Sermons about the Psalms



23 May 2021 Pentecost
16 May 2021
9 May 2021
2 May 2021
25 April 2021
18 April 2021
11 April 2021


23 May 2021 Pentecost

The Rev Susan

Isaiah 61

 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lordfavour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
   they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
   the devastations of many generations.

Good News for the Oppressed

1The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,

for the Lord has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
2He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lords favour has come,
and with it, the day of Gods anger against their enemies.
3To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
4They will rebuild the ancient ruins,
11The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.
Everyone will praise him!
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
with plants springing up everywhere.

 

What is Pentecost?

17 In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
 
Pentecost as a festival in which we celebrate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in a new way, is an alarming thought to many quiet Christians…prophecy and new languages, a roaring wind and tongues of fire are all a little much in a  quiet rural village church Nevertheless today is an extraordinarily exciting day, and its always good to remind ourselves why it is so extraordinary.
So I want to take 2 key verses from our readings:
 
When you send forth your spirit, they are created, •
   and you renew the face of the earth.
and from Isaiah:
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
with plants springing up everywhere.
 
The Spirit of God brings life, its as simple as that.
and as profound as that.
 
Pentecost is the Spirit of God which is life,…
life..energy…love…the light in someone's eyes, the joy in voices singing, the warmth of a familiar smile, the thrill of a new project, the patience of waiting for a child to settle to sleep; the gentleness of a familiar friends presence, the peace of a Sunday evening, the kindness of a stranger offering help, the goodness of aid agencies, the self-control of a dedicated teacher with a troubled student.
This is the Spirit of God, as J V Taylor would say, going-between which is how the Spirit works.
 
Going-between, going between us and our everyday lives to bring life.
Going between us and our choices.. to bring life
Going between us and our circumstances, to bring life in small and larger ways..
 
Pentecost was a Jewish Festival of the wheat Harvest.
It was marked by two loaves of wheat bread, presented in the temple.
How wonderfully ordinary, and yet how wonderfully satisfying is a new loaf of bread, especially if you have made it yourself.
it is life, in a loaf.
This festival of Pentecost  occurred 50 days after Passover, and so its backdrop was the story of the liberty of the People of God from slavery, a miraculous and dramatic story of escape across the river, pursued by the Egyptian armies ..
a story of the ongoing care of God in crisis
As the bread is the ongoing care of God in the ordinary. bread to nourish our bodies and give us joy.
 
 When you send forth your spirit, they are created, •
   and you renew the face of the earth.
 
Weve just returned from a week in the southern Lake District where I was blown away by the beauty of the countryside: lush grass, trees coming into the fresh bright green leaf, bluebells, young lambs, peaty brown streams flowing.
The Spirit of God brings life, and has always throughout the history of the people of God brought life, whether through the words of dramatic prophesy coming out of the prophets mouths,
to the whisper of the child Samuel in the night-time Temple…’Here am I.
to two loaves of bread from precious wheat ears that have once more sprung from the ground, been watered and nurtured by sun and rain.
to the dreams and visions of Christians down through the ages for justice, for peace, for reconciliation and for a better relationship with the natural world.
to us making the choice to be kind, or patient, to smile instead of frown.
 
You will have recognised the Old Testament reading today I am sure as the words that Jesus read when he first went into the synagogue after returning from the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry.
Jesus was the one on whom the Spirit of God rested, in a way that hadnt been seen before, throughout the OT people God called were given the Spirit of God, given ability, strength and words for a time and a place. But in Jesus the Spirit of God lived, always.
After Pentecost the Spirit of God would indwell all of the people of God.
so that each Christian person is one
to bring good news to the poor.
 to comfort the broken-hearted
 to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
 to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lords favour has come,
 
Pentecost is extraordinary because until that moment we did not have access to the life of God, the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness and self-control as we do now with the Holy Spirit living in us and giving us life, not existence, but a life with hope and certainty of love and a peace that all shall be well.
 
As I was preparing I read a document produced by the Bible Society,  on the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit provides power to do amazing things .. it said..
 and it went on:
to be generous, to act against corruption and deception, and to perform miraculous signs.
 
Yes, the Holy Spirit in us provides us the power to be generous, to act against corruption…
and this is what makes today extraordinary, that we are able to do just that, to be better people by Gods Spirit..
oh and to perform miraculous signs..
 
A couple of weekends ago Byron brought his girlfriend for supper and she wanted to see round the garden. And as we walked round and I explained how it had been, and showed her what we had created, I was pleasantly surprised at how lovely parts of the garden were looking now. It never ceases to amaze me how wonderful a garden is, how ordinary or run-down it is to start with, and how over the months and years with new plants, and new ideas and some  hard work, it is transformed.
 
