I will declare Your Name (Psalm 22 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 5th May 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-05-05-Tuesday-Evening-Sermon-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 22
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 22 (NIV)
Tuesday 5th May 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Once again in tonight’s sermon, I’m going to draw upon the parts of the psalm left out from Sunday morning so as to help us see what else these contribute to the all age message which was shared. Because clearly the absence and action of God are core to this psalm, and so it wonderfully weaves together raw honesty with worldchanging hope, and these ideas are still there in the other verses of our psalm.

Having now heard this prayer a second time, we might begin to feel quite familiar with the struggle David is facing. He feels forsaken, he feels that God is absent,… and this just doesn’t make sense to David, and so he cries out, “My God, my God, why…”

The specific occasion that raises this question for David is not revealed to us, yet we see in some of the later verses, the affliction he faces. There are enemies which treat him so badly that David says: ‘I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.’

David feels reduced and degraded below the status of a human being by the taunts of his enemies; he is dehumanised by their attacks such that he sees himself in these early verses of lament as little more than a worm.
This fierce attack reduces David to fear and weakness. He describes these oppressors in the imagery of animals. The lion and the ox represent the epitome of power; the dogs and pack of villains evoke a picture of helpless prey being surrounded. As such, his strength departs like water poured out on the ground so that his body feels awkward and out of control. Similarly, the psalmist’s heart, his courage, melts away like wax before a fierce flame. He feels weakened by fear and unable to speak as death approaches. So desperate is his situation, that he speaks of his ‘precious life’ – his only life – now hanging in the balance.

Yet what makes this even worse for David is that he feels that these vicious animals can only have come close because God is so far away, and that is a scenario… he never expected, it boggles his mind and rends his soul, because he feels forsaken, he feels like no one is there to help, not even his God.

And that is a struggle for David because God has revealed Himself, and been praised by Israel, as ‘the Holy One’. To name God in this way is short-hand for affirming that God is set apart, unique, from human beings, as such God is seen as pure, righteous, and so should always be known and praised for His faithfulness to His promises. As one commentator said:
‘To say that God is holy in the midst of lament about unanswered prayer means that God is not indifferent or impotent like the pagan gods – He is different; He has power; and He has a history of answering prayer.’
(Goldingay, Psalms, page 327)
In the tension of who David knows God to be, and the experience of what he faces, the psalmist cries out: ‘My
God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

As we saw on Sunday, this prayer can be a model for us when we are in the midst of terrible times, moments when we face the apparent absence of God. We can, as the saints and people of God have done over the centuries, we can take these words to our lips, take this form of prayer, this very lament, and use it to echo the depths of anguish we may feel. The psalms give us permission, as does Jesus, to come with raw honesty before our God.

Yet, it’s also fitting to remember that these psalms were later compiled and used within the corporate worship… of Israel, indeed, the later part of this psalm itself raises the very idea. So, this psalm, and the other laments we find in the Psalms, were not only for individuals but also to facilitate the corporate voice of Israel, the corporate voice of lament. And that raises two ideas for me.

Firstly, is not such a psalm fitting for our times, as a nation, as a world even, to give us all a voice, a form of words, a form of prayer, to echo the rending of our souls in these difficult times?

But secondly, to find such a psalm in the Scriptures, to know such a psalm was used in the corporate worship of Israel, and not cast aside, but allowed to remain and be seen as inspired by God such that it should form part of the Word of God – does this not maybe challenge us about our corporate worship? Do we have space in our time, in our songs, in our prayers, for lament? Would we even know how to weave that in and facilitate it? And would we be willing, in an age which hungers for answer and ease and contentment, would we be willing for the raw, honest questions to be raised and even sometimes left hanging, unsure of how it will be answered?

