Sweetwater Presbyterian

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A Gateway to the Psalter - Beginning our Lenten Journey

A GATEWAY TO THE PSALTER

Beginning our Lenten Journey

Jesus said: (Read Matthew 5:3-10) We know these words as The Beatitudes. It is a list where Jesus is helping us to see what it takes to have a happy, joyful life. Jesus says that compassion and meekness and showing mercy and such will lead us to a feeling of joy and contentment. Happiness, says Jesus, cannot be found in the things we do for ourselves, but only in the ways we give ourselves to others and to God. This is the same message we hear from Psalm 1 - a Psalm that leads us into this time of Lent. We are going to spend Lent looking at specific Psalms that will help us to better understand who we are as God’s people and how God guides us to live. The Psalms are a fascinating record of real people who were struggling through life just like we are; real people who were trying to better understand who they were in relationship with God and exactly what this meant as they tried to live each day in that tension between the world around them and the life God called them to lead. In the book of Psalms we find Psalms of joy and psalms of sadness; psalms of lament and psalms of questioning. Psalms run the whole gamut of emotions. But even with this great range, the Psalter’s goal is to tell us that regardless of the ups and downs in the journey of our life, we can still live a life of ‘happiness’ - of peace and joy and contentment. Collectively The Psalms are known as “The Psalter”. This psalter is the hymnbook of the Hebrew people. Just like the hymnbook we use, these are the songs that were sung as the Hebrews worshipped. Some of these hymns were used to enter worship - the Hebrews would gather outside the Temple and then sing their way into worship. These are called Psalms of Ascent. The Hebrews sang during worship just like we do and they sang to end worship. But as we pick up our hymnbook and turn to the proper page - or look up on the wall to see the words in order to sing our hymns - Hebrews had these Psalms memorized. They learned them as they sang them all the time. It was the only music they knew and except for a scroll in the Temple, the psalms weren’t written down anywhere. The psalms were not numbered during the time of the Hebrews; they knew them by their first line. So you would say the first line of a Psalm and everyone immediately would know what to start singing. Now we think what a great feat this is to have all these Psalms memorized, but I imagine that we are able do this more than we think. If I say, “Holy, holy, holy” you would continue with “Lord God Almighty!” Or “Silent Night” and you say, “Holy Night”…. and we could go on for a while and I bet you would know a lot more hymns by memory than you thought! There is a story about a dairy farmer who would milk a different cow every day and each cow was known by a Psalm number. As he milked the cows he would memorize a Psalm. So when he milked the cow known as Psalm 4, he would memorize Psalm 4 and when he milked Psalm 22 he would memorize Psalm 22 and he said before he knew it he had all 150 Psalms memorized! We are starting our Lenten study of the Psalms by starting at the beginning - with Psalm 1. Psalm 1 is actually an introduction to the whole Psalter. Its purpose is to help us to get an idea of what the message is of the entire Psalter . It is like any introduction to any book that prepares you for what you are going to learn as you read through the book. In other words, what message should we get if we sat down and read through the entire book of the Psalms? And the introduction, Psalm 1, tells us that message would be - that if we live the life described in the Psalms, we would be living a life of joy and peace and contentment - we would be happy in who we are. And, according to the Psalm, the mechanism of this joy and peace and contentment is to acknowledge God as sovereign over all our life and to meditate on the ‘law of the Lord’. We are to understand that the Psalter is not just merely a hymnbook - but a guide to the life of joy, peace and contentment that God has intended for all of us. So we have this Psalm which is the beginning of the book of Psalms that tells us that God’s desire for his people is for them to be happy. Then the Psalmist says - the way to this happiness is to ‘meditate on the ‘law of the Lord’. How do we do that? First we have to remember what ‘the law of the Lord’ is. Our inclination is to think that the Psalmist is referring to the 10 Commandments. And indeed the 10 commandments are a part of it - but the original word from the Psalm is not ‘law’ but ‘Torah’. We are to meditate day and night on The Torah. The Torah refers to the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Meditating on the Torah means that we are to learn and study and remember the events of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. We are to think about how all these stories impact our life and help us better make decisions and choices that will please God and help us to be more faithful. We learn about Abraham and Jacob and Moses and Joshua. We learn about the Hebrews journey through the wilderness and understand how that applies to our journey from salvation to becoming closer and closer to God. And the Psalmist says: This shouldn’t be something that is a burden. It shouldn’t be like that homework we were assigned in English class or Math class that we drug home and had to force ourselves to conjugate those verbs or solve all those algebra problems. It shouldn’t be “OK. I’ll read the Bible cause God tells me to - but I’m not going to enjoy it…..” The Psalmist says that the happiness comes in because we spend time in God’s word because we want to; because the true desire of our heart is to learn and grow and we know that comes from letting God himself teach us as we read those stories of Scripture. In fact the Psalmist tells us that there are only 2 types of people - those who delight in the word of the Lord and the ‘wicked’. The ‘wicked’ does not refer to evil people but to people who see no benefit in spending time reading and learning God’s teaching. Alluding to the Psalmists ideas that if you desire to learn and grow then you will become closer to God and if you don’t, if you ignore God’s word; if you don’t read and study and learn then you will grow in the other direction - you will grow away from God and the true ‘happiness’ that he offers. Sort of like the grinches heart that was 3 sizes too small. This is the value of Lent. Lent challenges us to think about where we stand on that line between Christ and ‘the wicked’. If you imagine Christ as your left hand and ‘the wicked’ as your right hand and your reach out to your left and right sides and imagine a line between the two - where are you? Are you ‘meditating on the law’, studying and learning and growing more towards Christ or are you putting off your daily devotional time, putting off that time of Bible reading and studying and so heading the other direction on that line……. Or instead of a line, the Psalmist uses the picture of a tree. The tree planted by the water grows and becomes strong but the tree who is not by the water, will dry up and be blown away. So as you reflect during this time of Lent, remember the words of Jesus from Luke - Happy are those who hear the word of God and keep it.
Amen