God’s rules are Great!

A Reflection on Psalm 119.97-104 by Canon Rob,
16th October, 18th Sunday after Trinity

With 176 verses, Psalm 119 is by far the longest of all the psalms and unless you have plenty of time or, better, read only a few each day, for once I won’t suggest you read and reflect upon them all! Not only is it long, but it is also an acrostic psalm: with each line in every stanza, of eight verses, beginning with the same letter in the Hebrew alphabet. So in the verses we are reflecting upon today, we are up to the Hebrew letter pronounced “mem.” As well as that, in each verse we find a facet of God’s law. For example, in verse 99 we read of God, your testimonies are my meditation” and in verse 102, “I have not turned aside from your judgements.” This may all sound rather complicated but the message of the whole psalm is simple: God’s law is loved, even venerated, and today some of the verses, like the one in the picture above, which is actually verse 105, have found their way into Christian worship and devotion. And look at verse 103, “How sweet are your words on my tongue! They are sweeter than honey to my mouth.” The author certainly knew how to paint a beautiful picture with words and who would have thought that God’s rules, or Law passed down from the time of Moses, could be thought of with such pleasure. Many look upon the Ten Commandments as restrictive and inhibiting, but for the psalmist they were freeing and to be rejoiced over.

I wasn’t the brightest of pupils at school nor always the best behaved, but there were bullies who regularly taunted me for trying my best. Yet when I reflect upon the verses of today’s psalm it’s easy to think the author was a bit too clever for his own good. Read slowly through the verses set for today and you might agree with me. Isn’t he boasting when he says in verse 97, “Lord, how I love your law! All day long it is my study.” Or in verse 100, “I am wiser than the aged, because I keep your commandments.” But here is someone who is passionate about the thing which matters most to him and which he has found from personal experience has brought him great joy and lasting contentment. However, like the other authors of the psalms, the writer of Psalm 119, is a realist and has faced his own share of suffering. For example back in verse 95 he wrote, “The wicked have waited for me to destroy me,…” and he refers to his “enemies” in verse 98. Yet it is his trust in the Lord which encourages him to keep studying and far from boasting, in verse 102 he acknowledges God as the One who has “been my teacher.” The honour and glory are given to God!

There is no doubt at all that the author of Psalm 119 is writing and speaking from the heart. As you reflect upon these verses, and perhaps others if you care to read them, you will find that he has an integrity second to none. But he is not alone. Look at Psalm 1 verse 2 for instance where the author refers to those who trust in God: “Their delight is in the law of the Lord and they meditate on his law day and night;” and in Psalm 19 verse 10 we read that the Lord’s judgements are “sweeter…than honey dripping from the honeycomb.” Then, outside the Psalter we find similar sentiments. So in Jeremiah 15.16 we read, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” Sweeter than honey perhaps? In Ezekiel 3.3 we find the Lord asking the prophet to open his mouth and eat the scroll containing the Lord’s words and, “I ate it and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.” [Both quotations from the NRSV.]

There is much to encourage us in the verses of this psalm set for today and I recommend you read them slowly several times and ask God to help you in your understanding, not only of God’s Law but also in you prayer and reading of the Bible, especially the psalms. They are a great source of inspiration and wisdom because, whilst always about God who is Mighty and in heaven, they are also grounded in human experience.

You are gracious and do good; O Lord, teach me your statutes.

Think of a World without any Flowers!

A Reflection on Psalm 100 by Canon Rob,
2nd October, 16th Sunday Harvest Festival

Psalm 100 is just one of the psalms set for Harvest Festival Services, but the title for today’s Reflection is from a children’s hymn, sung in schools at harvest time and can be found in the hymn book we use at St Dunstan’s [Number 900, Complete Anglican Hymns: Old and New.] With climate change clearly upon us, and the long weeks without rain, it seems appropriate to reflect upon this first line of the hymn, for a few minutes at least. That might seem a strange suggestion for our Harvest Festival Sunday but whilst the hymn asks us to consider a world without many things we take for granted, it is a hymn of praise, each chorus including the line, “We thank you, Lord, and praise your holy name.” Indeed we do praise the Lord each time we worship, but it would be foolish to ignore what is happening in the world around us because of humanity’s abuse of God’s creation. Harvest Festival reminds us that we are called to be ‘stewards’ of all that God has made. We all share a responsibility to care for this earth and all that lives upon it.

Psalm 100 is clearly a hymn of praise and joy. But, as always with the psalms, this praise and joy are not based on false hope or the pretence that all is well all of the time. The author will have known and experienced difficulties and suffering. However, “the bedrock of faith” – as one commentator puts it – is God’s graciousness, steadfast love and faithfulness [see last verses] which “sustain us in good times and bad.” So the psalm is a call to join in the praise of God. As verse 1 puts it: “O be joyful in the Lord all the earth; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.” As you reflect upon the words of verse 1 note that the invitation to enter God’s presence is to the whole earth. Unlike in other psalms, which quite clearly are for the people of Israel only, here all people on earth are invited, indeed encouraged, to share in the praise of God. Verse 3 repeats the invitation: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise….” Come and joins us! Everyone is welcome! Here is worship for all people, because all of us reap the endless benefits of living in this beautiful world. Here we find echoes of a promise in the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Lord says, “My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations. The Sovereign Lord, who has brought his people Israel home from exile, has promised that he will bring still other people to join them.” [Isaiah 56.7-8 in the Good News Bible.] God desires harmony between and within all nations and throughout the whole of His creation and it is the recognition of this, as well as faith in the goodness of God, which is celebrated in another hymn we sing, and written by William Keble in the 16th Century: “All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice; him serve with fear, his praise forth tell, come ye before him, and rejoice.” [Number 21, Complete Anglican Hymns: Old and New.]

Without doubt this year will probably be remembered by many as one during which we faced many challenges: the sudden death of our Queen; world peace being threatened; industrial relations under a strain; many families struggling financially and following on from the pandemic, it is not surprising that morale is recognised as being generally very low. But the writer of psalm 100, experiencing much suffering himself, believed that all is not lost. Far from it because, above all, he was convinced of the unconditional love of God which lasts for ever.

“As we enter your presence, O God, with songs of thanksgiving and praise,
may we know that we are your people, chosen to reveal your steadfast love
from generation to generation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

[Prayer at the end of Psalm 100 in Common Worship: Daily Prayer]

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