Part of my faith journey has been learning to live with mystery, with questions unanswered. I have found that to be hard, frustrating, soul rending at times, rending not only once, but year on year, when an anniversary comes round or an event happens, and once again the mystery raises its ugly head and the pain returns. I wonder friends, if you are in that place, or know of that pain? And do you say with David, ‘My God, my God, why…?’
But as I’ve also said, even in recent weeks, there are some things I cling to, and likewise, David had things he clung to as well. About the middle of the psalm, David finally, and only once, uses the covenant name of God: ‘LORD’ in the English, or ‘Yahweh’ in the Hebrew. By invoking that name of God, David can recall the very great promises given to him, and to his forefathers. We looked at this in detail in our autumn series on the kingdom of God. We saw there that God made this promise to David in 2nd Samuel:
‘“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:…I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom….I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son…Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me…”’
(2 Samuel 7:11-16)
David remembers this promise as he calls on the name of the Lord, but maybe he also remembers that far older, even greater, promise made to his forefather Abraham: ‘The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
(Genesis 12:1-3)

Maybe David, by the Spirit of God, calls both promises to mind because from verse 19 the tone changes. Another way of translating verse 19 is this:
‘But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid’

In verse 11, David said there was ‘no one to help’, yet now, he remembers that the Lord is his help, for the Lord has made great promises to David and to his father Abraham. From verse 19 David grows in confidence, his hope returns, and eventually he is able to envisage a future where that great promise to Abraham comes to fruition, and all the nations remember and turn to the Lord, to Yahweh. In that future, the nations are drawn, as if by a magnet, to worship the Lord and to know His blessing. As they submit to His power…
‘the poor will eat and be satisfied…the rich of the earth will feast and worship’ (v26, 29) – there is a levelling of the rich and poor – and those who have gone ‘down to the dust…who [could not] keep themselves alive’ – they are there too and enjoying the reign of God.

All this David appears to hold on to as he calls upon Yahweh, the Lord, the one who has made covenant with him and with his forefathers. I wonder, in the midst of our searching, our wrestling, what promises do we call to mind? Do we even call these promises to mind?

I guess that will depend on what we make of these promises. Are they simply wishful thinking on the part of David and previous generations? Is this prayer just a poem, or a corporate worship song, rather than anything more?

So, this is where we need to remember Jesus. Yes, what I said on Sunday still stands – this prayer, said by Jesus, speaks of His identification with our suffering and our sense of abandonment. But equally, the psalm speaks of prophecy, speaks of God’s will…being done.

As I highlighted a little in our service, much of this psalm can be seen in the life, and especially the crucifixion, of Jesus. Of course, we know that Jesus prays verse 1 Himself on the cross, but verses 6 to 8, and verses 12 to 15, remind us of the mockers who gathered around Jesus and said:
‘He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him…’ (Matthew 27:43)

Or the incident where Jesus’ clothes are divided up by the casting of lots, which is written in verse 18 of our psalm and highlighted in John chapter 19, verses 23-24.

Then there’s the verse which speaks of hands and feet being pierced, verse 16. If you look at the various translations, you might notice that there is some variance in the words. The Good News says: ‘they tear at my hands and feet.’ The NRSV says, ‘my hands and feet have shrivelled.’

The issue here is largely due to how you translate one particular Hebrew word, but ‘pierce’ seems the best fit, not due to the crucifixion of Jesus, but because when the Hebrew version of Psalm 22 was translated into Greek around the 3rd century BC, the translators at that time chose ‘pierce’. This means, at least two hundred years before Jesus, the Jews thought that the word should be ‘pierce’. Two hundred years before Jesus, was a prophecy, initially given at around 1000 years before Jesus, that someone was pierced in the hands and feet, that that person had their clothes divided by lot, that person would be surrounded by mockers, that person would suffer as an afflicted one, that person would lead to the conquering of death and the affirmation that God has done it, it is finished. To my mind, this all points to Jesus and indeed Psalm 22 has been seen as containing prophecy concerning Jesus since the early church.

So, if God could bring about the fulfilment of that part of the prophecy, then God is able to bring the rest of the psalm to fruition as well. God’s will, will be done…
God is present and He is working out His good promises, including that day when we will see the nations return to Him and know His blessing. What God promises, He brings about; no if’s, no buts – for there is a King, of the line of David, sitting now upon the divine throne, even if all evidence might cause some to mock and call into question the very existence of God, as the mockers did in David’s day.

