Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 9 Tell out, my soul

The uniforms are ready. Pencils are sharpened. School bag is packed. And at some point this week, school will start all over again for another year. For some pupils, though, this will be their first time at school. They’ve maybe made it through playschool or nursery, but now they’re big P1s. And those P1s will be having some playtime, and some story time. They’ll learn numbers, and they’ll be learning how to read.

Nowadays, they do it by learning sounds, but when I was in P1 and Mrs McDonald was teaching my class, we did it by learning our A B Cs. A is for ... apple; b is for ... ball; c is for ... cat and so on. Around the wall there was a border with pictures of something for each letter, A to Z.

Well, our Psalm this morning, Psalm 9, is written in the same way. It’s (the start of) an A-Z of praise. The first verse starts with the first Hebrew letter; verse 3 starts with the second Hebrew letter and so on. (Kind of - Psalm 9 does half the alphabet, apart from 1 letter which is missing; Psalm 10 covers the second half of the alphabet).

Verse 1 shows us that this is a Psalm of praise. David says to God all that David is going to do: ‘I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.’

David begins the psalm full of joy and praise. Do you see the ways in which praise bubbles out of him? Praising God with all his heart - it starts on the inside, from his will and emotions. Then he tells others about God and about God’s wonders. He will be glad and rejoice. He will sing praise to God.

So often we can imagine that praise is only singing, but here we see just how full and how active praising can be - a heart activity, a telling activity, a rejoicing activity, and a singing activity. From the inside out, David is going to praise.

So why is David praising God? That word wonders could mean any number of things, couldn’t it? If you sat down to think of reasons to praise God, you’d come up with quite a few. So why is David praising God here? Look at verses 3-6. There’s a repeated phrase; two words come up over and over. What are they? ‘You have...’ David is praising God because of all that God has done.

David’s enemies turn back, they stumble and perish, because ‘you have... upheld my right and my cause... sat on your throne, judging righteously... rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked... blotted out their name for ever and ever... uprooted their cities.’

God has done all this, and that’s why David praises God. God is on the throne. He’s in control. God has been a righteous judge, judging justly, working to uphold the righteous and working against the wicked. Their defeat has been so complete, that David says even the memory of them has perished. (Which is a wee bit ironic, because he remembers the enemies he says that the memory of them has perished!). So that’s what God has done.

But it’s not just that God used to be like that. It’s not that he did these things before, but he doesn’t do them any more. No, what God has previously done shows us what he will continue to do. In verse 7, David moves from speaking to God, to speaking about God. He’s telling us about the LORD. ‘The LORD reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgement. He will judge the world in righteousness he will govern the peoples with justice.’

I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with the daily rollercoaster of Brexit news. Maybe you’re fed up with the whole thing. But this week, one of the issues has been whether the UK will remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. If we leave it, then you couldn’t appeal your legal case to it any more. It wouldn’t have a say over us.

Well that’s not the case with God’s law court. None of us can avoid it. The LORD reigns, not just for a wee while, but for ever. His throne is established, his judgement will come. And he’ll judge in righteousness and in justice. Completely fairly. Justice will be done, and be seen to be done.

And you might think to yourself - is that something to praise God for? If we face a just judge, would we be found guilty or not guilty? Verses 9 and 10 tell us more about this God. He is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. David has proved that - in the troubles he faced, God was a stronghold for him. And as David speaks to him again in verse 10, there is hope for us:

‘Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.’ The LORD has never forsaken those who seek him. What a promise to hold on to! As we come to God, as we seek him, as we get to know his name, his character, we can trust him - because he has never forsaken those who come to him!

Isn’t that what Jesus says in John 6: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.’ That’s a great reason to praise. It’s no wonder that David urges others to join in with the praise in verse 11. ‘Sing praises to the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done. For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.’

They say that an elephant never forgets. That’s even more true of God. He who avenges blood remembers. He doesn’t ignore the cry of the afflicted. God has a long memory, and will bring justice in the end. For those who have suffered, those whose attackers seem to have gotten away with it, this is good news. So often it seems as if victims are being left behind or forgotten, but God doesn’t forget.

It’s almost as if that reminder that God doesn’t forget suddenly prompts David to cry out about his current situation. Have you ever had that? You’re talking about one thing, and suddenly, it reminds you of something else you need to do! David says that God doesn’t forget, and doesn’t ignore the cry of the afflicted - and then he talks about his own affliction.

‘O LORD, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death, that I may declare your praises in the gates of the Daughter of Zion, and there rejoice in your salvation.’

David is asking God to keep doing what he has already done. You rescued me in the past, so please do it this time as well! He wants to be lifted from the gates of death to the gates of Zion, Jerusalem, maybe even the new Jerusalem. But even as he asks this, he knows that it will be done. He knows that the wicked won’t get away with it; that they’ll be caught by their own schemes.

Those who forget God, the wicked, will perish, but the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish. God doesn’t forget. He is working out his justice, and he will declare his justice on the last day, when all appear before his judgement seat.

In the end, David prays for God’s kingdom to come, his rule to be established, and the nations reminded of who they are. ‘Arise, O LORD, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence. Strike them with terror, O LORD; let the nations know they are but men.’

Last week we asked the question - what is man? We saw how God has placed us a little lower than the angels, ruling over God’s creation. But sometimes we can think more highly of ourselves than we ought. It’s like the wee boy who, because he was told that church was God’s house, then thought that the minister was God... I can assure you I’m definitely not! But we can think that we’re at the centre of the universe.

Or think of the way King Jong-un is revered in North Korea. Just last week, the Telegraph had a report with this headline: ‘Kim Jong-un “no longer seen as God” as worshipping North Koreans place their faith elsewhere.’ Isn’t that what David was praying for?

He still seems to have President Trump rattled, as the two face up to each other, fingers poised on nuclear buttons - but they’re just men.

And the people who oppose you, or make your life difficult - they’re just people, just mortals. No matter how big, or important, or powerful they might appear, they don’t compare to our God. And if we’re taking refuge in him, then he is on our side, he is upholding our right and our cause.

David praised because of what God had already done. He continued to praise because God would keep doing what he has always done. And that’s why a young woman who was probably misunderstood, and gossiped about, and oppressed could sing about how God has performed mighty deeds; has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts; brought down rulers from their throne but lifted up the humble; has filled the hungry with good things, but sent the rich away empty; has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful. (Luke 1: 51-55)

Mary could sing of these things, because the child she was bearing was the Lord, the righteous judge. He came to establish peace, by bearing the judgement himself; he invites us to seek him and trust in him; but for those who won’t, then judgement will come.

David gives us an A-Z of praise. Why not come up with your own this afternoon after dinner - God is amazing; God is brilliant and so on... here’s two more, from our Psalm today - God reigns, and God is just. That’s reason enough to praise. God is for us as we take refuge in him - praise God with your heart; tell other people; be glad and rejoice; and sing, sing, sing!

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 27th August 2017.

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