Give praise where praise is due!

A Reflection on Psalm 113 by Canon Rob,
18th September, 14th Sunday after Trinity

No doubt about it, Psalm 113 is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the God who is unique!The words on the picture here are from the first half of verse 5, and it expects the answer to be “no-one is like Him!” Yet there is more in verse 5 to praise God for! He not only sits on “his throne on high,” he “humbles himself to behold the things of heaven and earth.” (More about that later!) Greatness and humility are found in God: an example for the leaders of the Church and the world!? The title of this reflection may resonate with older readers. I remember my father using the expression on more than one occasion when he was particularly impressed by a work of art or a wooden bowl turned on a lathe. How much more then is the writer of this psalm encouraging the people of Israel, now called “servants” in verse 1, to give praise to God.

Allan Harman in his commentary on the psalms suggests that Psalm 113, with Psalms 114-118 formed “part of the ‘Egyptian Praise’,” sung during “major religious festivals.” (Psalm 114 recalls the Exodus when Israel came out of Egypt. See also Exodus 12.21-30 about the beginning of the Passover.) However, verse 2 suggests that this is likely to be a call for all people to praise God and not just members of the Jewish community. The author wants the Lord’s name to be blessed, or praised, “from this time forth and for evermore” and the prayer at the end of the psalm in Common Worship Daily Prayer includes the words: “May your promise to raise the poor from the dust and turn the fortunes of the needy upside down be fulfilled in our time also, as it was in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” So this is a hymn of praise and hope for today, just as when it was first written and the picture here is the first image from the James Webb Telescope in July this year: an image, with others, which has the potential to change our understanding of “the heavens.” Wow! Or, as the first word of the psalm today says, Alleluia!! Praise the Lord for all His creation – way beyond what we will probably ever fully understand. Scientists will work towards finding answers to the question “How?” People of faith, whether the ancient people of Israel or Christians and those of other faiths today, ought also to ask the question “Why?” Both are very deep questions and both are deserving of being taken seriously. The author of Psalm 113 did not have the scientific knowledge available to us today, but he was filled with awe and wonder just as we are!

The prayer, quoted above, refers to verse 6 in the psalm and this gives part of the answer to the “Why?” question. The psalmist wrote of the Lord’s “glory above the heavens” but He also “humbles himself.” (See verses 4 and 5) In the New Testament [see Philippians 2.5-11] we read that, whilst he was divine, Jesus “humbled himself…assuming the nature of a slave.” In Jesus we see the perfect humility of God. Hence we can, with the author of Psalm 113, shout “Alleluia!” Give praise where praise is due! For the God who created the heavens, who sits enthroned on high, is also the God who, in Jesus, joins the lowest of the low – and then some!! I have recently read “The Boy Beyond the Curtain: Notes from an Australian Life” by Tim Winton. It is an autobiography of sorts and in one chapter, “Twice on Sundays,” he speaks of church-going when a child. He refers to the Exodus, mentioned above, as an exciting story but one which didn’t affect him directly. He continues, “But Jesus (a hero of all boyhood heroes) was another matter. He didn’t want the impossible – that was what was so awkward and yet so inspiring about him.”

Here is wisdom and it resonates with Psalm 113: a hymn to God, who is Lord of Lords and King of all creation, whose name we praise “from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same.” A hymn of praise this psalm certainly is. But as you reflect upon it, you may well find it is also a call to ask God for that humility which we find in Him but which is one of His gifts to us: a gift which we human beings need now and always. Alleluia!!

The Time to Mourn…..

A Reflection on Psalm 21 verses 1 – 7, by Canon Rob following the death of our Queen on 8th September

As I write this, our nation has just begun a period of mourning for ten days. Church bells have rung, gun salutes have echoed, flags fly at half mast and King Charles and Camilla, his Queen Consort, have just arrived at Buckingham Palace following their flight back to London after their stay in Balmoral in Scotland where the body of his mother, our late Queen, will lay at rest for a few days. It doesn’t take the television, radio or even social media to tell us that life has changed for all of us. Many public events have been cancelled during these days of mourning and we are in a kind of ‘limbo’ awaiting the funeral, just as we are when a close friend or family member has just died. This is a time of waiting and ‘normal life’ is on hold.

The Bible has much to say about kings, many of them recognised as being chosen by God. Just one example was David [See 2 Samuel 5.1 – 5, especially verse 2.] During the last day or so we have been reminded how, at the beginning of her reign, Queen Elizabeth dedicated her life, “whether it be long or short,” to serve others and recognised that she was doing so with God’s help and strength. Without doubt her Christian faith and God’s grace have helped her over more than seventy years.

