfast love, redeem us”. And that’s the Psalm’s final word.

But it’s not the Bible’s final word.

Israel’s painful cry for redemption was heard; the biblical narrative moves on from the darkness of Psalm 44 to the coming of Christ, and from the devastation of Israel’s defeat to a Saviour’s empty grave.

Though Psalm 44 reflects the fact that faith may hang by a thread, learn to hold on and wait for Jesus, who died in agony, but rose in victory. It’s by looking steadily to him that some of the mystery that surrounds God will be unveiled.

Amen

Time to reflect….

Father God,

At times life is really difficult,

and we feel like all hope is gone and you are silent. 

For those of us who face such times now,

help us to hang on through the silence and the darkness,

knowing that ultimately Jesus has won the victory

and that one day this will be unveiled for all to see,

and all of creation will be restored and renewed.

Helps us to look steadily to Him and trust in your steadfast love. 

Amen

Psalm 102 – A prayer of grief?…

How well do we know our bible?

Psalm 102 is a psalm which you may not have come across before our reading this morning; even if you are following the vicar’s instruction to read through all of the psalms at home this summer, two every day, you won’t reach Psalm 102 until a week tomorrow.

And in church, we usually only read Psalm 102 at evening prayer on Ash Wednesday and at morning prayer on the Wednesday of Holy Week, so its full text is likely to be unfamiliar to many; though most of its themes are also to be found in other psalms and in the prophetic books of the bible. We do not know the identity of the author of Psalm 102, nor the background to its writing, except that we could hazard a guess, based on its content, that it might date from the time when the Jews were in exile in Babylon, or from the time shortly after their return to Jerusalem.

Unusually, Psalm 102 has a heading: “A prayer of one afflicted, when faint and pleading before the Lord,” but what might be the context of this envisaged affliction, faintness and pleading? In our current series of sermons on the psalms, each psalm has been given the title, ‘A prayer of … … … ’ (dependence, trust, gratitude, etc), and this week’s title is, ‘A prayer of grief’; but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Certainly, the psalmist is distressed, but it’s not exactly clear what it is that is upsetting him; there’s no direct mention of bereavement or loss.

Traditionally, Psalm 102 has been regarded by the Church as a penitential psalm; but neither does that obviously reflect what we read. There’s no direct mention of sin, penitence or contrition; though there is reference in verse 9 to ashes and tears, which often signify grief or penitence and this might explain the use of the psalm on Ash Wednesday. Each of the psalm’s 28 verses is rich with hidden meaning, frequently described in colourful language, including many creative metaphors, conjuring up delightful images designed to articulate the psalmist’s feelings.

So, let us examine more closely the content of this prayerful psalm; and please do follow the words of the psalm as I speak, if you wish, and enjoy its beautiful poetry.

Like the formula of many psalms, this one begins with a lament; a plea to God, that he will turn towards the pleader and listen to his complaints about his misfortunes. The opening lines, “O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you,” are familiar to many Christians today as a liturgical response during intercessory prayer. The last line of the second verse too is familiar, “when I call, answer me;” taken with the opening line it forms one of today’s best known Taizé chants. These are powerful words which have stood the test of time.

We then hear the list of distressing circumstances which apparently have befallen the psalmist: his life seems to have no substance, he has a fever, his heart is crushed, he has no appetite, he groans with pain and has lost weight, he is isolated, he cannot sleep, he is lonely and melancholic; rejected, his enemies taunt him, assuming that he has brought this on himself; even at mealtimes, normally regarded as a joyful, communal event, he sits alone and weeps, amongst ashes, a symbol of grief, in despair, rather than be in the company of others; it seems that even God is angry with him and has cast him aside; he feels that he is in the twilight of his life and is withering away. … … I hope that you don’t find this all too depressing; please bear with me, there is better news to come.

Verse 12 heralds a change of direction, tone and style. “But you, O Lord are enthroned for ever.” If this is meant to be a response to the psalmist’s predicament then, at first glance, it seems cold comfort: ‘I am dying God, but I’m relieved to know that you’re going to live for ever.’ But these words are not said with any sense of irony, nor does the psalmist with any bitterness express resentment that his everlasting creator God apparently begrudges him a few more days of life; indeed, the next ten verses are very positive, perhaps surprisingly so for one in such desperate circumstances. God is going to do great things, declares the psalmist, with absolute certainty, ‘the appointed time has come.’

