Year A – Lent 2 – Psalm 121

Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills; *  from where is my help to come? My help comes from the LORD, *  the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved *  and he who watches over you will not fall asleep. Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *  shall neither slumber nor sleep; The LORD himself watches over you; *  the LORD is your shade at your right hand, So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *  nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; *  it is he who shall keep you safe. The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *  from this time forth for evermore.

Sing this Psalm! See Psalm 121 Here

Summary – Psalm 121 is one of those psalms giving great comfort to God’s people. One phrase has been frequently used as a call to worship:  “From where is my help to come? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.” For those in covenant with God, like father Abraham, God has promised to bring about His covenant promises and will bring protection. Since God is the maker of the world, the elements of the world will not harm us. We can sleep with ease, because the sun will not hurt us, the moon will not hurt us and we are defended from enemies on all sides. This psalm functions as a benediction upon God’s covenant people.

Insight – All benedictions are general. If we receive the blessing that, God bless you and keep you, it may seem that sickness or trial would be inconsistent with this. But is it? To the unbelieving, every difficulty is a sworn witness against God’s goodness and His willingness to bless His people. But to one who is saturated in God’s word and promises, we know that all things work together for good because He is conforming us to the image of Christ. Abraham went through trials, but they all resulted in His receiving promised blessings from His Covenant Lord. So this psalm calls us to look to the Lord for goodness. We are to look to Him and from His hand we are to receive goodness. We are to trust that the Lord will preserve us from all evil. In believing this, we can weather trials and hardships because the Lord who is sovereign overall does not intend these as evil, but for our eternal good.

Child catechism – From where is my help to come? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Discussion – What are some ways we could use blessings and then benedictions in our lives?

Prayer – O Lord God we trust you because you are the maker of heaven and earth. Grant that we who call upon you may be ever hopeful in your goodness and trustful and your mercy. We pray in Christ’s name, Amen.

Advertisements

Year A – Epiphany 1 – Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,*
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Summary— Just as our minister calls us, each Sunday, to worship with angels and archangels, so may we call those angels and archangels to worship.  This psalm opens in the Throne Room with just such a call: the psalmist, energized by what is about to come, summons the heavenly beings to ascribe glory to God (v.1 and 2).  We do the same in the Doxology, when we sing, “Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts.”  The scene now shifts to an awesomely tempestuous ocean, and the roaring thunder is nothing less than the voice of Yahweh (v.3).  That thundering voice in the storm sweeps inland, breaking down cedars (v.5), making all that is impressive to man bow down to Him.  Yahweh’s lightning flashes forth (v.7), shaking the wilderness (v.8) and stripping the forest bare (v.9).  All in His temple joyfully reel at the earth-shaking surge of power and in exhilarated awe shout “Glory!” (v.9).  The storm then passes over, and the people—in the wonder of the calm—look up between the dissipating clouds to see Yahweh enthroned serenely over the situation, as He sends the trailing end of His storm toward the horizon (v.10).  May He give the strength of that storm and the peace that follows it to us (v.11)!

Insight— Last summer, my kids and I got stuck under a park pavilion during the most ear-splitting and torrential storm I’ve ever experienced.  Lightning was striking all around us with incredible frequency, apparently a stone’s throw away, while water rose on the concrete slab where I stood holding one child in each arm.  With each strike of lightning and immediate peal of thunder, I’d yell out above the torrent, “What does thunder say!?” and the kids would yell back, “God is awesome!”  It’s a special memory.  I understand that not everybody likes storms, but at the risk of pushing my preference onto you (mainly because it’s the psalmist’s preference) you really should learn to like them, too, if you don’t already.  They’re awesome.  Don’t worry—Yahweh’s throne is over them, and it’s His voice that thunders in them.  It’s His voice that roars in the clash of wave and rock on the jetty just before the storm rolls inland.  Don’t miss God’s self-disclosure in nature: storms say something about Him—so do trees, flowers, mountains, canyons, snowflakes, raindrops.  As we traverse this valley of longing between glory and greater glory, where faith is not yet sight, we cherish the tokens of glory which God graciously gives to stir our longing and hint at its fulfillment.  So joyfully reel at His earth-shaking surges of power and in exhilarated awe shout, “Glory!”

