(A sermon preached on 19th Nov 2023 from Psalm 119v73-88)
How do you see yourself? Someone recently made a mistake and then immediately said to me – ‘Oh I’m such an idiot, such a fool, I feel so embarrassed’. And I thought ‘Wow that was bit unnecessary!’ But we’re quite good at putting ourselves down. We’ve discovered that if we put ourselves down before Someone else does it then it doesn’t hurt so much.
Actually I made the same mistake that they did, just a couple of days ago. We all make mistakes, sometimes we notice, sometimes other people point them out, what matters is how we cope.
And that’s often shaped by how we see ourselves. It deeply affects how we respond to stuff in life. How we see God, How we see others, How we cope with the struggles in life.
We are back in the Psalms. You’ve had two general sermons on them one from Lucy, one from me, So I will skip over the general introduction to the Psalms.
But I will point out that this Psalm 119 is the Longest Psalm by a long shot. Its made up of 22 stanzas. Each verse starts with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet so you’ll be glad that we’re not doing the whole Psalm, just Yodh and Kaph.
The word Law appears 44 times in the book of Exodus, 48 times in the book of Deuteronomy, and 47 times in just this one Psalm, and that’s not even including other words like Statutes and Precepts and so on.
So this is a Psalm that is keen on God’s Law – and for this singer – the Law is a good thing – it is a cause for him, or her, to praise God.
He, She doesn’t react by saying ‘Oh no not another Law, another precept, another statute’ but rather praises God for the Law.
The law is a cause of delight, the law sustains this person, and stops them from stumbling. The law is revealed and so reminds us that God is real, that God cares. It is a channel of God’s compassion. He, She, acknowledges that it isn’t easy and prays for help to understand it, apply it, Teach me O God!
It might seem that this singer is a bit sanctimonious. A bit overly holy and overly spiritual and overly righteous and altogether thoroughly annoying – I mean who can live out God’s laws like this and find in them such delight.
Firstly he is actually right – God’s laws are good – and that’s an important default setting. They set boundaries, they give guidance about right and wrong, they give wisdom.
And secondly this singer is not as super spiritual as he seems. He’s actually desperately clinging on. If you were to ask him ‘How are you’ how he is he would say “I am FINE” (which if you like can stand for – Frustrated Insecure, Nervous, Exhausted – other variations are available but they’re all along the same lines)
This bit of the Psalm speaks about persecutors who are bullying him, about arrogant who are digging a pit for him to fall in and its clear that he’s been praying about this for a while but nothing has been happening and so now he’s struggling with God and starts praying those ‘How Long must I wait’ sort of prayers. I am familiar with this sort of prayer.
But that’s not actually his real problem. Its not the external stuff. Its quite understandable why and how that’s such a cause for stress but that’s not actually his problem, or her problem.
Her problem is that she feels like a ‘wineskin in the smoke’. Such an excellent metaphor. Picture a goat-skin bottle filled with wine and it hangs up in the kitchen maybe not that far from the kitchen fire, and slowly the wine is drunk, and slowly the leather is drying out, becoming brittle, inflexible. And this has happened slowly.
The heat, the smoke, has got to it. For some people it comes from Always giving, never receiving. Burn out.
For others it’s from having a belittling view of themselves, of God, of others. Its so easy to become bitter.
In the first verse you heard – “Your hands made me and formed me” – the song remembers the deeper truth.
IF we see ourselves as someone who is always making mistakes, an idiot, a fool, – we need to remember a deeper truth.
And that is that You’re made by God, that God formed you – that means that God wants you in this world, in this Church, living and loving and forgiving and following God as best you can.
The deeper truth is that you are loved by God – and you know that because God made you- you are here.
What this dried up ‘Wineskin in the smoke’ needs is – step one – read your bibles – ‘I have put my hope in your word’.
Psalm 119 says Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Read God’s word, a little and often, sometimes it will feed your soul, sometimes it will make sense, sometimes it wont – don’t worry about that keep reading it and it will – keep at it.
This is the oil of balm that needs rubbing into the old leather to soften it up. Read God’s reminder to you that you are loved and precious in His sight.
Step two is Pray – this song prays simple prayers – She, he, prays that God would be present in the day, that they might know that God is there, that they might know some of God’s comfort, that they might receive a little of God’s compassion. So pray for the presence, the comfort, the compassion of God.
Step three is that we each matter to the other. Twice the song sings about ‘Those who fear you’. For the singer phrase is a short-hand way of saying ‘people who love God, and know that God loves them’, for people who endeavour to find delight in God’s Law, in God’s word, for people who are like him praying simple prayers to know God’s presence, comfort, compassion in their lives.
The song says May those who fear you rejoice when they see me.
That’s beautiful. May we be good news to others who have also come to Church, to Home Group, whatever, and when we see them we smile and we’re glad that you’re here.
The song then says May these people ‘turn to me’ – and that’s a loose broad phrase that means – may they ask for my help and may they be open to me asking for help.
And that’s hard because we’re not good at asking for help.
Its not difficult for each of us to dry out, slowly, we find simple excuses – I don’t really feel like church today – they’re nice and smiley and that’s not how I feel.
We’ve all be there (and I get paid!)- but we need help to spot when we’re beginning to dry out – and sometimes that help can come from each other spotting who isn’t here.
And that’s the real benefit of being part of a Home Group. So you know that there are others looking out for you. Others who are holding you in prayer, because they know that you’re holding them in prayer.
But don’t forget that the sheer practice of you looking out for others, actually helps you in your own faith – it encourages that presence, comfort and compassion of God that you’re praying for.
So if we are to prevent ourselves becoming like a Wineskin in the smoke.
Then we keep reading our Bibles.
And we pray that God would help us to be good news to each other,
We pray that God would open our eyes that we might see how we can be answers to each other’s prayers – that I, you, we, might show compassion and comfort to each other. May we have the kind of faith that is ready to offer prayer and help.
And, Lord, give us the courage, that we might have the kind of faith that says ‘I need help, I think I’m drying up – feeling a bit like a Wineskin in the smoke’,
So Lord, show us again this week, through worship, through coffee and the eucharist and through each other, and through your angels – show us Lord, your presence, you comfort, your compassion. Amen.