Psalm 51

Psalm 51! David’s second most famous Psalm after 23.

He faces his evil, his sin. His crime of lust and murder, perfectly covered up with the corruption of his kingly authority is dragged into the open by Nathan the prophet.

But though he’d technically gotten away with the ghastly mess until Nathan, it was ever before him, the poisonous guilt between him and God.

So ugly. And he knows it runs so deep. He speaks of being a sinner in the womb, original sin, but not by way of some sort of excuse.

Acknowledging the whole ugliness to God means experiencing the complete beauty of forgiveness and renewal. Mercy, grace deep down to every dark place. All the evil he’s ever done and been, the evil he will do and all the horrible consequences, known and borne, absorbed, by God.

What can I say? I too know that grace. As a child I sang Allegri’s ridiculously beautiful music – I got to sing the really high note. These things are meant to be sung. Into a frame of misery, remorse and sadness, the entry of God’s mercy is too beautiful. Praise him!

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Psalm 48

The city, the temple, the Lord. All to be greatly praised.

If I can stay awake.

I’ve been getting the flu, I see now, since daylight saving came in on the weekend. My body clock is all over the place. Wasn’t ready for the alarm this morning. Having second thoughts about not having a second day off work.

All three are intertwined, God, his City, his temple, all sorts of positive connotations are piled on all three: beautiful, strong, loving, astounding.

This could well be talking about the event in chronicles where the sons of Korah, writers of the psalm, are mentioned.

Local countries teamed up to destroy Israel in a weak moment, but they became overwhelmed with confusion and fought each other, annihilated each other.

King Jehoshaphat of Israel showed tremendous trust in God. Faith in him was his military strategy: ‘we look to you’.

The singing of songs praising the splendour of God’s holiness was an integral part of the victory. It bought a generation of peace.

This is exactly the song for that moment.

But being the Bible, the truth about God’s home has larger eternal meanings, after Jesus’ words about destroying and rebuilding the temple in his death and resurrection, and the vision of the new Jerusalem in Revelation.

We sing the psalm today and it still makes perfect sense. It reflects our own salvation, the God we know and love. I’m a temple, I live in the holy city, among God’s chosen. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, in me he sees God. I am beautiful, strong, astounding. I am channel of his love through the whole earth. With him my soul finds an eternal dwelling.

Psalm 42

I love this, I have a long history of singing it.

I was a cathedral chorister, and we did a gorgeous lush version I’ll link below. I also wrote a pop song version.

The psalmist is in exile and miserable. Longing for God. I remember I wrote my song version at a time when we weren’t happy in our church and we weren’t going much. I really felt the words, played it over and over on piano.

He expresses the longing as a thirst, like a deer desiring a brook. I love that because it’s both necessary and beautiful, the image of serene sensory comfort and deep sustenance.

It has a water theme. Instead of a brook his only sustenance is his own tears.

Then he describes his life events like being plunged beneath a waterfall or a wave breaking over him. Violent water, not sweet sustaining water.

Part of the violence is mockery over being deserted by God and he says ‘deep calls to deep’ which is rich and a bit mysterious.

For me it evokes that Jonah feeling of being plunged beneath the waves and, when all else is stripped away, even hope of survival, the depth of God’s love being there still with you during the moments you think you might drown.

He fondly remembers going to the temple, he would have been bereft to be cut off from it.

The sons of korah, author of the psalm, were temple musicians who memorably sang confusion on their enemies in a great military victory of faith during the reign of Jehoshaphat in chronicles.

But he’s aware it’s the living God, not religion, who quenches spiritual thirst. Still so true, still the one unique thing church can offer – comfortable seating, aircon, live music and friends can be got many places.

The commentator mentioned the contradiction of calling God your rock and saying he’s forgotten you in the one line. That’s the psalm right there, not so much a psalm of doubt so much as how you continue to relate to God out of deep deep misery. It aches with longing and sadness.

Feeling adrift, buffeted, abandoned and drowned by life, deep calls to deep, both anguished questioning and poignant cherishing of God.

Sigh!

2 Chronicles 5

The dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.

The ark and the other bits and pieces dedicated by king David, who never got to build the temple, are bought in.

The contents of the ark seem a bit vague. Here its the stone tablets given to Moses, with the law carved in them by God hand.

But elsewhere it’s said also to have a jar of mana, the food God caused to appear on the exodus trip, and the staff of Aaron, which showed God’s power to the Pharaoh so he would let the Israelites go.

Anyway, I suppose no one dared look inside to check, it had a habit of killing those who mistreated it.

All the priests are present for the dedication of the temple, they usually served in shifts.

Music, sacrifices, and then at the height of the proceedings a cloud of God appears. He has made the temple his home, he is present.

The cloud is so rich they have to stop and leave. The glory of God filled the house of God.

