Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Psalms for Turbulent Times - Psalm 86: Undivided heart

Psalm 86


Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
       for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
        save your servant who trusts in you.
   You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
       for to you do I cry all day long.
4  Gladden the soul of your servant,
       for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5  For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
        abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
6  Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
         listen to my cry of supplication.
  In the day of my trouble I call on you,
         for you will answer me.


There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
        nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
        and bow down before you, O Lord,
        and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
           you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
           that I may walk in your truth;
          give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12  I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
            and I will glorify your name for ever.
13 For great is your steadfast love towards me;
            you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.


14  O God, the insolent rise up against me;
             a band of ruffians seeks my life,
            and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
            slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
              give your strength to your servant;
             save the child of your serving-maid.
17  Show me a sign of your favour,
            so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
            because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.


This psalm follows a now familiar path. It is a confident and faithful call by a poor and needy person whose trust in God convinces them of two things above all:

1.    God is able to do wondrous and impossible things

2.    Anyone who knows they are needy and are open to God’s life-changing ways, can learn the way of life and an undistracted devotion to God.

Both these hopes are contained in the central verses – 10 and 11 – and form the heartbeat of the psalm. Bookending these crucial verses, scholars have identified a chiastic pattern. This is a form or shape of poetry which gives structure to the prayer.

A           vv 1-4 ‘your servant’

              B           vv5-6 ‘abounding in steadfast love’

                             C          v7 complaint

                                           D          vv8-10 ‘glorify your name’

                                                          E           v11 central verse;  ‘your name’

                                           D’         vv12-13 ‘glorify your name’

                             C’         v14 complaint

              B’          v15 ‘abounding in steadfast love’

A’         vv16-17 ‘your servant’

Shaped like this, it is possible to see the intent of the psalmist. It is to draw our attention to the most needful disposition of the poor and needy believer, to live an undivided life of reverence of God.

The shorter Westminster catechism of 1647 was written in a time of great national trauma during the Civil War which divided our nation. It was an attempt to lay out a set of statements around which Christians could unite. And it begins with the first question (please forgive the lack of inclusive language): What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever.

This psalmist has demonstrates, for me at least, an integrity and intimacy of relationship to God consistently throughout the prayer. I notice this particularly through the way the psalmist addresses God as Lord so many times – eleven in all:   

Incline your ear, O Lord (vs1). Be gracious to me, O Lord (vs3). To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul (vs4). For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving (vs5).
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer (vs6).  There is none like you, O Lord, among the gods (vs8). All the nations you have made shall come down and bow before you, O Lord (vs9). Teach me your way, O Lord (vs11). I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart (vs12). You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious (vs15). You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me (vs17).

What I find challenging and hopeful about this psalm is that the more I am aware of my poverty (of spirit and devotion and a disposition of grace) and the more I am open to God’s undivided love, then the more I might also live with an undistracted heart which can revere God’s name.

The chief end, or purpose, of all humanity is to join with creation in glorifying  God and enjoying God for ever. Not striving. Just enjoying. May this be so.

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Psalms for Turbulent Times - Psalm 85: Righteousness and peace have kissed each other

Psalm 85[1]
1            Lord, you were favourable to your land;
              you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2              You forgave the iniquity of your people;
              you pardoned all their sin.                                                                                 Selah
3              You withdrew all your wrath;
              you turned from your hot anger.

4           Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
              and put away your indignation toward us.
5             Will you be angry with us forever?
             Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6             Will you not revive us again,
             so that your people may rejoice in you?
7             Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
             and grant us your salvation.

8           Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,[2]
              for he will speak peace to his people,
              to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts
9             Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
              that his glory may dwell in our land.

10        Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
              righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11          Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
              and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12          The Lord will give what is good,
             and our land will yield its increase.
13          Righteousness will go before him,
             and will make a path for his steps.

We all need restoration. Each day. Not like a crumbling ancient monument. But as living beings through which God breathes the polluted air of our age. We need the kiss of life. God desires this for all humanity and all creation. And our psalmist experienced this need, not only personally but as a longing for the whole fabric of society. Indeed, the psalmist’s vision is much broader than simply a nation state, a socio-economic-political entity: it is for the universal reign of God stretching from earth to sky.

As I read this psalm we continue to emerge from lockdown, yet are haunted by the prospect of a return of the pandemic in a second destructive wave over the autumn and winter. Every plan made is contingent. In fact, it remains difficult to plan with certainty for anything. In my work, I juggle two possible futures – one delivering formation and training on Zoom and the other, much hoped for possibility, of being ‘in the room’.

