Sermons about the Psalms



2 May 2021
25 April 2021
18 April 2021
11 April 2021

2 May 2021

The Rev Susan

Psalm 84

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Heavens Armies.
2 I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,

and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar,
Lord of Heavens Armies, my King and my God!
4 What joy for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises.
Interlude
5 What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
6 When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
7 They will continue to grow stronger,
and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.
8 O Lord God of Heavens Armies, hear my prayer.
Listen, O God of Jacob.
Interlude
9 O God, look with favour upon the king, our shield!
Show favour to the one you have anointed.
10 A single day in your courts
is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God
than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is our sun and our shield.
He gives us grace and glory.
The Lord will withhold no good thing
from those who do what is right.
12 O Lord of Heavens Armies,
what joy for those who trust in you.
 

Psalm 80
1 Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Josephs descendants like a flock.
God, enthroned above the cherubim,
display your radiant glory
2 to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
Come to rescue us!
3 Turn us again to yourself, O God.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved.
4 O Lord God of Heavens Armies,
how long will you be angry with our prayers?
5 You have fed us with sorrow
and made us drink tears by the bucketful.
6 You have made us the scorn of neighbouring nations.
Our enemies treat us as a joke.
7 Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heavens Armies.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved.
8 You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine;
you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land.
9 You cleared the ground for us,
and we took root and filled the land.
10 Our shade covered the mountains;
our branches covered the mighty cedars.
11 We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea;
our shoots spread east to the Euphrates River.
12 But now, why have you broken down our walls
so that all who pass by may steal our fruit?
13 The wild boar from the forest devours it,
and the wild animals feed on it.
14 Come back, we beg you, O God of Heavens Armies.
Look down from heaven and see our plight.
Take care of this grapevine
15 that you yourself have planted,
this son you have raised for yourself.
16 For we are chopped up and burned by our enemies.
May they perish at the sight of your frown.
17 Strengthen the man you love,
the son of your choice.
18 Then we will never abandon you again.
Revive us so we can call on your name once more.
19 Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heavens Armies.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved.
 

John 15:1-8

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

 Sermon


The question is always: how do we live well?

The Psalms give us some pointers, they are wonderfully grounded in our messy, difficult, but occasionally glorious everyday life.

 Today we find ourselves in Book 3 of the Psalms: which includes psalms 73-89. These are the Psalms of Asaph - communal national psalms aware of the judgement of God on his people. And psalms of personal longing from the sons of Korah.

 All of the Psalms, and especially those for today, are about our relationships with God, with others and with our own story. In Psalm 80 the Psalmist echoes the picture from our Gospel reading about us and God being a vine: so the Psalmist says to God:

 You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine;
you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land.
You cleared the ground for us,
and we took root and filled the land.

 This is a psalm recalling the story of the people of God, their great history of exodus and the Promised Land but it is also of the history of desolation and exile

But now, why have you broken down our walls
so that all who pass by may steal our fruit?
We are chopped up and burnt by our enemies.

 When the Psalmist pens this lament they were not experiencing being branches on the vine, rather branches that had been pruned away: cut off and separated.

 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.

 How are we to Iive well? We are to bear fruit…its not enough to be attractively leafy, we are to produce qualities in our lives that show we are attached to God. The fruits of the Spirit of Galatians 5.

 How are we to pray a psalm like this that tells the ancient history of the People of God?

Well, this ancient history is our ancient history as we are grafted into the vine. In Romans 11 Paul explains what is happening here in this Psalm:

some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.

 So we can say this Psalm, and others like it that trace the history of Gods people, with thankfulness for this ancient history we have a share in, as well as thankfulness for our own Christian history.

When I read the news headlines around the world, I echo the words of Psalm 16: The land you have given me is a pleasant land.

What a wonderful inheritance!

However, Paul goes on to warn us, as way back the People of God were warned, about complacency:

But you must not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch, not the root.

 

So we can be thankful for our Christian inheritance here in the UK, but we are also painfully aware of how much that seems to be diminishing, and how much therefore we need to be active as GK Chesterton put it in keeping: ‘the rumour of God alive’.