Child Catechism—
Q: What does thunder say?
A: God is awesome!

Discussion—What are some other events or objects of God’s world which reveal Him?  What do they say?

Prayer—Yahweh, You are glorious and strong and we fall down before the splendor of Your holiness.  You are the God of glory and Your voice is powerful and full of majesty, thundering over the mighty waters.  As your voice breaks down cedars and flashes forth flames of fire and shakes the wilderness, we in Your temple say, “Glory!”  You sit enthroned over the flood as king forever.  Give us strength and bless us with the peace of Christ through whom we pray.  Amen.

Contributed by Scott Cline

Year C – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – For Heav’n O Praise the Lord (Psalm 148)

Summary–Over the past month, our attention has focused on Godly men who used their talents for translating early writings into Christian Hymns.  This week, we shift our eyes from the translator to the tune writer.  Traditional Psalters, to include “The Book of Psalms for Singing, 1973” puts Psalm 148 to the tune, St. Catherine’s written by Horatio R. Palmer (1834-1097).  Mr. Palmer started his musical career at a very early age through persistent prodding from his father who conducted their local church choir.  The apple didn’t fall far from the tree in his case and from the early age of seven, Horatio fell in love with music.  He would eventually direct choirs of his own in Chicago and New York in addition to teaching and composing music.  Palmer was most well known for his leadership in the Church Choral Union, a federation of church choir singers from New York City drawn from more than 200 congregations.  One combined concert in Madison Square Garden featured nearly four thousand singers.  For Palmer, music was an instrument of praise to the God who created all things from nothing; his music praised the God who saved His own people from their sins.  How appropriate it is for the man whose life was centered on praising God to write the tune for this praise-filled psalm.
Insight–When you go to church, who is worshipping with you?   Your family is, of course, in the pew next to you.  Sitting behind you are your friends, neighbors, classmates, and teachers.  There in front of you is your pastor, your elders, and your deacons.  Is there anyone else worshipping with you each Lord’s day?  What about the congregation down the street?  Yes they are worshipping with you.  How about your Aunt on the other side of the state?  Yes, her too.  Anyone else?  Today’s psalm exhorts us to see how the Triune God is worshipped in every part of creation; from heaven above, from earth below and  from among His people, which the psalmist calls ‘O Israel’s race’.  Look at how each part of the psalm builds layer upon layer of praise to God.
The first two stanzas direct our attention heavenward to hear the angels praise in one accord.  The psalmist sees two entities he urges to praise God.  Angels sing His praises.  The sun, moon and stars praise Him.  No matter how God’s enemies try to hide our worship from the world, they can’t stop these heavenly bodies from praising their creator.  They are a constant presence, they are not hidden.  “Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps 19:4).
The third stanza calls earthly creatures to worship and praise their creator.  Watch the flow of thought in this psalm.  Not only do animals praise God, but all of creation does.  The psalmist begins with creatures found in the ocean depths, moves up to speak about lightning and hail, then the mountains and hills, trees and animals of all kinds worship God.
But praises don’t stop there.  The heavens declare God’s glory.  The earth picks up the praises and finally the fourth and fifth stanzas climax with us, those made in God’s image.  Not only are those immediately around you praising God, but all His church as one body are shouting forth His praises.
Do you see this picture?  You are not alone in your small church each Sunday.  The sun joins in.  The clouds add their praise.  Trees add to the chorus and wind adds its melody.  Each church on your block joins together, all in its way praising God who deserves all praise.  And this praise will increase until the glory of God covers the earth, as the waters cover the sea.  What a privilege it is to add your voice to this choir of praise.  Sing psalm 148 loudly, God will hear you even if those mountains are getting a bit loud.  He will hear your praises.
From heav’n O praise the Lord;
Ye heights, His glory raise.
All angels praise accord;
Let all His host give praise.
Praise Him on high, Sun, moon and star,
Sun, moon and star, Ye heav’ns afair
And cloudy sky.
Yea, let them glorious make;
Jehovah’s matchless name;
For when the word He spake
They into being came.
And from that place where fixed they be,
Where fixed they be, by his decree
They cannot pass.
From earth O praise the Lord,
Ye deep and all below;
Wild winds that do His word,
Ye Clouds, fire, hail and snow;
Ye mountains high, Ye cedars tall,
Ye cedars tall, beasts great and small,
And birds that fly
Let all the people praise,
And kings of every land;
Let all their voices raise
Who judge and give command.
By young and old, by maid and youth,
By maid and youth, His name in truth
should be extolled.
Jehovah’s name be praised;
Above the earth and sky.
For He His saints has raised
And set their power on high.
Him praise accord, O Israel’s race,
O Israel’s race, near to His grace.
Praise ye the Lord.
Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year B – Epiphany 4 – Psalm 111

