A response to the threat of invasion

A Reflection on Psalm 2 by Canon Rob
11th February 2024, The Sunday Before Lent

Reflection Image 1Verses from Psalm 50 are set for this morning’s Eucharist, but as we have considered them in the past, the psalm for reflection today is one set for Evensong and it doesn’t make for comfortable reading. However, as you will soon see, it is certainly a psalm for the times in which we live. The words accompanying the picture here are those you will find in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version of the psalms. In Common Worship the word “heathen” is replaced by “nations” and refers to the Gentile nations but the opening question remains the same: “Why are the nations in tumult, and why do the peoples devise a vain plot?” [Verse 1.] The rest of the psalm may not appear to answer this question, although it has to do with the foolishness of humanity. Verse 4 would have us believe that God laughs at such foolishness – although, as I have said before, we need to take care not to attribute to God our human emotions. What may be nearer the truth is that any loss of real, lasting peace [shalom] is a sign of the breakdown in the relationship between us and God as well as that between each other. A blessing at the end of the Eucharist begins with the words, “The peace of God which passes all understanding….” and if we could all live in a closer relationship with the God of peace, we would probably find it easier to make the world a more peaceful place. Dermot Cox, in his book, “The Psalms in the Life of God’s People,” writes about the place of the psalms at a time of distress and he says, “Any diminution of human well-being, any loss of shalom, is indicative of something wrong with an individual’s relationship with God. The first and most immediate cure is to be found in prayer,….” Psalm 2 was written thousands of years ago but much of it is, tragically, as appropriate today.

Reflection Image 2From the time of Moses, kingship became an institution given by God for His people [See Deuteronomy 17.14-20.] and it is likely that verses 6 of today’s psalm refers to King David: “…I have set my king upon my holy hill in Zion” and in the following verse we have an example of the people looking forward to the King who would be the Messiah.“I will proclaim the decree of the Lord; he said to me: ‘You are my Son; this day have I begotten you’.” In Matthew 3.17 we hear these same words about Jesus, after he had been baptised. After many years of praying and waiting, the Messiah is here! But for now, David – and the earthly kings who follow him – will lead God’s people and in verses 8 and 9 he addresses the people recalling God’s promise of victory over the nation’s enemies. Unless they submit they will be dashed “in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” [You may find it interesting to read about the analogy of the potter in Isaiah 45.9-25]

Reflection Image 3The mood changes in the final verses, along with the emphasis. Verse 10 is a call for the kings to be wise: “Now therefore be wise, O Kings; be prudent you judges of the earth.” In the following verse we see that wisdom comes from obeying God’s laws.“Serve the Lord with fear, and with trembling kiss his feet……” Both verses can be seen as a warning, especially as the last words of verse 11 refer to God’s anger. But they can also be seen as words of advice: advice – which when followed – will lead to the peace which the nation seeks and, from which, the people will greatly benefit. “Happy are all they who take refuge in him [the Lord.]” [Verse 12.] As I said at the beginning, Psalm 2 doesn’t make for comfortable reading because, as we reflect upon it, we can so easily bring to mind the conflicts which are taking place throughout the world today and not least in the Holy Land. I hope that Dermot Cox’s words above will help you as you go through this psalm and also that the words below, printed at the end of Psalm 122 in Common Worship Daily Prayer, will encourage you as you pray.

God of our joy and gladness, hear our prayer for the peace of the world and bring us at last,
with all our companions in faith, to the peace of that city where you live and reign,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and to all eternity.

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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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God’s promise fulfilled

A Reflection on Psalm 89.1-8 by Canon Rob
December 24th, 4th Sunday in Advent: Christmas Eve

We approach today’s psalm anticipating our celebrations for the coming of the Christ-child even though, when Psalm 89 was written, the birth of God’s Son will not have been anticipated. As always, we need to be aware that we don’t read into the scriptures what is not there and it is also important to remember that the verses of the psalm set for today are those appropriate for Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is not here: not quite! [Psalm 96 is set for tomorrow and is clearly a hymn of great joy, beginning with the words, “Sing to the Lord and new song; sing to the Lord all the earth.”] This morning’s psalm though is a bit of an enigma. It begins on a very positive note: “My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord…” but if you take the trouble to read all the verses (and there are fifty two of them!) you will find that the mood changes completely. God’s power in creation is referred to, there are many verses about the covenant between God and His people, King David is mentioned and also, and painfully expressed in verse 46, the whole nation is suffering: “How long will you hide yourself so utterly, O Lord? How long shall your anger burn like fire?” Remember the people believed that God punished them for their sins: it was therefore deserved. Now they seem to have neglected or even forsaken the covenant and, they believe, God has turned His back on them.

