Psalms are meant to be experienced, not just read. This week’s service focused on savoring Psalms together. We’re providing an outline of the service in case it may be of use to you.

 

Call to Worship: Psalm 148

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

   praise him in the heights above.

Praise him, all his angels;

   praise him, all his heavenly hosts.

Praise him, sun and moon;

   praise him, all you shining stars.

Praise him, you highest heavens

   and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

   for at his command they were created,

and he established them for ever and ever—

   he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,

   you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,

lightning and hail, snow and clouds,

   stormy winds that do his bidding,

you mountains and all hills,

   fruit trees and all cedars,

wild animals and all cattle,

   small creatures and flying birds,

kings of the earth and all nations,

   you princes and all rulers on earth,

young men and women,

   old men and children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

   for his name alone is exalted;

   his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

And he has raised up for his people a horn,

   the praise of all his faithful servants,

   of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord.

 

Gathering Silence

 

Introduction:

Last week, we looked at the story of Job. He was put through the wringer, as a character, in service of considering the problem of suffering. The book of Job is part of the wisdom literature found in the Old Testament. Today we’re looking at the book of Psalms, which is also part of the wisdom literature, and in upcoming weeks we’ll be looking at Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs as well.

Each of these books offer a unique perspective on the tension between the world as God created it to be – as we hope for it to become – and the world as we know it. The book of Psalms stands out in this category, though, because it doesn’t give us an argument or a story or a pithy saying.

Rather, the book of Psalms offers us a way to pray. It’s not a treatise on prayer. It’s the actual record of the prayers of the people of God. Part of the wisdom that it offers us is that when the world is not what we wish it were, we should lift that up in prayer. So to really get what the book is about, it’s something that you have to experience.

So, look. I haven’t done a survey, but I can’t imagine that anyone with a working television or internet connection came to church this morning feeling like the world is as it should be. Two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Carlisle, were killed by police officers. Then, a peaceful protest in Dallas became the target of a shooter, and now five officers who were there to protect the protestors are dead as well.

That’s what’s on my heart, this distance between the peace that Christ offers and the broken world in which we live. I don’t know what you’ve brought on your heart, but I do know this: the book of Psalms encourages us to pray boldly, to pray honestly, and to pray with great hope and expectation.

We have psalms of praise, psalms of lament, psalms expressing the hope for just government, psalms seeking forgiveness for the wrongs we’ve done and the good we haven’t done. We also have hymns, each of which is largely or entirely an adaption of a psalm.

Friends, let us pray.

 

First reading: Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God;

   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

   night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;

   no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

   their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

   It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

   like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens

   and makes its circuit to the other;

   nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,

   refreshing the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

   making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right,

   giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,

   giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure,

   enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm,

   and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,

   than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

   than honey from the honeycomb.

By them your servant is warned;

   in keeping them there is great reward.

But who can discern their own errors?

   Forgive my hidden faults.

Keep your servant also from willful sins;

   may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless,

   innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart

   be pleasing in your sight,

   Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

 

First hymn: All People That On Earth Do Dwell

 

Second reading: Psalm 72

Endow the king with your justice, O God,

   the royal son with your righteousness.

May he judge your people in righteousness,

   your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,

   the hills the fruit of righteousness.

May he defend the afflicted among the people

   and save the children of the needy;

   may he crush the oppressor.

May he endure as long as the sun,

   as long as the moon, through all generations.

May he be like rain falling on a mown field,

   like showers watering the earth.

In his days may the righteous flourish

   and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

May he rule from sea to sea

   and from the River to the ends of the earth.

May the desert tribes bow before him

   and his enemies lick the dust.

May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores

   bring tribute to him.

May the kings of Sheba and Seba

   present him gifts.

May all kings bow down to him

   and all nations serve him.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out,

   the afflicted who have no one to help.

He will take pity on the weak and the needy

   and save the needy from death.

He will rescue them from oppression and violence,

   for precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!

   May gold from Sheba be given him.

May people ever pray for him

   and bless him all day long.

May grain abound throughout the land;

   on the tops of the hills may it sway.

May the crops flourish like Lebanon

   and thrive like the grass of the field.

May his name endure forever;

   may it continue as long as the sun.

Then all nations will be blessed through him,

   and they will call him blessed.

Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,

   who alone does marvelous deeds.

Praise be to his glorious name forever;

   may the whole earth be filled with his glory.

Amen and Amen.

 

Second hymn: Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken

 

Third reading: Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,

   according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

   blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

   and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

   and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned

   and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict

   and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth,

   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;

   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;

   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins

   and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence

   or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

   so that sinners will turn back to you.

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

   you who are God my Savior,

   and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Open my lips, Lord,

   and my mouth will declare your praise.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;

   a broken and contrite heart

   you, God, will not despise.

May it please you to prosper Zion,

   to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,

   in burnt offerings offered whole;

   then bulls will be offered on your altar.

 

Third hymn: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need

 

Praises and Concerns

 

Pastoral Prayer: Gathering God, we thank you yet again for this opportunity to come together in worship and fellowship, to share our sorrows and our joys, and to open our hearts to your love. We hold in the Light all the Friends who surround us this morning, in this room, and we hold in our hearts all the members of our fellowship who could not be gathered with us in person.

Healing God, we pray especially for all those who are in need of your touch. We pray for those battling physical illnesses, and for those who are suffering from broken relationships, and for those who are feeling swamped by loneliness or grief. Wrap your arms around us, and bear us up on your wings.