The Spirit of God in us is both an extraordinary miracle, and a constant nourishing presence that over the months and the years as we pray and listen to Gods voice and attempt to live well we find is gradually transforming us, and as a community of people is transforming the place where we are.
That is our calling, our challenge and I encourage you all to keep going, and thankyou for all the ways in which you are transforming the lives of others around you, this is the most extraordinary and most powerful thing that can happen to any of us anywhere.
 
We give thanks to God, said the early Christian brothers coming to John the Dwarf, that this year there has been much rain and the palm trees have been able to drink, and their shoots have grown, and the brothers have found manual work.
Abba John said to them: So it is when the Holy Spirit descends into the hearts of men and women; they are renewed and they put forth leaves in the fear of God.
 
How in our own lives may we put forth leaves which will nourish others, there are ao many ways and each of us will be given opportunity to do it a different way,
He whop has ears to hear, Jesus so often said, let him and her hear
 
Gods righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
with plants springing up everywhere.


16 May 2021

The Rev Dr John Barrett

Two Psalms - 110 and 126

I have recently heard a talk by Julie Spence, the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire. She was talking about her work as the Queen’s representative in the county. She began by explaining the title - it is lieutenant (American pronunciation) not left tenant, because she attends events in lieu (in place of) the tenant. And a tenant is someone who holds temporary authority over a place or an area, which belongs to someone else. Something which all in authority might usefully remember. The Monarch is therefore the tenant referred to here, the one who holds temporary authority under God for the kingdoms she rules.

The Jewish people always saw their Kings in that way. They were tenants or stewards under God, given temporary authority over their kingdom, but ultimately accountable to God for the way in which they ruled. Indeed when the Israelites asked the prophet Samuel to anoint someone to be their king, he didn’t want to do it. He was worried that the King might forget this, and try to take power to himself. And the prophets blamed some of the troubles that subsequently befell Israel as being the consequence of their kings doing just that.

The first of our two psalms today is what is called a Royal psalm. It is a psalm celebrating the God-given authority of the King of Israel. It is a prayer for the king, possibly at the time of a king’s anointing (as we might say coronation). The Lord will say to the king, says the psalmist, Sit at my right hand and I will make your enemies your footstool (that is give you power and authority over them). You will crush other kings and will be a judge of the nations. Implicit in all this is the belief that the King has his authority from God acts in God’s name.

One of the continuing questions in Israel was how did the authority of the king compare to the ancient and traditional authority of the priests in the temple, who believed they were the guardians of the law of Moses. Only members of the tribe of Levi could become priests. What if the king was not a Levite? That is the reason for that strange verse in the middle of the psalm - you are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is referred to in the book of Genesis. He was King of Salem and he blessed Abram and offered him bread and wine which he had sacrificed. This blessing of Abram was taken as indicating that he had received an order of priesthood from Melchizidek, which predated the priesthood of Levi. And this priesthood followed for all Abram’s descendants. Hence the psalmist celebrates the new king as also a priest. And later the writer of the letter to the Hebrews attributes this same priesthood to Jesus.

But following the conquest of Israel, and the period of exile, the Israel people lost confidence in their kings, and looked for a new king, like their great king David, who would lead the people in the right way. As a consequence the royal psalms came to be seen, not as a celebration of the present, but as a prayer for the future, when they hoped God would send a Son of David, a Messiah, to bring in his new kingdom.

And it is clear from the gospels and the epistles in the New Testament that this psalm was seen as applying specifically to the coming Messiah. “Noble are you on the day of your birth” was seen to refer to the coming Son of God. And  “In all his majesty he shall judge among the nations” a statement about his ultimate authority.

Last Thursday was Ascension Day, when we celebrate Jesus taking his place at the right hand of God. Don’t get distracted by imagining how he journeyed there. You will not be helped by those medieval pictures showing Jesus’ feet sticking out below a cloud. The ascension describes the sure conviction that came to the disciples that the man Jesus, whom they had followed to the cross and then experienced risen again, was indeed the promised Messiah, now declared by God as King of Kings. As St Paul says: God has now highly exalted him, and given him the name that is above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess him Lord and King.

 And that, of course, is not the end of the Christian story but the beginning of it. For now Jesus pours out his Spirit on all who follow him, to empower them to build his kingdom on earth. And that is a great encouragement but it is also a great responsibility.

The Acts of the Apostles describes the disciples, after their experience of Christ ascended,  returning to where they had been staying to wait prayerfully and eagerly for the promised Holy Spirit. And many Christians across the world traditionally use this period between Ascension day and Pentecost to pray similarly for the Holy Spirit to come and renew their lives. But the Holy Spirit is not a sinecure. It does not come to relieve us of our responsibilities. It comes to strengthen and empower us, to live as Christ’s followers in a world in which he is no longer physically present.