However, to return to the verses set for this morning: verses which are far from expressions of suffering. Indeed they are words of great encouragement and hope. God’s loving-kindness is recalled in the first verse and is used to describe the special relationship between God and His people and, as you can see in verse 2, it is “established for ever.” As you reflect on these words, you might recall others, written by St Paul in his Letter to the Romans: “For I am convinced that there is nothing….in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8.31-39]

The author of the psalm is certain of God’s everlasting love because of the covenant referred to above. “For you [the Lord] said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant:” [See verse 3] and it is through King David that the oath, or covenant, will last always. In the Second Book of Samuel we find what are called, in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the “Last Words of David” and among them, “…He [the God of Israel] has made with me an everlasting covenant…” [See 2 Sam.23.5]  For Christians that promise was fulfilled once and for all in Jesus Christ, as we are reminded in the Prayer of Thanksgiving at the Eucharist: “When supper was ended he [Jesus] took the cup of wine….gave it to them [the disciples] and said: Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant….” As you reflect upon the verses of today’s psalm, consider the promise, originally made to David for the House of Israel, and now renewed through Jesus, descended from David, [See Matthew 1.1-17] born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, and offered for all time and for all people everywhere.

The opening verses of Psalm 89 are a hymn in praise of God, but it is not just humans who join in the singing of it. “The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, and your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.” [See verse 5.] Like other peoples, earlier Israelites believed in many gods, but by the time this psalm was written, the belief was in One God and “the holy ones” are His angels or messengers, like Gabriel who visited Mary, and those who sang to welcome he Prince of Peace. [See Luke 2.13 -14.] Verse 8 of today’s psalm proclaims that there is no God like this: “Who is like you, Lord God of hosts? Mighty Lord, our faithfulness is all around you.” Here is the God to be trusted, the Creator and Saviour of all. May He bless you

As we sing your love, O Lord, establish your covenant with us and anoint us with the seal of your Spirit.
[From the prayer after verse 18 of Psalm 89, in Common Worship, Daily Prayer.]

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Salvation is near

A Reflection on Psalm 85.8-13 by Canon Rob
December 10th, The Second Sunday of Advent

The opening verses of today’s psalm recall God’s forgiveness in the past and then, in verses 4 – 7, the author asks that God will forgive His people again in the present. “Restore us again, O God, our Saviour, and let your anger cease from us.” [Verse 4.] It is probable that the people are suffering again, perhaps through a poor harvest [see verses 11 and 12] and, as is often the case today, many will have believed they were being punished for their sins. So, in verses 5 we read “Will you be displeased with us for ever?” The mood changes though by the time we reach verse 8 and the following verses set for today which are appropriate for the Church’s season of Advent when we prepare for the coming of Christ. Whatever has happened in the past, the lone voice in verse 8 says, “I will listen to what the Lord will say.”

Listening is a very important part of praying although, perhaps, not the easiest. How do we listen to God? How do we know if and when He is speaking or listening? The answer lies in our preparedness to simply ‘sit in His presence’ and ‘wait upon Him.’ If you struggle with this you may like to try sitting comfortably, close your eyes and imagine that Jesus is sitting next to you, just as you might be sitting with someone whose company you enjoy including those times when you are quiet together. The prophet Elijah struggled to listen to God when he fled for his life. [See 1 Kings 19.1-15.] Elijah doesn’t experience God’s presence in the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in “a sound of sheer silence.” Only then did he hear God speaking to him: whilst he waited patiently. Advent is a time of waiting, of preparation to be ready to receive Christ as and when he comes and speaks to us. And come he will. As the late Archbishop Donald Coggan once wrote, “God speaks because He loves.. [and].. Love always seeks to communicate.”

The author of the psalm has learned to trust God, not just for his own good, but for the good of the whole nation. As he says in verse 9, “Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” All who fear God (or trust Him) can experience His saving power. The prophet Isaiah knew this to be true as well when he says of God, “I will bring my victory near….and my deliverance shall not be delayed…” [Isaiah 46.13.] Knowing this, the writer of the psalm speaks beautifully of mercy, truth, righteousness and peace, shown in the picture above. [See verse 10.] These are four blessings, blessings we can experience whenever God’s kingdom breaks through. Paul writes similarly in his letter to the Romans when he cautions his readers about judging others. Instead, “the kingdom of God….[is]…justice, peace and joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.” [Romans 14.17] Guided by God’s Spirit, we can experience the blessings, or gifts from God, and help to bring His kingdom nearer. It is this which we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven……your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….”