But holding on in faith to the promises of God is nothing new for God’s people; indeed, the early church did that very thing, for as Paul reminds us:
‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’ (1 Cor. 1:22-25)

The wisdom of this world, or own human wisdom, might seek to either rubbish the Good News of Jesus, or even simply downplay it. But in His wisdom, God has chosen to act in the person of His Son, and that doesn’t answer all the questions; even with the coming, death and resurrection of Jesus we still face mystery. And yet, He also gives us ground for hope, a world-changing hope: that God is faithful to His promises, and one day, one day, the dead will rise, the old order of things will pass away, God’s blessing to extend to the nations, and we will all say, ‘He has done it.’

In the meantime, we have that call to share in the choice of the psalmist: ‘I will declare Your name…’ (v21) – yes, beginning with the people of God, but as the Great Commission of Jesus shows, we are called to ‘go make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey…’ the Lord (Matthew 28:19-20). It’s quite hard to teach without making known, without declaring. You and I might have quite different roles in this, but we are all called to share our faith, to make known what God has done.

Now, what we read in verse 22 onwards is likely from a thanksgiving service where David fulfilled a vow (v25). David had prayed and then he was delivered, and the Old Testament Law encouraged those who had vowed some service to God, and found their prayer granted, well they were to fulfil that vow with a sacrifice,…
followed by a feast, which might last as long as two days. They were not to keep their happiness to themselves, but to invite servants and other needy folk to eat with them in celebration of God’s faithfulness.

Strikingly, I came across a quote this week, which I’ve heard before, yet never knew where it came from. It is accredited to Indian missionary D.T. Niles, who once described Christian mission as ‘one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.’ We are to share the feast with others; we are to invite them to the feast of God, that they too might ‘proclaim His righteousness, declaring…He has done it.’

So, how might we do that? It’s interesting, I’ve had conversations even in the last week which have sown ideas and encouragement. For example, I was talking with one member of our congregation and she was telling me about how she was inviting friends, family and even neighbours to come watch the church service online.

Or there was the discussion we had within the Discipleship Team last week about running the Alpha Course online from September, just as many people are doing, even now. The church where Alpha is based out of, were starting a weekly online course during the first month of the pandemic in the UK, such was the interest in an online course. We may very well go with the idea, but ultimately Alpha works by people being invited, and they’ll only be invited if you are in their life and ready and willing to invite them. So, I’m just sowing the seed, because sometime over the summer you might want to bring up the idea with them.

Or, how about sharing a summary of the Sunday message if it was helpful to you, or a prayer from our Facebook page or website, if those were helpful to you? There are lots of easy ways we might share our faith and help others to begin a journey of finding hope through Jesus.

Friends, brothers and sisters, in these days, may the words of Psalm 22 be an encouragement to come before the Lord with raw honesty, knowing that He has shared our experience of the absence of God. But equally, may Psalm 22 also encourage us to say with David, “I will declare Your name…” and then go on to fulfil our vow, one beggar to another. May it be so. Amen.

Changing circumstances

Preached on: Sunday 18th November 2018
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20181118 Powerpoint multislides.
Bible references: Acts 1:1-14

Rev.Scott Burton preaching as Sole Nominee
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer and let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

The church in every time and in every place has found itself in changing circumstances and faced with that, the church has had to walk a tightrope between holding on to what is core and changing the rest, so that it fulfills its calling to make disciples of all the nations. I don’t know about you, but it feels like we are finally, finally starting to get that. That we need to change as a church. Now, I have my reservations about some of the changes happening at a national level but, here at Brightons, it feels like you are aware of the need to keep that tension between holding on to what is core and nevertheless changing other things.

Your Parish Profile said that you wanted to ‘remain vibrant, relevant and accessible to all, and always true to God’s word’ and yet, you are also honest about the necessity of change because you wrote that you needed to ‘increase and enhance our prayer life and expand our outreach securing the future of the church particularly through creative work with children, young people and families’. When I spent a very powerful and informative two and a half hours with your Nominating Committee being interviewed by them, and returning the favour! They put me through my paces making sure the core would be core, and it was great to experience that, and as you just heard I was also upfront with them about a couple of challenging questions that I had, and it was great that they were honest about the needs of the congregation and receptive to those questions. So, even though you are a healthy, vibrant congregation, it’s really encouraging to see that you’re facing up to reality, that you are not content to rest upon your laurels.