This may sound like a daring challenge to God; remember Jesus in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil, quoting from the Jewish law, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test?’ Well, that’s not what is happening here. This is the psalmist using a common figure of speech for the time, known as prolepsis. The psalmist speaks of things yet to pass as though they had already happened and it’s simply a literary device for expressing confident expectation; such a profound conviction in the course of future events that there’s no room for any doubt that they will occur.

So, the middle section of Psalm 102 has the psalmist, in contrast to the previous morbid gloom surrounding his individual suffering, now passionately and joyfully predicting God’s compassion and saving grace for his whole people, his answering of their prayers and his restoration of their holy city of Jerusalem to glory, such that this will go down in the records of history and will inspire not only the praise of God’s own people for generations to come but also the worship of the gentiles.

Then we’re back to the psalmist’s own situation in verses 23 and 24; his brief uplifting outburst of trust and firm belief in God’s will to care for his people seems to have sharpened his personal anguish. He wants his own prayer answering now, but it seems as though God’s answer is for a future generation and that his life is to be cut off in its prime.

But the darkness of these two verses provides a contrast against which to see the brilliance of the final four verses. The psalmist declares that God, who has created all things, is wholly committed to an eternal relationship with future generations of his people, though everything else in creation may be destined to wear out and to pass away. The role of servants is to wait on their master, doing the master’s will, enjoying the privilege of his protection and abiding in his gracious providence. The future of humanity as his servants has been secured by God and the psalmist delights in this revelation in spite of his own suffering and his failing life.

Finally, we cannot take a look at Psalm 102 without mentioning its connection with the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verses 10-12, which are an almost direct quote from verses 25-27 of the psalm. However, the letter’s author applies these words not to the psalmist speaking to God but to God speaking to Jesus, in praise of Christ. In the early church, Psalm 102 was understood to be Messianic, foreshadowing Jesus’ pain and isolation, Jesus’ crying to God in anguish that he might be spared the suffering and the Father’s promise that he would survive and the future of his servants’ children would be secured. A miracle which we commemorate each week in our Holy Communion service.

Most of us will suffer and grieve at some time and all of us will die; our lives are short, even if we live to be over 100, that is nothing compared to the span of God’s existence. But God is loving and generous and, through his saving grace and the redeeming self-sacrifice of his Son, God promises the hope of eternal life with him, in his Kingdom, for all who turn to him.

And God listens to prayer; there is no human condition which is beyond God’s experience. He understands our needs, feels our grief and our pains and wants to share our burdens. And he responds with compassion, whether that is to the private prayer of the individual or to the public prayer of the community; both are very powerful. Because he sees all things, all time and all space, God’s wisdom and judgement are far greater than ours and we must trust in his capacity to act in the right way at the right time, even though this may at times confound us and test our faith. In the end, we must simply lay our concerns before him and not hold back; what really makes a difference is not our faithfulness, but God’s.

God is eternal and merciful and is in control.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Psalm 65 – A Prayer of Gratitude

This talk was delivered in two parts.

Part One introduced the idea of Gratitude.

Part Two explored Psalm 65 by using five pictures which we considered one by one. 

Part One

Later on, we’re going to read Psalm 65, and this Psalm is a Psalm of Gratitude….

But what does gratitude mean?  Any ideas….

Well it’s a quality of being thankful, saying thanks, showing our appreciation,

And thinking about being thankful made me remember a song, which I sang as a child…..

I wonder perhaps if you know or recognise it…

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done!

Count your blessings,

name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

This song reminds us that we do have lots to be thankful for each and every day…..

So, in groups of 3 -4, turn to the people around you, I want you to share some of the things that you have or enjoy and are grateful for….

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

We do have lots to be thankful for….

Homes, families, friends, relationships, food, technology, clothing, toys, freedom, travel, education, freedom of speech,  all sorts of amazing things….

All sorts of material things which more than half the world’s population does not have….

And so we’re going to pause here for a moment….. and we’re going to thank God for all the amazing things we have…..

PRAYER

Part Two

Now our Psalm today, Psalm 65, belongs with 3 others – 66, 67 and 68, written almost certainly by David.  It would have been used by God’s people gathered together in the temple to say and sing their thanks to God after their Harvest was complete. 

This Psalm is a prayer of gratitude…..it is a song, a prayer which acknowledges and recognises all that God is and all that God has done and is doing.   

It is a prayer which looks beyond the immediate here and now, beyond the material,

and sees the bigger picture, sees God for who he is,

and responds with alleluia.

Picture 1 – (big letters – GOD)

This psalm begins quite simply by recognising that God is God and is worthy of our praise.    

