Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sermon: Psalm 47 Directions for Worship

If you’ve been away over the summer, you might have gone along to church where you were staying. And if it wasn’t a Church of Ireland church (or maybe if it was!), you get to your seat and you look around. There might be a hymn book, hopefully a Bible, but you won’t find a Prayer Book in the Methodists or Baptists. The service will all come from the front, not necessarily set out for you to follow along.

It’s the Church of Ireland (or Anglican churches across the world) where you find the BCP, the Book of Common Prayer. In it, the services are laid out, the words are there to follow so you know what to say, but as well as the words, sometimes there are also some stage directions. The rubrics (the bits in red ink - think ruby red) are the bits that tell you how to worship - whether to stand or sit or kneel. They are the directions for worship. They tell you (or invite you) what to do as you worship God.

And in our reading from Psalm 47, we find some more directions for worship. But, being Church of Ireland, these directions might take us by surprise, or at least, out of our comfort zone. Just look, for example, at the very first word of the psalm. We’re used to a round of applause coming at the end of a song or a play or when the plane has landed safely, but here the applause comes at the start: ‘Clap your hands, all peoples!’

Immediately, the call to worship goes out from the temple - not just to the Israelites gathered at the temple, but to ‘all peoples.’ Every person of every people / nation is called to worship, to clap your hands. But this isn’t a polite round of applause when the Sunday School have sung at the Family Service. Not when it’s joined by the next line: ‘Shout to God with loud songs of joy!’

This is the roar of a crowd at a sporting event. It’s going to be loud! Don’t hold back. Now that might well be beyond what you’re used to. But that’s the first call to worship. We might be better able for the second call to worship found in verse 6: ‘Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!’ [Sometimes modern songwriters get a bit of stick for a repetitive chorus. The sons of Korah were at it a long time ago!]

The call to worship goes out from Jerusalem to all peoples. The instructions are clear. It’s going to involve clapping, shouting, and singing. Lots of singing. But you know the way sometimes you wonder why we do what we do? Why do we stand during the Communion prayer when we used to kneel; or why do we do what some of my Presbyterian friends call ‘Anglican Aerobics’ - the standing, sitting, kneeling, up and down and up again? There’s normally a good reason for why we do what we do, but in case we’re in any doubt, the sons of Korah give us lots of reasons to praise God by clapping, shouting and singing.

Do you see the start of verses 2 and 7? The same word is there each time. ‘For’. Here’s the reason for the call to worship. Here’s why we are to do what we do. In both verse 2 and verse 7, the same point is brought out. In fact, the same words are used. Why should all the nations praise God? ‘For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.’ (2) ‘For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.’ (7)

God is the King, not just in Jerusalem; not just in Israel; he is the King of/over all the earth. If God rules over all the earth, then every person should worship their true king. Now that should be a good enough reason. But the psalm gives us even more reasons to worship. The evidence that God is indeed king of all the earth. The evidence of both the past and the present. Do you see the pattern here? A call to worship (v1, v6); a declaration of God as king (v 2, v7); the evidence of God’s kingship - in the past (v3-5) and the present (v8-9).

So what has already happened? Look at verse 3: ‘He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.’ As the sons of Korah lead worship in the Jerusalem temple they look back to their history. They remember that God gave them the victory as he subdued the nations who lived in the land. God gave them the promised land they were living in. They were small and weak (like grasshoppers compared to the Canaanites), but God the King gave them the victory. They couldn’t have done it by themselves. God must be the king over all, for them to have gained the land of promise. In the past, God subdued the nations opposed to him and his people. Grand High Treason is always punished. God did that as a sign of his love for his people - giving them their heritage, this pride of Jacob.

But now the call goes out to all peoples to sing praises to God. God is the king of all the earth, with all the trappings of kingship - he reigns over the nations; he sits on his holy throne. And here’s the present tense evidence of God’s kingly reign. Here’s the reason for everyone to praise him. Look at verse 9: ‘The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.’

Here we get a glimpse of what God is doing, and continues to do more and more since Jesus the King reigns. People from every nation are being gathered together as the people of the King. The opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games was on TV on Wednesday night. Athletes from over sixty nations paraded into Celtic Park, people from Northern Ireland and Namibia and Nauru joining together for a fortnight of swimming and shooting and squash. But it’s just a glimpse of people from every nation coming together as the people of the King. And what was being seen as present in the psalm writer’s day is even more so now.

Look how God is described. He is the God of Abraham. Now why did the sons of Korah describe God in that way? Why not just write ‘The princes of the peoples gather as the people of God.’ It’s shorter, simpler, and saves on scrolls. There must be a reason why God is described in this way. And if you were around when I wasn’t, then you might be one step ahead of me. Robert preached three weeks focussing on the promise God made to Abraham (Gen 12) and how it is fulfilled in Jesus. God had said: ‘In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ (Gen 12:3). As the nations hear the call to worship the King, so they find blessing, as they gather as the people of the God of the promise, the God of Abraham.

Directions for worship, and the reason why. We’re faced with a challenge this morning. The call to worship has gone out. Have we heard it and heeded it? Are you worshipping God, the King of all the earth? Not just on a Sunday as you clap and shout and sing, but in every moment of your life? If you aren’t already, in heart and voice, then join the chorus.

But if you have heard, and you are worshipping, then it’s up to us to also join with the sons of Korah, not just in worshipping, but also in calling others to worship. Our church must turn from only being inward focused, and start to look outside. We’re good at the big social events - the BBQ brings in a huge crowd, but are we only inviting people to have a good night? How can we also invite them to worship God with us? Let’s clap, and shout, and sing for God our King. Amen.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 27th July 2014.

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