 And also humbly coming to God in the words of Psalm 80

 Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Josephs descendants like a flock.
God, enthroned above the cherubim,
display your radiant glory
Show us your mighty power.
Come to rescue us!
Take care of this grapevine
that you yourself have grafted.
 

Let us recognise it is all about Gods grace, and Gods presence in our faith history, let us also not get so caught up in the spirit of the age of individualism, which is ingrained in us in our culture, that we do not tend to our communal Christian presence in our land.

 As we turn to Psalm 84, this could be a poetic response to Jesus talking of the vine and the branches, this, Psalm 84, is what it feels like to be on the vine.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord of Heavens Armies.
What joy for those who can live in your house,
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.

And why is it such a place of joy? It is a place where I am accepted body and soul, and which caters for me, body and soul.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar

It is a place of inclusion, this vine. These lines remind me of the really short parable of Jesus' about the mustard seed that grows into a great tree and everyone finds refuge in its branches, the vine is a good place.

There is a Church in Norwich which has bought a pub and called it The Vine, and made it a communal meeting place that serves food. I think the Church of England has generally missed a trick with pubs, we should be buying more. Its no accident that the pub and the church were next to each other; they are a great complement, if everything is managed well of course. Think if we had bought one of the Harston or Hauxton pubs?

Anywaythe vine is a good place to be. The Psalmist goes on:

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,

 The place where God is, is a place of everything that is good. I talked about this in the lead up to Easter. Archbishop William Temple talked of the Trinity being the sphere of God, and in this sphere is the best of everything we have experienced. So the time when you felt most fulfilled, most rested, most vigorous, most connectedthat is what it is like where God is, and if we are there we are in a place of delight and joy, strength, and rest and connection.

 For the Lord God is our sun and our shield.
He gives us grace and glory.
 

I sat in the sun briefly this last week, how lovely is that? - The warmth, the light, the pleasure it engenders.

God is our sun,
And a shield, that talks of safety. We know about shielding, the business of being safe. 
God is our sun and shield.

And God gives us grace, that unexpected acknowledgement and encouragement and love, and God gives us glory - Gods presence.

 I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.

 If the truth be known, there is no better good life than one lived in the presence of God because this is grace and glory, sun and shield, strength and delight.

 I am the vine, you are the branches says Jesus, abide in me. 

Grow and spread out and be sheltered and Shelter. Be nourished and Nourish. Be warmed and Warm. Be shielded and a Shield for others.

Live the dream, let us live out our faith and keep the rumour of God alive and well.


25 April 2021

The Rev Susan

Psalm 42

1 As the deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God.
2 I thirst for God, the living God.
When can I go and stand before him?
3 Day and night I have only tears for food,
while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,
“Where is this God of yours?”
4 My heart is breaking
as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
amid the sound of a great celebration!
5 Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Saviour and my God!
6 Now I am deeply discouraged,
but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
from the land of Mount Mizar.
7 I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
8 But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.
9 “O God my rock,” I cry,
“why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
oppressed by my enemies?”
10 Their taunts break my bones.
They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”
11 Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Saviour and my God!
Psalm  55 
1 Listen to my prayer, O God.
Do not ignore my cry for help!
2 Please listen and answer me,
for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.
3 My enemies shout at me,
making loud and wicked threats.
They bring trouble on me
and angrily hunt me down.
4 My heart pounds in my chest.
The terror of death assaults me.
5  Fear and trembling overwhelm me,
and I can’t stop shaking.
6 Oh, that I had wings like a dove;
then I would fly away and rest!
7 I would fly far away
to the quiet of the wilderness.
Interlude
8 How quickly I would escape—
far from this wild storm of hatred.
9 Confuse them, Lord, and frustrate their plans,
for I see violence and conflict in the city.
10 Its walls are patrolled day and night against invaders,
but the real danger is wickedness within the city.
11 Everything is falling apart;
threats and cheating are rampant in the streets.
12 It is not an enemy who taunts me—
I could bear that.
It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—
I could have hidden from them.
13 Instead, it is you—my equal,
my companion and close friend.
14 What good fellowship we once enjoyed
as we walked together to the house of God.
15 Let death stalk my enemies;
let the grave swallow them alive,
for evil makes its home within them.
16 But I will call on God,
and the Lord will rescue me.
17 Morning, noon, and night
I cry out in my distress,
and the Lord hears my voice.
18 He ransoms me and keeps me safe
from the battle waged against me,
though many still oppose me.
19 God, who has ruled forever,
will hear me and humble them.
Interlude
For my enemies refuse to change their ways;
they do not fear God.
20 As for my companion, he betrayed his friends;
he broke his promises.
21 His words are as smooth as butter,
but in his heart is war.
His words are as soothing as lotion,
but underneath are daggers!
22 Give your burdens to the Lord,
and he will take care of you.
He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.
23 But you, O God, will send the wicked
down to the pit of destruction.
Murderers and liars will die young,
but I am trusting you to save me.