Not just because of the things He’s done.

But simply because of whom he is, God Almighty.

A faithful God, a loving God, a merciful God,

A God who does not change

A God who created the world, who said “Let there be light”, and there was light,

A God who abounds in steadfast love

A God who loves each and every one of us. 

And so we can be thankful that God is God.

Picture 2 – (praying hands and listening ear)

This psalm reminds us that God is a God who is with us in the midst of life. 

God isn’t far removed and distant, rather he walks with us. 

Verse 2 says that God hears and answers our prayers.   

You see, none of us are alone.  God listens to us.  Anytime, anywhere.

We have a privilege that Old Testament believers didn’t have.

We don’t have to go to a priest with burnt offerings and sacrifices. 

We can go directly to God, anytime, anywhere and He listens and answers; he hears our cries and petitions.    

Hebrews puts it this way – ‘so let us come boldly to the throne of our Gracious God, there we will receive mercy, and find grace to help us in time of need.’

And so we can be thankful that God hears us and answers our prayers.

Picture 3 – (the word power with a lightning flash)

Several times this psalm refers to God’s power and strength.

God is Omnipotent – all powerful…. 

Verses 6 and 7 remind us that the God who set the mountains in place

can also silence and bring peace to the roaring seas.   

And this God can do amazing, miraculous deeds, bringing deliverance and healing.   

For the psalmist, God had delivered Israel from oppression, fear and slavery. 

And for us, we too can be thankful, for God has rescued us from oppression, fear and slavery through the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Because Jesus who was without sin, died for each of us, we can know his righteousness covering us….

And God continues to work in power in our lives today,

bringing peace and calm,

stilling the storms which rage in and around our lives.   

And so we can be thankful to God for his power and strength.    

Picture 4 – (a loving heart and cross)

Verse 5 reminds us that God is a good and compassionate God –

the God of salvation, the one who forgives.   

In fact, all through history, all through the Bible, God is revealed as a God who loves humanity, who longs to be in relationship with people,

who time and time again reaches out to men and women,

old and young and invites them to draw close,

to walk with Him, to place their trust in Him. 

You see God is our only salvation, our only hope,

as this psalmist says, the hope of all of creation. 

And this hope is ultimately revealed in Jesus, Peter tells us that Jesus is our living hope,

who in his life, death and resurrection makes possible for each of us to come to God Almighty,

to find reconciliation and love, healing and freedom, life in all its fullness.   

You see God is a forgiving God who forgives our mistakes,

the times when we mess up,

the times when we get things wrong. 

And so we can be thankful that God loves us and forgives us. 

Picture 5 – (image of the world)

And finally, in verses 9-13 this Psalm reminds us that God lovingly created the world

and continues to sustain and care for it. 

God provides for creation, sending rain and blessing growth. 

1 Chronicles says ‘yours O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory and the majesty.  Everything in the heavens and on the earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom….we adore you as the one who is over all things.’

With our modern supermarkets, and most things available at the click of a button, we can become removed from creation –  this Psalm reminds us that god is our Provider, not of riches or luxuries, but of necessary and appropriate blessings….For a farming community like Israel, that meant a good harvest. 

And so we can be thankful for creation, for God’s love and his care for it. 

Psalm 65 is a prayer of gratitude….

it reminds us of all that God is,

it reminds us of all that God has done and continues to do in our lives. 

It gives us a different perspective….

allowing us to say alleluia,

to give thanks,

to develop an attitude of gratitude.

What I’ve shared now is in many ways a quick snapshot of this prayer of gratitude…

Perhaps you may want to think about ways in which you might develop a deeper, greater sense of gratitude in your own life,

it might be as simple as counting your blessings each day,

it might mean showing appreciation to others, a compliment, some flowers, a card of thanks,

it might be thanking God more often for all we have. 

it might mean choosing to say alleluia, instead of moaning or groaning. 

I’m going to end now by sharing some words, based on Psalm 65, which affirm our faith and give thanks to God. 

Thank You God for being God.  Alleluia.

Thank You God for hearing and answering our prayers. Alleluia.

Thank You God for forgiving our sins and giving us hope. Alleluia.

Thank You God for your power, strength and awesome deeds. Alleluia.

Thank You God for creating the earth and sustaining it. Alleluia.

Thank you God. Alleluia. Amen.

Psalm 63 – A Prayer of Longing for God

This morning I want to share a story with you…

OWL BABIES by Martin Waddell

Well….why did I share that story with you?

Well I guess it’s because I just love Bill, the youngest owl.