Forgiving God, we confess that we have not lived fully within your kingdom this week. At times, we have chosen fear and despair over faith and hope. We acknowledge, too, the sins we have suffered, brought on by hard-hearted choices that others have made. We take both our failures and our hurts, God, and lay them in your arms of grace. We ask that you will forgive us, and strengthen us to forgive one another, and build something beautiful out of our brokenness.

Redeeming God, we pray for your kingdom to come and your will to be done. Amid violence, disease, and injustice, we dare to dream of an earth that looks like heaven- a world ordered by righteousness and love. Give us courage and give us patience as we strive to be your hands and feet in the world.

Giving God, we bring you this morning a portion of all you have blessed us with. We offer up our own gifts – our time, our talent, and our treasure – and ask you to bless these gifts and use them and us to build up your kingdom of peace and love. It’s in the name of Jesus that we pray these things, AMEN.

 

Fourth reading: Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept

   when we remembered Zion.

There on the poplars

   we hung our harps,

for there our captors asked us for songs,

   our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

   they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord

   while in a foreign land?

If I forget you, Jerusalem,

   may my right hand forget its skill.

May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth

   if I do not remember you,

if I do not consider Jerusalem

   my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did

   on the day Jerusalem fell.

“Tear it down,” they cried,

   “tear it down to its foundations!”

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,

   happy is the one who repays you

   according to what you have done to us.

Happy is the one who seizes your infants

   and dashes them against the rocks.

 

Homily:

Friends, I have to admit something to you: the book of Psalms gives me the heebie-jeebies. I don’t like it.

That’s not for any good reason. I dislike the book of Jude for good reasons, I think, and I’ll stand behind them. The reason why I dislike the Psalms, though, is just that the poetry is often much more emotionally honest than I’d like to be.

There’s no stiff upper lip to be found, no quietly carrying on with dignity, none of the New England spirit that feels like home to me.

The Psalms are uncomfortable ground for me because they ask me to acknowledge things within myself that I’d just as soon not see. They ask me to say things out loud that I’d rather ignore.

Take Psalm 137, for instance. It begins with the people of God in exile, in Babylon. They’ve been ripped from everything that they know, and now their tormentors are asking them to play a happy song.

They hang their harps up in the trees, instead. They won’t be needing them anymore.

We’re okay with victims when they’re sad. They present a sympathetic picture, weeping by the river’s edge. That’s the kind of problem that you can picture on leaflets for a fundraiser to try to alleviate the problem.

When victims get angry, though, people get uncomfortable pretty quickly. Nobody wants angry victims on their promotional materials. So, when the Psalm turns toward praying for retaliation, we start to squirm.

Praying for God to bless someone for killing your enemies’ babies? That’s horrendous. I don’t want to think about it.

But if it were me, on that riverbank? What if it were my sisters in exile?

For that matter: what if it was my brother who lost his life at a traffic stop, or my husband who put on his uniform and went off to work and never came home?

How big might my desire for vengeance be? I don’t really know. That’s a scary thought.

But the Psalms encourage us to say the worst out loud, not to pretend that those dark impulses are good, but to get them out into the Light and give them over to God. We like to polish up religious language, make sure that what we’re saying is church-appropriate. God makes no such demand of us.

Rather, wisdom asks the opposite of us: break down, and let it all out. Otherwise, the bitterness that we push down and refuse to acknowledge will eat us alive.

Look. I grew up praying for the people who were lost. Then, it meant that we were praying for people who hadn’t heard of Jesus, praying for the Bible to be translated into their language so they could know how to be saved.

It’s hard for me to read the news these days, though, without feeling the horror behind the word lost as it applies to every one of us. Watch people trying to make sense of this election, or of ISIS targeting holy Muslim places during Ramadan, or of black men bleeding out in front of their families, or of dancing at a club turning suddenly into screaming and shots fired.

This is what lostness looks like. We may have heard of Jesus, may have the Bible in more English translations than we can count and a church on every street corner, but something’s not sinking in.

We can get so caught up in bills about gun control and funding for police departments, and all of those things are important, but they obscure the deeper issue, the actual problem at hand.

What we’re really praying for is salvation. That’s not something that any Congress can provide, and the one we have at present is barely worth mentioning anyhow.

When we pray for salvation I think it’s important to consider Psalms like 137, no matter how they set our teeth on edge. It’s important because it sets the contrast between the vengeful inclinations that we need to be redeemed from, whether that’s privately hoping to see an enemy embarrassed or threatening to drop nuclear bombs on Tehran, and the path that Christ chose instead:

…the path of saying violence stops with me, and then putting ourselves in the way. This is where the cycle ends.

So. Sending merely “thoughts and prayers” in the event of another national crime scene has been roundly mocked lately, and I think with good reason. It reeks of the kind of piety that doesn’t lead to taking action.

We know this pretty instinctively, in our own communities. Someone gets hurt, and we send thoughts and prayers and a casserole or whatever else will help the best.

That’s easy enough to discern, when the problem is that family have arrived and they’re hungry. Cheesy potatoes it is!

When it’s division and unrest on a national scale, though, the question becomes much more difficult to address. What do Friends need to be doing, in this moment, to bear witness to the peaceful kingdom of God?

I don’t know the answer to that. I do know, though, that we’re not going to figure out what we need to do unless we’re willing to engage in some radically honest prayer.

 

Waiting Worship in the Manner of Friends

 

Fourth hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation

 

Benediction