Sermon


So today we find ourselves in Book 2 of the Psalms which include Psalms 42-72.
Traditionally these are known as the first section Psalms of longing, attributed to Korah and to David struggling with Saul.  These are therefore private prayers that have come into the public worship domain.
Today our first Psalm is  Psalm 42:
1 As the deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God.
4 My heart is breaking
as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks

And the first thing I want it look at is worship, and delight.

This song recalls Jerusalem, the beautiful holy City of God, and going up to worship at the Temple. It is  therefore  also a Psalm of the Church because both the Temple and the Church are the presence of God with God’s people. God in God's congregation, dwelling in Word and Sacrament.
So we can take from this psalm an understanding of the importance of worship. The poor psalmist is in tears, he recalls days gone by when this was normal, to go with others to the temple, to Church, and now he is unable: a psalm of exile surely? 
We have despaired this last year when for so long during the first Lockdown we were unable to go to church. 
Worship is important because God is there, God our Saviour, our Rock. God is in worship in Word, Bread and Wine.
We should imbibe from this psalm a sense of delight in worship. C S Lewis in his book on the Psalms talks about psalms which express ‘mirth’ - that quality of innocent delight and communal enjoyment. 
When we come to church we come to sit down with God, and isn’t that amazing? To be with God, to share what God is offering us, to receive God and the grace of God in bread and wine. That should be a delightful experience. We need more joy and delight - he says: "the sound of a great celebration”

‘As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?’

This Psalm is a prayer of longing in a time of difficulty, when there has been no worship, only struggle:

7 I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
8 But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.

All our longings are prayers, and we need to remember to actually pray them because all the answers to our longings are the presence of God, who will meet the level of the power of our difficulty, with the power of grace poured out upon us.

Ask and you will receive. Jesus says 'I am the good shepherd. I know my own .'

So the  second point I want to address today is suffering.
Psalm 55, our second psalm today, is also about suffering,  and particularly about human enemies. Listen to some of the phrases:

The terror of death assaults me.
this wild storm of hatred.
violence and conflict 
Everything is falling apart;
threats and cheating are rampant 

But you get the feeling as you continue to read the psalm again and again that the real issue here is the betrayal of a friend. That is the worst pain:

His words are as smooth as butter,
but in his heart is war.
His words are as soothing as lotion,
but underneath are daggers!

You may have incidents of betrayal in your own life, from a family member, a colleague, someone you thought of as a friend? Think of those in our world today who are betrayed by their own leaders who do not listen to them. Or remember those in conflicts who were betrayed.
Betrayal is a strong experience and  it brings out  anger, as we hear from the 

“you, O God, will send the wicked
down to the pit of destruction.
Murderers and liars will die young,
but I am trusting you to save me.”

And one thing that we notice in the Psalms is expressions of anger. In fact, the level of vitriol expressed in some of the Psalms is really tricky. I find it uncomfortable, so let’s unpack this a bit.

Firstly, we do need to understand the context: this is a private prayer that is now in the public sphere, it was not written to establish a principle of revenge every reader must follow because it wasn’t written for readers. And In private prayer God wishes us to be honest  about how we are; hypocrisy has no place in real relationship.

Secondly, this is at least partly a request for justice.  The enemies the Psalmist talks of are enemies of the goodness of God who lay hands on him for the sake of God, it is not a personal grievance of he and someone else.