As mentioned above, verses 11 and 12 may refer to a poor harvest. The “all that is good” results in the land yielding its increase. [See verse 12.] As you reflect on this, remember those suffering through drought i parts of Africa which have not seen any rain (or “all that is good”) for many months. It is also possible though to read these two seeds in Jesus’ parable, which when sown produce a rich harvest of mercy, truth, righteousness and peace. Is it likely that these could refer to the “all that is good” which lead to the nation yielding an increase in harmony and justice? The world needs both!

Help me, Lord, to remain faithful to you and grant me your gifts of mercy, truth, righteousness and peace
that I may serve you and that your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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Here is our King

A Reflection on Psalm 93 by Canon Rob,
November 26th Sunday next before Advent

Unlike other Reflections, today’s is about the psalm set for Evensong, as we have already reflected upon the one set for the morning Eucharist. That was in March this year and the psalm was 95 with it’s opening words, “O come, let us sing to the Lord…” It was a call to worship and this evening’s psalm is just as joyful, celebrating the Kingship of God. As verse 1 puts it, “The Lord is king and has put on glorious apparel; the Lord has put on his glory and girded himself with strength.” Walter Brueggemann in his lovely book, “Praying the Psalms,” says of Psalm 93 and other psalms of celebration, “Those who pray this kind of Psalm will want not just to reflect on a general notion of well-being but to work with the concrete image of king, the gracious ruler who does manage well, provide for, protect the weak, and intervene for the helpless.” Verse 2 reminds us that it is God, “who has made the whole world so sure that it cannot be moved.” God, the Lord, is the Creator of all. However, He is not just the Creator, He is the One who subdues the chaos caused by floods. “Mightier than the thunder of many waters,….the Lord on high is mightier.” [See verses 4 and 5] As we reflect on this, we might want to take the words literally, but remember that the psalms are poetry and subjective. The author is telling a truth through metaphor and here his message is one of absolute reassurance, conveyed by the translation of verse 5 in the words on the picture here: “Mightier than the waves of the sea is His Love for you.” Even, and especially, in the midst of suffering, we can be sure that God loves us and is with us.

To put this in context, some commentators believe that Psalm 93 was written fairly soon after the Israelites returned from Exile in Babylon in 538 BC. If so, it marked a new beginning for God’s people. There are other psalms with a similar message. See, e.g., Psalms 47, 97 and 99. They are referred to as “royal psalms” or “enthronement psalms” and may have been used during the New Year Festivals in the autumn. They all recognise and celebrate the Kingship of God, who is Lord of all and who has existed from the beginning. So, in verse 3 we read, “Your throne has been established from of old; you are from everlasting.” God, the Lord and Creator of all, has chosen a people to be His own, to form a community under His Divine care and rule. But human kings were held in great honour too, especially King David. In the words of “The Oxford Bible Commentary,” The king was: “God’s anointed, as sacrosanct and the representative of the nation, the welfare of which depends upon his righteousness.” Today we celebrate Christ the King! He is the King of kings upon whom we can totally depend for he is Righteous.

This short psalm ends with words about God’s rule and laws. “Your testimonies are very sure; holiness adorns your house, O Lord, for ever.” [Verse 6] God is Holy and in the hymn book we use at St. Dunstan’s Church, one of the hymns we sing makes that very clear: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, holy is the Lord God, almighty.” [285 in “Complete Anglican Hymns Old & New.”] In the Old Testament, including the Book of Psalms, that holiness implies separateness. God is ‘other’ who lives in heaven apart from we who live on the earth. The Holy God chooses when He intervenes in our lives, as He did, for example, through the leadership of Moses at the Exodus. Then, as they journeyed to the land which He promised them, God intervened again by giving the People His testimonies, or moral laws, known as the Ten Commandments. Being chosen by God, they are very privileged but, as always, that comes with great responsibility which is fulfilled if and when they obey His laws.

