Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Being Known and knowing God: A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Confession based on Psalm 139

I'm trying to get back to the discipline of writing a prayer for public worship each week again. For the last while I've found myself being more spontaneous in my prayers, that's cool and great, but I'm aware that it is easy to fall into saying the same old thing over and over again. This week I am preaching on Psalm 139 as part a series of reflections on Prayer and prayer practises. So here is my humble written prayer based on a reflection on Psalm 139... and also on Leslie C Allens comment on the psalm that "God is not omni this and that" like we might see in a theological text book, but Psalm 139 brings it down to a real God who is really with and for the one praying the psalm... a very real existential reality. we are known, God is with us, he has shown that in sending Jesus Christ and it is real through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit... I may have got a bit flowery (as per usual) but it is simply put online if people find it helpful... so please feel free to use any line or phrase or the whole thing or none of it... 

Eternal almighty God,

It is beyond us to comprehend and to understand,

We are finite and small, rooted in time and space

You are infinite, without beginning and end,

Always being, knowing all and ever present  

We are limited by our language and craft to describe

You are the alpha and omega, wisdom and word itself

Life’s author, sustainer and ultimate fulfilment

It is with wonder that we come to worship you.

Gracious and righteous  God,

You are omniscience, omnipotence and Omnipresent

All knowing, all powerful and ever present

These words feel like we consigned You to theory and the ethereal,

But you are all loving, enfolding us in your everlasting arms

You know us intimately, thoroughly and totally, nothing is hidden

You are with us, on the great heights and the dark depths

From before birth to last breath, you see and know and care

We are amazed that you would think of us with such love.

God who became one of us

This is the most wonderous thing of all, totally mindblowing

That You humbled yourself and in Jesus stepped into our world

You became one of us and dwelt in our midst

Experienced our joy and sorrow our highs and lows

Proclaimed good news, bought healing and forgiveness

Welcomed back all who wandered to know God’s love

Then gave your life for our lives, so we could be set free

Thank you God for your son Jesus Christ.

Crucified and risen saviour,

We praise God you were raised to life again,

Because in that death and resurrection we have new life,

Life to be lived in knowing the one who knows us so well

Life where all we had done wrong has been put right with you

Life where by the Holy Spirit’s presence we are being put right

being made whole, called to witnesses to your compassion in Christ

Life that because it comes from you is eternally lived with you

We humbly acknowledge all you have done for us

Real and honest God,

We know that you see us, we know you know us

We cannot hide from you, so we open ourselves up to you

Search us and reveal our ways and thoughts to us

Where we have sinned and done wrong ,O Lord we ask you to  forgive

Where we have left your good undone, we ask you would forgive

We thank you that because you are faithful and just that we are forgiven

Change us O God, turn us from our ways to seek and follow yours

Help us to live out the good news of your just and righteous love,  

Holy Spirit, promised comforter and guide,

We acknowledge through Christ you are present in our lives,

We pray you will fill us up with your presence

Lead and guide us, as we fall in step with you

Draw us closer and closer to Jesus each day  

Enable and empower us to share Jesus Christ

To call people to know him as they are known by God

To hear all his has spoken and put it into practise

That in small way we may bring glory to God, Father Son and Holy Spirit


Monday, October 16, 2017

I don't feel alive till I've had my... Psalm 113 and the discipline of sacred time (Psalm 113, Acts 3:1-10)

There is an image of God in Psalm 11 as both seated on high and stooping down to see and lift up. It reminded me of pictures of the royal family on walk about stopping and getting down to talk with a child. It reminded me of all the photo opportunities that disasters afford world leaders to go and be seen as comforting their people. like the well posed pictures of a US president hugging grieving people in the wake of natural disaster. But there is more here in God going to see which gives us hope and confidence in a God who cares, who isn't just breezing in to see or hug one or two or even toss some paper towels out as a dramatic gesture, but who makes a real difference. 
Psalm 113 is a communal call to worship. In verses 1-3 it calls God’s people to come and praise the name of the Lord. Then the next six verses it give us reason to praise God and content for praising  God. In verse 4-6 we have the big picture stuff, because of God’s glory and his grace and then in verse 7-9 it zeroes into two specific cases of God’s grace.

The Psalm is the first of what is known as the Egyptian hallell. A series of Psalms that start and finish with “praise the Lord” alleluia… and go on to encourage people to do just that. They came to be used at the three main festivals in the Jewish calendar, Passover, Pentecost and tabernacles. Psalm 113 and 114 were used at the start of the Passover meal to call those gathered for the meal to give thanks to God. This would have been the psalm that Jesus and his disciples would have started the last supper together with. That’s enough about the Psalm lets now turn to look at the Psalm itself.

AS I said it’s a communal call to worship God, to alleluia. It calls God’s people to give him praise. In fact it used the word his servants, and looks to us corporately and individually to carry out this wonderful task of Giving God praise, of reverently coming into God’s presence and acknowledging his goodness and greatness and the good things he has done. It’s a duty but also an honour. In 1 Peter 2:9 Peter picks up this idea and applies it to us as followers of Jesus when he says that we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people that we may declare the praises of him who bought us out of darkness into his wonderful light”.