Psalm 111 – Praise the Lord!  I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. 2 Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. 3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. 4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful. 5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant. 6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. 7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. 8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. 9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name. 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Summary – From A to Z, our Psalmist has no difficulty finding reasons why we should praise the Creator.  Each poetic line begins with and then runs through an acrostic of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Our Lord deserves whole-hearted praise and thanks simply because he is who he is:  the Creator of the universe.  His great works certainly include the making and sustaining of this amazing universe; but this Psalm focuses on his redemptive works as an example of God’s upstanding and mighty character.

Insight – Whether as a community or together as a family, each of us should strive for a personal and genuine worship of God.  Connecting our hearts with praise seems only natural.  This Psalm connects worship with wisdom as well.  Biblical wisdom is not so much about how knowledgeable you are, but how well you make decisions.  One key skill when making decisions is what the Army calls situational awareness, understanding where you are.  Each one of us are a part of God’s covenant people.  Each one of us are connected to the stories found in Church history and the Bible.  And each of us have our own stories to tell.  This Psalmist says that as we reflect on all these stories, and share the great things God has done with one another, we will better understand the Lord and how he operates.  And together with his Spirit, we will find a new found respect for our Lord God.  This kind of the fear of God will not only improve our decision making in life, it will improve our worship as well.

Child Catechism – What is the beginning of wisdom?   The Fear of the Lord.

Discussion – How does wisdom help us make better choices in life? How could the fear of the Lord give us wisdom for better choices?

Prayer –  Father, we are so thankful for who you are and what you do we hold fast to your promises give us wisdom to make good choices and to glorify and honor your awesome name in all that we do we praise you in Spirit and True with our whole hearts and minds may we study your ways in the power of your Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus.  Amen.

Contributed by Malcolm West

Year A – Lent 3 – Psalm 95

Psalms 95:1–11 – O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed. 6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! 8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.” 11 Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Summary – The event in Exodus 17 becomes part of the living memory of God’s people in Psalm 95. This Psalm begins with a call to worship in God’s presence, to thank Him and praise Him with song. He is the Maker of the world so we should worship Him on bended knee. But even more, He is our Shepherd and we are the sheep of His hand. This means that our Shepherd feeds and cares for us by His hand. The Psalm ends acknowledging Israel’s failure as they grumbled and showed hard hearts at Meribah and Massah in the wilderness. The consequence is that many did not enter into their rest from the wilderness.

Insight – Psalm 95 turns the experience of the Israelites (Ex. 17) into a song. In hard episodes in life we want to completely wash them from our memories. This is especially so in terms of sinful and shameful things we have done. Israel did not get to sweep their sin “under the rug.” Many American textbooks revise our national history to make us look noble and valiant, but it was not so with Israel. Israel’s failures were written into their history and their hymns. True worship arises from truth. Proper worship arises not only from knowing God’s power and love, but from reflecting on our failures. Let us shout to the “Rock of our salvation,” while also know that we must not harden our hearts.  In this anthem, they recognize the power of God their “Maker” over all the earth and that they were His sheep which He cared for, the very thing they forgot in their grumbling.

