Last Sermon before my retirement on 31st June preached on 21st June "You who seek God"
"The poor will see and be glad- you who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people." Psalm 69:32, 33
There is no clear incident or situation behind the writing of this Psalm. Or, if there is we are not given enough information to know what it might be.
In our text there is a hint that at this time God's people might have been in captivity. But that does not ring true for we are told in its title that this is a Psalm 'Of David'. Is the writer speaking then here of the captivity of 'sin', perhaps, or is it that this prophetic Psalm is possibly looking to a future when God's people would be in captivity?
The only other clues we are given are in verse 9 where we read 'Zeal for your house consumes me' and verse 33 'for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah' which suggests that King David is speaking here to us perhaps towards the end of his life and of his desire that a Temple to God be built, a task given ultimately not to him but to Solomon by God to do, and of his concern that the kingdom was not yet fully secured and that his work of rebuilding was to remain unfinished.
But these thoughts are but postulations and we do not really know what the background is. However, that being said one thing is for sure, this Psalm is undoubtedly a psalm of lament, both over David's personal life and concerning how things were at the time he wrote it.
Yet, in spite of its obvious distress it ends we note on a conclusion of praise, not despondency, even as David turns his thoughts from himself to God and to that salvation which is to be found alone in him.
Oh, how we Scots love, like David here to dwell on the gloomy side. We enjoy suffering, we delight in defeat. In fact we almost expect it. Indeed our countries history has led to the development of a thought of mind in which we expect things to get worse rather than better. Success, does not sit easy with us. It seems unreal. Sadly we have become captive to this frame of mind and I believe it hinders us greatly both as Scots and as believers. Such that we almost prefer empty churches to full ones because it reinforces our belief that hardship, struggle and suffering are good for us! We make an industry out of the image we portray. It's always raining, our midges are truly ferocious, Scotland's full of hills, we wear kilts like someone who wears sackcloth and ashes, and we eat haggis because we can then mention what it is made of to give the impression that we are uncouth and uncivilised. Our national bard was a drunkard and a womaniser. And is it not true and I'm on dangerous ground here, that we strive for independence because we know it will be bad for us! We come to church sit on uncomfortable pews, delight in hellfire and damnation sermons and certainly don't want any of that 'happy-clappy' stuff, for that is not what true religion is all about. King David was definitely a good Scot!
Yet, having said that what we have here in this Psalm is a healthy dose of reality.
In this, I am reminded of Jesus' own words "In this world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
Though, I am not so sure about the being of good cheer bit, for that is certainly not Presbyterian!
What this Psalm is all about though is an honest recognition of sin within, the state of the world without and despite these things that God's salvation can be real, can be known and ultimately give us good reason for hope and praise, not because of ourselves or our world but because of God.
It is only too easy to be gloomy or despondent when we look at our lives and when we look at our world. David recognised that life's problem lies with man not God. But, he also clearly realised that the solution lies not with man but with God. So he cries out to God in his plight from the outset. Verse 1, "Save me, O God".
He is near the end of his tether. Weary, worn out. Aware of his failings and sins. Aware of all the enemies that make his life difficult. Scorned, mocked, derided, disgraced, shamed, in pain and distress.
But his saving grace here, is that in this situation, he turns to God. Because he has come to recognise that it is only God who can help him, who can truly save him from himself.
At every wedding I say to the couple who have just got married that there will be times when your own strength is just not enough to see you through the difficulties you will face in life and that you'll need God to help you get through those days.
David knew that only too well, he had been there before, and so he turns to God in this particularly difficult time he was now again in, knowing that as God had saved him before, yet would he save him again. For, as out text tells us,
Elijah was weary and worn and though he had had success over the prophets of Baal yet he ran for his life for there was a contract now out to kill him. He ran, because he had taken his eyes off of God. Like Peter walking on the water who looked at the ferocity of the waves, rather than the face of Jesus, and sank. God came to Elijah and spoke to him. A 'still small voice' yet, that voice was the voice of the Almighty and so gave him the reassurance that everything was, not in just his hands, but in God's, and so he need not fear either the situation he was in or what lay ahead.
