Sunday 11th February – Psalm 44
1 We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
2 With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
3 It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.
4 You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
6 I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.
9 But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.
13 You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
15 I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
17 All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
18 Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.
Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s a question that has hung around many people’s lips because in their experience they have seen it. This Psalm is a word picture of that experience in two sections, past experience and present position.
The first 8 verses are a retelling of past history of wonderful doings by God for the people of Israel. “We have heard it with our ears” the Psalmist says, “our ancestors told us what you did in their days long ago”. He gave victories over their enemies and a flourishing in the land. It was not their own strength that did it but God did it and they boasted in him and praised him. We might say there, End of Chapter One.
But from verse 13 we hear something different, “but now you have rejected and humbled us ….you made us retreat … you gave us up”. The lament is that thing had changed and they were on the receiving end of suffering and disgrace yet they had not forgotten God or been false to his covenant. This experience is felt by many so what can we do?
The first thing we can do is look to the One that this experience fits perfectly – Jesus. Jesus went about doing good as the gospels tell us, yet he became the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief (Is 53), he was mocked and beaten, crying out on the cross, between two criminals, “My God why have you forsaken me”.
The second thing is to read Chapter 8 in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he lifts verse 22 of this Psalm and says, “for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” and applies it to his fellow believers’ experience in life yet saying that in all such experiences they are more than conquerors through faith because nothing , even such as this, can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We must admit that there are some things that are beyond us – and that’s what the Psalmist does – but in his closing verses he does not curse God but prays, “Awake Lord … don’t reject us …rise and help us”. In the face of dark experiences prayer for God to come and help is the way ahead. […and read Romans chapter 8]
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday Mathew 5:1-12
Who was the sermon on the mount addressed to? Verse 1 says that his disciples came to him and he began to teach them but at the end of the sermon, Mathew says, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching” (7:28), so it seems that he started teaching his disciples but by the end a crowd had gathered round to listen. Sermons could be preached on each and every bit but for the purpose of daily Bible readings we will just gather some chunks each of which gives plenty material to ponder and meditate on.
The beatitudes or benedictions are statements about those who are fortunate in life because they are blessed by God. Each says something about the nature of the blessed but it is noteworthy that they close mentioning that those who are blessed by God will find themselves anything but blessed by the world around but on the contrary will find themselves on the receiving end of harsh treatment and brickbats. Why this should be so often puzzles people because they think that if anyone does good in the world they will surely be well thought of, however they miss something that gives rise to the hostility.
When good is shown, it causes comparison with lack of good and people faced with that comparison find themselves judged and their lives called into question. When that happens jealousy hits out, not wanting to be put down, wanting the high place of honour which they are not deserving of. We shall see how the righteousness of Jesus causes jealousy to arise and opposition to begin.
Tuesday Mathew 5:13-20
Salt and light are the features of the next passage but who are the salt and the light? We wondered who Jesus was addressing at the beginning of the sermon and found out that it was addressed to his disciples but others came along to listen. Was it the disciples or the crowd? Actually, the teaching could apply potentially to either the disciples or the general crowd. Whether any teaching would become true would await its acting out in any individual or group. The functions of the salt and light are in abeyance until they are fulfilled in the lives of those who obey him.
On the law, some thought perhaps that Jesus’ teaching would do away with it, he seemed so different from the scribes and pharisees of the day, but Jesus wants to disabuse his hearers of any such thought. He wanted to tell his fellow Jews that the righteousness he was teaching wasn’t against the law but had to be above and greater than the commands they knew in the Old Testament. David Searle wrote a small book with an Agatha Christie styled title, “And then there were Nine”, the book was about the loss of the Sabbath Day commandment. There are more commandments than that that that people think can be bypassed or tampered with but Jesus gives no encouragement to that. As a Jew, Mathew wanted his hearers to make sure they knew Jesus was no different to the Old Testament prophets and was no softie on the law.
Wednesday Matthew 5:21-37
Jesus now gives examples of how the righteousness of his Kingdom was far greater than a legal following of the commandments. The murder commandment was not just about killing someone but about the whole range of antagonism against a neighbour. The Old Testament was big on being ‘clean’ which meant being in a presentable position for worship of God. Here Jesus says if your brother or sister has something against you then you are not in a position for worship of God until you sort it out.
On adultery Jesus says it is not the act but the intention that matters in being ‘clean’ or able to worship God. A person isn’t in a worshipful state of mind who harbours lustful thoughts about someone else and doesn’t seek to purge themselves of the sinful intention.