Scholars consider psalm 85 to being a post-exilic communal prayer for help. The worst has past and the people have returned home from captivity. Yet the need for being made whole by God (salvation in vs 4, 7 and 9) remains. Children of God need always to be saved from themselves. And it seems that despite the return from captivity (just like the original exodus experience of release from captivity) is not enough to create a faithful, righteous, just and peaceful life. So it is, with our nation and the global community. We are returning to a less restricted way of life. But we are traumatised, in some way, by the reality that the pandemic is not over and the risks associated with Covid-19 will remain until and beyond the discovery of a vaccine. Many are tired and even exhausted. Many sense this summer has to bring restoration in order to strengthen us for service in to the autumn and winter. How are we to find restoration?

As I read the psalter in Daily Prayer, I found this translation of the first part of vs8 helpful: ‘I will listen to what the Lord God will say’. It presents a more active choice by the psalmist than the NRSVA translation ‘let me hear what God, the Lord, will speak’. Actively listening to God may come in many forms for you and I. What the psalms do teach is that passionate attentiveness is one of the marks of prayerful listening. This is about getting close to the heart’s cry and the deeper emotions of yearning of God, I believe. The disposition of the psalmist – of searing honesty and raw truthfulness (best revealed in vs4-7) – leads to a revelation of the character of God. Meeting with God and enjoying God’s presence and being recalibrated in that meeting is surely the goal of attentive prayer.

This psalm pivots on vs8. From the attentive listening comes revelation after revelation that trims the psalmist’s sails in a new direction. From vs9 onwards, the psalm is a character study of God’s nature and the fact that we are called to close relationship with our creator, redeemer and restorer. God is:
·      Close to those who fear (vs9) – so that God’s glory is seen everywhere
·      Where mercy and truth meet together (vs10) – in conversation and discourse, in private communion and the public square
·      Where righteousness and peace are so close they even kiss each other (vs10) – not a hidden passion but a joyful revelation to a whole community
·      The one who accomplishes these things so that God’s character of truth and righteousness fills the earth from ground to the heavens (vs11)

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear as the future rolls towards us. May we be eagerly looking for signs of God’s kingdom around us.  And may we also find renewed commitment to pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done.’

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[2] I will listen to what the Lord God will say: translation in Daily Prayer ©2010 Church House Pulbishing; p775

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Psalms for Tumultuous Times - Psalm 83: Free from the fear of our enemies

Psalm 83[1]

1            O God, do not keep silence;
              do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
2              Even now your enemies are in tumult;
              those who hate you have raised their heads.
3              They lay crafty plans against your people;
              they consult together against those you protect.
4              They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
               let the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
5              They conspire with one accord;
              against you they make a covenant—
6              the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
              Moab and the Hagrites,
7              Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
              Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8              Assyria also has joined them;
              they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.                                  Selah

9           Do to them as you did to Midian,
              as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon,
10           who were destroyed at En-dor,
              who became dung for the ground.
11           Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
              all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12           who said, “Let us take the pastures of God
              for our own possession.”

13         O my God, make them like whirling dust,
              like chaff before the wind.
14           As fire consumes the forest,
              as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15           so pursue them with your tempest
              and terrify them with your hurricane.
16           Fill their faces with shame,
              so that they may seek your name, O Lord.
17           Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;
              let them perish in disgrace.
18           Let them know that you alone,

              whose name is the Lord,
              are the Most High over all the earth.

The silence of God is as terrifying as being surrounded by crafty, conspiring bloodthirsty enemies. This is the setting of this psalm. Freedom from enemies is one of the central features of a thriving life. Freedom from fear and a freedom to worship God are two of the tenets of the Benedictus, the staple prayer of morning worship in the Anglican tradition:

1           Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel,  
             who has come to his people and set them free.
2           He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour, 
             born of the house of his servant David.
3           Through his holy prophets God promised of old
             to save us from our enemies,
             from the hands of all that hate us,
4           To show mercy to our ancestors,  
             and to remember his holy covenant.
5           This was the oath God swore to our father Abraham:
             to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
6           Free to worship him without fear,  
             holy and righteous in his sight
             all the days of our life.

Contrast this prayer of longing for freedom and rescue from enemies with Psalm 83 and what do you notice? Both the psalm and the Benedictus (the prayer of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist) were composed in a time of occupation by brutal powers. It is thought that the psalm was written sometime during the Assyrian occupation of northern Israel in the 8th century BC. Zechariah’s prayer, written in the Gospel of Luke, was of course composed against the backdrop of the Roman Empire’s occupation of Palestine.

It is remarkable to realise how much of the bible was written by people who were experiencing the desperate reality of having no power and feeling surrounded by oppressors at every point.