I find C S Lewis quite helpful. He asks: ‘how should we behave in the presence of very bad people? There comes a degree of evil against which protest must be made.'
So it is necessary to acknowledge what is happening, and to whom else should we say that, but to God? And when it comes out angrily, that’s OK as an expression to God.

There are no easy answers to the deep suffering individuals and communities undergo. In the context of a Just God, Bonhoeffer suggests  all we can do is to throw the issue back to God and, like this psalmist, to say, ‘I can’t bear this, you take this, you deal with it.'  And God has. Vengeance is God’s, and God does not take up the suggestions of the Psalmist in his anger. Instead God has dealt with the injustice of all suffering in Christ’s death on the cross. That one act of God’s self-sacrifice has opened access to God’s goodness, for all human beings of all times. It deals with the effects of evil at source, but God does not appear at each incident of injustice and suffering, God asks us to be there, loving our neighbour. 

So the Psalms are personal prayers to God in which the Psalmist expresses honestly how he feels about what he experiences. The psalms are prayers, prayers are relationship and this relationship is open and honest, and gives the personal suffering, and the wider problem to God. 

The psalms are vivid and often helpful in the pictures they give us: in Psalm 42 the thirsty deer, and the psalmist marooned as it were on a small rock in a chaotic sea. 
In Psalm 55 the hunted bird, the chaotic city, the battle raging around, the words of butter and the dagger underneath.

Martin Luther said that The Psalms require us to be resting, that we can grasp and hold onto what the Holy Spirit offers us.
We should not read them in a hurry, they will give us nothing if we sprint through.

These are steps on the way to God.

Likewise if we read them only occasionally we may find them overwhelming.  We need to be immersed, swimming in them, so we get to understand their currents and the buoyancy they give us.


18 April 2021 

The Rev Dr John Barrett

Lament - Psalm 13 and Psalm 29

The cry of Jesus from the cross - my God, my God why have you forsaken me is perhaps the most dramatic part of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. I have directed a couple of passion plays, and getting that right is crucial to the portrayal of Jesus’ death. Over Easter I watched again the 1960’s film The King of Kings. I had forgotten how bad the acting was and Jeff Hunter who played Jesus didn’t get the cry from the cross right at all.

It is a cry of deep and utter despair, expressing all the pain and brokenness and isolation that Jesus felt on the cross. We need to focus on that to understand what the cross meant. The fact that ’My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ is the first line of Psalm 22 doesn’t make it any easier to understand. Jesus was certainly not killing time by saying one of the psalms.

And the fact that Psalm 22 ends in a cry of faith doesn’t make it easier either. It is no glib ending. It is a determined shout of faith in the midst of pain. Almost, it is - I am trying to have faith in the midst of everything that I can’t bear and don’t understand, and it is not easy, but I will keep trying!

As such Psalm 22 is a classic psalm of lament. One of several psalms written out of the people of Israel’s pain in the midst of devastation caused by the successive defeats by their enemies and destruction of the capital city, Jerusalem, and its temple, but also written in very personal terms appropriate to expressing an individual's pain in the face of great personal tragedy.

I confess I came late to the Psalms. They were not part of the church tradition in the Methodist church in which I was brought up. Psalms were those strange dirge-like chants that the Anglicans sang in their services, and at variance with the jolly hymns I learnt from the Methodist hymnbook.  And their language seemed to confirm my understanding of them as interesting historical documents, reflecting part of Israel’s past experience, and little more.

It is only in recent years that I have come to see the Psalms as deeply personal prayers, which often have a remarkable freshness and relevance to today. And if you are tempted to view the psalms as I have done in the past, I urge you to look again.

We are looking at some psalms in this period between Easter and Pentecost and today -we look particularly at psalm 13 and psalm 29.

So let’s look at PSALM 13. Psalm 13 is a typical psalm of lament. “How long, O Lord, how long?” And it is not just a question - it is an agonised cry from one who is shouting at God. This sort of lament comes from one who is experiencing the full force of suffering. I think it was Charlie Chaplin who, in one volume of his autobiography, describes a visit to France in which he noticed the grave of a young girl, who had died from an awful and painful disease. On the grave was a picture of the girl, a lovely smiling face from happier times before the disease took hold and ravaged her body. Underneath was the single French word - Pourquoi - why? That is the cry of all who really suffer.