At present I am a locum for a vacant link charge up north and I am a member of the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland so I am aware that being in a season of change and facing even more change can be unsettling for us, even scary. It can raise all sorts of questions and uncertainties. So, what might God’s word say to us in such times?

Well, in the book of Acts we find the early church in changing circumstances. Too they are on the cusp of truly significant change, change like they have never experienced, change like they can never anticipate or expect, and so Acts especially, those early chapters, gives us insight into some core things to remember and hold on to, especially in the midst of change. Acts opens with these words ‘In my former book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven.’ From the earliest times, the writing of the book of Acts has been attributed to Luke, that gentile doctor, who came to faith in Jesus and became a valuable helper and friend to the apostle Paul. So Acts is the second installment from Luke. In his former book, that is the gospel which bears his name, Luke wrote about all that Jesus began to do detailing the life of Jesus and his ministry on earth, but notice what that sentence says ‘all that Jesus began to do, not all that Jesus did but all that Jesus began to do, so Luke’s gospel details Jesus ministry on earth and Acts details the continuing ministry of Jesus then and even now, and Luke can write such a claim because of his confidence that Jesus is alive. He writes ‘After his suffering (that is Jesus) he presented himself to them the apostles and disciples and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.’ Luke is convinced of this. Convinced of its reality, that Jesus is alive and so the ministry of Jesus continues and continues even to this day. Can I ask you this – do you believe that do you have the confidence of Luke?

As outlined to our children and young people, there is great evidence to give us confidence in this and I feel and I know it is crucial for us to have this confidence because, in the changing circumstances as a church, and in the changing circumstances of life and all the struggles of life, to be confident that Jesus truly is alive changes everything. This core truth gives courage and comfort in difficult times, it sustains passion across the decades and it gives hope of a better future for our world, for our church, and for each of us individually. So, can I ask you – do you believe that Jesus is alive are you confident in this?

If you’re not, please be honest and please do something about that feeling. Please speak with your locum, speak with your elders, read The Case for Christ, for example, but I beg you, do something. For Jesus is alive and His ministry does continue now. that ministry can,, if we let it challenge us and change us. Luke goes on to write that ‘he (Jesus) appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God’ and that prompted the disciples to reply with a question – ‘Lord, are you, at this time, going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ They expected still,, a political and territorial kingdom, a national kingdom of Israel, and they hoped it would be established.

Now, in response the continuing ministry of Jesus brings a challenge to their thinking he says to them ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the father has set by his own authority but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.’

There’s so much in those two verses but let us for now notice this – the continued ministry of Jesus challenged them. It challenged their ideas about Jesus and the kingdom. For the kingdom of God is primarily spiritual in character, that as people submit to the reign of God in their lives, He transforms their hearts and He renews their mind. This kingdom is also going to be international says Jesus and it will grow gradually, so even after three years of intense discipleship and a further 40 days with the risen Jesus, the continuing ministry of Jesus is still challenging their thinking and way of life.

So, what about us? How is the continuing ministry of Jesus challenging our way of life and our thinking individually and corporately here in Brightons?

At the beginning of this message I spoke about the changing and challenging circumstances that we find ourselves in both nationally and locally, and so often we look on it negatively. The number of ministers is dropping, buildings are closing, parishes are expanding and the list goes on and on. But, what if we are in a divine moment? Have you wondered that? What if we are in a divine moment? A divine moment of opportunity when the continuing ministry of Jesus might challenge our thinking and our way of life so that the kingdom of God extends to the ends of the earth but begins growing right here too? Have you wondered that yet?

Returning to those early disciples, I’m sure some of them felt shock and horror as Jesus said those words. Maybe some of them thought ‘Jesus, are you nuts, there’s only 120 of us. How is this ever going to happen. You cannot be serious!’ but Jesus knew that by His continuing ministry in them and through them by the Holy Spirit, that this world would be turned upside down, that the words of Isaiah would come true that some would say ‘I belong to the Lord and become part of the family and people of God’.

Jesus has just challenged their thinking about the future so, how is the continuing ministry of Jesus challenging us? How is He challenging you?