This does not simply mean in prayer or in worship but also as we sang in the hymn before the sermon Ye servants of God your master proclaims, it is a telling forth of the good things God has done the good news of Jesus Christ. The apostles were called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ risen from the dead to go and tell people of that and teach them what it meant. We often think evangelism or witnessing is something you wouldn’t do to your worst enemy, but in the end it is simply letting people know about the goodness of who God is and what he has done in Jesus Christ. Likewise speaking God’s truth in the face of evil and injustice is letting people know about the goodness and grace of God.

The call for God’s servants to praise the name of the Lord, then steps into the realms of time and space. This is such an amazing and wonderful task that it will take up eternity ‘now and forevermore’, to know God and experience all his goodness and to then give its due attention and acknowledgement is a task that will take forever. It’s will fill our days from the rising of the sun to the going down”. But not in that this is being drawn out, when is it going to finish, is this going to take all day, I’ve got better things to do kind of way, but in a way that we are filled with awe and amazement as we see God’s faithful love being new every morning.

The Psalmist then goes on to give us reason to praise the Name of the Lord. In verse 4 we see it is because of God’s sovereignty and glory. Then in a rhetorical question the psalmist presents us with the view of God seated on high but also the God who humbly stoops down to look on both the heavens and the earth.  For little Israel who is concerned about the powerful nations around them, the rise of empires God as being the one on the throne is of great importance. No matter which world power seeks to move against them there is the acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty, God’s rule and reign. When we face difficult issues and overwhelming situations, there is hope and assurance in the fact that God is sovereign. To praise him and acknowledge his as such in those hard times is both an affirmation of hope and trust in God’s ability to act and move.

The picture here of God stooping down to look, shows God’s grace. It is a posture of humility to get up off the throne and to see what is happening. This isn’t a glimpse from a far off distance, a cursory exploration so the ruler can simply shake his head and go back to the life of luxury, it is an engagement. In quantum mechanics there is a principle that by simply observing something that it changes it. The example that is often used is in checking the pressure of a tyre, you will let some air out and that changes the pressure, very slightly on that level but at a quantum level, it is enough to change what you are looking at. Now I can’t get my head round quantum mechanics, I struggle enough with basic car mechanics, But when God looks and sees, it talks of God acting and moving. At the burning bush, Moses is told that God has heard the cry of his people and that God sees their oppression, and so God sends a messiah and God goes with. The Aaronic blessing is that God might look upon his people… the Lord Bless you and keep you… the Lord make his face to shine on you… the lord lift up his continence upon you and give you peace.”

We see that stooping to look, which show God’s grace even more in Jesus. Humbling himself, stooping down, as it says in Philippians, to become one us, even a servant, obedient unto death, death on a cross.’ Almighty God, stooping down to be one of us, enthroned on high, king of creation, with a crown of thorns, because God has seen the pain and suffering of our sinful and broken world and wants to bring the great reversal of the kingdom of God to that.

The Psalm then applies God’s glory and grace to two  cases. God stoops down to raise up and lift up the poor and the needy where they have been tossed to the side line of society. Th dusty beggar on the side of the road, the image of sitting in the ash heap echoes the lot of Job, as his whole world has come crashing down around him his wealth, his family his health all gone and there he is sitting in the ashes. But as this psalm says the one who stoops down is the one who lifts up as well. We have this great reversal, those who are bought low and marginalised will be lifted up and given the place of honour at the royal table.

The Psalm follows closely the wording of Hannah’s prayer at the beginning of Samuel as well, Hannah was a woman who was unable to have children and came to plead with God even to the point of trying to make a deal with God. She was Samuel’s mother…and the Psalmist turns to address the issue of a women unable to have children. He may have even had Hannah in mind. In our day it is a matter of great pain and sorrow for many women and couples as they wrestle with fertility, in the psalmist’s day when the status of women was in their ability to produce children and sons in particular to carry on their husband’s family name. Their status in society, the love and care of their husbands and their ability to look after themselves or be looked after in later life depended on it. Here God’s grace is shown in his care for a childless woman in allowing her to bear children. 

In both these instances Israel and later we can identify with God’s sovereign power and his grace.

We’ll at St peter’s October is the season of prayer and what does this Psalm have to say to us.

I want to just focus on two things. The first is that while the psalm focuses on praising the name of the Lord. It provides us with a picture of God that encourages us to bring our prayers for other and for ourselves to God. The Psalm calls us to praise God for his sovereignty and for his grace. We have confidence because we have a God who is both almighty but also who stoops down to see. We have a God who sees and hears and cares and moves and responds… not just a disinterest observer but whose seeing leads to his lifting up and placing on high those.  The Psalm talks of God’s universal sovereignty over all the nations, big enough to hear and see our prayers for the big things that happen round the world. But also the God who acts in the lives of the marginalised and those considered the least.

Part of praising God is that it speaks to our hearts and tells us the very nature of God. Yes it praises him but it also gives us confidence and assurance of who it is we are serving. We praise God for what God is like and what God has done and not only is that proclaiming it in the world who needs to hear it… It is also inspiration for us who know this God to become like him. We are his servants and friends and as we see more the goodness of God we want to put it into action in our own lives. The more we see the power of god the more we are willing to facedown the evil and injustice in this world.

