A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Psalm 118 on Sunday 5 April 2020
Psalm 118 is the song of the redeemed. The song of a man who has been through the wringer. He had been in a dark and dangerous place. He was surrounded by enemies. They swarmed around him like bees and threatened his life. They attacked him to make him fall so far that he wouldn’t get up again. His enemies were powerful men who considered themselves builders of the nation. They rejected him. They thought he was powerless. They thought that their plot against him would easily succeed. They cast him aside. They threw him upon life’s garbage pile.
But they were wrong. They thought that the Lord was against him. They hadn’t taken into consideration the possibility that the Lord was for him. And in this distress, he cried out to the Lord. And he was heard. The Lord answered him and rescued him. The Lord lifted his powerful hand to save him. The Lord brought him out of that narrow confined place of distress and danger into a broad and spacious place where there was freedom and safety.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m still in that narrow place and I’m luckier than lots of people with a big park just out my backyard. But there are so many things I can’t do and that I’m not allowed to do, it’s still very restricting. And the danger we are in in Australia is still far away, but it is real.
But for the man in Psalm 118 that’s all behind him. That danger and fear are a thing of the past. And he has come to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, to keep his promise and to fulfil his vow. He has come with his offering to worship the Lord and to tell everyone who will listen to him that the Lord is his strength and his song, that the Lord heard him when he needed him, that the Lord became his salvation, and as he stands at the gate of the temple and is about to go in, he wants the other worshipers to hear his message,
Praise the Lord for he is good, for his mercy lasts forever.
This is the message with which he starts and finishes his song. Everything that comes in between serves that one purpose.
Praise the Lord for he is good, for his mercy lasts forever.
It’s a message from a man who’s been through the wringer whose distress is behind him and a thing of the past. It’s a message to people who are still in the wringer, whose distress is still very present. That the Lord is great and that the Lord is good. He is powerful and he is merciful. Although troubles come and go, the Lord’s mercy lasts forever. So it is better to depend on the Lord than to put our trust in human beings. And it is better to depend on the Lord than to put our trust in powerful men.
Depending on the Lord doesn’t mean that we take stupid risks. We can depend on the Lord and look both ways before crossing a road. We can depend on the Lord and wear a seatbelt. And we can depend on the Lord and stay home as much as possible so that we don’t catch the coronavirus. Isolating ourselves isn’t a lack of faith in God. It is an act of love for our neighbours and friends. Pretending that there isn’t a virus and mixing with people isn’t trusting in God, it is testing God. It is expecting him to save us from our own foolishness. But when we depend on God we isolate ourselves for him, we keep in contact with the lonely for him too, we cry out to him in our distress, and we remember to be faithful in prayer to him for those who need him, the sick, the vulnerable and for our health care professionals.
And when he had been saved, the man in Psalm 118 brought himself before the Lord to worship him. He wasn’t going to accept God’s help and then forget him. He was going to remember to thank God and to give God all the credit.
Gratitude is a powerful thing. Gratitude reminds us to focus on what we have instead of what we don’t, to focus on what we can do instead of what we can’t. It reminds us that God has helped us in the past, that he can help us now and that he will still be there in the future. Gratitude reminds us that even when we are on our own, we are never alone, because the Lord is with us.
And worship reminds us of who we are – creatures made in the image of our creator. The children of God, made and saved to know him and to exist in his love. To praise him and to make him known so that others can share what we have in God. People say that it isn’t what you know but who you know. And other people boast of their friends in high places. But the God who made the stars and sends the rain and gives us health and strength, we call him Father. We are the most blessed of all, because we have a friend in the highest place of all.
Or to put it another way, sin and selfishness put us out of harmony with the world. We lack peace with God. We lack peace with others. We lack peace with ourselves. When God in his grace and mercy saves us by the redeeming blood of his Son Jesus, he brings us into harmony with his will, with his world, and with our purpose. Worship then is the song that that harmony produces. It is our soul resonating to the pitch of our heavenly Father’s love.
And yet there is more to this song. It is not just the song of a man who’s been through the ringer. It’s the song of a particular man whose suffering is past, who was rescued from death and brought to life. It is not just the song of the redeemed, but the song of the redeemer. It is the song of our Lord Jesus. The stone the builders rejected. The leaders of Israel considered themselves the builders. The ones who brought prosperity and blessing to God’s people. And they rejected Jesus. He broke their rules. He associated with sinners. He threatened their power. They arrested him and condemned him. They slandered him before Pilate and they stirred up the mob against him. They tossed him aside like a stone that didn’t fit their blueprint for the nation, that threatened to bring their walls crashing down. They put him to death.
But God raised him to life. He took that stone the builders rejected and made it the chief cornerstone of his purposes for the world. The stone without which the building will crumble and fall. The stone that makes all the other stones secure.
We have been shut out of our church building. And it’s a reminder that we are the church. That we are all stones that God is fitting together into a temple built for his praise. And it is Jesus without whom there is no church. In his death we find our forgiveness. His blood atones for our sin. In his life we find hope and his resurrection is the promise of ours. In his Spirit we find love, the love of God that flows into love for him and love for each other. We are the church that used to meet in a building and that will again but for a season we will meet like this. But the one who holds us together is Jesus. God has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes.
In conclusion, Psalm 118 is a song for us. It’s a reminder that God is great and that God is good and that we can call out to him in our distress and he hears us. Let us praise the Lord for he is good, and although our troubles come and go, his mercy endures forever.