The Jews had traditionally thought of suffering as punishment from God. If you were suffering, you must have done something to deserve it, you must have sinned, and if you thought you didn’t deserve it, you were guilty of the sin of pride. It is the book of Job that counters this - as Job himself shouts at God, to complain about the suffering that has come to him and his family - more than he believes he could possibly deserve.

There will have been times in the last year when people have felt like that. May be some of you. Some of us have got off lightly during the pandemic. We may even have enjoyed aspects of the lockdown. But for many - it has been hell almost literally, if we understand hell to be an experience of the absence of God and all that is good. Some have died suddenly and tragically. Others have been very very ill, and have taken an age to recover. Many have witnessed family and friends struck down and fighting for life in intensive care. The pain made worse by being unable to be with them.  Many will have cried in their hearts - How long, O Lord, how long? Have you forgotten me? How long will you hide your face from me? For how long will my enemy triumph?

The enemy in the psalms is a general and all-inclusive term which refers to everything that is in opposition to God’s will. It sometimes refers to an individual or to a group of people. It sometimes refers to an embodiment of evil - such as we might think of satan. And it sometimes refers simply to events within the natural world - disease, tragedy and disaster - in which nature seems to be out of control - and the suffering of a global pandemic fits into that understanding very easily. And in such events we may feel at times utterly defeated and fear that those looking on will say: despite their faith, they have been overcome.

But that is not all that is said in this psalm: There is the But of the final verse. Not as easy ‘but’. It is a cry of determination. The Hebrew verb is best understood as a future perfect - not ‘I trust’ but ‘I will have trusted’ It is not easy but I am not going to give up.

This is what I find really helpful about the psalms. They allow us to approach God honestly. To shout at him. Why is this happening? And the message throughout the Bible is that God understands that feeling, and wants us to express it. And of course, Jesus’ cry on the cross demonstrates that supremely. In the cross, God, through Jesus, was entering into our experience of pain and despair and sharing it.

And, as the cross shows, for such a cry there is no easy answer. There is just an acceptance of the pain from which it comes. It is in that sense some of us will be turning to God in our worship.

Which brings me to our second psalm - psalm 29.

This is not a psalm of lament as such. It is a call to praise God, the creator and sustainer of the universe. You, who think you are the mighty ones, recognise that true glory and strength lie with God. But, again, the psalmist is honest in his approach to God. For the greatness and power of God is seen in the thunderstorm, in the power of a torrent, in a flash of lightning, in the force of a storm, in the destruction of an earthquake, and the psalmist admits that it is not always easy to praise God for these things.

Although the word ‘but’ - is not there, its sense is. In God’s temple, his people should give a determined response shouting “Holy is the Lord, the Lord is King.”

I remember the great storm of 1987. We were living in Kent at the time, in an area of outstanding beauty, surrounded by some wonderful parkland, with majestic trees. And in one night the hurricane force winds wreaked havoc. Trees were destroyed, buildings seriously damaged, the countryside ravaged. And that included a wonderful cedar tree, which was over one hundred years old, which was upended and reduced to a pile of shattered branches. And I remember, in my sorrow at what had happened, having a sense that we had been reminded that we were not in complete control of nature in the way we might have thought. We were creatures, and should not forget our creatureliness.

I think many of us have had a similar experience in the face of the pandemic and the spread of Covid 19, which, despite what we may be tempted to think here in the UK, is still out of control world-wide. The pandemic has reminded us that we are not ‘lords of creation’, we are just a part of a creation that is still beyond our understanding, let alone our control.