The second thing is that this psalm speaks of the sacredness of Time. We are given the great honour of praising the name of the Lord, from the rising of the sun to it’s going down. We are invited to boldly approach the throne of grace and cast all our cares on him for he cares for us.  Now it is not practical to spend all our day in prayer, although we shouldn’t separate things into sacred and secular. Work is a way of praising God as we use our god given skills and abilities to provide for ourselves and our family, when we enjoy the world around us it is using it for what God intended it, and in a way giving praise to its creator, when we care and show love for others or serve we are expressing the very nature of who God is and his love for us. We do all things unto the Lord.

Historically it has meant that people will regulate their lives and time around setting aside time for prayer and worship and devotions. We are used to seeing this in Islam with its insistence on five times praying a day, and a month of Ramadan for fasting and praying. The Jews had set times during the day for prayer, we see that in our New testament reading where peter and john go to the temple to pray and the time of prayer. Monks and monastic orders, order their day and week and months and years round a rhythm and practise of prayers. The modern monastic movements build not so much on people living in the same place and keeping these hours of prayer but living close to each other and keeping the same rhythms and rituals of prayer and service and life, that bind them together as a community.  Of course you look in various hymns books and prayer books are set up for people to have morning and evening prayers.

When I was in youth group one of the questions that used to come up again and again was ‘have you had your daily quite time? Have you started the day in prayer and bible reading. This was the evangelical equivalent. In fact, it got pushed so much when I was growing up I called it evangelical guilt.

There was also a move against this rigidness of setting time aside for prayer, as Christians we can pray anytime and anywhere, we don’t need these set times, they stifle the spirit and spontaneity.  There is truth in that that we have this wonderful ability to spend time with God all the time, I love Juan carols Ortiz’s comment when he was asked about how did he find time to be alone with god and he replied, when you leave then I’ll be alone with God. However anytime can easily become I don’t have anytime to spare, and anywhere can become I can’t fit it anywhere in my busy calendar.

In our reading from Acts the amazing thing was that God showed up by his Holy Spirit and did a miracle in healing the man born lame at the regular hour of prayer. During establishing a routine and rhythm a spiritual habit of regular prayer we may be surprised how much God actually turns up, stoops down, sees and lifts up as we praise him and bring his world to him in prayer.

There used to be this old TV ad for bell tea that said “ I don’ feel alive till have had my cup of bell tea”, if you’re younger than me you might not remember it. And you may have added to the end of the sentence I don’t feel alive till I’ve had my…’ with a cup of coffee. But apart from being a declaration of chemical dependency, the challenge today is to find a routine and rhythm where you can come alive as you encounter and praise and pray to the God who loves us: Who is seated on High, but who stoops down to see and who lifts up on high. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A reflection on 2 Timothy 3:16

As part of the season of prayer at St Peter's, a time when we encourage people to work on developing their prayer and devotional life, I invited the congregation to take a verse to meditate on for each day this week. To read it in the morning, chew it over and pray on it during the day and then write down what they felt God was saying to them through it in the evening. So I thought I'd just put a couple of my reflections on line... as I found the spiritual disciple helpful.

The verse on Monday was 'All Scripture is God-Breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness"  2 Timothy 3:16... It has always been used to affirm the scriptures as being God breathed or inspired. It's one of those proof texts that we can prattle off in defence of a certain position. But in taking some time to ponder it and chew it over and wrestle with it... I felt the Spirit Speak to me in a way that this verse has not before.

The passage does talk of the divine inspiration of the scriptures... I know that how Christians unpack and understand that is very diverse and divisive.

As a preacher I found it an encouragement to keep faithful to exploring and explaining the scriptures because in doing that we are part of the process the Holy Spirit uses to allow the scriptures to do what they are designed for, to bring new life, maturity and transformation. As a verse it also challenged me to examine how I teach and  preach. is my vision and prayer "So that all God's people may be thoroughly equipped for every good deed."

However, as I thought about this passage through the day the real challenge for me came in the question. if the scriptures are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness ...So that all God's people may be thoroughly equipped for every good deed... What is he attitude I come to reading and reflecting on scripture with...

What is in it for me...? Bless me Lord!

"intellectual curiosity?' As a preacher that is one of the things that we must do... but it also must never become the sum total of our engagement... particularly in our own devotional life.

I'm just doing my spiritual discipline thing... Like all disciplines you can easily fall into a rut.

In the end this verse in 2 Timothy invites us to come to scripture with a openness to what God is wanting to do in our lives... we come as a learner, open for God to speak change and transformation into our lives... even when it means that God points out the bits that need to change, which can be a painful process... Jesus sais that the person who builds their house on a rock is the person who heard what Jesus has to say and puts it into practise... or the more blunt wording who obeys it.

In the end of my reflection I thought the best way to come to scripture was with the prayer that Eli gave to Samuel in the midst of a night of disturbed sleep... 'speak Lord, for your servant is listening' (1 Samul 3:10) a mantra (OK, a centring prayer when I open up the scriptures, devotionally and for preparing a message for Sunday.

here is a link to the verse for the day resource mentioned in this post...