The psalm’s theological response is not to find ways of instigating an insurrection or rebellion, but to call upon God to step out of the bubble of divine silence and take action. Luke’s praising father Zechariah, while also recognising the reality of enemies who hate, reaches back to the covenant of God to Abraham and reaches forward to the hoped for Messiah. The past and the future make sense of the present.

The silence of God very much is as terrifying as the reality of flesh and blood brutality. In verses 13-17, the psalmist, fuelled by a sense of real vengeance, asks God to turn the terror of their own experience on to enemies. Having named a host of historical enemies (listed in the book of Judges and the prophets) he calls on God to blow them all away like a hurricane! By contrast, the ‘mighty saviour’ of the Benedictus is Christ Jesus – who calms wild storms, who heals traumatised victims of military brutality (Legion in Mark 5), who sets free the lame and the blind from the captivity of their conditions and sets out the way of life which receives and gives shalom.

Free from fear and the tumult of plotters. Holy and righteous in God's sight already. This is the inheritance of the needy. 

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Psalms for Turbulent Times - Psalm 82 - The Salt Path

Psalm 82[1]

1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
               in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
               and show partiality to the wicked?                                                              Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
               maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
               deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
               they walk around in darkness;
              all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I say, “You are gods,
               children of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
                and fall like any prince.”
8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
               for all the nations belong to you!

What might the ‘gods’ of our time be that show partiality to the self-centred, self-referenced, self-dependent? What ‘gods’ walk around in darkness (vs5) without knowledge or understanding (vs5) and fail to give justice to the weak, the orphan, the lowly and the destitute (vs4).

I have just finished reading the Salt Path[2], by Raynor Winn. It tells the true story of a middle-aged couple who have lost everything – home, livelihood, and in the case of Moth (Ray’s husband), health. Just days after being stripped of their farm and land in a court case, Moth is told by a hospital consultant that he has a terminal condition (CBD or corticobasal degeneration) and possibly two years to live. He is advised to rest, walk very little and be careful on stairs. His condition will lead to loss of muscle function and mobility.

With just £320 in all the world, they buy a cheap tent, cheap sleeping bags and set off on a 630-mile odyssey walking the ‘salty path’ which is the clifftop South West Coast Walk from Minehead to Poole. They wild camp, live of very little and become homeless hikers. In so doing, they soon discover how they become the victims of casual hostility from locals and tourists alike. They begin to smell. Their clothes become part of their bodies (peeled off only once in a while). They are told to move on in tourist towns. Considered to be homeless scum by many. They become destitute, lowly and weak. And yet over the months of unremitting pain, rain, salt and wind, as they are stripped of all they have been, they come to a point of acceptance, freedom and joy. The kindness of the powerless is part of the story. But so is the ability of some to see with new eyes and not to be guided by the ‘gods’ of self-preservation or the kind of harsh judgment of privilege.

In Psalm 82, the psalmists imagines a mythological meeting of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all things with the ‘gods’ of the world. ‘They’ have been failing humanity. They have attended only to the needs of the ‘wicked’ – as we are gathering, the wicked in the world of the psalmist are those who have no need of God, whose lives are self-sufficient and privileged. These ‘gods’ reward those who have money, esteem, power and a place of certainty in society. They do not care for those on the edge, the rejected destitute, those on the ‘salt path’.

The psalm instead cries out for God to take over, for God’s kindly kingdom to reign. The psalm imagines God’s heartfelt judgment on the heartless gods who rule the earth. This is the vision of God’s kingdom -that justice and equity (putting right the wrongs of those who suffer at the hands of the powerful) is generously given to the weak (economically? socially? politically), destitute, needy, lowly and orphaned.

At the end of the Salt Path, Ray and Moth have their dignity, their freedom, a sense of direction and a future hope. Kindness comes through the listening ear of strangers who have no means and who have privileged means. They both discover, on the salt path, a calling (one to writing, the other to further study). They find a way of recalibrating their lives. And through remarkable ‘coincidences’ (what might be viewed as God’s providence – though this would be me straining things beyond their current worldview) their wilderness walk takes them from nothing and a deep worry about nothingness  to a joyous fullness. The ‘gods’ of harm and ruin have been found wanting. And a kindly spirit has guided them home. 