On divorce we need to know that in Deuteronomy 24 the law of Moses provided that a man who divorced his wife should provide her with a certificate of divorce. This was to provide a legal accommodation for divorce particularly as a protection for women, he deals at greater length with it elsewhere (Mathew 19), however Jesus teaching about marriage is that it should not be undone.
On oaths, the Bible does not prohibit oaths or vows because in the Old Testament we sometimes see vows being taken such as David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 20 however a practice grew up amongst some Rabbis who taught that only oaths taken in God’s name were not to be broken but it wouldn’t be a sin if an oath was taken on the gold of the temple or on heaven or such like. It meant that promises made could be broken. Jesus said that words spoken should be kept, plain and simple.
Thursday Matthew 5:38-6:4
The next teaching point is the well-known eye for an eye saying which is often misunderstood as a kind of revenge teaching where actually it was a limiting teaching. In the days when there were no police forces and crimes were dealt with by the victims, this Old Testament commandment was a restraining word which meant ONLY an eye for an eye, ONLY a tooth for a tooth. The temptation on the part of a victim was to go over the score and wreak bloody vengeance after a wrong. It was a restraining law, however Jesus says that even a fitting response should be put aside when dealing with a legal issue and mercy sought instead. That flows into the next commandment which is about dealing with the enemy.
Jesus says that if you only love those who love you then you are no different from anybody else and followers of him MUST be different from everybody else. Believing people must ,recognise and remember this? The word ‘perfect’ which Jesus uses at the end is a word which means having come to completion, being mature, and this is what Jesus says they must grow up into.
Then comes giving which Jesus says must be unobtrusive and directed to people and places which need the resources we have. Trumpeting our righteousness has no place in our life as followers of Jesus.
Friday Matthew 6:5 – 15
Prayer. What can we say about this? We need to listen to Jesus who tells us first of all that it is not designed for an audience. In church it is quite right and proper for readings and sermons to be directed towards the congregation for that is where their message is but I often feel that, apart from the purpose of audibility, it would be much better to stand with one’s back to the congregation for those who are praying are meant to be standing as representative of the congregation putting into words the prayers of the people. Whatever the prayer, be it adoration and praise, confession, supplication, intercession, whatever, it needs to be directed to God not an eager congregation listening to see if the prayer is well constructed, with fine words and eloquent delivery. So to all who may be called upon to pray, please remember that your are not speaking to the people but speaking for them.
That is public prayer but on private prayer Jesus teaches seclusion if possible (go into your room and close the door). Wesley’s mother, Susannah, had 19 children – for her quiet time with God she used to sit in a large chair and throw a blanket over her head so that the children knew not to disturb her for this was her quiet, personal time with God. Whatever life situations we have it needs to be possible for our communications with God to be personal and undistracted.
The Lord’s Prayer I will leave you to read and say yourself, quietly pondering it’s meaning as you pray. Too often it is pattered out meaninglessly. The story is told of one young Curate who complained to his Vicar about whether he needed to say the Lord’s Prayer every time he led the service. His Vicar replied, “Not if you’ve got a better one of your own.”
Saturday Matthew 6:16-24
Jesus teaching about fasting is similar to his teaching about prayer. Prayer and fasting are not things to be done for public show but are connected with personal relationship with God. The things we do for and in relationship with God are personal and private, if we display our religiosity foe others we are merely proud and not who we should be in Christ.
Because prayer and fasting is about the giving of ourselves to God the next thing Jesus mentions is about the use of money. He says don’t store up for yourselves treasures on Earth and says that they will all fade away and he says that we cannot serve both God and money for we will be devoted to one and not the other.
The bit in the middle of these verses seems to be odd where he speaks about eyes being healthy or unhealthy and we wonder what this is all about. The clue is in verse 21 which says “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”, in other words what you fix your gaze on is what is important to you. Jesus uses a phrase about the ‘bad eye’ which is also used in Matthew 20 although our translations tend to paraphrase what he says instead of giving the actual Greek words which are “is your eye bad because I am good” (Matt 20:15). It is the same phrase Jesus says to the workers who complain about the employer’s generosity to workers who came late but were given the same money for their work as the earlier ones. Translations usually say something like, “do you begrudge my generosity”.
In the three of these sayings, prayer, fasting and money, Jesus is saying “What are you looking at? What is the focus of your life?” Something always worth considering.