Sunday, October 8, 2017

If you can worry you can meditate (Psalm 1119:97-112, 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

October at St Peter’s is designated as our season of prayer. It’s the fourth year in a row we’ve set aside this month to look at developing and growing our devotional and prayer life. Central to our vision as a church is that we are growing as followers of Jesus, and in our five year strategic plan the parish council has seen developing prayer and devotional life as one of the key areas for that growth as followers of Jesus to occur. It makes sense that a healthy church would be based on its members having a healthy and growing relationship with God. Our being a community and reaching out in love and inspiring others to join us on the journey comes from knowing Jesus love and presence in our lives, living it out and sharing it with others.

Today we are going to start our reflections for the season of Prayer,  by looking at the practise of Christian meditation on scripture. Now I don’t know about you but when I think of meditation I get images that are shaped by the increased identification of meditation with eastern religions… the chanting of mantra, burning insence and sitting in positions that don’t look that comfortable to me in fact they rather resemble complex knots.  A lot of that is just relaxation techniques, contemplative Christians talk of centering prayers, short sentences or verses of scripture that help us to calm ourselves and focus not on nothingness or the universe, but on God. Breathing exercises that help us to quiten our minds and bodies amidst the rush of everday life. It might make meditation seem complex and difficult, this morning I want to simply say that if you can worry then you can meditate.

When something is worrying you it is always on your mind, it becomes your focus, it can consume your time, you lie awake at night turning it over and over in your mind. That’s not necessarily a healthy process, it saps your strength, it does not always lead to a solution. I attended a business training course when I was in Napier, and the business man who took the course, talked of how he dealt with problems and issues that ‘worried him” about his business in a healthy manner. He said he took time out to sit in his thinking chair, and work the problem, he would continually ask the question why until he had explored the issue, from so many difficult angles and got it down to well thought out practical steps he could take.  Christian meditation I believe is taking the time to think reflect and turn over and over again in our minds the word of God, so it is able to be used by God to lead us forwards.

The word Meditate has the same feeling as the word Masticate: which is to chew. When you worry something gnaws away at us, meditation is to chew it over, like a cow chews its cud. Cows have four stomachs and they will bring the grass they’ve eaten back up to chew it over again and extract all the goodness and nutrients they can get from it. That is a gross but good illustration of meditating on God’s word, chewing it over and extracting all the nutrients and goodness from it and allowing that to become part of us and to energise and direct our lives.

Our bible passage this morning is from psalm 119 and I want to look at what it has to say about meditating on scripture. Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms and it is an acrostic poem, made up of twentythree eight line stanzas, each starting with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It celebrates God’s word that the psalmist had at that time and it uses the whole of the language it was written in to do so. We had two sections read out today verse 97-104 which is the letter ‘mem’ and 105-112 which is the letter ‘nun’. The ‘mem’ section focuses on giving praise for the wisdom that God’s word provides and the ‘nun’ section acknowledges the value of God’s word in leading us through the dark and difficult times of life, like it is a torch illuminating a treacherous path at night. 

For the Psalmist the focus on his meditation is the law, the Torah. We also have the rest of the Jewish cannon, the old testament and the gospels and epistles, Jesus said he did not come to do away with the law but to fulfil the law, so Christians beleive we have that fuller revelation of God, to meditate on. In the psalm itself there are eight different terms to refer to the scriptures, its not tying it down to a set torah, but it focus is on the psalmists relationship with the scripture and through them with God.  If the psalmist was a Jew writing in the time of the exile in Babylon it would have been when the written books of the Old testament would have started to become available, and away from the cultic life in Jerusalem they would have been the focus for establishing synagogues and of keeping the faith alive, in a society that pressured all those who they conquered to adapt and be assimilated. Focusing on the Torah keeps the psalmists focused on God and God’s covenant.  The book of Daniel tells the story of such Jews being indoctrinated in the Babylonian ways and religion, and we see Daniel and his friends resist and keep their faith and identity as they keep their spiritual practises.

The psalmist says he has a daily routine and discipline of meditating on God’s word. In Jewish society being a scholar and student of the scripture and having the day to devote to it was the highest privilege you could have. Today you can see yeshiva’s schools dedicated to Jewish students focusing on their scripture and related teachings, both in class room settings and also in pairs or small groups. But if this was the exilic period they may not have had the benefit of such schools or the time to do this and it could as easily speak of taking the time during the day to focus on the scriptures. As the psalmist goes through his day, his mind is thinking about the scriptures. Those he has read that day or he may be reciting scriptures he has memorised under his breath, and scripture memorisation is a great discipline, and groups like the navigators have got some great resources to help you to do that.

The psalmist says this meditation on scripture gives him wisdom, and in his exile environment, he says it makes his wiser than his enemies and gives him more understanding than his teachers.  This is not a vein boast, but rather elevates the knowing of God and God’s purposes and ways as important and central in the face of all the other messages he is receiving from the society round him. It’s not that those things are unimportant but rather the central thing is that life is lived through that knowing of God. 