You see Bill is desperate to be with his mum – he loves her very much, he longs for her, he just wants her to be near – to experience her presence close by. 

Bill wants his mum close, then he will be safe and secure.

Our Psalm today is Psalm 63, which in our Bibles is entitled

‘comfort and assurance in God’s presence’   

Or perhaps another way of seeing this psalm is as ‘A prayer of longing for God’. 

Old Testament Reading – Psalm 63

Psalm 63 was almost certainly written by David at a time when he was in the wilderness in Judah, having left the safety, security and familiarity of Jerusalem….

At this point David felt lost, alone and uncertain – In the same way that Bill is separated from his mum, at times we can also feel separated from God. 

During these times, we may feel much like small children feel when they are separated from their parents – frightened, lonely, unsure, angry, and upset.

And we may experience an intense longing for our parent to return. All sorts of things can create this sense of separation from God.  

  • It might come as a result of a loss, or a death of a loved one. 
  • It might be a crisis in our lives, something which leaves us feeling forgotten or uncared for by God.
  • It might come during a time of personal sin or failure…when we struggle with fear and doubt that God will really love us.
  • Maybe a sense of separation comes because we have wandered and done our own thing.
  • Or maybe, it might come, as it did for this Psalmist, as a result of being removed from a place of safety and security, and his community of faith. 

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Whatever the reason, a sense of separation from God can generate life’s deepest pain, that of a desire for something more, an intense longing for God. 

And this is what we see right at the start of the Psalm – David cries out to God with a strong physical metaphor – my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you; in a dry and weary land where there is no water.   

I wonder what language we would use to describe such an intense longing…. what might we say?

The message version of the Bible, a translation which seeks to use modern language puts it this way… God, I just can’t get enough of you!

David is desperate….he is longing for more…. David cries out a heartfelt prayer to God; a prayer that asks God to come close. 

And in doing so there are three things which I notice, three actions that David takes which direct and give focus to his prayer of longing for God…  

The first thing David does is he decides to seek after God….

He affirms again his desire to bless the Lord, to lift his hands in worship to God and to call on God’s name…. David says that even through the watches of the night….perhaps when he is awake with fear and anxiety, even then he will meditate on God, think about all that God has done. 

I wonder what does it look like for us to seek after God?   I guess for each of us it looks different, but it’s worth thinking about:

  • How often do we devote time to reading and studying our bibles as a way of learning and deepening our relationship with God? 
  • How good are we at coming to God in prayer, in being honest and vulnerable and real and allowing God to move in us? 
  • How good are we at going for walk, singing, worshipping, spending time with God?   

If we want to know God better, if we want to know his presence with us, we need to actually seek after him.

Secondly David remembers a time when life was different

a time when he felt God close by, a time when he clearly saw God at work. David remembers the experience he had back in Jerusalem, in the sanctuary. A time when he was gathered in a faith community and saw God’s great power and glory. 

David remembers a time when his soul was satisfied. He reminds himself that all his life God has been his help and kept him safe in the shadow of his wing.   

And this got me thinking, I wonder whether we should spend more time counting our blessings, as it were. Remembering and thanking God for all that he has done for us.   And as those who live after Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, being grateful for the promise of eternal life.   

Finally, this knowledge, that God is a good God, who steadfast love endures, inspires David to promise that he will cling on to God, and allow God to uphold him. 

This idea of clinging on to God is interesting; at times in life I think clinging on to God, how tentatively is all that we can do. 

There have been many times in my life, when I’ve had no idea why something has happened, why I miscarried babies we’d so longed for, why my best friend died of Acute Leukaemia at the end of April, aged just 40, leaving behind a husband and young children, why I struggle with sin, why twenty years ago I experienced depression and felt so low…

At times like this it was all I could do to cling to God in desperation. And of course when times are hard, it is then that God holds us…..

It reminds me of the “footsteps” poem…….

when life is hardest, when we feel separated from God,  it is then that actually God stoops down, lifts us up and carries us…..

This psalm shows us that David longs to know more of God in his life.  David thirsts, he strives, and he desires to experience God in a deeper way.   

And so David commits to seek God, he remembers God, and he promises to cling onto God.

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And I want to suggest this morning, that these three actions of seeking, remembering and clinging on to God will help us when we feel lonely, when we feel separated from God, when we feel lost and have lost our way.   

That these three actions will allow us to develop and kindle a greater sense of longing for God and may actually be the means by which God changes our longings into a fresh, new lived experience of God in our hearts and souls and lives. 

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