Child’s Catechism – Why should we make a joyful noise? Because God is our maker and our Shepherd.

Question to Consider – If you were to write a song that recounted your disobedience, what would it say and where did it happen?

Prayer – [BCP Collect for Purity] Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Year B – Easter 4 – Psalm 23

Psalm 23:  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3he restores my soul.  He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I 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 mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.  (NRSV)

Summary:  Despite its lack of cultural relevance, our thoughts of a what a shepherd is, remains a powerful and moving metaphor; Especially when we consider how such imagery informs the Lord’s devoted interaction and guidance within our individual lives.  Throughout history, readers have found this psalm particularly comforting and deeply personal.  God’s care and leading are intimately felt by David’s firsthand experience and poetic imagery.  Thankfully we have a share in David’s voice:  even in the darkest valley, our Divine Shepherd is leading you and me.

Insight:  Biblically, shepherding is a leadership trait that describes even ungodly leaders.  Naturally, such bad leaders were called ‘bad’ shepherds, and they were one of the most damaging and reoccurring threats to the flock of Israel (Jeremiah 23).  However, God was never unsympathetic to such leadership problems; he promised one day to shepherd his people himself (Ezekiel 34).  So when Jesus came onto the scene proclaiming he was the ‘good’ shepherd (Jn 10:14), he was more than just speak of his tender care and pastoral heart,[1] he was claiming to be David’s divine shepherd of Psalm 23.  In fact, “no human king of Israel was ever given the title [of shepherd].”[2]  But now, we have the privilege and responsibility to serve the Shepherd King of Israel.

Likewise, the image of Christ as a shepherd should instill in us a picture of great dignity as well as unsurpassable tenderness.  In Psalm 23, David expresses them both.  He was a man striving to live in that appropriate fear and adoration of Lord.  As we serve the risen and reigning Christ, we must impress upon ourselves the same:  we too have nothing to fear, with no wants, and only the shepherd’s leading:  Surely, goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives!

Child Catechism:  How is God a shepherd?  God rules the universe with a shepherd’s caring and tender guidance, deserving for his name’s sake, all creation’s love and respect.

Discussion:  In the Near East, shepherding was a regal image as well as a commonplace profession; what modern everyday occupations might you use to describe God’s guidance?  How does C.S. Lewis’ Aslan help depict the appropriate fear and adoration of who God is?

Prayer – Father, we thank for your shepherd-like leading and provision in our lives, Grant us the grace to follow the one and only Shepherd King:  Christ Jesus;  And it is in his Name and the blessed unity of his Spirit that we pray.  Amen.

Contributed by:  M. West


[1] Peter C. Craigie.  Ezekiel.  (Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1983):  243.

[2] Timothy S. Laniak.  Shepherds After My Own Heart:  Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible.  (Downers Grove:  InterVarsity, 2006):  249.

All Glory, Laud, and Honor

All Glory, Laud, and Honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s Name comest,
The King and Blessed One.

The company of angels
Are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.

The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems
Before Thee we present.

To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.

Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.

Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans, always knew who was really in charge.  At one time a influential church leader in Charlemagne’s court, directing, writing and educating for the imperial state; at the end of his life he found himself locked in a monastery.  Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious did not trust the bishop once the king died.  It was during his years at the monastery, when earthy kings failed him, Theodulph wrote his hymn of praise to our heavenly King.  Originally in Latin, John Neale translated the English version we sing today.

Based on the Gospel accounts of the Triumphant entry.  The hymn remains a Palm Sunday processional after more than a millennium.  These words reflect the shouts and cheers of praises sung so long ago.  But, these praises came just before his death… as Christ, the royal Son of David entered Jerusalem two thousand years ago.  This Sunday we will join the angels, singing these praises in the presence of our resurrected Christ.

As Lent draws to a close, we should all be more aware of our dependence upon God.  But this hymn calls us to show great respect and gratitude for who God is and what He has done for us.   We can be as two faced and half-hearted as those who shouted two thousand years ago; and yet He has chosen to graciously acceptance our praises.

MW