The rest of this section of the psalm helps us to see what this daily meditation might look like.  In verse 103 the psalmist talks of the word of God being sweet to the taste. There is the daily consumption of God’s words. There is a daily routine of reading scripture, again there are many different ways and means of doing that. For the past four years I have set myself the goal of reading through the bible each year. I use an ap on my phone called ‘one year bible’ which also gives me an email each day with readings from the Psalms or Proverbs, the New Testament and Old Testament to systematically read through the bible in a year. Each day they come with comment from Nickey and Pippa Gumble and a daily prayer as well. Here at St peter’s we provide people with the chance to use ‘the word for today” produced by Radio Rhema, which has a reading for each day and a reflection on one verse or section each day as well. Also the daily bread from scripture union. They are all just helps to allow us to have a regular input of God’s word.

In verse 104, the psalmist talks of gaining understanding from God’s precepts, not only is there the reading of the word daily there is the process of understanding what the passage is saying as well. That takes time and effort to reflect on scripture, not just to read it. It’s as we come to understand it that we are able to apply it to our lives.

That application to life is what is at the centre of this first section of our reading. In verse 101 and 102 the psalmist talks of obeying God’s word and not departing from God’s law. It is the process of understanding what God has to say and them allowing it to change us, to speak to our way of life. Contemplation leas to application. Thomas Morton was a famous monk from the 20th century, he was always wanting more time to spend on retreat to go away and pray and meditate on God’s word, one of the things that has made Thomas Morton one of the most influential Christians of the last century is that when he came back from those times of meditation and retreat he would have written very insightful and powerful books or essays on important social issues like the rise of the atomic age and how to respond to it, the challenge of living in a pluralistic society and how to relate and communicate and act with other religions. We may find it is simply how we react in difficult situations in our work place or family, seeing our job not simply as a necessary evil, but part of God’s calling on our lives., or to be encouraged to simply show love to our neighbours.

This is what is called an inductive bible study. Starting from the word by reading it, then coming to understand it, what does it say, understanding its message: what did it say to the people then and there and applying it: what does it say to us today and how am I going to live differently in light of it.

Then in verse 102 we also get what makes meditating on God’s word communication with God. The Psalmist says that god himself has taught him, it’s an affirmation of the fact that scripture is God’s word or as we had in our new testament reading from 2 Timothy, it is God breathed, but also that God is involved in the process of open the scriptures to us and teaching us. AS we have come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has been poured out on us, one of things Jesus said the spirit would do was lead us into all truth, and bring to mind all that Jesus had said and taught us and as we reflect and meditate and chew over God’s word, God is able to speak to us.

The second section that we read today the ‘nun’ section talks of God’s word being a lamp for our feet and a light on our path, that it can be trusted to lead us through the dark and difficult paths of life. Along the rugged storm lashed coast of England there are lifeboat stations, and people go out in small boats from those stations out into the stormy weather to save the lives of sailors on ships that get into trouble. The people who man the lifeboats will tell you it is not the times they have gone out in response to emergencies that make them able to do their job and save people, rather it is the hours and days and weeks and months they put in practising and practising in the lulls between the storms that enables them to do what they do. It is as we allow God’s word to sink deeply into our lives in a regular routine of  reading and reflection, meditating on the word allow our lives to be marinated in the word of god that enables the Holy Spirit to use it in those dark and stormy times. 

I want to leave you with just a simple practical exercise for this week. Two spiritual disciplines which I believe will help you to develop meditating on scripture to be more a part of your life. It’ll take about ten minutes in the morning and maybe another ten or so at night and hopefully some time during the day when you’ve got a chance to take a moment or so to simply read the verse over again.

The first discipline is just to have one verse for the day, to reflect on this week. To chew over and contemplate. To carry with you and allow God to speak to you through.  Maybe even to commit it to memory, can I say that is a challenge for me, my mind just does not seem to be wired that way. You probably notice that when I’m leading worship and even when we’ve sung a song over and over again I still get the lyrics wrong.

The second is to have a go at journaling. To take time at the end of the day to write down your reflections on that passage and how you have felt God speak to you through it during the day. When you write that sort of thing down it gives you the chance to reflect and actually think of how you’ve related to it and how God has related to you through it during the day. It also allows you to put it in the back of your bible and then look back at it in a month or a few months’ time and remember what God said and even how it has continued to be manifest in your life.
if you want to use or view the verse of the day reflections booklet her is the link to it as a pdf

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Cry from the Depths and Hope of the Light (Psalm 130 and 1 John 1:5-2:2)

Psalm 130 is a lament, a crying out from the depths. It’s a plea for help as the psalmist finds himself sinking below the waters of the troubles that have flooded into his life. Is the psalmist going down for the last time, does God even hear his cry… has he been abandoned and left to die? Because of sin has God turned his back?

It’s been gathered into the psalms of ascent, made a pilgrims’ prayer and as the psalmist does not tie his depths down to a specific time and place, a single set of troubles, it invites those coming to worship God in Jerusalem to find themselves in this psalm.

It’s a post exilic Psalm so it invites the pilgrim to identify with God’s people, who had suffered the pain and anguish of the destruction of Jerusalem, and seventy long weary years in Babylon, waiting and hoping that God was not finished with them. Like the sentries on Babylon’s walls looking for the dawn. Looking and looking.