You have established your throne, O Lord, above the chaos of this world:
may your truth, which is from everlasting, be ours for ever and ever; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[Prayer at the end of Psalm 93 in Common Worship, Daily Prayer]

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Good Lord, deliver me

A Reflection on Psalm 70 by Canon Rob,
November 12th, Remembrance Sunday

If you watch any of Sir David Attenborough’s programmes you will see how brutal life can be for those who are vulnerable. A big cat, for example, killing a young impala or zebra. A great white shark catching a seal pup. We watch such events and a natural reaction is often to think they are cruel until we are told that the big cat kills to feed her young and the shark will only kill enough to satisfy its hunger and we have some sympathy and understanding.

Psalm 70 is an urgent plea for help by someone who is vulnerable, whose life is in danger. The opening words, also used during Mattins and Evensong in the 1662 Prayer Book, show how terrifying the situation is: “O God, make speed to save me; O Lord, make haste to help me.” The author’s life is in danger from those who seek his life. [See verse 2] He is terrified and the only thing left is to turn to God for help. On this Remembrance Sunday, I recall that my father once told me how, during World War II, fellow soldiers who seldom thought of God, prayed to Him to spare their lives, just as the psalmist did. Also, one of my commentaries on this psalm refers to bullying and reading it I recall the many times I was bullied at school. Being physically small I was vulnerable: an easy prey to those boys who were much bigger than me. So, reflecting upon Psalm 70, I have a lot of sympathy with the author. You may find yourself doing the same. Wars and bullying are repugnant and their roots are similar: fear and the need to intimidate and control “the other.” As you reflect on today’s psalm can I encourage to pray for peace, for those who are vulnerable and bullied and for those who perpetrate acts of violence wherever they take place?

The author of Psalm 70 has faith in God and believes He will save him. After he has asked God to “shame and confuse” and “turn back” those who seek his life [See verses 2 and 3] he rejoices in God’s salvation and calls upon others to join him in doing so. “…let those who love your salvation say always, ‘Great is the Lord!’” [Verse 4] Here is confidence and trust in the One who has the power to free the writer from his fears. Again, as you reflect on this psalm, you can make it your own by praying that God will likewise free you from any fears you may cling to. When the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, mentioned above, was first published, the greatest fear of worshippers would probably have been the “fear of the Lord.” The word fear was used to mean “dread,” or “scared of, ” not “love for” or “faith in” as we might rightly understand it. However, God’s holiness reveals our sinfulness and in the words of St Paul, in his Letter to the Christians in Philippi, “You must work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you,….” [Philippians 2.12]

Having encouraged others to rejoice in the power of the Lord, the author returns to his own immediate needs and the urgency of his request is repeated: “As for me, I am poor and needy; come to me quickly, O God.” [See verse 5] In the final verse he recalls that God is his help and deliverer but his plea is urgent again: “O Lord, do not delay.” It is as if he is going round in circles, something which many experience when they are weighed down with anxiety. Being afraid sometimes is an experience most, if not all, of us will experience. It is a theme which occurs in several psalms, and if you look at Psalm 40, verses 14 to the end, you will find the words are almost identical to those of Psalm 70. However, for those with faith, there is something which overcomes fear: love! The love which God has for us, and the love we have for Him. As St John reminds us in the New Testament, “There is no fear in love, but love casts out fear.” [1 John 4.18.] As you reflect upon today’s psalm, may you be reassured that the God of Love is with you.

Lord, give us that love always. Amen.

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An invitation to celebrate

A Reflection on Psalm 96.1-9 by Canon Rob,
October 22nd, The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

One of the hymns we sing during the season of Epiphany, which follows Christmas and celebrates the Visit of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus, is “O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” [552 in the “Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New.”] It is a beautiful hymn and, as we sing it, we can imagine ourselves following the example of the Kings, as they kneel before the child who they recognise as the Saviour of the world. The opening words of the hymn come from the first half of verse 9 in today’s psalm: a psalm which is a call to the whole of nature to worship the Creator; although you will need to read all the verses to fully appreciate this. Those who attend Morning Prayer (or Matins) will be familiar with the previous psalm: number 95, called “The Venite,” which simply means “Come,” and Psalm 96 continues that theme. As you reflect upon the verses, you may like to read 1 Chronicles 16.23-33 in the Old Testament and you will find that the psalm is reproduced almost word for word – depending on which translation of the Bible you read. In the Book of Chronicles, the psalm was recited when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem whilst David was King. However, it is now generally agreed that the psalm was written first and then included in the Book. Whatever, Psalm 96 belongs to a group of what some commentators call “enthronement psalms” which celebrate the majesty of God and would be said, or sung, on special occasions. Indeed, if you look through Psalms 95 to 100, you will find that several phrases are common to all of them, rejoicing in the Kingship and Majesty of God who is worthy of our praise.

