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.

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