It is a Psalm that could equally invite the pilgrim to remember or cry out from their own depths: Sickness and pain, suffering or hardship, sorrow and grief.

It’s a psalm that we may also find ourselves in. A psalm uttered in hospital ward, in the wake of the loss of a loved one, in relationship breakdown, life crumbling and dragging us down, injustice or abuse.

It’s a psalm that has been raised throughout the history of God’s people. It’s a psalm whose cry echoes in the concert halls of Paris, Manchester and this very week Las Vegas. That could be heard rising over the wind as Hurricane bears down on Caribbean Island, and whispered in the aftermath of devastation, when life’s all been blown away. Shouted at the heavens when we see things like military forces descend and burn Rohingya village after Rohingya village  in the Rakine state of Myanmar. As a lament it fits right in.

But Psalm 130 is also a psalm of hope. It’s spoken in the long dark night, but it looks forward to the dawn of a new day: to God who is light. It is a Psalm of faith uttered in the depth, it finishes with a declaration of God’s unfailing love and the redemption of God’s people.

The hope comes in the very nature of God. That God does not hold sin against us, writing them down in some divine leger, so he can then write us off, throw us away like a bad investment, or wastage, rather God forgives and restores.  That is not a cheap grace, as E M Blaiklock says ,it  is not as if God were an ‘indulgent Father or an equally fallible friend’ who simply lets us off the hook consequence free, so we can keep going our own way.  Rather as 1 John 1:9 says he forgives because he is ‘faithful and just’ that as we know his forgiveness and his character, we might come to serve him with reverence.

Psalm 130 is a post exilic psalm and Israel knows God forgives sin and restores because they as a remnant had come back to Jerusalem, rebuilt and restarted their lives as God’s worshipping people. God has been faithful to his covenant with Israel, both in sending them into exile, being with them in that exile and hearing their cry and bringing them back again. That is the confidence that the psalmist has in Go’s character, that is the hope of the dawn as he waits in the dark night, it is the hope of the rescue from the depths.

The psalm is uttered in the night of waiting but it looks forward. Not only to God’s intervention in the psalmists personal problem but it looks forward to the coming of God’s light into the world, to the fulfilment of God’s promise to redeem his people from their sin, in the coming of his son Jesus Christ. Not just to pull us from the depths of trouble and strife, but to enable us to have our sins forgiven and be reconciled with God. Pulled out of the depth of sin and death to abundant new life, that is eternal because it is lived in relationship with our eternal God. Our freedom bought by the costly sacrifice of Christ on the cross, a freedom to serve God with reverence.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have the dawn of a new day, we can know the confidence that the psalmist does that in God there is forgiveness of sin, we can know the assurance that as we confess our sin, that God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. With the psalmist we too look forward to the full brightness of that new day when Christ will banish all the darkness of night.

Maybe we all have our own stories of crying to God from the very real depths of life, hoping that God hears and is attentive to our prayer. We’ve had long dark nights where we have sort not only the dawn of the day but the hope that God would shine his light on our situation. Maybe you find yourself in those flood waters today…We have the assurance of God unfailing love shown in his dealing with that most basic and core human need the need for forgiveness and a fresh start. An assurance that our cries are heard and God answers as we await his light to shine afresh on us.  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

God's lifelong love... A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Confession on the International day of the senior person

Eternal God,

Unchanging and constant in your love, You hold our times in your hands.

In your son Jesus Christ your love took on flesh and became one of us

Christ lived, taught, healed and delivered, welcomed back the lost,

Christ suffered and died and rose again

that we might have a fresh start and know abundant and eternal life.

You have poured out your Holy Spirit, your abiding presence with us

And we praise you for your lifelong love, presence and guidance.

We praise you for the joy of childhood

Formative years where your love is known in the care of parent

In the embrace of family and friends

Where life seems to be unfolding before us and we grow every day

 A precious time to be guided and guarded

A time when those who suffer harm and deprivation

Need your great love in hands and hearts that reach out with compassion

We give you thanks for the vitality of youth

Transforming and becoming, blossoming and starting out

The adventures of forging our identity and who we are

New horizons stretching out before us, owning our own faith

A vibrant time full of potential and hope

A time when we need to know your love in the gentle voice of a mentor

Where your Spirit  invites us to explore and hope in ideals

We give you thanks for adulthood

For the growing ability to take on the responsibilities of life

Of finding meaning and purpose in what we do and achieve

In finding love and starting families, in being single and going solo

A time when we look to you O God, to lead and guide us

To bring us the wisdom we need and mature us in your love

To help us contribute, make a difference and leave a legacy

On this day of the senior person we give you praise for age

For looking back on a life well lived, being nana or grandad

Facing new different challenges as the years bring their changes

Having so much still to give, to be of use and valued 

and yes, now slowing needing more to take care of us

A time when our faith has been tested and is strongest

Where we need your presence God to see this long journey through

We give you praise O God for your love our whole life through

 Your love is fresh each morning,  right for each age we pass through

We confess we have sinned and done wrong, and left good undone

We have neglected and abused those who need us the most

We ask for your forgiveness and thank you that you do 

Fill us afresh with your Spirit’s presence and renew us we pray

To live and witness to Jesus Christ, to the glory of God, father son and Holy Spirit

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Flow of God's Saving Power in History (Psalm 68) River Sunday

The Clutha is New Zealand’s second longest river. It flows out of Lake Wanaka in the southern Alpes, through the wonderful rugged landscapes of central Otago, the rich pasture of south Otago, out to the Pacific Ocean about 70 Km south of Dunedin just past the town of Kaitangata. It is a unique and beautiful river with its amazing turquoise blue colour.