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[2] Penguin Books, ©2019

Friday, 10 July 2020

Psalms for Turbulent Times - Psalm 81: Honey from the rock

Psalm 81[1]

1 Sing gladly to God our strength,
                             Shout out to the God of Jacob.
2 Lift your voices in the song and beat the drum,
                             The lyre is sweet with the lute.
3 Blast the ram’s horn on the new moon,
                             When the moon starts to wax, for our festival day.
4 For it is an ordinance in Israel,
                             A rule of the God of Jacob.
5 A decree He declared it for Israel
                             When He sallied forth against Egypt’s land –
                                                          A language I knew not, heard.
6 “I delivered his shoulder from the burden
                             His palms were loosed from the hod.
7 “From the straits you called and I set you free.
                             I answered you from thunder’s hiding-place.
                                           I tested you at the waters of Meribah.                            Selah
8 “Hear, O my people, that I may adjure you.
                             Israel, if You would but hear Me.
9 “There shall be among you no foreign god
                             And you shall not bow to an alien god.
10 “I am the Lord your God
                             Who brings you up from the land of Egypt.
                                           Open your mouth wide, that I may fill it.
11 “But My people did not heed My voice
                             And Israel wanted nothing of Me.
12 “And I let them follow their heart’s wilfulness,
                             They went by their own counsels.
13 “If My people would but heed Me.
                             If Israel would go in My ways,
14 “In a moment I would humble their enemies,
                             And against their foes I would turn My hand.
15 “Those who hate the Lord would cringe before Him,
                             And their time of doom would be everlasting.
16 “And I would feed them the finest wheat,
                             And from the rock I was sate him with honey.”

I have wondered after all this time of not being able to sing with others, what my voice sounds like. I have missed singing in a choir. I have missed singing in church. I have missed the way songs of faith form us, shape us, provide us with meaning and articulate those inner thoughts and praises which provide us with sustenance, like honey from the rock.

Psalm 81 is a liturgical psalm of praise and remembrance, to be sung at new moon festivals (so every 28 days) and possibly also to mark the full moon too. It is also, scholars suggest, a psalm particularly written and sung to mark the start of the festival of booths or tabernacles, which was an a great annual celebration. It required a full orchestra of trumpets, percussion, stringed instruments and voices. And the purpose? To be reminded, in the act of praising, of God’s strength.

Just as the Jewish people are a people shaped by thanks and praise as well as lament and grief – so it is with us. The sadness that overshadows me in these pandemic days is            that lack of song which has so shaped my spiritual path these last 55 years. But we will sing again….

One of the most significant theological reflections of this psalm is God’s persistent call that humanity would listen to Him. It is articulated in the form of sermon. The plea for a ‘listening people’ is a constant drumbeat. In verse 8 it comes in the shape of a recommitment to the first commandment: ‘Hear, O my people…’ begins the strong urging, have no God but me. Then,  in verse 11, we are reminded again how the rescued slaves of Egypt in their desert wanderings repeatedly took no heed of God. This beautiful little homily is still so lovingly versed. God still sees this rebellious and wilful people as ‘My people’. This way-making, promise-keeping, miracle-working God pleads in verse 13: ‘If My people would but heed Me…’ The wistful longing heart of God promises to show the way, work a miracle and keep promises (but here we are brought down to earth and reminded of that storyline from Psalm 80, of a people who need to turn around in order to listen).

What we learn about God’s nature most of all in this psalm is that God is generous and abundant, longing to bless and nourish the people. There is such richness in the verses from the beginning. Sweet song, exuberant praise, blasts of trumpets, loud shouts, glad singing – and all at the command of God – are expected. And why? Because God is a burden-lifting (vs6), apprentice-forming (vs7), banquet-serving (vs10), enemy-humbling (vs14), provision-supplying (vs16) God.

Possibly the most poetic and beautiful promise of all comes in the last two lines. Finest wheat and honey are the gold standard of God’s provision. I am reminded of one of the verses of a favourite hymn of the Church, I the Lord of Sea and Sky[2]:

I, The Lord Of Wind And Flame
I Will Tend The Poor And Lame.
I Will Set A Feast For Them,
My Hand Will Save
Finest Bread I Will Provide,
Till Their Hearts Be Satisfied.
I Will Give My Life To Them,
Whom Shall I Send?

Here I Am Lord, Is It I, Lord?
I Have Heard You Calling In The Night.
I Will Go Lord, If You Lead Me.
I Will Hold Your People In My Heart.

Nothing but the best and sweetest will satisfy our hearts. It is a magnificent thought don’t you think – the very finest wheat and sweetest honey (not mere water) flowing from a rock! It this psalm’s final sign off, a hint of the extravagance of God. I love this most attractive quality which lifts me above my mean grasping thought pattens and again encourages me to be shaped by generosity. May honey from the rock sate us all.

