Sermon given at Isham 8am service 18.9.16
Readings: OT/Epistle Psalm 113
Gospel Luke 10: 25-37
There are certain phrases we use almost as shorthand – if you mention the phrase ‘the Prodigal Son’ Christians, and many others, will immediately remember this very visual story that Jesus told to help us understand that the neighbour we are to help is the person we come across – they may not be the same colour skin or nationality as us, they may not be of the same faith, but they are still our neighbour. Children probably primarily remember the story as a story about helping people in trouble.
Psalm 113 starts with a sweeping summons to praise that focuses on the ‘name’ – because when we mention the words ‘Lord’ or ‘God’ we immediately think of all the hopes and claims and gifts that are necessary for a joyous life. The summons to praise the Lord is for all time and for all places – it creates in our minds a vision of everything being restored, put right, and gathered round the throne of God.
Then the psalm moves on to offer us a vision of God presiding over us all – his governance isn’t heavy or oppressive, but it is summoning all nations and all creatures to a new obedience. And implicit in this claim is the idea that other nations will abandon their ‘no-gods’ in favour of the one true God.
But note – it doesn’t speak about other nations becoming Israelites – just that all nations will come to Jerusalem. Over the centuries the city of Jerusalem has come to mean so much to so many people, and especially to Jews, Christians and Muslims. In a way Jerusalem is a symbol of people coming to meet God and their hopes for a joyous fulfilled life.
But the psalm isn’t offering us just a utopian vision based on vague hopes and wishes – it goes on to remind us of stories of God actually helping people, actually intervening as a friend and ally of the poor and powerless – and chief amongst those in OT times was the barren woman – think of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah – God giving them a child was real act of reversal, vital help given to the powerless, the broken-hearted who cannot help themselves.
Praise like this requires the nations, and especially the powerful, to take notice of all life in a different way – from the bottom up all the way to the throne. This psalm reminds us never to write anyone off as a hopeless case! Or to surrender ourselves to hopelessness or to think we’re worthless either!