It wasn’t intentional but one Summer, we visited both ends of the river in a matter of a couple of days, and travelled along and over much of its length. We went to Lake Wanaka and watched it start it journey, we stopped for lunch by the remains of the old bridge in Alexandra, saw its blue water mix with the grey brown waters of the Kawarau, from Lake Wakatipu. We travelled down through the Cromwell gorge and along lake Dunstan, picked cherries at Roxburgh, visited the Hydodams.

e Crossed it by bridge and by car ferry, at Tuapeka mouth. We walked down to one of the two river mouths, in that wonderful long summer dusk they have down south. The whole place bathed in vivid golds as the sun loitered by the horizon.

The thing that sticks out about the Clutha, is yes that wonderful colour, but also the sense of constant flow. Vast volumes of water incessantly moving past. Flowing down through the landscape. You also get the sense of the flow of that river through history as well. Maori settlement near its banks, an early whaling station at its river mouth, the gold rush, the hundred year floods reminding us of the rivers wild power, building of dams to feed New Zealand’s growing demand for power, a whole town moved and then what was left flooded, agricultural change, vineyards in central Otago. When I first spoke at Clinton Church, where we were doing summer supply, my opening joke was that I was happy to be there as I had heard of the revival that was happening, that there were conversions going on all over the countryside, but then I realised it was to dairying, that dramatic change and its impact a pivotal issue in yesterday’s election. The flow of the river and the flow of human history inevitably linked.

Psalm 68, has that sense of flow as well, not of a river through the landscape although it speaks of God’s presence and blessing in terms of the land being watered, but the flow of God’s great deeds in history. It’s attributed as a psalm of David, if it comes from his life then it is very much after he has been made king and is bringing the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem. Down through the ages its insistence on God’s sovereignty and power, have become a hope for Israel as they faced difficult times, threats from surrounding nations and the rise and fall of empires. It was comfort during the exile in Babylon and the return from that exile of God’s character and his sovereign power.  The same hope that we who look back at it from beyond the cross and resurrection also have in God’s saving acts and the ultimate victory of God’s just and righteous reign, in the Kingdom of God.

The four psalms we’ve been looking at this season of creation, form a subunit within the wider works of the Psalms. In Psalm 65 we saw the whole of creation summoned to come to a praise Party to give thanks to God. Its focus was on the countryside around Jerusalem bursting forth in luscious growth and vitality in response to God’s great deeds: His work in creation and providence, sending the rain, answering prayer and forgiving sin. In Psalm 66 we saw all the earth called to give praise to God, for his saving deeds shown to Israel and to the psalmist himself. In Psalm 67 we saw this extended so that people of every nation and people group tribe and tongue should come and   know God’s saving love; know his just rule and guidance. The ends of the earth and farthest seas are called to join creations praise for its creator and receive his blessing.  Psalm 68 acts as the high point of creations celebrations. The special guest arrives, the central figure appears, God arises and is pictured as coming in a victorious procession to Jerusalem to receive the praise and accolades of humanity and creation. 

It’s a hard psalm for us to appreciate, some of the images it uses are for us strange and foreign and it is full of the violent images of conquest and the brutal dealing with those who have been defeated. It’s good that the kids have gone out because it has an adults only feel with people ankle deep in spilt blood. It should have a warning on it…  for mature faith audiences only…

It’s poetry and pulls its imagery from the world around to speak of God’s victory. It attributed to David a warrior, who may have seen such acts of brutality. It is written to a nation that would have been and periodically was again on the receiving end of such brutal treatment. 

It’s the language of ‘Theophany’ the real physical turning up of God and as such is full of extreme language:  Enemies disappearing like smoke and hills melting like wax. The stars arrayed as God’s burning Chariots.

It also has a cosmic element to it, like apocalyptic language, That God’s moving in history is played out on a heavenly scale. It marks both real events in history but looks forward to the ultimate fufilment of God's soverign reign.  Cannan’s god Ba’al was the god who was seen as being the one who rode on the clouds a storm God, but here it is Israel’s God YHWH that has displaced him and rides on the clouds. It is YHWH who has provided the rain and watered the land. In Luke 20 Jesus quotes from the Psalm 110 and talks of God saying

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:

“Sit at my right hand

until I make your enemies

a footstool for your feet.”

From beyond Jesus life and death and resurrection we can see that the enemies that are defeated here are ‘sin, and injustice, evil and as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that final enemy, of humanity and creation, death and decay itself. Paul in Ephesians also picks up this language, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Psalm 68 also reminds us that God is full of compassion and concern and righteous. He is a father to the fatherless, a defender of the widows, the people of low or no status in society. He sets the lonely in families, and leads the prisoners out with singing. God’s rule is about justice and he opposes those who in act and entrench injustice.