The psalmist speaks from a sense of creatureliness before God. God is the source of glory and strength, not us. And we, his people, must remember that. In our worship, we should respond - Holy and mighty is God. And it is only in that sense of humility and adoration can we go on, with the Psalmist, to say that God gives strength to his people, that’s the future perfect again: God will have given us strength and his will for us will have been peace. To say these psalms is a prayer of honest faith, and it is to restate that honest faith that we come together in worship. Amen

 11 April 2021

The Rev Susan

In the next weeks of this Easter season, until Whit Sunday, I want us to explore the Psalms.
The Psalms are a wonderful treasury. They are, I think, a little like Shakespeare, always relevant, in any time, because they are written by human beings and speak to us in our humanity. They bring the deepest human longings, they express the core human tensions and struggles, all the human emotions  - sometimes embarrassingly so for us in our day, for the Psalms tend to say it like it is! They are absolutely honest and real from the place in which the writers found themselves. 
I am guessing they were written with no purpose other than the ultimate human need for expression. We are the creatures of language, and, crucially, creatures needing to reach up to a caring Creator, and so we communicate.

In the weeks leading from Easter to Pentecost, I want us to explore the Psalms, because they are such a resource. In this time we follow the disciples as they became the first Christian Church; it was a confusing time for them, quite unexpected, and the psalms would have been a rock to ground these men and women in a time of extraordinary upheaval. 
Because the Psalms are the story of the people of God, literally sometimes an account of a particular part of their history, and certainly the story of their changing fortunes. They are also an encounter with the loving presence of God, about how we as human beings are grounded in God, which is in Love. 
The Psalms are story and lyrical poetry, not logical treatises. And quite frankly, the last thing on the disciples' mind at this stage was logic. Their whole world, their grasp on the material and the spiritual had been thrown up in the air and they were not quite sure how it was going to land!
But the disciples needed love, they needed an understanding of the faithfulness of God, in changing times, 
And so, at the moment I believe, do we.

So a little bit of background: 
The Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, is divided into three sections: the Torah: the 5 Books of Moses, the Neviim; the 8 books of the prophets from Samuel to Malachi, (all minor prophets are one book), and The Ketuvim: eleven other books of which the Psalms is the first. 
The Psalms, or Tehillim, like all writing from our Old Testament, were composed by Jews for Jews from all sorts of different contexts, for all sorts of purposes and usages over a long period of time.
The Psalms are said to be written by King David. Actually they are attributed to King David, that is their spiritual authority. It doesn’t mean that they were all written by him. He is very likely to have composed songs and psalms, being well known as a musician and lyricist. In fact ,there is possibly only one psalm (18) that seems likely to be largely his, although his phrases might appear in others remembered  by later authors from an oral tradition, because the Ketuvim are all writings that were collected from a later period of Jewish history than King David, mostly after the building of the second temple after the exile from Babylon. The Jewish tradition  associated an important historical figure with the chief literary productions of the nation. So Moses the law giver is associated as author and editor of the Torah, Solomon the wise the writer of the wisdom books and David, the singer, with the psalms. 
What is agreed and is still in play, is the musical accompaniment to the Psalms. Some are definitely associated with worship, although probably more the synagogues than the temple, but the Pilgrim psalms , or songs of ascents were sung in procession to the Temple on festival days.
The Psalms for Jews today are a fascinating combination of the official theology of Judaism; political rhetoric from days gone by; songs of solace and inspiration for individuals and communities, and even the nation of Israel; songs of praise; and expressions of lament in difficult times. They are for all those reasons a basis for prayer and are still used throughout a Jewish persons daily life. They are recited preceding the morning service, the shabbat Friday night service, when taking the scroll of the day for public reading in the synagogue, and a weekly cycle of psalms is contained in the prayer book. They are recited on the occasion of festivals, they are also used when individuals are sick, and on specific occasions by individuals or groups to express praise, thanksgiving, regret or supplication. 

So what I want to do in these weeks before Pentecost is take a general look at the whole of the book of the psalms, to gain an overview; and each week we are going to dip our toe into just two. Do read them in advance.
As an immediate and simple outline the psalms are divided into five books, and we know this because each of these books ends with a similar doxology. So for instance book 1 contains  Psalms 3-41 of David, ending with 13 Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen!
Book 3: Psalms 73-89 of Asaph and Korah, ending: 52 Praise the Lord forever! Amen and amen!
Book 5: 107-150 with the songs of ascents ending: 6 Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!

