Psalm 103 vv 1-9; Luke 13 vv 10-17
This psalm is just bursting with praise: you can’t help but be swept up in it. The first verse is praise pure and simple, no reason, just 3 cheers for God.
Praise the Lord O my soul, all my inmost being praise his holy name.
Once he’s made that great statement the psalmist goes on to specific reasons for praise. He praises God for forgiveness and healing, for redemption, for his love and compassion and for all the good things he gives. His praise is a response to God’s gifts.
We’ve only heard the opening verses of this psalm, but as it goes on the writer expands on his initial thoughts. As we think about them we can see that Jesus fulfilled all these roles in his earthly life.
Verse 3 spoke of forgiveness and healing, and in verse 12 the psalmist goes on to say of God that:
“as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
In the gospels, forgiveness and healing go hand-in-hand. Often we hear Jesus saying as he heals: “your sins are forgiven you.”
The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus healing people, even when sometimes, as in today’s reading, it drew criticism and disapproval. There is nowhere a record of him denying healing to anyone: although we know that it took its toll on him, it was not something just tossed off lightly. When the woman with the long history of bleeding touched him he knew instantly that power had gone out from him, but he never held back from those in need. In the first 9 chapters of Mark’s gospel there are 13 accounts of specific healings, and throughout there are references to healing many people and the sick being placed in market places so that he might touch them.
In verse 4 the psalmist talks about redemption and mentions Moses and God’s deeds for the people of Israel, which is a reminder straight away of the redemption from slavery in Egypt.
In Jewish culture a redeemer was the person who literally paid to free someone from slavery and redeemed them. In the same way we talk about redeeming a mortgage when all money is paid and the property completely belongs to the owner. For us when we talk about redemption we immediately think of the cross and the price Jesus paid to redeem us from sin and slavery.
The psalmist goes on to praise God for his love and compassion and he expands the idea in verse 13 when he writes:
“as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
Jesus absolutely embodied the love and compassion of his father. Think of his response to the woman accused of adultery, of his friendship with tax collectors and other misfits in society, When Luke writes about the funeral procession of a widow’s son he records that Jesus’ heart went out to her.
In Mark’s account of the feeding of the 4000 he records that Jesus said:
“I have compassion for these people. They have already been with me 3 days and had nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry they will collapse on the way because some of them have come a great distance”
and of course he fed them.
When Mark writes about the feeding of the 5000 he says that when Jesus saw the great crowd
“he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without as shepherd and he began teaching them.”
He gave them what he knew they needed because all his teaching was directed to bringing people closer to God and to his kingdom.
The psalmist’s 4th cause for praise is for God’s good things and in verse 15 he reminds us of how transitory human life is; but goes on in verse 17 to rejoice that:
“from everlasting to everlasting the lord’s love is with those who fear him.”
What good things Jesus brought. He taught about God’s kingdom and his great love and care for everyone. He promised peace to his followers and eternal life to everyone who believed in him, and he promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide and help and comfort us.
There are so many reasons for praising God. In our gospel reading today, the woman’s response to her healing as she straightened up was to praise God, and there are many occasions when we feel similarly moved by thankfulness to praise.
When David was going through some of the worst times of his life, living as a fugitive from Saul and hiding out in the desert, he wrote in psalm 63 about how he trusted in God and depended on him and said
“because you are my help I sing in the shadow of your wings.”
But praise does not just need to spring from thankfulness: it’s a response to who and what God is.
There’s a lovely story of a monastery where every day the monks sang their praises to God. As is the way of life in time the monks grew old and as is also the way their old voices became cracked and sometimes off key.
One day as they met they talked about this and decided that their praise was not worthy of God because their singing had become so poor.
One of them came up with what they all agreed was a brilliant solution- they would find a lad in the village who had a good singing voice and they would pay him to come to the monastery every day to sing the hymns and responses in their services. They found a suitable lad and everyone was very happy with the new arrangement.
However, one night as the abbot was sleeping in his cell he was woken and found to his astonishment that he was being visited by an angel. “What has happened?” asked the angel; “God is grieving because no praise is coming from this place which used to be-full of praising hearts.”
The abbot realised what a mistake they had made, and the next day and thereafter, the old quavery voices of the monks were raised in true praise and caused great rejoicing in heaven.
So our praise has to come from the heart, it’s our response to God.
We are shortly going to sing George Herbert’s hymn with the final verse:
“Seven whole days not one in seven,
I will praise thee,
in my heart though not in heaven I will raise thee.
Small it is in this poor sort to enrol thee,
e’en eternity’s too short to extol thee.”
The last 3 verses of the psalm are an exhortation to praise just as the opening was.
Praise the lord, you angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominions.
Praise the Lord O my soul.
We can join with that in the words of the doxology
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise him all creatures here below,
Praise him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost. Amen
Sermon by Joy Kiley 21st August 2016, St Michael’s