The psalm gives us a picture of God’s saving acts through the wilderness and exodus. His providing water in the desert and as Israel come into the land, of there being plenty of water and a bounty of crops. Again, God’s purpose is to ensure there is enough for all including the poor.

In verse 11 the scene changes and in a profound way we see God’s word being announced by a group of women and the effect of that being God’s enemies are scattered. EM Blaiklock suggests this is a reference to Deborah in the book of Judges, calling God’s people together to battle, king Sisera, and his army being routed. His chariots of iron bogging down in the swamps before Mt Tabor. The difficult verses in that stanza may revolve around Jeal, killing Sisera by agreeing to hide him then driving a tent peg through his head. The passage finishes with a picture of God scattering the kings of the earth like snow on the mountain. It’s quite profound that it speaks of the impact of Women who are prepared to speak God’s truth to power. It is an affirmation of the place of women in that proclamation. Foreshadowing the women who were given the privilege of being the first to proclaim Christ is not dead he is alive, and are still called to proclaim that.

Mount Bashan refers to a rugged mountain range to the north east of the Jordan, it is a place known for its abundant grass lands and its healthy cattle. But this place blessed with natural abundance is told seen as being jealous of the lesser peak of Zion because that mountain is where God chooses to dwell.

In verse 24 the procession comes into view God is coming to his sanctuary, he is accompanied by all the tribes of Israel. Although only four are mentioned they are the ones from the furthest south and from the furthest north so represent all Israel coming together. They are led by singers and dancers. Not only that but as the procession moves on we see kings coming to bring gifts to honour Israel’s God. God in his strength also rebukes the nations that delight in war. The bulls amongst the reeds is an image of Egypt, and the bull amongst the calves gives the idea of the fat cattle and strong kings pushing and driving people to war. It is God who brings peace not only to Israel but to all the world.

The psalm finishes with all the kingdoms of the earth gathered in song, worshipping God for his power and his mighty deeds.

All Humanity joins with the creation in Psalm 65 in giving praise to God for what he has done for us. It is a psalm that looks forward to the coming of Jesus and the universal proclamation of God’s salvation, while it speaks of the blood of enemies, the blood that Is spilled to free us from the tyranny of sin and death is Christs. This is Good News for all humanity for all creation. It’s the postscript and the missing stanzas for this psalm, the continued flow of God’s coming and moving in history, bringing salvation and the possibility and reality of new creation. 

Its river Sunday, and how does that relate to Psalm 68.

But we also need to look what the psalm tells us about the physical rivers of our world as well. The fact that while we may see the whole water cycle and rivers and lakes as a natural process, the Psalmist sees it as a show of God’s blessing and providence. Israel are a desert people and for them constant and consistent water courses are of paramount importance. They are a real blessing. The land is full of wadi’s dry river beds that only run with water when it rains. We are used to a more temperate climate, with a reliable water source and plenty of rain, rivers that flow from snow-capped mountains or the drenched hills and mountains that form the spin of our island homes. We are effected by changes in weather and over the past decade we’ve seen droughts in many areas, and of course this year is going to be known as the year that it didn’t stop raining.  But we can forget how precious water is and how important our river systems are as well. With increased population, increased intensification of farming and intensification of urban and industrial water use we are in danger of losing this valuable gift. Already we have rivers in this country that are undrinkable and unswimable. It may have been easier for us to remember rivers as part of our summer holiday experience than the children here today. Whatever the makeup of parliament, we need to continue to be working at cleaning up rivers and looking at ways of preserving our God given water.

Rivers flow through the landscapes but also human history, and what we need is a change in that flow, of how we think about our rivers and water use. It’s a creation issues; caring for what God has given us; it’s a justice issue, Psalm 68 says God sends the rain to provide for the poor out of the bounty it provides. On an international scale that challenges us as well. Jesus parable of the sheep and the goats, talks of giving a drink of water to those who are thirsty as doing it for Jesus.

We didn’t have it read to us but in Ezekiel 43 there is another vision of Theophany, of God dwelling with his people in the sanctuary in Jerusalem. It is of a river starting at the altar and flowing through the temple and out into city and out into the countryside and down the hills into the dead sea. Where it flows there is new life, tress grow that always fruit and whose fruit brings healing. Even the dead sea laden with salt and minerals begins to team with life. God’s victory and God’s love and justice brings living water to the whole land. Like the Clutha it flows through the landscape, but also it flows through human history as well. It is a river that flows in Jesus Christ, the living water, that brings new life and healing, it flows as the Holy Spirit is poured out on all who believe. In our New Testament reading this morning from Acts, Paul goes looking for a Jewish place of prayer, down by the river. In the diaspora if there were not enough Jewish men to form a synagogue then they would meet by a river to pray…looking back to their exile in Babylon, where by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and their we wept when we remembered Zion.’ But here that greater river of living water flows into the life of Lydia and her household gathered there and they receive the living water of Jesus, the river flows into Europe. You and I find ourselves caught up in that rivers flow as we have come to know Jesus Christ and that river now flows through us to bring life and healing to the world around us, as we are prepared to let it well up more and more in our lives.  


Lets pray