What are the Psalms?

June 4, 2018

 A Homily for Trinity 1

June 3, 2018

All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ

 

Text: Psalm 1

 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

 

            Over the years the Psalms have come to have a deeper and profound significance in my walk with the Lord. I think many of us, including myself, can be lulled into thinking that the Psalms are just these interesting, non-rhyming poems that we read responsively or in unison when we come together to worship. While this section is an ancient book of hymns which have been sung read for worship for thousands years, there is a great richness of theology and worshipful comfort within them.

            Many of the Psalms are accredited to King David, and scriptures such as 2 Samuel 16, and 23, as well as Mark 12:36, Acts 1:16 and others places affirm this fact. Other Psalms are attributed to Moses, making them even older. Others date from the exile making them younger. So, we have these songs of worship that span a great deal of time, and yet consistently testify to the nature of God, and give us perspective as to how we are to worship and see the Lord.

            It is my hope that as we explore these Psalms this summer you too will grow to love them and experience the deep and beautiful richness that is in there. The summer bookmark readings will take you through the entire Psalter. As you read them you will find ones that resonate with your life, you will find ones that have a beautiful depth of praise in them, some that have a yearning for justice, for mercy, or for love. There are even one or two that you will struggle with, that you will, I suspect, be scandalized or shocked by. There is one Psalm that ends with such a horrific statement that I considered leaving it out of our summer readings – but I think it is important to recognize that God knows even the darkest desires of our hearts, and that he would rather hear them from us, and give us hope and call us to repent, and through Christ welcomes us home again than have us grow quiet, cold, and quit praying. So later this summer as you read it keep that in mind. Some of you will be shocked by the words, and that’s okay, but perhaps as you struggle with it, think about your own heart and ask yourself if there is anywhere that you need to repent, any darkness that you need to give over to the Lord.

            As you read the Psalms you will notices some interesting things – for example the Psalms of lament almost always end in Praise to God, and while there is a deep yearning for and questioning why life is hard – the Psalm writers never make the mistake of Job’s wife by cursing God. Additionally, with the exception of Psalm 88 and 137, the Psalms almost always end in some form of praise of to the Lord, even if the world around them seems to be failing – even if their heart is yearning for justice that doesn’t seem to be coming – relief that seems impossible – the Psalms end in praise.

            Over the next nine weeks we will look at nine different Psalms and see what they tell us about God as the creator, redeemer, and judge, His Glory, sovereignty, wisdom, His Law, providence, and mercy. Then for the last three weeks of summer we will look at what they tell us about Christ and the cross. If you are curious where these Psalms come from or where you can find Psalms for the season of life that you’re in in the front of your prayer book on page Roman Numeral nine there is a list of 28 themes that include the nature of God, emotions that our hearts often cry out, and psalms for preparing or concluding worship.

One more note on the Psalter found in our prayer book – you will notice that they include notes on the day, At the top of the page you will see a day listed, and then occasionally throughout you will see headers that say “day one – morning,” or “day two – evening,” for example. It was the habit of the Anglican church to pray our way through the Psalter every month, and this was the breakdown of how we do it.

            There are nine basic categories of Psalms including: laments – that is singing to God the aching of our hearts. Hymns of praise, hymns of thanksgiving, hymns celebrating God’s law. Wisdom Psalms that take themes from Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon and make them topics of song. Songs of confidence, royal psalms that talk primarily of David’s monarchy, historical psalms that look at the history of God’s people, and finally, prophetic hymns that call the people to covenant faithfulness.

            The structure of the Psalter can be broken into five books. The first book contains Psalms 1-41. Most of them are attributed to David and are dominated by prayers issuing from a situation of distress, but hold a confidence that God alone can save. Book 2 includes Psalms 42-72. Most of these are also attributed to David, and one is attributed to Solomon. The theme of these remain distress, and lament, but many include a communal voice, and they conclude with a pinnacle of royal theology.

            Book three includes Psalms 73-89, these take on a dark tone, and the first psalm goes so far as to question the justice of God. However, these dark tones are pierced by rays of hope, yet the book ends darkly.

            Book four, containing Psalms 90-106, promptly responds to the problems raised in book three. Psalm 90, attributed to Moses, reminds the worshiper that God was active on Israel’s behalf long before David. The remainder of the book tackles three problems including an entire section that regularly contains the refrain of “God reigns.”

            Book five includes the remaining Psalms. This section known as the hallelujah Psalms are Psalms 146-150, others affirm the promises to David, and the ascension psalms ae found in Psalms 120-134. These final Psalms were sung or prayed by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem.

            Our Psalm this morning – Psalm 1 is often viewed as a gateway to the Psalter. The stress of the Psalm is that those who would worship the Lord must embrace his law. This sets the tone for the entire Psalter, and helps us to remember how we are to approach worship and the Lord.      

After our worship last week, I mentioned to a couple of you a statement someone made to me about social injustice this past spring. The person made the statement that social injustice always flows from an incorrect worship of the Lord, my first reaction was skepticism, which turned to acceptance, but I couldn’t define why this would be, until last week when I was preparing the sermon for Sunday and it all clicked.