I hope, that as you look to the future, that you too will then be reassured, my departure matters little in God's great scheme of things. What matters, though is the need for us all to look to God, to listen for his voice, and so to seek ever more and more of that salvation which He alone can give.
Perhaps one of the most poignant verses in all the Scriptures is Jeremiah 8:20
Interestingly too, apparently gloomy though this Psalm may seem, it is in fact one of the most quoted of the Psalms in the New Testament.
Jesus saw its worth, in relation to explaining his own life's worth and purpose, even as he vicariously took our sin upon himself, laid his life down in our stead and rising gave to us reason for praise knowing that sin, nor Satan, nor death, did not defeat him.
How is it, that one hymn puts it?
Salvation is more than just freedom from sin's power and grip over our lives, it is knowing Jesus as Saviour and Lord. It is having thus God on our side, his power within, his new life to know, our future's securely in his hands, whatever they might be.
David recognised this, as here he seeks reassurance from God that because of his failings that God's purposes would not be detracted from or remain unfulfilled.
Another, of the most reassuring verses in Scripture given by God to us is, 2 Corinthians 12:9 "for my power is make perfect in weakness".
Paul, had a physical problem that he saw to be inhibiting God's work. He asked God to remove it. God said no explaining that 'my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'.
God's way of seeing things is different from ours. We need to learn to depend more on God and less on self. We don't find that easy. We like to be in control. To determine what is to be. We think we are so right but all so often we are not. For, God has greater things in mind. But, are we prepared to accept that. To believe that with God we can succeed. To believe the future belong to him not us.
At the moment as some of you know I am in the process of trying to set up a Hiyfc Antiques and Collectables Charity Shop in Inverness, for which volunteers are required, by the way. I have found it interesting that as soon as I moved forward with this project, like the spies who went into the Promised Land, the doubters and defeatists come rushing out of the wood work. You'll have to set it up so that if it fails, or was that really, when it fails, you'll, that is Hiyfc will not be left bankrupt.
Is it I wonder because I'm in charge, that people think it is going to fail! They may be right. So I try to reassure then, don't worry I'm not going to set it up without sufficient backing, sufficient funding, to ensure that the costs are covered for at least the first year. But, yet the doubters remain. And then I think is it because this is a Christian project that people think it is bound to fail? Or, is it because we're Scots it has to fail! Thankfully there are some, like Joshua and Caleb who look to God though and know that when His hand is in it, it ought rather alternatively surely to succeed and prosper.
I'm going to say something really radical now. Churches should grow because Jesus said to his disciples and says to us as disciples today. "Go and make disciples…" It can happen, it does happen. But, only if we share the message of salvation both in word and deed with those in spiritual poverty and spiritual need.
The people of Israel did cross the Jordan and enter and possess the Promised Land. Perhaps, or rather, surely, it is a bit ironic that the message being proclaimed in our secular schools today is 'If you believe it you can achieve it'. Whilest, on the other hand, the message being proclaimed in many of our churches today seems to be 'believe what the world says, rather than what Jesus says if you want to succeed'.
I conclude, King David her in this Psalm shows us the need to look to God and to seek his salvation and not that of a world that would take us into captivity again.
Here is the way forward, will you follow it in your life, and as God's Church in the days ahead?
"Save me O God… You know my folly…. I pray to you… I will praise God's name… let heaven and earth praise him… for God will save Zion"
And as a consequence then we are told,
Therefore, in this my final sermon, (Steve Aisthorpe is preaching next Sunday here at Tomatin though I will be leading the service and doing the Communion and at Daviot it's a family service next Sunday) I leave these God's words to you, amongst my most favourite words of all God's words to us in the Old Testament, Isaiah 55:6 & 7:
Amen, let us pray.