Wisdom – Songs From the Heart
(Job, The Psalms)
Imagine me – 5 years old, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the school assembly.
Thinner, shorter, no glasses.
Being introduced to ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’
In the mind of the child I heard, “The Lord’s my shepherd- I will not want
He makes me down to lie”
I decided it was a bit weird singing about someone you did not want!
Fortunately with age comes wisdom and I now understand what that adaptation of the psalm is saying.
So today we carry on with our sermon series, and our theme today is Wisdom including Songs from the Heart, which looks at the books of Job and the Psalms.
These 2 books are part of the group of writings known as wisdom literature: this is literature with a questioning attitude; it is literature that encompasses praise and thanksgiving but also literature that questions life’s problems and speaks with the voice of reflection and experience, and it is literature that promotes us to think, to reflect and to find connections between the writer’s situation then and our own today.
When we reflect on this literature it enhances our ability to cope with life and allows us to marvel at God’s transcendence, his amazing power, his ordering of life from the creation onwards and how his magnificence and his purpose are simply beyond us.
It is not always comfortable literature though, because sometimes the frustrations and pain of life are way beyond our coping and sometimes an Awesome God is not what we feel we want.
Or sometimes what our reading of the wisdom literature tells us, even when God speaks it into our hearts, is not what we want to hear.
We want instead answers, healing and a reason for why things happen – answers that often just do not exist.
Which brings us to the psalms…
Mention the psalms …. And what do we imagine?
Old stuff, Judaism, Songs, music, a lute or tambourine, one of them is about a shepherd and one of them is very long!!!
Yet they are so much more than that – after all one of them, psalm 117, is very short, only 2 verses!
The psalms have been and are prayers and hymns for personal and public worship. Many of them have brief headings about their content, some are addressed to particular people.
They date from the centuries before Christ’s birth when they were the hymn book of the Jewish people indeed …
…Manuscripts found at Qumran suggest that the entire collection was finalized by the second century BC. 73 psalms are associated with or attributed to David, but no one really knows who wrote them, they are hard to date unless they have a specific historical reference. Psalms are basically praises, they were intended to be said, sung and or read at services, we know that they were a hymn book covering all the seasons of the year and used by the Jews in the Temple at Jerusalem Also, as with all Jewish scriptures they would have been familiar, loved and often learned by rote.
We know that Christ was familiar with the psalms as he often quoted and sang them, many of which were seen as looking forward to his coming.
What’s more they continue to be used by Jewish people in their worship today.
And they are so valuable that they have been used by the church since it was formed, Paul in his writing to the Colossians (3:16) encouraged their use in the newly born church, because they were culturally familiar for Jewish converts but also for Jewish and gentile converts they spoke to the heart and the head, they addressed human emotions and feelings.
Over time we have become familiar with the book we call the Psalter, which is a collection of psalms and music and by the fourth century AD they were firmly established in the daily worship of monastic communities.
Today we continue to use them and they continue to inspire especially in the realm of music, where we find in them the basis for many hymns, charismatic worship songs and Taize chants.
There are 150 separate psalms, gathered together into one book, but the book itself is then subdivided into 5 ‘books’.
There are psalms for every situation –
For Worship, For calling for Help, For calling for Protection, to Sing of God’s mercy, To plead for Forgiveness, To petition for Justice.
There are National psalms and Personal Prayers to cover every human need, desire, situation and problem.
Ending with psalm 150 – a glorious choral and orchestral psalm of praise.
And including along the way:
Psalm 45 – which is a psalm to celebrate a Royal wedding
Psalm 19 – a general psalm of celebration ending ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my rock and my Redeemer’.
And 2 psalms about trusting in God:
Psalm 23 – which we already encounter today in our readings and hymns and
Psalm 91 – where we learn that we can rest secure in God’s protection, even when life is hard-going.
There’s a psalm to celebrate Harvest – number 65 – that talks of God watering the earth’s furrows, of sending softening showers and providing grain, then crowning the year with bounty.
There is a psalm that speaks of the Anguish sometimes found in life psalm 22. Its words form part of those spoken by Christ on the cross:
My God my God why hast thou forsaken me?
But it ends in hope as the psalmist sees all earth bowing before God and continuing to extol his teachings. For the Jewish people it is a psalm, not of anguish, but hope. It points towards a triumphant God.
There’s a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s goodness to all Psalm number 103, which has the refrain
‘Bless the lord my soul’
and as well as being the base of the hymn ‘Praise my soul the king of heaven’ (both the traditional and Kendrick versions), it is also the inspiration of a song in the musical Godspell.
