What times they must have been when the Psalmists were putting pen to paper, so to speak. All sorts of trials and tribulations. All sorts of defeats and victories to reminisce over. All sorts of potential threats that lie ahead of them and their people to worry about. So many things to add to their prayer request list. So many people to remember before God. So many injustices that need to be righted. And so we continue on our journey as we enter the fourth book in the Book of Psalms. This next collection of Psalms is centred around the Reign of God. As I was reading the Psalm and reflecting on what might all of this mean for us today. I couldn’t help but think of that old comedy classic ‘Dad’s Army’ Filmed for television between 1968 and 1977. The first two series, twelve episodes filmed in black & white. I remember asking the question, ‘Granny what is black & white?’ I reflected on two of the main characters and their well-used phrases. Corporal Jones, ‘don’t panic Mr Mainwaring’ and private Fraser, ‘we’re all doomed’. I know so many people who appear to be running around in some kind of permanent chaotic state screaming at everybody else not to panic. Thankfully, I think, I know fewer people who go about telling everybody in a fine-tuned Scottish undertaker’s droll monologue that they are all doomed. It began to resonate with me that must have been what life was like for the Psalmist and the people of his time then we fast forward and I wonder if it still resonates with us and our generation of today. If it does, then where do we go with all of that stuff of life? For the people in the time of the Psalms they believed in many gods but all of them had limited influence over certain aspects of life. Some of these so called gods only held sway with certain groups of people, particular localised geographical areas would call on different gods to perform something or other and their neighbours over the hill would call on another god all together to conduct the same need for them or in some cases entire nations would call on different gods. For some even within the same communities, different gods were called upon in regards to the weather, nature, land and sea.
Particular aspects of life were addressed by which god was called forth. The god of war or the god of fertility, the god of the daytime or the god of the night, no matter which one was called neither does it matter which task they were being asked to oversee. Who are the gods for particular groups of people for our world? The amazing rapper, who is a music icon for the younger ones. For the older ones maybe the beautiful screen goddess of the silver screen. People like me who enjoy their sports place individuals on pedestals that elevate to something greater than mere mortal.
Gods of limited influence, gods for particular people and specific circumstance. Gods who are adored and revered by some but who are dismissed as nothing by others. The reality is that none of these other gods written about in the psalms were real. The same as the gods that people generate for today are not real gods. How strange and how easy to overturn the order of the universe. In a world where the Divine creator, the one who made you and I in his image, is somehow replaced or superseded by these false gods who have become the created in order to satisfy our image of what a god must be.
Reading: Psalm 95
Psalm 95, a call to worship. Not a call to be static in one place, not even a call to be in a church building. But rather a call to worship the one true God, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Remember when Jesus said, ‘follow me.’ He did not lead the people into a building but led them on a journey. Of course that journey over the ensuing generations led us to church as a physical place but whatever importance or significance that physical place holds for each of us we should not lose the understanding of church as the people. The writer of the Psalm is putting it all out there as the modern speak would say. In this world that we inhabit there is good and bad coexisting. There are a multitude of vices to entrap us on our journey. There are myriad ways in which we can take the wrong path, make a wrong turning, and through the power of temptation combined with the weakness of spirit be led by the way of evil things. There are many ways in which this can happen but there are not many gods to combat these things individually. There is one God, the God of our world, the God of our universe, the God of all created things. Having set that truth before us the Psalmist leads us to the response we ought to make before this God of ours. The NIV says in verse 6, ‘Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.’ Then he continues on writing something that needs us to know the context if we are to understand the relevance of it. He warns that if the people hear the voice of the Lord they should listen to it and not harden their hearts against it as they did at Meribah and Massah.
This reminds the people of Israel of one of the worst memories in their history. When we read in the book of Exodus, the journey of exile, it tells us of a time when the people ran out of water. They were on the road, they were on the journey to the promised land, the place where God said Moses would lead them to. It was here the people rebelled, they rebelled against God and they rebelled against Moses. They grumbled about their lot, they argued with God and they tested him. Even though they had witnessed, God delivering them from bondage in Egypt. What follow this display of lack of faith was a forty-year journey of wilderness. We should note that the Israelites never did find permanent rest in the promised land. Under Joshua and David rest was theirs when they were faithful to God. Now the Psalmist hundreds of years later is warning the people. Do not make the same mistake as previous generations did. Do not miss the rest God is promising you. Do not miss that state of being at peace with God. As I said last week ’The state of sanctuary in God. Today through Christ there remains that offer of permanent rest, permanent security, permanent sanctuary and peace with God. The choice is there for everyone to make. Move forward with Christ into that promised land or turn away in unbelief. A message for then which has stood the test of time and retains its relevance for today. Today, if and when, you listen for the voice of the Lord do not harden your heart.