Many of the psalms refer to kings and, of course, the Lord is known as the King above all kings and princes. Psalm 21 is one such psalm. Almost certainly written following victory after a battle, the first verse celebrates God’s help: “The king shall rejoice in your strength, O Lord; how greatly shall we rejoice in your salvation.” It is God who has won the victory and the unnamed King at the time the psalm was written (possibly David) recognises that truth. All is down to the goodness of the Lord and such was Queen Elizabeth’s humility and faith, she knew that to be true for her. As we recall her long life and reign, verse 4 is so appropriate: “He asked of you life and you gave it him, length of days for ever and ever.” How blessed are we to have had her as a constant for so many years. She lived, as we do, through a time of great change and often uncertainty. At times of national, or international anxiety, she has “been there” for us. At such times, the wisdom in verse 7 of Psalm 21 was seen in her: “For the king puts his trust in the Lord; because of the loving-kindness of the Most High, he shall not be overthrown.” It isn’t surprising therefore that we feel a great loss. Nothing like the depth of the loss felt by her family and closest friends, but a very real loss all the same.

When the news of the Queen’s death was announced at 6.30 last evening, Windsor Castle was shown on television and behind it was a beautiful rainbow. As Vicky, my wife, and I watched it I saw it as a gift from God reminding us of the rainbow which was revealed to Noah after the flood. [See Genesis Chapter 8, especially verses 8 – 17.] That rainbow was a sign of God’s promise to love all that He had made for ever. Seeing the rainbow behind Windsor Castle I wondered if God was renewing His promise all over again. Was He saying, “I love you! I am with you! I will care for you, even and especially at this time of loss?” Perhaps that was fanciful. Even so, I am convinced of the truth behind it and if we can believe that, even in the midst of grief, we can begin to look forward knowing that in the late Queen’s eldest son we will, once again, have someone who will reign to serve others under God’s guidance and by God’s grace. God save the king! Amen.

Go before us, Lord Christ, with the blessings of your goodness
and guide all those you call to authority in the way of your justice,
the knowledge of your liberty and the wisdom of your gentleness;
for your name’s sake.
[Prayer at the end of Psalm 21 in Common Worship, Daily Prayer]

God Knows Us!

A Reflection on Psalm 139.1-7 by Canon Rob,
4th September, 12th Sunday after Trinity

The opening words of this psalm, in our Common Worship books, are, “O Lord, you have searched me out and known me.” That might be a scary prospect as you reflect upon them. It may be true that we know ourselves better than anyone else, and if we are in a very long-term relationship our partner may know us very well and love us warts and all! But, if you have read George Orwell’s book, “Brave New World,” the prospect that God knows us inside out may remind you of “Big Brother” who, today, has become a symbol of totalitarian regimes which control citizens’ personal lives and deny them freedom. On the other hand, you may read the first seven verses, set for today’s worship, and find great comfort in them. If this is the case, you will be joining the many millions of people, especially Jews and Christians, who find these words a source of inspiration and hope. Rather than being threatened by the prospect that God knows us intimately, it is reassuring simply because, far from being an ominous ‘big brother,’ God is believed to be our heavenly Father whose sole motivation is love and a love which is freeing rather than controlling; a love which allows us freedom to be. Two ‘big’ words are attributed to God helping us to understand a little about Him. He is ‘omniscient’ which means He knows all and He is ‘omnipresent,’ meaning that He is everywhere, and the author of Psalm 139 clearly rejoices in this knowledge. Here is a God who isn’t disinterested and distant, but the One who loves completely: enough, for Christians at least, to believe that He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to show us – face to face – who God is and what His love is like. So, God knowing us inside out is not meant to make us feel fearful or guilty, but thankful that we are truly loved as we are.

Verses 1 – 7 are set for today but, as in previous Reflections, can I encourage you to read the entire psalm? The following verses up to, and including, verse 18, continue with this same theme. Many find verse 12 especially beautiful: “For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” We probably wouldn’t want to take this literally today, but we can appreciate the poetry and even a deeper meaning than accepting it as fact. For it is about God knowing us and loving us from our very beginning and still doing so beyond our end here on earth. As verse 7 puts it, again so beautifully, “If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.”

You may be worried by the complete change in tone in verses 19 – 22. They are full of hate and the contrast with the other verses is a real shock. It is almost as if another writer has inserted these words. However, as one commentator puts it, these four verses show that the author, who celebrates God’s loving presence is “totally baffled by the infamy and vileness of really wicked men.” In other words, those who do what is seemingly inhuman and therefore reject God and His goodness. But it is worth reading the final two verses together with these four. Doing so strongly suggests that the author is asking God to continue to search him out to see if there is any such hate or wickedness in him. Perhaps a reminder of Jesus saying we should look for the “plank in our eye” rather than “the speck” which is in someone else’s? [See Matthew 7.1-5]

To end this Reflection, a verse from an ancient hymn, thought to go back to St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland: words which have brought comfort and encouragement, hope and joy, to thousands in the past and still do today. I hope and pray they will do the same for you. God be with you.

“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.” Amen.

Scroll to Top