Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part I: Experiencing the Psalms
December 6, 2009
Main Point(s) of sermon:
· The Psalms are expression of deepest emotion, freeing us to pour out our heart
Objectives of sermon:
· Encourage us to read the Psalms to experience God, not just know him.
· 077 (p 7-8)
· Leftovers, types of parallelism
· Lewis, chpt 3
I was skimming an e-zine and saw an article “The Key to Overcoming Temptation,” and decided to read it – for someone else I mean, not myself.
Q Based on research, do you know what the single most helpful key for resisting temptation?
It’s not going to church, praying, or even accountability groups (though these things are effective when used properly), it’s reading your Bible. Not once in a while, but 4+ times a week.
“...there is no statistical difference between Christians who read or listen to the Bible two to three days a week and those who do not engage Scripture at all or only once a week! ...there is a clear crossover point at four days.
“Those who read or listen to the Bible at least four days a week are 36% less likely to smoke, 57% less likely to get drunk, 61% less likely to use pornography, and 68% less likely to have sex outside marriage.”
· It is especially effective for teens; praying and church attendance show almost no change in “risky behavior.”
Perhaps there is something harder to ignore about the Word of God in front of you. Perhaps the discipline of reading is an indicator discipleship, but we know there is something powerful about the Bible to change lives.
· That’s a vote of confidence for this new series, how important it is to be immersed in the Bible.
The series is called “Inscription: Writing God’s Word on our Hearts and Minds.” We will read through the entire Bible over the next 1 ½ and study it together.
· Have you been practicing by reading Proverbs?
This is the 2nd sermon in the series (I know it’s been confusing), this one preparing us for the weekly reading in Psalms. We will start properly January 1st.
Psalms are a great gift, a place we don’t learn about you as much as experience you, and experience our faith in both joys and trials, along with our ancient brothers and sisters.
The Psalms are among the most beloved portions of Scripture and have been a source of great comfort to many:
Psalm 23 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
Psalms like these comfort us and reassure us. Almost all of us have turned to them in times of need. But then there are psalms that are a little less savory:
Psalm 137:1-4, 8-9 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. 2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?... 8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us-- 9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
Leaves a rather bitter taste in the mouth. Or how about this little chestnut?
Psalm 58:10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
Q What do we do with things like that? Was God having an off day and let these get snuck in?
Q What about “God is love” and “turn the other cheek”?
Q Do we tuck them away; ignore them like a dark family secret?
What if I were to tell you that these “unpleasant” psalms are no less vital than the ones we cherish?
What if sometimes the passages that bother you the most are the ones you need to hear the most?
What if psalms like this “dash infants against the rocks” speak very important messages to us today?
The Book of Psalms is basically a hymnal, a collection of 150 hymns of ancient Israel. They were written for all sorts of occasions and situations. Some are as old as Moses and others post-exilic, a gap of about 1,000 years.
· This is a copy as Jesus knew it, from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Psalms were deeply imbedded into Israel’s psyche, in fact the most quoted book of the OT is not the Law or the Prophets, but Psalms (also most copies among the Dead Sea Scrolls).
Q Does that seem odd to you, that they are more inclined to quote from a song book than anything else? Maybe not:
Q Have noticed the power of songs and poems?
Music has a power far beyond the logical sum of its parts. It’s able move us to tears, ramp us up at a concert. It can bring back memories in powerful ways.
Q How many of you would have done much better in school if Guns ‘n Roses wrote songs about algebra and U.S. history?
Q How many of you know the Preamble of the Constitution thanks to Schoolhouse Rock?
Likewise, poetry, with its rhythm and imagery, hits us at a very different level than prose and factual statements. I could say “God reveal himself through both nature and the Bible,” or:
Psalm 19:1-14 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. 6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat. 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
My Hebrew professor said there is nothing in the NT that is not also in the Psalms. The NT is almost the cliff notes version.
· The NT teaches us about God.
· The Torah teaches us what God has done and said.
· The Psalms invite us to experience God.
Psalms is most participatory part of the Bible. Rather than being taught by someone above us, we are worshiping, feeling, and experiencing alongside them.