There is a story of a church that was bombed during the second word war. It was badly damaged. When the broken hearted parishioners went to see the destruction, they looked particularly for a statue of Christ that had stood at the front of the Church, his arms outstretched in welcome to this place of worship. To their relief they found the statue largely undamaged, except for his hands which had broken off as the statue toppled from its plinth. When the church was rebuilt, the statue was reinstated at the front. A benefactor offered to get a sculptor to repair it and replace the hands. But the congregation said no. It will remind us, they said, that Christ has now no hands but ours to do his work.

I don’t know where that church was. But in the midst of their destruction it cannot have been an easy thing for the congregation to take on board. There was a need to restore and to rebuild and the responsibility to do that fell to them. And that isn’t easy, even with the help of the holy spirit.

And that brings me, more briefly, to psalm 126 - which is a prayer for God’s help and strength. It is in two parts. The first part looks back to good times. In particular, it recalls the joy with which the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem after the exile; the happiness they experienced as they rebuilt their city and the kingdom, the dreams they had for the future.  “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion; then were we like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy. 

But now it appears things are not so good. There is reference to tears and to great sadness. So the psalmist prays - and this is the heart of the psalm: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, and renew us,  just as water brings new life when it flows through a desert.” 

And the two parts of the psalm belong together. It is because of all they have experienced in the past they can pray with confidence now. The psalmist ends with a shout of faith: “He who goes out weeping will return with songs of joy.”

We have spent time reflecting upon all we have experienced in the pandemic, the pain, the fear, the loneliness that many have suffered. Now, wonderfully, we may perhaps be coming out of it - though that is not true for many in the world. But we are all clear we won’t just return to exactly how things were. That can’t happen and it shouldn’t happen. The pandemic has highlighted some inequalities and division within our communities. We have to rebuild a friendlier, more caring, more just society post pandemic. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, prays the psalmist. Its plural. All our fortunes. Not just mine

And you and I have a special calling here - to pray and work for the coming of the kingdom of which Christ is king, and we can seek the help of God’s spirit strengthening us and enabling us to dream dreams of love and peace for the world. And we can do so with confidence because we can look back to all that God has done for us - in creation itself, in sending Jesus, in giving us a vision of his kingdom, and in the men and women of faith on whose shoulders we stand. And with all that behind us we can have sure faith for the future. “Restore all our fortunes, O Lord, and renew us we pray. Amen


9 May 2021

The Rev Susan


Book 4 of the Psalms: 90-106
In these Psalms there is a reminder of the covenant between God and the People of God, and a contrast between God’s power and constancy, and our finitude and vulnerability.
 
Psalm 93
The Lord is king! He is robed in majesty.
Indeed, the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength.
The world stands firm
and cannot be shaken.
Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial.
You yourself are from the everlasting past.
The floods have risen up, O Lord.
The floods have roared like thunder;
the floods have lifted their pounding waves.
But mightier than the violent raging of the seas,
mightier than the breakers on the shore—
the Lord above is mightier than these!
Your royal laws cannot be changed.
Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever.
 
The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
 
The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
 the floods have lifted up their voice;
 the floods lift up their roaring.
 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
 more majestic than the waves* of the sea,
 majestic on high is the Lord!
 
 Your decrees are very sure;
 holiness befits your house,
 O Lord, for evermore.
 
 
Psalm 100
 
Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.
 

 

John 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Fathers commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for ones friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Sermon

Book 4 are Psalms of faith sung by a people at a low ebb.  And we start today with Psalm 93. What a cracker, what amazing poetry?

‘Most emphatically,’ CS Lewis says, ‘the Psalms must be read as poems, as lyrics, with all the licenses and formalities, the hyperbolas, the emotional rather than logical connections which are proper to lyrical poetry.’

And what better example than Psalm 93?

Firstly that image of strength and eternity

1 The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty;
   the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
2   your throne is established from of old;
   you are from everlasting.

And then the sudden switch from majesty to vulnerability, even terror
 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
   the floods have lifted up their voice;
   the floods lift up their roaring.
The psalmist is drowning . . he is overwhelmed by something.. it could be the death of someone, or even many..
But he is also profoundly aware of the strength of God, even in this time..
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
   more majestic than the waves* of the sea,
   majestic on high is the Lord!
This is an extraordinarily profound and powerful expression of confidence.
This is a poem intended to be sung, what melody would you put to this one I wondered about Nimrod, or Karl Jenkins?
 

