We have thought quite a bit lately about journeys and how a life of faith is very much a journey with God and with fellow believers who make up our community of faith. We have also spent a couple of weeks looking at the time of Exodus and the exile. Over the next month or so I want to continue on a journey and we will travel though the Book of Psalms. This collection of prayers and songs of praise are in themselves a journey. Possibly used as hymn book for temple worship, written through an individual’s experience of one part in their life’s journey then adapted for congregational use. They take us through several centuries that the people of Israel journeyed. The final form as we have it today came about when they had returned from their exile experience. Written by many authors, almost half are credited to David whilst about one third are anonymous. As our Bible is presented to us in its current form we find the Book of Psalms at the very centre. The middle book, the beating heart of the scriptures. How fitting as it surely has to be amongst some of the most honest, heartfelt, soul searching pieces of writing anywhere. The innermost thoughts and prayers of the people of the Old Testament are found here and they speak very clearly to our time in history just as they have addressed people’s needs down over the centuries and as each generation has journeyed through their trials, tribulations and celebrations. Their times of confrontation with other nations as well as within their own people and yes even at times it would seem the people have taken up argument with God and venting frustration and anger as they feel abandoned at times. Then in times of celebration to God they turn with great thanksgiving. Surely reflecting our own times with our emotional peaks and troughs. Each individual Psalm is written with great care even when we sometimes to struggle with the thinking involved. The words express great truths that are filled with great inspiration for all of us. As with all Scripture God speaks to his people through the Psalms encouraging us to interact with him in all situations of life. Such is the breadth of emotion displayed and laid bare for all to see not only do they reflect the author’s experience of his journey but they encapsulate human experience in general. At different stopping off points in each of our journeys we can find a Psalm that we can claim as our own for that moment. God is always central as: Creator, Judge and King as well of course as the good shepherd. We live under the same God today as the people did when the Psalms were written. We too live in an uncertain world where there is evil and suffering and people who would deliberately count themselves as our enemies or indeed our friends who unwittingly sometimes fall short. The Psalms are the cries of countless generations. Where are you Lord? We cry How much longer must we wait? We ask. In these beautiful pieces of writing there is to be found wisdom and patience as well as understanding and strength. There are blessings from God waiting to be revealed. The voice and the heart of God is to be found here in the beating heart of scripture right at the very centre of God’s Word.
Surely I am not alone in my thinking that there are different times when on a journey you just want the whole thing to end. Then there are other journeys that you don’t even want to begin at all. But of course there are also the journeys that come as a surprise and they bring with them pleasure and happiness. Yesterday marked the 3rd anniversary of Ingrid and I moving into Inveresk. The next pages of our journey were beginning to be written. In most of life there is more than a simple binary choice, it is not normally a simple take it or leave it scenario. As we journey through life there is quite often more of a rainbow of choices to consider rather than simply black or white, yes or no. the last four or five months have certainly taught us that much as we attempt to journey safely for all concerned. Due consideration of all options must be examined if we are to find the right path. Here in our 1st Psalm this is not the case as the Psalmists writes there are two ways; one that is good and one that is not and these are the only choices open to us. Given that this is the first Psalm of 150, these are the opening verses of the biggest book in the Bible, I think it may be fairly safe to assume this Psalm was placed here with great intention. The others that follow may not be in strict chronological order as they deal with different issues of life but the starting position is clear; choose wisely, choose God, failing to get this first step in the journey right will quite simply take us hither and tither. There are paths on which we can journey forwards. It says one is the way of the righteous and one is the way of the wicked. Following the first can find us under the care of God. It can be a place of peace and contentment but that should not be misread as it being the way where we will not experience the realities of life such as sorrow and suffering. It will not mean we experience material prosperity. God’s blessings are greater than the things of this world. Of course they begin here in this world and they make up part of this journey through life that we all experience but they will be fully realised in the next world as our journeys continue on into the eternal presence of God. As with all things in Scripture we must handle the word with care. We must be wary of using Psalms such as this to point an accusing finger just as the friends of Job did. They fixed their conclusions and even accusations on this dogma of the two ways. Declaring to Job that he must have sinned, why else would God be putting him through such extreme sufferings. Job, like many of the Psalmists, converses with God and pleads his case as he maintains that he is an exception to this rule that his friends are putting before him. We see in Job as we see in the Psalms, he is vindicated by God. As we journey through our short visit into the Psalms we must be aware not to view them as some sort of theological absolute. The Psalm we have looked at this morning probably had its origins in Temple worship where, at the time, the priests would pronounce blessings on the innocent whilst cursing the guilty. The sentiment behind the Psalm, I am sure, is a call to believers to be obedient to the ways and to the will of God.