With the Nominating Committee, as I said, I spent a good wee while with them which was great and I outlined a number of key principles in the midst of that conversation about myself and about any future ministry, and one is that I feel the church at large, and maybe some of us here, need to wake up to the fact that we are called to be witnesses. We each are disciples of Jesus. We each are to go and make disciples of others. We are to share our faith. We are to go and call people to follow Jesus, to repent and live for Him. And I was grateful in the midst of that conversation with the Nominating Committee, that one of their number was honest and said ‘I’m just not sure how to do that. I’m not sure how to do that. How do I reach out to my peers? How do I reach out to my peers who are successful and affluent and capable?

That member communicated a feeling, I think, that we all have. We can all be daunted by that call to be a witness. We don’t know what to do because we haven’t been discipled in that way ourselves so often, but that same person in literally the same breath, spoke about their confliction to lean into that call, that they wanted to play their part and it was so inspiring to hear!

As I say, I suspect she’s not alone. I suspect that many of us here have the same apprehension, but we are each called as witnesses as disciples who are to go and make disciples. And so my question is – are you up for that? Are you up for that? I’m being very upfront with you. If you call me here, I’ll lean into that myself, but I’ll call you to lean into that too. I’ll work with your elders, I’ll work with you individually, but we’ll lean into that, if you call me here, and it might change your life radically, and it’ll be costly. Are you up for that? Are you up for it?

The continuing ministry of Jesus brings challenge and that is but one, I’m sure there’ll be more, whether here at Brightons or for our church nationally, and you might say back to me ‘Well Scott, it was easy for the disciples. Come on! Jesus was right there in their midst’ but notice what happens after He leaves. They returned to Jerusalem, went upstairs to the room and joined together constantly in prayer. Prior to His leaving, the disciples had spent time with Jesus. They had listened to His teaching. They had soaked in the love of God, and so now it is instinctive for them to turn to Him in prayer, and that is how they will wait upon Him. That is how they will wait upon His provision and leading. Again and again, if you read through the book of Acts, the disciples come together in prayer and God leads and provides for them.

Maybe they also came together because of that commission Jesus gave them in verse 8. It’s hard to see in our English translations but when he says ‘you will be my witnesses’ he’s calling them to a costly future because the Greek word for witness is the exact same root word for our English word martyr.

So, Jesus has just called them to sacrificial way of life, to loyalty whatever the cost ,but these early followers of Jesus were so confident in the continuing ministry of Jesus, were so challenged and captivated by that ministry, were so aware of their need to depend on Him, that they came together in prayer.

Friends, can the same be said of us? Do we unite in prayer here? It can be so tempting to rush ahead. We prefer to get on with the job. We don’t like waiting and we really don’t like depending on another. Are you like that? I know I can be, but the truth is, we can’t do this on our own. The gaps in these pews are not going to fill by our own efforts.

If we are going to grow in confidence in the continuing ministry of Jesus, if we are to hear the challenge of the continuing ministry of Jesus, if we are to receive all that we need to participate in the continuing ministry of Jesus, then we must wait, we must wait upon Him and you can of course do that at home, individually, but the testimony of Christians across the ages is that the church needs to come together in prayer if we are to know His leading, if we are to know His providing, if we are to have the courage to take the costly choices and be His witnesses, then we must pray and we must pray together.

I’ve heard that your Nominating Committee is prayerful perhaps, overly prayerful if that can ever be possible, they pray a lot and I know that you have a midweek time together and hopefully you’re praying in your home groups and in other ways too, but if you are not personally gathering in prayer, some way, somehow, can I ask that you find a way. If the time is difficult, if the day is difficult, if you’re just unsure how to pray with others or even just how to pray, again, I encourage you speak with someone, be honest about that, talk to your locum, talk to your elders, talk to your session, feed it back to them and maybe together we can work out a way to help you gather together in prayer, but at some point you must make the choice, at some point you must see that prayer is enough of a priority that you fit it into your diary, but it’s only by prayer that you will find the confidence that Jesus is alive and it’s only by prayer that you will have the courage you need to be His witnesses and to respond to His challenge. The testimony of the early church, in the church across the ages, is that the people of God must unite in prayer if we are to participate in the continuing ministry of Jesus.

In these changing times, are you confident that Jesus is alive? Will you respond to His challenge at this present time and will we come together in prayer? The ministry of Jesus is continuing and to Him be the glory both now and forevermore. Amen