As Lewis goes on to say: ‘the psalmist has given truths which are infinitely worth remembering’, and so the poetry helps us to remember with this ‘rhythmic and incantatory expression’.

If you find yourself in the position of this psalmist at the moment, understand this is the human condition, this is a place where we do find ourselves. The Psalms are prayers and we are to acknowledge the reality of the positions we are in before God,

the floods have lifted up their voice;

then we are to understand the force of the following

4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, is the Lord.

I love this Psalm, this poetry…the floods the floods the floods…

at this time: Covid raging internationally, and fear of variants, racial injustice, police bias, governments with self-interest, lying, corruption, -the floods the floods of our times.

and the floods of our lives: coping with wave after wave of domestic change and upheaval, family and friends far away, ill or dying, financial pressures, limitations to our lives, -the floods the floods

But more majestic, more majestic than these forces is the indescribable power of the love of God for you, and the amount of grace available to you, and the strength of God that you may draw on.

I am reading through the sayings of the desert fathers. and I have kept pinned to my computer this last few weeks a quotation:

Abba Euprepius said, Knowing that God is faithful and mighty, have faith in him and you will share what is his.

He goes on to say: We all believe that God is mighty and we believe all is possible to him. As for your own affairs, behave with faith in him about them too, for he is able to worth miracles in you also.

Have faith in God and you will share what is God’s; you will share God's strength when the waves come. The rubber hits the road with our faith when it comes to our own circumstances…we might believe objectively that God is great, no problem singing: “Praise the Lord for he is glorious never shall his promise fail. or “O sing of his might O tell of his grace…our shield and defender the ancient of Days..”

But, as I said recently at Jilly’s funeral, our faith is no faith if it is not faith now, now when the coffin is in front of us, now when our lives are troubled and difficult.

The floods, the floods, are floods, they sometimes creep up the walls of our lives almost imperceptibly, and sometimes they surge through and knock us off our feet…

but How majestic, how majestic, is Our God, the One who will save us through this experience and bring us out the other side.

Do always let me know if you need me to particularly pray for you, I do this each day for an ever changing list of people.

How equipped might we be if we knew this Psalm off by heart?

Our second psalm today is all about the robustness of God and Gods equipping. This deserves to have a really good bouncy tune set to it.

1Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
2Worship the Lord with gladness.
Why? Because God is!
And what is God?
3Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
 
The Lord is God, and God cannot be God unless God and ourselves are one unit together. How extraordinary, our God is fundamentally a relational God. As `Jesus says to us through the Gospel today:
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
You have no excuse says the palmist:
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Why?
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,

God does not love the baby boomers but not generation X, Gods love continues through every generation with each of their quirks, their particular experience, their unique take on life. That changes, God remains constant in love and grace and this needs to be sung about!

It can be very handy, periodically, to find a good Christian biography to read how someone else story has been touched by God, to understand the how of it all. I tend to do this with podcasts these days.

Philip and i were listening to the archbishop of Canterbury speak to Nick Robinson on Political Thinking podcast last Monday.

I do like this archbishop, yes, he came from a posh and privileged and educated and well-off background, the man occasionally went to tea with Winston Churchill and his family contained prominent politicians. But when he was called from the upper echelons of the oil industry to be ordained he went to see his Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward.

Bishop Simon said to him you have been in a position of being in command, doing as it were, things to others. Now you are going to be in imposition of. having things done to you. And sure enough Justin went from a 6 figure salary to 10K a year with 5 children, and learnt how to live on universal credit.

You probably remember the story a few years back when, sitting at dinner with someone they let slip that his father was not his father at all. And in his public position as archbishop  he had not only personally to come to terms with this hitherto unknown fact, but also to make public statements about it.

in 2016 he spoke of his childhood with an alcoholic fatherGavin Welby who was both abusive and on occasions affectionate and the roller-coaster experience that was.

Justin Welby has experienced the waves of human experience ; the floodwaters that rise suddenly, or creep in insidiously. But he also knows so much fo the grace of God and how crucial it is that every Christian lives by grace and love, and the podcast was peppered with references to the necessity for us to know we live by love and grace.

The Psalms are a huge help for us in the messiness of our ordinary lives where things are unlikely o be plain sailing all the way. They tell of the reality of our experience and the stronger strength of God for us.

The Lord is good and his unfailing love endures forever!”

Apparently St Jerome says that in his time because the church was so wedded to the Psalms and they were so much part of everyday life you could hear them being sung in the fields and the gardens. What a great thought.

This alone is important says Bonhoeffer at the end of his book on the psalms: that we begin to pray the Psalms with confidence and love and we let that leak into our lives.

Gods floodwaters of love and grace.

Knowing that God is faithful and mighty, have faith in him and you will share what is his.        


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.