January 1, 2012

Monday after the First Sunday after Christmas


Morning – Ps. 37:26, Is. 63 7-14, 1 Jn.:3-1-11
Evening – Ps. 2, 100, Is. 63:15-64:1, Heb. 4:1-13

Isaiah 63:7-64:1

Today's readings reveal the heart of the prophet Isaiah in his concern for the people of Judah. Though the hearts of the people are hardened in sin, and their minds cannot see the coming judgment of God upon them, Isaiah's heart mourns for them as Christ wept over Jerusalem. He longs to see them repent. He longs for God to have mercy upon them. The chapter is similar to a soliloquy, like Hamlet's "to be, or not to be." But instead of Hamlet's despair, Isaiah shows the hope of a soul stayed upon faith in God. In a small way, these verses also reveal the heart of God. He is not untouched by the troubles and sufferings of His people; "in all their affliction He was afflicted... in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old" (Is. 63:9). And of course, in Christ He bare our sins and carried us to salvation by His cross.

The Jews' rebellion against God (63:10) led to their conquest and captivity by the Babylonians, but also gives a picture of the sin of every person, leading to our captivity to sin and hell. As God looked upon Israel in mercy and delivered them from their captivity, He looks upon us in mercy and delivers us from our prison through the cross of Christ.

Who among us has not wished with Isaiah that our God would rend the heavens and come down (64:1)? Though acutely aware of the terrible sin of himself and his people, the prophet also sees that the oppression of Israel by foreigners is also sin. He looks for the deliverance of the Jews, and sees it as the vindication of God, who both forgives and restores His people, and established His justice by overcoming His and their enemies. One day He will rend the heavens. Christ will return and the earth will see the fulfillment of all the promises of God. It will see justice, peace, and righteousness when all is restored in the New Heavens and Earth.

Sermon for January 1, 2012

A God Worth Praising
Psalm 103
First Sunday after Christmas
January 1, 2012

The sermons of 2011 were mostly drawn from the Epistle readings for Sundays. The sermons for 2010 came primarily from the Gospel readings. This year, God willing, I intend to concentrate on another rich and edifying portion of the word of God, the book of Psalms, or, as it is known by Anglicans, "The Psalter."

The Psalter was the "Hymnal" of Israel, and continued as the primary source of song in the Church for nearly two thousand years. In it can be found prayers of hope, as well as expressions of despair; joy as well as sadness, and anger as well as forgiveness. There is hardly a hope, fear, feeling, or emotion known to man that is not expressed in the Psalter, and it is this complete honesty before God that has endeared it to God's people for nearly three thousand years.

Our Lectionary contains morning and evening readings in the Psalter for every day of the year, taking us through the Psalms several times each year. Yet I find many Christians do not understand the meaning or see the relevance of the Psalms. By God's grace, I hope to help us see both in the coming year.

And while we're preaching and hearing sermons from the Psalter, I hope we will recover some of them as part our own "hymnal." I hope we will learn to sing the Psalms as expressions of our faith and hope in God. I hope we will learn to love them so much we will sing them in our cars and in our homes as well as in our Church.

We are already doing this in a small way. In Morning Prayer, for example, we turn to page 9 of the Prayer Book and sing the wonderful invitation to worship known as the Venite exultemus Domino, or "Come let us exalt the Lord." When we turn to page 459 of the Prayer Book we see we have been singing the first seven verses of Psalm 95 coupled with verses 9 and 13 of Psalm 96. When we turn to page 15 and sing the Jubilate Deo we can also turn to page 463 and see that we are singing Psalm 100. Our hymnal contains many references to and quotes from the Psalter, and many of our hymns are based on a Psalm. Hymn 277 is based on Psalm 117. Hymn 278 is based on Psalm 100, and hymn 282, which happens to be one of my favourites, "Praise my soul, the King of Heaven," is based on Psalm 103.

I say these hymns are based on the Psalms, because the words and word order of the Psalms are changed to make them fit the rhyme and meter modern people expect in music. But the Psalms we actually sing "word for word" such as Psalm 100 are not rearranged, they are sung more closely to the way the Psalms were originally sung, in what we sometimes call, "chanting." This has two advantages. First it allows us to actually sing the Psalms, rather than simply read them; the words "chant" and "Psalm" both mean sing or song. Second, it allows us to sing them without altering the words or word order of Scripture.

One of the frequent themes of the Psalms is worship, or praise, and our Psalm for today exhorts us to worship God in the very essence of our being. To praise the Lord means to give reverent respect to God, by humbly kneeling before Him. It is to recognise Him as our King and our God, to profess obedience to Him and to recognise that He is infinitely worthy of our deepest love and highest obedience. The picture painted in the Psalm is very similar to that in Revelation 4, where, moved by the glory of God, the creatures and the elders kneel before Him in reverence that borders on fear, praying, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour," meaning, Christ is worthy to be glorified and honoured by them.

Psalm 103 is about why we worship God. While other Psalms encourage worship because of the attributes of God, like His infinite power, knowledge and goodness, Psalm 103 tells us about the actions of God for our sake. I should say, "action," rather than, "actions," for this Psalm is about one thing, the forgiveness of sins. All of His benefits referred to in the Psalm are references to and symbols of forgiveness. He "forgiveth all thy sin." He is "full of compassion and mercy." "He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our wickedness." His mercy is as high as the heavens are above the earth, and He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. He loves us as a father loves His children and His mercy "endureth forever and ever." This is the message of the Psalm; this is why we worship God.

We cannot read this Psalm without our minds turning to a scene of a Man dying on a cross near the ancient city of Jerusalem. He has done nothing worthy of death. He has committed no crime. His entire life was about doing good to everyone. His teachings were simply that the Kingdom of God is for all who will receive it by faith. There was no sedition, no heresy, no harm in Him. Even Pilate found no fault in Him. He died for one reason, to bear our sins in Himself and to suffer the wrath of God for them in our places. He gave Himself on the cross, and in Him "we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1:14). As our Epistle reading for this morning states it, He came "to redeem them that were under the law."

It is no accident that our thoughts turn to the cross when we read Psalm 103, for the sacrifice of Christ is the means by which God forgives our sins. The cross is the means by which the forgiveness celebrated in the Psalm is accomplished in reality. As we look at the Psalms in the months ahead, we will see that there is a Christological, a Christ centered aspect to them, in which they point us to Christ and His work of redemption. It is this aspect of the Psalms which is the real reason for giving them such prominence in our daily readings and worship. I hope to help us see Christ in the Psalms, and, thus, help us love the Psalms more.