Phew! The danger is over.

A Reflection on Psalm 124 by Canon Rob,
August 27th, The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

One of the things which many people find difficult is not being in control. This has always been part of human nature, but today it may be even more common, at a personal, national and international level. Take the current debate about AI, for example. Clearly there are benefits to AI not least for the NHS. However, there is increasing anxiety about it taking on a ‘life of its own,’ getting ‘out of control.’ A message which runs through the Bible is that God is in control. God calls human beings, like Moses, to help bring about His will. However, it is God who intervened to free His people from Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land. God intervened at the Incarnation: the birth of Jesus. As you reflect on Psalm 124 you may be able to recall a time, or times, when God intervened in your life.

Today’s psalm is the result of God intervening at a time when those He loved were in danger. Although we don’t know what that was, reading verses 2 – 4, we can assume the psalmist is writing about an attack of some sort. It was terrifying. “If the Lord had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us; Then would they have swallowed us alive when their anger burned against us; Then would the waters have overwhelmed us and the torrent gone over our soul…” The author is surely writing figuratively but, whilst a very different example, we can perhaps sense a little how terrible the experience was as we see the devastation caused by the wildfires in the island of Maui, Hawaii, where the town of Lahaina has been completely destroyed. What is being described by the writer of the psalm and what we see on our television screens, is catastrophic and out of our control. Indeed verse 4 is almost primeval, referring to the waters which could have overwhelmed the people. It is reminiscent of Genesis Chapter 1, verse 2 at the beginning of the creation story: “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” As you reflect on today’s psalm, you might also recall the story of Noah and the Ark in Genesis Chapters 7 – 9, where “the waters of the flood came on earth.” [Genesis 7.10] We might think the psalmist was exaggerating, but it was not uncommon for flash floods to occur and, as today, the idea of being covered in water with no chance of escape, was terrifying. Remember those who lost their lives in the submersible, Titan, in June?

No wonder then, that Psalm 124 is fulsome in its praise of God. Only seven verses long, four of them identify God as the source of help. The Lord was on their side [verses 1 and 2], God is praised because He has “not given (the people) over to be a prey” for the enemy [verse 5] and in verse 6 the author describes freedom like that of a bird who is delivered because “the snare is broken.” A message which the author wants his readers to understand is that God, the Creator of all, has the power and desire to constantly care for His people. We might think we are in control of our lives, the lives of others and, with the increasing concern over climate change, the future of this planet. However, the psalm tells us otherwise. Those who have faith know that God is in the past, present and future and we are urged to entrust our lives and souls into His hands. The author of the First Letter of Peter in the New Testament puts it this way: “…even those who suffer, if it be according to God’s will, should commit their souls to him – by doing good; their Maker will not fail them.” [1 Peter 4.19] The first part of this quotation may make us feel uncomfortable today, but remember that many in the Early Church suffered and died for their faith. It gave them the courage to go on. The truth to hold on to is that no matter what we go through, or how much we feel we are not in control, God is with us today, as He was in the past and as He always will be in the future.

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth.” [Psalm 124 verse 7]
Thanks be to God!

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Remembering what God has done

A Reflection on Psalm 105.1-10 by Canon Rob,
August 13th, The Tenth Sunday after Trinity.

Reflection illustrationOne of the readings set for this morning’s Eucharist is from the Book of Genesis: Chapter 37, verses 1-4 and 12-28. It tells the story of Joseph’s jealous brothers who plot to get rid of him. They sell him for twenty pieces of silver to a group of Ishmaelites who take him to Egypt. Far from being a disaster, this is the beginning of a new and privileged life for Joseph who, in Genesis 45, tells his brothers all that has happened to him was down to God. This is just one example of how God has worked in the past as He continues to do today.

Psalm 105 is a celebration of all that God has done through Abraham and his descendants up to the time when His Chosen People entered the Promised Land. Throughout its 45 verses it recalls the wonderful deeds of God, and it begins with an encouragement to “give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name; make known his deeds among the people.” Only verses 1 – 10 are set to be used today, but if you take the time to read all the verses you will be able to recall other stories from the Old Testament: about Isaac; Jacob; Joseph; Moses and Aaron. When we are going through a time of crisis, personally, nationally or internationally it is often difficult to see where God is. However, as we look back on past experiences, we can sometimes see the ‘hand of God’ in whatever that experience was. So it is with today’s psalm and as you reflect upon the verses set for today, you may like to reflect on something which you have gone through and which, only with hindsight, you recognise that God was with you as He was with the early Israelites.

Reflection illustrationCommentators point out that the first fifteen verses of Psalm 105 are found in the First Book of Chronicles, Chapter 16, verses 8 – 22. [You can find this book in the Old Testament immediately after the Second Book of Kings.] It was a hymn of praise sung during the reign of King David when the Ark of the Covenant was carried into the Temple and formed part of the liturgy used that day, just as the psalms can form part of our liturgy today – as indeed they do at Evensong. And perhaps a key verse for us to especially reflect upon is verse 3 – shown above. In the Common Worship version, the words are, “Rejoice in the praise of his [God’s] holy name; let the hearts of them rejoice who seek the Lord.” However, the translation in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is probably more accurate and calls us to Glory in God’s holy name! Glory denotes the special presence of God, which we are reminded of at the Eucharist, when the bread and wine are blessed [consecrated] and become the Body and Blood of Christ. Christ is truly present and through receiving Holy Communion, we are strengthened and sustained by his presence. The Ark of the Covenant symbolised the presence of God for the People of Israel.

Reflection illustrationThe remaining verses set for today are about the covenant God made with Abraham. [See especially verses 8 – 10.] However, this promise is not just made to Abraham but, as verse 8 says, “the promise that he made for a thousand generations.” In other words, for all time, and it was this covenant which was fulfilled in and through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The covenant made with Abraham, in verse 11, was about the Promised Land and as we see in verses 9 and 10, it was confirmed with Isaac and Jacob as well. Whilst we can rightly use the verses of today’s psalm as a hymn of praise, we do so against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the violence in Israel/Palestine. This hymn of praise then can also become for us a reminder to pray for peace in the whole world which God created for all.

God of our fathers, you brought your people out of slavery and led them to freedom in the promised land;
feed us on our journey with the bread of heaven that we may hunger and thirst for righteousness
until your kingdom comes; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[Prayer at the end of Psalm 105 in Common Worship Daily Prayer]

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