Psalm 66: 1-8
John Goldingay was the Principal of St John’s college, Nottingham, which is an Anglican training college.
He’s also a brilliant scholar, and has written many things on the Bible which helped a lot of people in understand and appreciate it better, especially the Old Testament and the Psalms. The Psalms became a valued and crucial part of his prayer and spirituality, but he didn’t always view them that way…
He tells a story from once upon a time when he was in a PCC meeting… which was discussing whether to replace the traditional Morning prayer service with Holy Communion services each Sunday. He voiced his opinion about why he thought this would be good.
“[It would get us] out of singing the wretched Psalms, which I viewed as the most tedious element in Sunday worship. My vicar withered me with a look across the room in a way he had perfected and barked, ‘One day, my boy, you will need the Psalms.’ He was right. Twenty-five years later, the Psalms are the framework of my life with God, the part of each day’s reading of scripture that is most likely to give me matters to take up with God, most likely to encourage me because in their agony they so often start where I need to start in prayer, and most likely to challenge me because they move from there into a worship whose conviction and enthusiasm I long to emulate.”
The psalms are the hymn and prayers of ancient Israel.
They were composed for people to use in worship, in much the same way as our hymns and songs today.
Jesus, along with all of his fellow Jews, knew the psalms inside out – they were steeped in them. This is obvious in the New Testament, when we see just how many times the psalms are quoted by Jesus himself, and by the apostles.
The church has inherited that treasure and always used the psalms. Whether in a parish church, or a monastery, or a desert cave, Christians have been part of the diet of daily Christian prayer for 2000 years.
The psalms teach us how to pray and worship.
It’s probable that many of the psalms were led publicly by a liturgist leading a congregation in worship, where one person would call out parts of the psalm and the choir and all those gathered in the temple would respond with the other parts.
So the psalms are often at their best when they’re sung or read out loud by a congregation.
But the psalms lend themselves just as much to quiet, individual prayer, whether it’s in your kitchen, or lying in bed, or on the train, you can read slowly through the psalms and let them inform your personal prayer.
What makes them so accessible and useful is the way they express and gather up a huge range of human experiences and emotions. There’s a psalm for almost every mood. They’re real, down-to-earth, and they show us that we can be fearlessly honest with God in our prayers.
When you feel full of praise and gratitude, you will find the psalms a valuable resource.
When you feel like giving up on life, or God, betrayed, hurt or ill, again you will the psalms are a valuable resource.
So over the next few weeks, we’re looking at the psalms for a change, hearing the psalm set for the day as our first reading.
This week we have verses from Psalm 66.
This psalm is all about being thankful, expressing thankfulness in a very open way.
Verse 1: ‘Shout for joy to God, all the earth.’
This is not a quiet scene! It’s exuberant: there’s something to cheer about. Now, some find it more natural than others to be loud and exuberant. The point of this psalm is not that we have to all go around shouting every time we want to say “Thank you.”
The point is, when there is something to thank God for, to show it and celebrate it openly. It’s so easy to be thankful, but in such a way that is hidden and unexpressed. What this Psalm encourages people to do is show it–make it public.
Sometimes we have that sense of being so grateful about something that we feel like we’re going to burst.
This psalm says, “Go for it”, and direct it to God.
Verse 8: ‘Praise our God, let the sound of his praise be heard…’
It’s one thing for Christians to be inwardly and individually thankful, but when that’s expressed corporately, it potentially becomes quite powerful, first, in what it does to us.
- Like in a church service when singing, and a sense that we’re all doing this together; there’s a feeling of unity and common purpose when we praise God. I once went to a worship event in Wembley stadium with 50,000 people – that was quite something.
Every week we celebrate Holy Communion, also known as the ‘Eucharist’ (we use a ‘Eucharistic prayer’). ‘Eucharist’ is a Greek word meaning thanksgiving.
But corporate worship can also make a powerful statement to the rest of the world.
- Like the walk of witness on Good Friday. This year Archbishop Justin was with us, and the churches in Sittingbourne marched up the high street and stood by the cross singing songs of thanks to Jesus who gave his life.
And you could see the rest of Sittingbourne trying to make sense of what we were doing, as they heard what was said and sung.
Expressing gratitude does us good; it opens our vision and puts other things into perspective.
- Like St Paul in Gal.6:14-15 (our second reading today)
‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!’
People were arguing about what marked you out as being part of God’s people: circumcised or uncircumcised? in or out? And Paul wanted to cut (!) through all their arguing by calling for gratitude to Jesus Christ and for the new creation he has initiated.
We live in a world where the message of ingratitude is often louder than gratitude. Much of the rhetoric in our media, newspapers, and especially around the recent referendum campaigns have had very little to say about thankfulness.
Psalm 66 reminds us (and all God’s people), to model gratitude to the world.
And lastly, the Psalm gives us an example of how to do that:
Verses 5-6: ‘Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for mankind!
He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot—
come, let us rejoice in him.
What’s the Psalm referring to here? The Exodus – that hugely decisive moment in Israel’s history were they were rescued from slavery in Egypt, and against all odds, escaped the Egyptian army chasing them.
The psalms often cite a concrete example of something God has done in the past, as a reason to praise God and trust God in the here & now, and for the future.
We quickly forget the good things God has done.
The psalms say, “Don’t forget!”
Remember the things God has done for you, the ways you’ve been blessed. Share those stories with others
- Last Sunday evening at the Baptist church, someone from each church in Sittingbourne stood up and gratefully shared what God was doing.
- Not only was it encouraging for us all to hear;
- But it reminded us that God is always at work around us.
Sermon from Sunday 3rd July 2016 by Rev James Pettit