THIS IS A LOVE SONG
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So we are at the end of our time in the book of Psalm this summer of 2016. We’ve talked about how the Psalms inform our prayer life and our worship life. We’ve talked about what the Psalms reveal about God. What they reveal about the choice that is before us every day. This morning’s Psalm is entitled “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Illness” in our Bibles. What this Psalm is though at heart is a love song. We end with love and thanks. Let us look at Psalm 116 and hear what God has to say to our hearts.
“I love the Lord…” The Psalmist always starts in a good place. We’ve talked about the two paths. The choice that lies before us every day. Sometimes these paths are termed foolish and wise. Sometimes wicked and righteous. Again the choice is ours. The Psalmist starts by affirming where he stands. I love the Lord. This is the question. This is, for the servant of the Lord, for the follower of the Christ, the first question. It’s really the question for everyone. We’ve talked about being Shema people before. Do you want to be a Shema person? The Shema begins Hear O Israel the Lord our God is one, and you will love the Lord with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might. This was the question that Jesus posed to Peter. Do you love me? Three times Jesus asked Peter the question.
Well, do you?
“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice, and my supplications.” Do not let us think, though, that this is simply some sort of quid pro quo. Too often prayer has been reduced to that. Us asking the deity for something and the deity showing his or her favour by granting it. This is not what the Psalmist is singing about. The original word order looks like this – “I love because the Lord has heard” or “I love because the Lord hears.” The Lord hears because the Lord loves us.
The Psalmist is not proclaiming his love for God out of the hopes of getting something out of it. The Psalmist is proclaiming his love for God because God loves him. “We love because he first loved us.” This is how John puts it in his letter. How do we know this? Because he delivered us. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us, and sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
God chose us. God committed himself to us. Can you imagine? Who would do such a thing? Does that seem wondrous to you? It should if we know ourselves well enough. God delivers us. This word for love here has undercurrents of meaning that have to do with choosing, with committing. I chose God because God choose me. I commit myself to God because God committed himself to me to the point where he came here to bring me back to him. To bring us back to him. To bring all things back to him. The fitting and right response is to love him, to commit ourselves to him. To sing this love song about him.
This Psalm was used in the Jewish celebration of the Passover. One writer describes it like this – “… the way the meal was ordered, four cups were raised and blessed in its progress. Psalms 115-118 were recited in connection with the fourth cup, which supplied a ritual reference for ‘the cup of salvation.’ The recitation of the psalms was introduced by a thanksgiving to the Lord, who ‘brought us from bondage to freedom, from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to a Festival-day, and from darkness to great light, and from servitude to redemption.’”
What should our response be in the face of this deliverance? Love. What does this love look like?
It looks like calling on God’s name. “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Oh Lord, I pray, save my life!” Calling on God to save. It’s where we started if you’re on this Christ following road. If you’re not it’s where you start, and the invitation is there. It’s here. Calling out to God to save. Naming Christ as mine, as ours. Praying “Our Father.” Calling out “My Lord and my God!” There’s a significance in naming God “my”. It’s not proprietary. It’s more I think a sign of commitment. In my family we would call relations “our”. Our David. There’s a Scottish comic called “Oor Wullie” in fact. I’ve always liked this a lot. It’s not proprietary at all. When we use terms like my son or my wife or my husband, we shouldn’t think of them as proprietary. They show commitment. They show choice. They show belonging. We’re commited to you. You’re ours. I’ve chosen you. We belong together.
Calling on the name of the Lord. There’s something else about names. They signify a relationship don’t they? One of the first things we find out about someone is their name. It changes things somehow, knowing someone’s name. Calling on the name of the LORD, of YAHWEH, of the one who saves. Calling on the LORD’s name meaningfully and often in prayer, in worship, in song.
Love looks like rest. “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous, our God is merciful. The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low he saved me.” Do you know what it’s like to be around people who love you and with whom you can rest? People who have seen us at our most vulnerable – because that’s what simple means here. People who have seen us at our lowest. People before whom we don’t have to put up any pretence, and who love us anyway. People who show us mercy in spite of ourselves. I pray that this is the type of family God is making us at Blythwood. It’s quite restful isn’t it? This is how God loves us and it means that we can rest in him and rest in his graciousness and rest in his mercy. “Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dwelt bountifully with you.” Rest in this. This needs to mean actual resting and calling to mind what God has done in and through you. What if we were to take these words to heart (or soul)? Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. Taking the time to dwell on how the Lord has dealt bountifully with us. Taking the time to go to places where we recall together God’s great delivering acts. Would we find our souls a little more at rest?
Because this love that we’re talking about is not merely a state of heart and soul. There are actions involved. Faith without works is dead, as James so famously wrote. I would say the same about hope and I would say the same about love. One writer puts it this way – “… love lives always as if in presence of the beloved. It keeps the LORD always present to memory and to will.” We know what this is like from our human relationships too don’t we? Keeping those we love present to memory and will no matter how near or far they may be. Calling them to mind. Living in such a way as to honour them and what they mean to us, the role that they played in forming us. Those who love God are called to do the same thing with God. Psalm 16:8 describes it like this – “I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” Like a tree planted by the water. Keeping Christ as our right hand. Keeping Christ before us all the time in all the different ways we do that – prayer, reading, solitude, worship together, baptism, the Lord’s Table. Leaving ourselves open to the Holy Spirit doing the Holy Spirit’s transformative work within us, making us holy and righteous and something new.
Love makes vows. It makes vow publicly and it is faithful to them. “I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” We do these things together. We’ve sometimes put a lot of emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ and we do have personal relationships with Christ when we follow him but we don’t follow him alone. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. Verses 14 and 18. Love fulfills these vows. Vows bind the ones who are saved to the one who saves us.
Finally, love serves. “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.” One writer has said “A servant is one whose life is defined by belonging to another.” This is not an easy message to accept is it? Our lives our supposed to be about self-determination after all. We don’t like the words obey or obedient because they’ve been used by people to subjugate, to exploit, to limit, to circumscribe. When we’re talking about obeying God we’re talking about listening to, we’re talking about learning from, we’re talking about belonging to because He made us to belong with him and live in loving communion with him. Because this is where freedom is to be found. This great paradox to which the follower of Christ commits him or herself – that true freedom is to be found in being bound to Christ. If you are thinking that sounds crazy, I ask “But what if it were true?”
What if it were true? I believe it to be true friends. I believe these words that I’m saying to be true. If you believe them to be true you can show it in a few moments. If you’ve never called on the name of the Lord you can do it here this morning. If you’ve been calling on the name of the Lord all or most of your life we invite you to do it this morning in the presence of God’s people. To recognize the one who brought us from bondage to freedom, from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to a Festival-day, and from darkness to great light, and from servitude to redemption.” Was it any wonder that it was the Passover meal that Christ celebrated with his followers on the night before died? Reading this Psalm as he lifted that fourth cup. “I love the Lord, because he has heart my voice and my supplications. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord; ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life.’ Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”
This is a love song my friends. If you love the Lord a little and would like to love him more, lift up the cup of salvation in the presence of his people. We’ll have a chance to make this vow after the prayer of thanksgiving – “Here we offer and present our very selves to be a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for your acceptance through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God, made so by his sacrifice, dedicated to his service because you love him, because he first loved you. May these things be true for us all.