Psalm 116

This psalm contains the first verse ever preached on Australian soil, by Rev Richard Johnson, fresh off the first fleet of convicts to arrive in Australia.

What shall I render to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

I’m not sure what the convicts made of the reference to God’s goodness, criminals on the other side of the world permanently separated from all they knew. At least they were alive, they had survived the trip.

At the conference on treaty last week at our church, pastor uncle Ray Minniecon told us to think carefully about the verse and read this psalm, in the context of the interest we had expressed in hearing about the cause of treaty.

Johnson was apparently a sensitive man. I don’t know much about him. He and his wife were friendly to the natives – they gave their daughter an Aboriginal name, Milbah. It was however the start of great trauma that nearly wiped out the Aboriginal race and smashed their elaborate and astoundingly ancient culture.

230 years later, shamefully, there is still no formal agreement over the land. They are now at least counted and vote as humans, not just part of the flora and fauna (since 1967) and the courts have recognised their original ownership of the land (Mabo decision, 1984). But they are asking us for a treaty, and so far we’ve said no.

The title to all our Christian churches still goes back to the moment when, without the inhabitant’s consent, Captain Cook planted the union Jack and claimed Australia for the King. It’s land taken without consent, still, and the practical effects of the trauma significantly impacts Aboriginal lives.

The narrative of the psalm starts with praise of God’s rescue from crisis. From impending death; from tears, trouble and sorrow.

I think back on my own hard times, and the Lord has been there. Through deaths of family members, lost jobs, financial strains, times I felt brought very low. Not as low as the psalmist I’m guessing, but low. Sometimes I’ve felt active guidance, at other times, comfort and peace.

Then comes the verse I quoted, about what I can give back. And the first thing you can give God when you accept he has been guiding your life is to receive more from him: salvation.

The commentators remind us to recall that Jesus probably sang this directly before going to the garden of Gethsemane, and praying that if there was any way, he’d rather not drink the cup of salvation. But that God’s will should be done.

Then the psalm goes on to talk of a life of grace and obedience in response to God’s saving presence, keeping your vows, accepting that you are God’s child, not his servant, valuing your life and death as much as God does.

What we give to God in gratitude for his redemption is to receive the revelation of his mind, trust his promises and act on them. Humble acceptance is a strange service, but it’s what God wants from us.

And it’s critical to a treaty between the first and later possessors of this land. Us, the later being truthful, and humble, accepting from the first the land we already took, and accepting forgiveness for taking it. We’re finding it harder than it sounds like it should be, given what a passive service it is to render.

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2 thoughts on “Psalm 116

  1. I love your historical tie-ins, it makes an already rich text so much more so. They are weighty words that you have quoted, I wonder what this Reverend Johnson would think to quote today?

  2. A beautiful post and the parallels are striking. “Humble acceptance is a strange service, but it’s what God wants from us.”

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