The Book of Psalms was originally written for worship by the members of the Jewish community and when we recite them, as we do during Evensong, we can easily remember that. However, it is natural that when we use them in church worship, we view the psalms from a Christian perspective. You will see this in the picture here, where verse 4 of today’s psalm is printed in the shape of the Cross on which Christ died and from which, we believe, he reigned as King. Referring to Psalm 96, the Oxford Bible Commentary says some of the Church Fathers “regarded the psalm as a prophecy of the cross, an interpretation reflected in the hymn ‘The royal banners forward go.’”[663 in the hymn book mentioned above which we use at St Dunstan’s Church.]

Another thing to consider as you reflect on today’s psalm is that the invitation to celebrate is open to all. From verse 1, “all the earth” is called upon to “sing to the Lord, a new song.” If it was sung when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem and into the new Temple, was this an open invitation for everyone to join the celebrations: Gentiles along with Jews? At this time of terrible news from the Holy Land with little hope of peace, it would be good to believe that at an act of such joy divisions, animosity and hatred were left behind! A celebration which brought everyone together – rather like a Coronation or the Olympic Games. Whether or not that hope can ever be fully realised, it is worth hanging on to and praying for daily. Verse 9 of Psalm 96 certainly holds before us the desire for the “whole earth to tremble before [the Lord.]Once more, looking through the eyes of our Christian faith, this verse can remind us of the final words uttered by Jesus at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to his disciples, his closest friends and followers, before he leaves them to return to his Father in Heaven. [See Matthew 28,16-20.] He says of himself, “full authority in heaven and on earth has been committed to me,” just as verse 6 of Psalm 96 speaks of “Honour and majesty are before him [the Lord.] Jesus then tells his friends to “Go….and make all nations my disciples…” This is surely something else to keep praying and working for! Amen.

Lord Christ, as we worship you and celebrate your presence among us
help us to be examples of the love and peace which are your gifts to all.

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Living by the Law

A Reflection on Psalm 19.7-end by Canon Rob
October 8th, The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Psalm 19 can be divided into three sections. The first six verses In January last celebrate the Glory of God in His Creation and we reflected on those verses in January last year. Verses 7 – 10 are about God’s Glory in His Law and then the final four verses reveal what should be the human response to God, recognising that we fall short of what God wills for us. The difference in tone between the first six verses and those remaining is striking. God’s creation happens without humans being involved. The “law of the Lord,” referred to in verse 7, however is the Torah: God’s law revealed to Moses by which the Chosen People are to live.

One of the main roles of Parliament, in the United Kingdom and in other democratic countries, is to debate and pass new laws or change those which already exist. Concern about the increase in illegal immigration, for example, has led to the “Illegal Migration Bill” which received Royal Assent in July. In our post-Christian society how many laws come under “God’s will” is debatable. Yet it is to be hoped they will all, at least, be humanitarian. At the time when Psalm 19 was written the “law of the Lord” would be the guide to be followed and to stray from it would result in punishment. Yet verses 7 – 11 of today’s psalm are entirely positive. Look at verse 8: “The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes.” Far from bemoaning rules and regulations the author celebrates God’s laws. They are, as verse 8 puts it, “More to be desired are they than gold…..sweeter also than honey.” For the psalmist, and those who recited Psalm 19 in worship, keeping the commandments was the way to happiness. Verse 11 refers to God’s law as existing to teach His People and for those who were eager to learn and follow them “there is great reward.” As you reflect on these verses, imagine being in a classroom at school, or a lecture hall at college, where you are keen to learn because you love the subject being taught. That is the image which comes to mind as I am typing these words. The opening verses of this psalm are a celebration of God’s creation, but the celebration continues. Rather than being a burden, keeping “the law of the Lord” at this time in Israel’s history, was a joy