This account is written for later generations of Jews who were rebuilding the temple after Jerusalem was gutted and it was destroyed. It wasn’t as grand. I should check whether the cloud appeared a second time. ( Ezra 6… No)

It’s struck me as more remote for God than we are used to. We are used to him speaking conversationally with Moses, and directly to David, or to him though prophets.

But this is a big public miracle, a sign for the people. It’s how he appeared in the days of the exodus, the pillar of cloud led them though the wilderness.

God has come home. It’s not all of him, the last thing Solomon said was that he could not be contained in a temple. But he is present.

2 Chronicles 3

Descriptions of the temple, emphasising its stupendous size, opulence and decoration.

I was touched again by the location of it, so featured in chronicles, on the site of David’s repentance for his error of pride in taking a census of the people.

The two great pillars at the entry are called Jakin and Boaz, names that mean “he establishes” and “in him is strength”.

I read the ultimate sequel to that moment just recently at the end of Jeremiah. It was dispassionately listing the plunder of Jerusalem by Babylon, the destruction of the temple, but got poignant when these two massive bronze pillars were melted down. Gone never to return.

Born of repentance, this glorious edifice existed to witness prophesy replacing monarchy, to point from mans glory to God’s glory, his king, his temple his splendor.

1 Chronicles 25

The musicians for the temple. Reflecting a modern church where the music is as important as the other ministry roles.

Certainly music was made for praising God, reaching for the divine, bonding communities.

They were divided into 24 bands of 12 musicians and played twice during the 48 week yearly cycle, like the other priests.

I wonder what it was like being completely unmusical and being born into the music priestly families. Your calling is determined by clan, not talent. Maybe that’s why the Psalmist wrote ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord’

Deuteronomy 26

When the Israelites come to the promised land there is to be a year of tithe. 

The harvest after 3 years is the first fruits, 10% is to be collected before anything else and given to God, recognising that the land, their freedom, came from him. 

Then Moses reminds the people to follow all the rules with all their heart and soul to be blessed in high honour by God.

The have been so many rules over the last 10 or so chapters, some are more beautiful than we can manage today, in terms of the way they would demolish the effects of inequality in society. Others seem completly crazy today.

But this message:  acknowledge God as the source of all we have, love him and receive his love. This lives. 

It feels like the moment for an amen.

Deuteronomy 5

Obedience. Moses recounts the drama of the fire and darkness out of which God spoke and gave the ten commandments, which he quotes in full.

I was struck by the universal, profound nature of them. Not killing, stealing, taking your neighbours property. I mean the are very very ancient rules, we haven’t progressed beyond acknowledging them as true, and regularly breaking them, in 1000s of years. They are still an accurate mirror of our ideals and weakness.

He recounts how right the reaction of the people was. They were overwhelmed at hearing God’s voice, they were afraid to see him. They backed off and let Moses complete the interaction.

He calls them to have this respect again, to the law, to the words of God. He’s reminding them that the law came from the living God who is awesome and that is why it should be obeyed.

Leviticus 23

 

Finally a somewhat more sunny chapter, even if it is still all just legislation, rules rules rules. These are the ones about times. It sets up the sabbath, day of rest, and festivals.

Interestingly some of these are called rules forever… an acknowledgment that many of the specific levitical rules will pass away over time.  I was reminded of this hearing Ivanka Trump’s praise of her adopted practise of sabbath. These are some of the rules that have stayed.

I miss not working on sundays, I must say. It was a thing when I was young, but then theology came through that the day of rest was like heaven or something, not literal.  But I used to like the special day idea. I did get nervous and legalistic about it a bit though, I recall as a child worrying about the limits of what I should do.

I wrote a song about colour, about God making the colours and us losing them.  The creation of special moments in our existence is a very spiritual thing, a very human thing, to be cherished. I think the buzz wordy mindfulness movement is a yearning for this spirituality.

Harvest is a time to remember gods goodness. They are reminded to offer the first to god, and leave some in the field for poor and immigrants.

Festival of reconciliation, sounds like the scapegoat day.  Fasting and prayer and a communal meal.

Festival of booths. Seems to be an end of harvest one week holiday.  The booths are little huts they make and stay in for the duration, to remember the time in the wilderness and delivery from egypt.

Gotta love festivals. I was in a cathedral choir when I was young and we always sang this jolly anthem for harvest… still comes to mind.  You visit the earth and bless it, you crown the year with goodness. Simple moment of gratitude from created to creator.

 

Exodus 35

Most of the remaining chapters of exodus detail the building of the tabernacle. God designed it in detail on the mountain for Moses’ ears, and even choose his supervising craftsmen. Now everyone who remains after the traumatic golden calf affair gets to start again working together on the tent where God will meet with them. It’s like taking Moses’ personal faith and extending it to the whole nation, since he already meets with God in a tent.

There’s an obvious excitement and joy in doing fine work for the lord. Giving and making.

My church is very good in this, a doing church.