All of these books and the individual Psalms  bring us firstly before God, and then in touch with ourselves and they were taken into the practice of the early church who continued with the habit of reciting the Psalms. The Desert Fathers took them into the desert and passed on the tradition to their disciples. The Monastic tradition incorporated the psalms into their daily seven times office of worship, pausing their activities in order to pray and recite and sing the psalms. The Christian Church liturgy has always included a cycle of psalms, as daily readings/songs and liturgical chants. The Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship includes the whole of the book of psalms, they are a bedrock of worship and encounter with the Living God.

We have become, you could argue, lazy and haphazard, in relation to the Psalms. We no longer say the daily office, we don’t come to church every day. You could say we have simply re-arranged our way of doing things and now we realise we can pray and read privately as individuals in our homes…. But, with the loss of daily worship we have lost a daily hold on the psalms as a community, although the lectionary does give us one. 

And when we have considered that the psalms can be a daily encounter with both God and ourselves, then are we missing something quite vital?

Psalms 1 and 2  are our Psalms for today, and they are a prologue to the rest.

Psalm 1 tells us about ourselves, and introduces the ‘law of the Lord’. We are encouraged to’ delight  in the law of the Lord,  and on his law meditate day and night.’  Psalm 1 places a high value on the “law” of God, not just the teachings of Moses, (for us as Christian believers the Ten Commandments) but all the stories of the doings of the first People of God called under Abraham, Moses and others. Then we are to delight, not pay lip service, but that this law is written in our hearts. Jesus, the second Moses, brings us the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence within our very being, who calls and guides and comforts and speaks to us.

Psalm 2 talks about the Lord’s anointed One, who is both King David, the original anointed of God; and Jesus the second David, the Messiah, the ultimate Anointed One.
This Psalm speaks in no uncertain terms, highlighting an aspect of Jesus that we rarely dwell on - his Sovereignty: 6 ‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’ 7 I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you. 
In the presence of this Ruler, who has secured our salvation we might adopt an attitude of scorn, questioning Jesus relevance to us today…. But we would do so to our own destruction, for Jesus is actually THE Sovereign ruler, and: 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;…Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury…  Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling kiss his feet,*
I can see King David, in his younger days as a shepherd boy sitting on one of the hills above the plain. As he keeps an eye on the flock he also looks out across an extraordinary vista. And perhaps he sees across the vast expanse of land, the dust of horses' hooves of a foreign army power approaching another of the kingdom boundaries. And he feels like God looking down on the peoples of the earth, and how their own lived-out narratives are simply play on the stage of the earth.

The first two Psalms introduce, as if from a hilltop, God, and us in relation to God. God, as it were above us,  is the ultimate ruler, the Sovereign. Those who look to God, below, find a refuge and strength, a constant resource, just as trees planted by water have a constant supply of nourishment. But, says Psalm 2, remember God is not a human being. God is utterly Other. 
What is ultimately important is not how we are to other players, but to the stage creator.

I am challenged by my lack of knowledge of the Psalms, I know some of them, I know the sort of content in them, I know many random phrases and some whole psalms… but they are not on the tip of my tongue as they would have been for Jesus.

However we should not belittle ourselves for our lack of knowledge, but rather evaluate our level of commitment, not in order to be meeting a certain standard, that is not what a good relationship is, but if we do really get hold of the resources that God has given us, the principles of the law and an appreciation of the stories of salvation from the Bible, then we can thrive.

I love the simplicity and the challenge of Psalm 1: 
Happy are those
   ‘who do not follow the advice of the wicked’,   - what advice do we follow for our lives?
‘or take the path that sinners tread’,  -  what paths do we walk in? Literally what pavements do we tread, what corridors, what journeys make up our lives?
   ‘or sit in the seat of scoffers’;  -  what seats do we sit on, which ‘chairs’ on which committees, which living rooms, which educational establishments, which charities?
 ‘but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night’. - in what do we delight and on what do we meditate? What books and films and pictures and poetry do we love and go back to? 
‘Happy are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord . They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. ‘

If all of the advice that we take, and paths that we walk, and chairs and subjects of delight are rooted and grounded in the good things of God, then we will be rooted and grounded like a tree planted by water.