Good morning, and welcome to All Saints Totley today This is the last of our online only services, and from next week we will have services both online and in the church building. Details are in the news section of the website.
Our reading today is from Psalm 119 – an instructional Psalm focused on the revealed word, plan and purpose of God. Let’s start this morning with a prayer for our time together.
God – we gather in your presence.
Father – we long for more of you.
Jesus – we place you at the centre.
Holy Spirit – come and fill our time together.
Help us to be fully present here,
to your word, to one another,
and to the world you love.
https://engageworship.org. Used with permission
We’re going to worship in song this morning with, firstly a song from Chris Tomlin, focussing on the faithfulness of God. Then our second song from Amy Grant speaks about the word of God as is based on verses from later in the Psalm we are focussing on today.
Father, we are only too well aware
that we are not the people you meant us to be.
We are not living the kind of life that you created us to live,
and our words and thoughts and deeds
are not bringing you the glory they were designed to do.
Forgive us Father,
for the way that through our plans and dreams and choices
we damage your world,
we hurt each other
and we create a barrier between ourselves and you.
We ask that you will not only forgive us
but that by the power of your Holy Spirit
You will cleanse and renew us
For Christ’s sake
© David Clowes, 500 Prayers for All Occasions, 2003, Kingsway Communications
Psalm 119 is a celebrated Psalm and well known. Anyone who has heard me talk about the Psalms before knows I have a love of their complexity and construction – but also that much of this is lost in the translation to other languages form the Hebrew. That is simply because they are not only poetic works in the words they use, but also in how they are carefully built and crafted in different patterns.
Psalm 119 has several such interesting aspects. This psalm is written in an acrostic (alphabetical) arrangement – which always makes me think of the Sunday school classes at the Brethren church I sometimes went to when I was young.
It is divided into twenty-two paragraphs or stanzas, or strophes, each marked by one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza contains eight verses, and the first letter of each verse is the same as the letter of alphabet of the stanza.
The whole of Psalm 119 is largely praise of God’s ‘word’, encouragements to read it, and to develop a reverence and respect for it. That produces prayers for its proper influence, and complaints about the wicked for despising it.
As such, there are only two verses (Ps 119:122, 132) of the 176 which do not contain some allusion to or description of God’s ‘word’. A variety of terms, ten in all, are used to refer to the word of God, and they are used fairly synonymously. Of course these don’t refer to the Bible as we know it today.
When tôrâh, or law, is used for example it refers to instruction or direction. Most often this probably refers to Deuteronomy and Leviticus. When “word” is used it can be a general term for God’s revelation, or as a reference to the Ten Commandments, the Ten Words or Ten Declarations in Hebrew.
So these terms are various and yes mostly used synonymously, though with the emphasis designed to better express different aspects of the relationship of the author, and therefore us, to the revealed word of God.
The Psalm doesn’t have any relation to any special occasion or interest of the Jewish faith or nation, as a lot of Psalms do. But the author is presented as someone seeking solace and was evidently challenged in their faith by those around in power. Whether this was real or instructive is unknown. But this final format and form may have been used to aid memory, and if so it was likely a teaching tool or manual of sorts.
So what is the point and purpose of the stanza we are looking at today? I want to draw out three simple thoughts applicable to us today by talking verses 33-35, then 36-37, and 38-40.
These verses describe a please to God to understand and to follow his instruction – literally to live life in a manner or a way that is in accordance with the ordinances of God. That follows his intent and purpose in creation. The plea of the author here is for understanding, and application of the law of God in their heart. Immediately for me that thinking brings to mind the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34) and Joel (Joel. 2:28-32) and the words they use to describe Pentecost. After that time says God in the text of Jeremiah, the law will be written on hearts and minds by the Spirit. The new covenant will not be like the old.
The author of the psalm is seeking to walk in the ways of God, entreating him to help. We today have the privilege of having the Spirit, the helper. We are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, with the law of God written in us. We are empowered to walk in the path of God’s commandments and conform to the pattern of Christ
Practically then, what does that mean? We first have two negative statements – both with the force of turning. Turning from selfish gain, and from worthless things to the purposes of God. Of course, this sounds very simple – but what does it really mean for us as Western Christians today?
We are amongst some of the most wealthy people in the world, especially living where we do in Sheffield. We are part, whether we like it or not, of the capitalist system, global markets and the modern project of utility. Worth is derived from how useful a thing or person is to these systems, and worth is shown by acquiring money possessions and power.
As Christians we need to be alive to, and aware of this, and how it mars the pattern the God set out for humanity and the world. Creation was set in motion with intrinsic value and a purpose of its own, human beings themselves were created in the divine image – there is inherent honor in every human. We must strive and push against the prevailing ethos to re-capture this.
Finally, the author turns to the positive. What should walking in the way of God look like? Awe-inspired reverence, freedom from guilt and a renewal by God is the answer. For us today we can look to the words of Paul to the Romans that we covered in the summer (Rom. 8). The work of the Spirit we were reminded of in adoption, intercession and enacting the will of God – working in, for and through us. Ultimately that culminates in the doxology of Romans 12 and the urging to be living sacrifices and to be transformed, to be conformed to the will and good purposes of God.
- How spirit-filled is our daily walk?
- How often do we get caught up the values and the ways of the world?
- Are we transformed? Are we, more and more, being conformed to the pattern of Christ?
These prayers are based on Psalm 13
How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
We pray for those who feel forgotten and unseen, may they know that they are remembered and seen by you God.
Help us to partner with you to remember the forgotten.
Search our hearts to reveal those we hide our faces from, the outcast, the stranger or the homeless. Change our hearts, that we may turn our faces towards these people and see them as your beloved children.
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
We pray for those we know who struggle with mental illnesses, anxiety and depression. We pray that there will be resources released to help, enough staff employed and finances given towards mental health services nationally. Help us to be a friend and a listening ear to those who suffer. Fill us with compassion and wisdom.
Ultimately, we pray for those who wrestle with sorrow, that they may know your victory over those dark thoughts which currently seem to triumph.
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
We pray for those who might be considered fallen by those around them: may they know your restoration and grace. Help us to not judge or exclude your beloved children, but instead lift them up in prayer, and embrace them with the grace we know in Christ.
Thank you, loving Father God, for hearing our prayer.
We proclaim together:
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
https://engageworship.org. Used with permission.
The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.
The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.
“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”
Blessing and Dismissal
as you walked on the road to Emmaus,
walk with us on the roads we travel.
Help us to know your presence with us,
and to be your presence to others.
And, at the end of the day,
may we all enjoy your feast.