[1] The Book of Psalms, a translation with commentary by Robert Alter ©2007

[2] Daniel L Schutte

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Psalms for Turbulent Times - Psalm 80: Turn us again

Psalm 80[1]

  Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
    You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
  before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
     Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
   Restore us, O God;
     let your face shine, that we may be saved.
     [Turn us again, O God; 
    show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.][2]
   O Lord God of hosts,
     how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
   You have fed them with the bread of tears,
     and given them tears to drink in full measure.
   You make us the scorn of our neighbours;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.
  Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.
    [Turn us again, O God of hosts; 
    show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.][3]
 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
    you drove out the nations and planted it.
  You cleared the ground for it;
     it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
     the mighty cedars with its branches;
11   it sent out its branches to the sea,
      and its shoots to the River.
12   Why then have you broken down its walls,
      so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13   The boar from the forest ravages it,
      and all that move in the field feed on it.
14   Turn again, O God of hosts;
      look down from heaven, and see;
      have regard for this vine,

      [Turn again, O God of hosts, 
      look down from heaven and behold; cherish this vine,][4]
15   the stock that your right hand planted.
16   They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
      may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17   But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
      the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18   Then we will never turn back from you;
      give us life, and we will call on your name.
19   Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
      let your face shine, that we may be saved.
      [Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts;  
     show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.][5]

The familiar cry of the person at prayer who knows has a glimmering of understanding of their neediness – and the nation’s neediness – repeats and repeats through this psalm like a heartbeat.

Yet there is a surprise in store, a phrase that might make the attentive person at prayer’s heart miss a beat too.

I refer to what happens at regular points in Psalm 80 at verses 3, 7, & 19 and the bold call at the heart of the psalm in verse 14.

At frequent intervals, the poet calls out for God to ‘restore’ or ‘turn around’(Hebew: hasibenu) all the people of his faith community and nation. The NRSV and the Anglican psalter translate the Hebrew word hasibenu[6] differently. ‘Restore’ is the former version’s choice; ‘turn’ is the psalter’s selection. The word literally means ‘cause us to return’. Scholars believe it may have been written at a time following a great national calamity, possibly the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 721BC. Whatever the circumstances that prompted its creation, this is a psalm of communal lament.

In verses 3, 7 and 19 the triple request is that God takes action and effects the ‘turning around’. This has struck me with force. So desperate is the situation, not withstanding the human sin that has led to these specific circumstances, only God can do the ‘turning round’ or ‘restoring’. Confession is not going to restore the penitent people to life. Nor are any number of other actions. Only God can do this deep work.

What I also notice in these three verses is that as the psalmist repeats this plea, the name of God grows. In verse 3 the psalmist locates his help as simply coming from God. By verse 7 the psalmist adds ‘God of hosts’ (or God of the armies of heaven). And finally, by verse 19, there is the addition of the more intimate, more personal, divine name ‘Lord’ (Yahweh).

Another element of this repeated plea, is the call to God for God’s face to shine out on the petitioner and people.  There is a sense in this psalm that God has become distant, far off, almost absent. God can’t be seen. Yet, the psalmist wants to have God’s ear and will not give up on the hope that God can hear and will act. For the bulk of the psalm, the poet tells God what’s going on and expects God to respond and take action. Verse 4-6 tell the personal toll that the national disaster is having: tears and heartbreak and a sense of shame because everyone else  - all the neighbouring nations – are laughing and pouring scorn on them. Verses 8-13 tell, in allegorical form, the story of the exodus, the creation of Israel and the spread of the Kingdom of David from Mediterranean to the Euphrates river, followed by the beginnings of the kingdom’s collapse.

Then comes the startling verse 14 which I have already hinted at. This verse calls on God to ‘turn again’. Having already said that the rescue of all people is God’s initiative. Repentance – turning around again to face God – is part of our tradition, our spirituality, our sense of what happens to recalibrate a broken relationship. Yet this bold psalmist makes a very clear and surprising claim: there can be no restoration, no life or future, until God also ‘turns around’ and faces God’s people. The primary need is for God to act. Without God’s repentance there can be no life. This is the thought that might make your heart skip a beat today.

God acted and intervened to enable the exodus. God acted and intervened in Jesus at the cross of calvary. And God acts and intervenes each day in our lives. Not because of our clever words or careful actions, but because again and again and again God cannot deny God’s disposition: which is to rescue us from ourselves and restore life. May our disposition be to trust in this God who comes close and can alone turn our hearts and our lives. May we see this happen today and again tomorrow and on into time everlasting.

[1] New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA) New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[2] Common Worship The Psalter Psalm 80
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] Hasibenu  is also found in Jeremiah 27.22 and Daniel 9.25, both prophets of the exile; in Nehemiah 9.26 and in Lamentations 5.21.