The mood shifts somewhat in the closing verses. The author, and those who recite the psalm, recognise that they fall short of upholding “the law of the Lord.” Like us, they were human and far from perfect. Verse 12 is honest in its request to God that He “will cleanse me from my secret thoughts.” How like the intention of the Prayer of Preparation which we say at every Eucharist: “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts…” We begin our worship recognising our sinfulness in the presence of the Almighty and Merciful God who knows us completely, but who assures us that He loves and forgives us even when, as we acknowledge in the Prayer of Confession: “We have not loved you [God] with our whole heart [nor] loved our neighbours as ourselves.” I suspect that most within our society today seldom use the word “sin.” Has it become the preserve of those who are religious? It’s easier to talk about ‘faults’ and ‘mistakes’ but ‘sin’ is a loaded word which can make us uncomfortable. In verse 13 of today’s psalm, the author writes of “presumptuous sins” which can “get dominion over me.” These are proud thoughts which can get out of hand. God’s help is called upon “so shall I be undefiled.” The final plea is that the writer’s motives, words, thoughts and actions will please God and be “acceptable in your [God’s] sight.” The psalm which began with celebration for the wonder of God’s creation and continues with much soul searching ends on a very positive note about the personal relationship which those with faith can have with their Maker who is “my strength and my redeemer.”

Thanks be to God for creating us, loving us and saving us from our sins.

Living by the Law Read More »

A gift? Or was it stolen?

A Reflection on Psalm 105.37-end by Canon Rob
September 24th, The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

On 13th August, the psalm set for the Eucharist was 105, verses 1 – 10. The title of the Reflection was “Remembering what God has done.” Today we reflect upon verses 37 – 45 of the same psalm: verses which, to be honest, make me very uncomfortable, hence the title I have given to this Reflection. Psalm 105, especially from verse 23, is about the period during the Exodus when the Israelites, led by Moses, were eventually freed from years of cruelty and slavery in Egypt. [You can read about this in the Book of Exodus from Chapter 5.] The verses 23-36 of Psalm 105 include some of the account – especially about the plagues which God sent upon the Egyptians. There is no doubt that the Exodus was a huge, totally life-changing, event in the history of the Jewish people. However, as we reflect upon the verses set in today’s psalm, we do so against the backdrop of the continuing unrest in Israel/Palestine and the war in Ukraine following it’s invasion. Putting it bluntly, both are the result of ‘land-grabbing,’ something, like other nations in the past, we were guilty of. Another reason for my discomfort on reflecting upon Psalm 105!

Verse 44 is the one I find most difficult. “He [God] gave them [God’s chosen people] the lands of the nations and they took possession of the fruit of their toil.” Even given the terrible suffering that the people had gone through during their years as slaves in Egypt, together with God’s promise to free them and lead them to a new land which they could call their own, I struggle with what seems to be nothing short of a nationalism which leaves no place for justice. I’m reading a novel set during “The Troubles” in Ireland and reminded of the “land grabbing” that country suffered in the past too. [See also verse 11 where God says, “To you I will give the land of Canaan to be the portion of your inheritance.”]

Looking more closely at the psalm, the Oxford Bible Commentary, like others, points out that the psalm varies in some important respects from the account in the Book of Exodus [see above]. For example, the number and order of the plagues and – more importantly – any reference to the Israelites at Sinai. [See Exodus 19f.] There, we read, God calls Moses to climb the mountain and meet Him there so that Moses can receive the Ten Commandments. Has the author of today’s psalm omitted any reference to the covenant mediated by Moses because that includes punishment for disobeying God’s laws? The psalm, quite naturally, is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for all that God has done for His people. But where is the humanity? Where are the moral and religious laws which we find in the Book of Exodus Chapter 22 verse 16f? Were God’s people really being cruel as were those who held them in Egypt and as today we see in Ukraine and Israel/Palestine and other parts of the world which are in turmoil? Are we, after all, no different from our forebears? As I reflect upon all this, I am reminded of some words spoken by a nun, Mother Francis Dominica, who visited Lincoln Theological college whilst I was there: “When I pray for peace in the world, I need to remember that peace begins with me!”

Psalm 105 is, then, a hymn of praise. But it also conveys a sense of relief on the part of the Egyptians. In verse 37 we read, “Egypt was glad at their departing, for dread had fallen upon them.” After years of anguish and pain felt by those they kept as slaves, it is now the turn of the Egyptians to suffer. As the plagues became more severe, above all ending in the deaths of their first born children [see verse 36], life became unbearable for them and in Exodus 13 verse 17 we read it was at this point that “…the king of Egypt let the people go…” God’s people were free at last, but at what cost?

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me;
let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
(Jill Jackson,1955)

A gift? Or was it stolen? Read More »

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