            The world is created to be filled with the glory of the Lord, and we were created to glorify him and enjoy him forever. However, sin came into the world, through Adam and tarnished our wills, and corrupted our souls. Too often we fail to glorify the Lord. When the center of our life is anything other than the glory of the Lord we miss the entire point of our existence, we place other things above the Lord.

We forget too, that our life is to be poured out in active worship of the Lord. While it is good to gather together on Sunday mornings as a congregation, to sing Psalms of praise together, to refocus our hearts and minds on the our creator, we are to be making every moment an act of worship, whether it be washing the dishes, walking the dog, or watering the flowers. Whether it be partaking in Holy Communion, painting our house, or our normal nine to five tasks. All of these things can, and should be given and done, not to our glory, not out of our own pride – but to the glory of the Lord.

            It is the glory of the Lord that sets us on the right path, points us to the good life, and sets our agenda right. It is the desire to live in the glory of the Lord pushes us to Love others well, and to strive for a more just society.

            We will see this as we explore the Psalter, and we see it spelled out this morning in Psalm 1. This Psalm is made up of two sections – first – the way we are to travel, and then the ramification for the ways which we go.

            The first verse provides us with a stark contrast: blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of the sinner, and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the Lord; and in his law will he exercise himself day and night.”

            There are two ways of living – embracing our sinful nature, or repenting and fleeing to the law of the Lord.

There are three ways that the psalmist tells us to avoid – the counsel of the wicked, the way of the sinner, and the seat of the scoffer. The wicked will often feed us with advice that sounds good, and event tickles our ears, but so often modern advice is all about making us feel good, but not about driving us back to the Lord. Perhaps the most pervasive and destructive of these is the thought of “just follow your heart.” But, our hearts are sinful, and often yearn for selfish desires, not desires that glorify the Lord.

            The second way that we are to avoid we know too well for we are all sinners, daily repenting, daily fleeing from that way. So we are not to be satisfied with the sinful way, but instead we seek the way of God, seek the way of letting Christ permeate our entire life.

            The final attitude is the easiest to let creep in. The seat of the scoffer – the imagery here is profound, I think. For many of us are prone to be cynical complainers – to be given to grumbling. Yet, isn’t grumbling a passive activity? Instead of seeking the will of the Lord, instead of seeking to be kind in all things – we complain, we do nothing to improve conditions, we do nothing to glorify the Lord, but just sit, and scoff at the world around us. No, the seat of the scoffers is a terrible seat to sit in.

            So the way of righteousness, the way of the blessed is to avoid the counsel of the wicked, the sinful way, and the seat of the scoffer. Instead, we delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it constantly – for the law of the Lord is found in His word. It is in the law that we find guidance, we find the way of righteousness, the way of the good life. But the law can be hard, as we read it, we don’t always find it delightful because it shows us our own sinfulness. Yet, even in this there is good news, because it calls us to repentance and it calls us to throw our trust and care into the one that perfectly fulfilled the law perfectly – Jesus Christ.

            The fruit of the righteous is spelled out in the next verse: he shall be like a tree planted by the water-side, that will bring forth his fruit in due season, his leaf also shall not wither, and look, whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper.”

            One of things that I’ve enjoyed living here is as you drive around – even in the most arid areas, is you’ll spot patches of deciduous trees. It is here that you can tell  that there is an occasionally stream. Even those little streams that pop up when it rains moistens the ground enough for the trees to flourish.

            For the Christian, we too must be planted by a stream in the desert – the stream is the living stream that comes from Christ and the water is the Word of God. When we are planted in the way of righteousness, delighting in the word of God we too become strong trees, our leaves shall not wither and we shall prosper.

            However, don’t confuse Biblical prosperity with the idea of American prosperity that is often preached from the pulpits of the prosperity Gospel. No, prosperity in the bible is spiritual prosperity, it is the incredible richness and wealth of knowing God. There is no better thing than to desire a deep, profound and good knowledge of who God is. To quote St. Augustine: our hearts are restless – until they rest in thee O Lord. This is our hearts desire – we were created to rest in the Lord and glorify Him.

            The psalm contains a warning too, the fruit of the way of unrighteousness is equally vivid: “as for the ungodly, it is not so with them; but they are like the chaff, which the wind scatterest away from the face of the earth. Therefore the ungodly shall not be able to stand in the judgement, neither the sinner in the congregation of the righteous. But the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; and the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

            The imagery here is equally vivid – but the warning is harsh. For those who flee the Lord, those who chose the sinful way – they will be forgotten, they will be wiped away. Instead of knowing the Lord and delighting richly in Him, they have forgotten Him, and they will, likewise be forgotten.

            The first Psalm sets the tone for the entire psalter, it is filled with wisdom, and imagery that points us back to God. As we travel through the Psalter this summer we will see that God is at the center of these words, that we are to continually return to glorifying God, that even in the darkness around us, that if we place our hope in God, he will not fail us. It is my prayer that the words we read and find in the psalms will be a delight for our hearts and will encourage us into a deeper knowledge and relationship with the Lord.

            In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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