Psalms is a book of human emotions. I’d bet that any and every mood you have experienced is found in the Psalms: Joy, sorrow, dryness, fear, doubts, thankfulness, guilt, comfort, and anger.
· The power of the Psalms is they allow us to experience these alongside the saints and find direction to our feelings.
the vindicate psalms
And now we can begin to see the value of these “vindictive” psalms, and it is a two part answer.
1. Laments – get it all out.
47% of the psalms are “laments,” psalms filled with pain and grief, and even accusation against God. The Israelites knew that they could pour out their frustration and anger to God.
Psalm 13:1-6 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; 4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
· They also knew that they could also trust Him in the midst of their pain.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
· Laments almost invariably end in a statement of praise, before the solution came.
6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
Laments show us that is okay to hurt and be angry with Him. But laments also teach us to maintain a perspective of trust and worship even in the midst of pain. Now looking at Psalm 137:
Q Have you seen Schindler’s List?
Do you remember the sense of anger and indignation? Imagine that you are a Jew in concentration camp. The Nazis have slaughtered everyone close to you; you are almost dead from starvation and abuse. I cannot imagine that pain, but I can imagine saying:
Psalm 137:8-9 ...happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
This is exactly the situation the psalmist was in. He had watched his friends, his family, his nation be destroyed by the Babylonians.
Q Is this a righteous desire on his part?
No, but it is better to allow those in agony to honestly express and process their pain than correct how they express it. By including this in Psalms, God lets us know it is okay to express our pain, even to this extent.
Ä But there is something else, even harder for us to accept and understand, but all the more important for us to see.
2. Righteous indignation
It is not enough to say that they were “just expressing themselves.” These are the saints, writers of the Bible. Aren’t they sinning by not forgiving or turning the other cheek?
· Yes and no, no more than us, in the opposite direction.
This is what I mean: Yes, hatred and vengeance is not godly. If God forgives his enemies and does not delight in the death of the wicked, we should not either.
But “no” because their anger and vengeance is a sin that is from a righteousness we lack. In fact, our response to these Psalms as distasteful says as much about us as about them.
Q What do I mean by that, it says more about us?
CS Lewis said it’s important to read old books, not because those eras had less sin, but they had other sin. They may have been blind to their errors, but we are also blind to ours.
· Our culture is in no danger of ignoring God’s love and grace, rather of ignoring his righteousness and wrath.
We have little danger of fearing God as our judge, but we are in danger of over-familiarity and trampling on his holiness. And this is where these vindictive psalms are so vital for us.
“If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans than this was, I think, in part because they took right and wrong more seriously.” (C. S. Lewis, Reflection on the Psalms)
· Said another way, the absence of anger and indignation is an alarming symptom of our complacency towards righteousness.
While their error has a great danger of self-righteousness and lack of mercy, lack of indignation is also dangerous.
So when we read these psalms, our response shouldn’t be “How archaic, how unloving!” but “God, make me that passionate for righteousness, but let it be tempered by love and mercy.”
Don’t avoid the messy stuff
This only deals with one troubling aspect of Psalms – you’ll find many others. I quoted from Lewis, and he has a great book that addresses many difficulties with the Psalms.
· I wish I had time to cover “God’s narcissism.”
All of this also point to a larger principle: As we read through the Bible, don’t avoid the messy stuff (and there’ll be a lot), but rather ask what blind spots of yours they are assaulting.
· Some of the richest growth has come from passages I hated.
When we begin our daily reading of the Bible, each week will begin with a reading in Psalms and Proverbs. Here are three quick hints to help you:
1. Hebrew poetry is based on parallelism: The second line repeats the first and builds on it some way. (It’s cool God gave the Hebrews poetry that translates so well.)
2. Psalms contains many different type of psalms – praise, lament, thanksgiving, teaching, etc.
It’s helpful to know which you are reading and also to be able to look up specific types in times of need.
Q How do you know?
3. A good study Bible is an invaluable tool. They tell you stuff like this and help you with tricky passages.
· The ESV Study Bible and NIV Study Bible are superb.
My final thought is the encouragement to read the Psalms seeking to experience, rather than know.
Q & A