Then there is psalm 100 ‘Know that the Lord is good, so sing out, make a joyful noise.’
Which is also the basis of the song ‘Jubilatee Deo’ and the hymn ‘All people that on earth do dwell’.
I could go on and on …but…
Finally there is a psalm 69, a prayer of a man overwhelmed by suffering, traditionally seen as Jeremiah.
And He prays to God to rescue him
Saying ‘I am weary with my crying’ but he learns to find comfort in God, ending with
‘I will praise the name of God… for the Lord hears the needy’.
Interestingly after he has come through the bad times he feels that those who have been responsible for his suffering will be punished – unlike the experiences of Job….
Which brings us to our second book on today’s whistle-stop tour – the book of Job
Job is like MARMITE
My mate Marmite friend or foe
Love it or hate it
So it is with Job, mentioning the book tends to cause extreme reactions such as oh I don’t understand that, it’s the one about pain and suffering isn’t it?
It’s very long?
Structure of Job
Job is a story about Job a good, prosperous, happy, fair, kind, perfect example of industrious hard work and loving relationships. But Satan wants to test him, to explore the extent of his faith when life goes badly for him, arguing that success creates integrity of belief not faith.
So over a short period of time he takes away his family, all his property, his herds, his health his friends, everything that makes Job happy and prosperous, and we find Job covered with boils, with a shaved head and sitting in ashes, literally on a garbage heap questioning why things have turned out as they have, whilst his 3 remaining friends, who we often refer to as ‘Job’s comforters’ commence a dialogue with him about why he is suffering , the friends general impression being that Job’s behaviour has caused this ‘punishment’ and so he must repent.
But Job views it differently, although he struggles for a reason why and curses the day that he was born, he still searches for an answer, thinking he can reason with God, as he has remained faithful and at no point has he blamed God for his sufferings.
So over 42 chapters we follow the dialogue between Job and his friends, when they have exhausted the idea that Job is somehow responsible for his condition then we hear another voice that of Elihu ….
… A younger man who can no longer remain silent, he identifies that neither Job with his staunch determination that he is in the right or Job’s friends with their determination that they are right, has really ‘got’ what is going on. He says that neither of them have ‘wisdom’ which has surprised him. So he counteracts that the key is God (33:8-12), who is ‘greater than man’ who must be listened for and is not bound by human limitations.
By not understanding Gods transcendent existence, Job is being too simplistic, too Human.
Elihu is then eclipsed as we hear from the eye of a storm the voice of God, speaking to Job.
Job’s response is to fall silent, he begins to accept that God has wisdom and knowledge beyond his understanding. After all God created the world and he knows it in every tiny detail.
So whilst he is favoured by God, there are still limits to the relationship and ultimately God’s ways are just beyond him (and us). It may not be satisfactory but that is where Faith and Trust and Wisdom develop.
Finally at the end of the book Job’s faithfulness is rewarded and his health, wealth and family life is restored two fold, so that he goes on to live a long and happy life.
Now I am no theologian and much is made of Job being about suffering, about some saying he is responsible by his actions for the misfortunes – Which God refutes and it seems that this is…
Maybe, because humans feel the need to establish order and meaning in their lives by attributing ‘cause and effect’, if something happens, especially something bad, then there must be a reason, maybe, just maybe we can then avoid it happening again or even better we can ’undo’ it.
Yet this book takes us a step beyond this, the God of the book, THE GOD I KNOW…
…is not a God who delights in inflicting punishment and misery on people, rather it seems that the root cause of Job’s sufferings is Satan, the devil, who whether we like it or not is the evil that exists in this world.
Even today, we recognise that evil in our baptism service, when questions are asked and promises made on behalf of the child, they include
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
Do you renounce evil?
We encourage the child ‘to fight valiantly’ against sin, the world and the devil.
So I do know, yet I don’t claim to really understand why God did not intervene with Job’s sufferings,
I do know why, yet I don’t fully understand why he does not intervene with ours – maybe James can tell you!
It’s too much to understand, however I believe that the God who loves us, the God that we love, he hurts when we hurt, he cries when we cry……
In the books of the Psalms and Job we see the magnificence of God, a Creator God beyond understanding, who, whilst he offers us a personal relationship, will sometimes also be beyond our understanding. Sometimes we just have to look at the Magnificence of the world around us and accept that we do not understand at all.
I suppose God, like the book of Job, is a bit like Marmite – sometimes we love him, sometimes we hate him…. ….but he is still, always Our Mate and he hears and listens and responds to the Songs that come from our Hearts.
Sermon by Tracy Williams on 19th July 2015