A Call to Paise the Lord

A Reflection on Psalm 111 by Canon Rob
28th January 2024, The fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Christmas Day may seem a long time ago, but we are still in the Season of Epiphany: in the Book of Common Prayer called, ‘The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.’ On Friday, 2nd February, the Church remembers the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas, and traditionally this is the day when we put away the Crib Figures for another year. Before we get ahead of ourselves though, today’s psalm encourages us to praise God for all that He has done for us. At this time of the year we and all Christians do so especially for the gift of Jesus, born in Bethlehem and visited, among others, by the Three Kings or Magi who, as you may have read in the last Reflection, represent all humanity. Jesus is the Saviour who has redeemed us all. Even though we may struggle to accept it sometimes, God has no favourites!

Today’s psalm begins with the word “Alleluia,” or, in its other form, “Hallelujah,” meaning “Praise Yahweh” or “Praise the Lord.” What follows is a celebration of all that God has done for His people. The author gives thanks to the Lord “in the company of the faithful and in the congregation” and in many of the following verses, he lists those “works” which God has performed. They are “great” [see verse 2] and “full of majesty and honour.” Not only that, “his righteousness endures for ever.” [verse 3.] So, as the author of Psalm 111 reflects on his own life, and prays alone or with others he knows that the Lord has been with him and will always be so. Therefore, he not only praises the Lord, he also dedicates his life in God’s service.

The whole theme is a celebration of all that the Lord has done for those who fear Him but in one of my commentaries, the author, Allan Harman, suggests that the “main basis” for the psalm is found in Exodus Chapter 34, verse 6: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” This forms part of a “creed,” or a statement, about what God is like and as you reflect upon today’s psalm you may find it helpful and interesting to read Exodus 34.1-9 where Moses makes two new stone tablets for the Ten Commandments before the Covenant between the Lord and His people is renewed. Verse 7 of the psalm says, “The works of his hands are truth and justice; all his commandments are sure.” In the second picture here, the word for ‘sure’ is trustworthy which I think gives a clearer picture of who God is: the one in whom we can trust our lives because He loves us and will always be with us.

The One True God though is not only trustworthy and ever present. The author of Psalm 111 believes that He is also all powerful and if you are under constant threat from your enemies you need someone like that on your side. “He showed his people the power of his works in giving them the heritage of the nations.” [See verse 6.] This “heritage of the nations” almost certainly refers to the Promised Land which the people journeyed to in the wilderness after the Exodus and it is looking back to that experience, and recalling all the wonderful “works” that God has performed before and since, that should lead the faithful to fear Him: to love Him; to worship Him like no other. We find the same sentiment in Proverbs 1.7 and 9.10 and also in the Book of Job where the author tells us where true wisdom is to be found: “Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” [Job 28.28.] We are living at a time when there is a great deal of bad news and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by it. I sense a general malaise in the country too: a discomfort about where we, as a nation are and, related to that, a sense of helplessness. Psalm 111 though can reset the balance. Life would not have been easy for the writer of this psalm, but his faith was strong because he knew for himself the great things that God was doing. He is the same God today and will be for ever.

Lord, with my whole heart I thank you for your love and mighty power.
Help me to respond with generosity and care towards those around me.

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Knowing you, Knowing me

A Reflection on Psalm 139.12-18 by Canon Rob
14th January 2024, The Second Sunday of Epiphany

Welcome to the first of our Reflections for 2024! I hope that you will find this, and subsequent Reflections, helpful as we journey together through a new year. You may recognise the heading as it is the title of one of ABBA’s songs: not a happy one as it is about the break-up of a relationship: the very opposite of the relationship we have with God, as revealed through His Son, Jesus. It is this revelation which is the theme of the Church’s season of Epiphany which begins with the Visit of the Wise Men, or Three Kings, to the child Jesus. They represent the whole of humanity for Jesus Christ was born to save, or redeem, us all.

The verses of Psalm 139 set for today in Church Services are about our relationship with God. The Psalm begins with the words, “O Lord, you have searched me out and known me.” That might be scary depending on how you perceive God. Jesus taught his disciples the prayer beginning, “Our Father who art in heaven” and your perception of God may be affected by the relationship you have, or had, with your earthly father. As you reflect upon this psalm, it is worth asking yourself, What is it like to realise that God searches me out and knows me completely? Are you happy to know you are so vulnerable?  Or is it rather scary realising that you cannot hide anything about yourself from God? Whatever your answer, be assured that God loves you totally and delights in you. The reason for this is partly found in verse 12 of today’s psalm. “For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” In this verse “my inmost parts” probably refers to the kidneys, once considered to be the ‘seat’ of the will and our inmost feelings, in much the same way as we refer to the heart today when we might say, for example, “You have my heartfelt sympathy” when we hear that someone is grieving.

As with everything which God has created, He is pleased with the end result. [See Genesis Chapter 1 verses 27 – 31.] Knowing this, the writer of Psalm 139 is also pleased! We see his response to being created in verse 13. “I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.” Rather than being scared, the psalmist rejoices! For he knows that he and all human beings are God’s creation. That being so, we must be “wonderfully made.” It is our sinfulness which spoils creation, as we see only too often in violence towards one another and the destruction of the natural world. All life is precious and it is when we neglect to acknowledge this truth that we fall short of what God wants for the whole of His creation. However, it is worth a great deal to reflect on verse 13, for within it is much wisdom and love and it can encourage you.

Reading on, God does not need to keep a written record of us, but in verse 15 there is a reference to His “book:” the word used in the Old Testament to reassure its readers that God not only knows His people, but He cares for them too. [See Psalms 56.8, 69.28 and also Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament) Chapter 3, verses 16 – 18 which is about those who are God-fearing being saved.] In verses 17 we read “How deep are your counsels to me, O God.” A better translation is shown in the picture here. God’s counsels are His “thoughts.” As always we should take care when ascribing to God words we use to describe something about ourselves. Yet the word “thoughts” is meant to reveal again something of God’s relationship with each one of us. We are as special to Him, as are children of devoted parents, only more so. Verse 18 makes that very clear for it speaks of us being in God presence even at the end of our lives here on earth.

Heavenly Father, thank you for creating me and loving me
Give me the faith to always know that through life and even in death I am safe in your hands.

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