Week One - The Psalms

Sermon for Sunday 9 July 2023

May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

When Jesus was in the last moments of His Crucifixion, He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama, Sabachthani”, a strange mixture of Aramaic and Hebrew, meaning “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me!”

In His agony Jesus had cried out the first verse of Psalm 22.  It was not an unusual thing for a Jew then to use the Psalms to express his or her feelings, especially when distressed or in agony.

The Psalms as a form of worship, all 150 of them, are a mixture of expressions of joy, depression, pain, elation, thanksgiving, distress, comfort or even a way of pouring out questions to God, so we must not be surprised if Jesus, in what appeared then, to be his last agony would quote from a Psalm.  It is indeed not unusual for a Christian to do something similar, the dying John Wesley did much the same in quoting from a Psalm (and also a verse of one of Doctor Watts hymns.)

The Psalms are a source of comfort so often when we need them, and we can only be grateful to whoever wrote them (some believe Kings David and Solomon) and those who modified them during and after the second Exile, and be glad that they survived the ravages of time to still be extant. When my mother died, a friend suggested that I recite the words of Psalm 121 looking out toward the Malvern Hills which she had found comforting when her father died.  It worked for me.

The two Psalms we heard today which are numbered1 and 2 are typical. Psalm 1 is a hymn of blessing and what the writer assumed would be God’s satisfaction with those who were regarded as righteous. There is a stark warning to those who would be regarded as “ungodly”.  Psalm 2 is an exhortation to the heathen to mend his ways lest God should punish them severely, but finishing with a blessing on those who trust in Him.

There are many translations of the Psalms into English.  Each version of the Bible – King James Authorised Version, Revised and Revised Standard Version, Knox translation, New English Bible, The New International Version etc. etc. has its own version. 

When the Reformers translated the Scriptures, they all had a hand in dealing with the Psalms which they regarded as important not to sat essential to worship.  Tyndale was the exception because he was only half-way through the Old Testament when he was martyred.  Most of the other Reformers did, and the acknowledged best version of the Psalms is that of Miles Coverdale from 1537, the basis of which was used for the Book of Common Prayer.  Being a self-confessed BCP addict, this is the version that I am most comfortable with and I find their poetry second only to plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare.

Of the 150 Psalms, the last one is a glorious expression of extreme joy and celebration.  The first is much more judgmental, yet at the same time, a blueprint of how we should behave if we are to be blessed by God. It was Psalm 1 that was quoted at the first Morning Service (or Matins) from the Book of Common Prayer on 9 June 1549.

Jesus, as a Rabbi, would have the Psalms at his fingertips and ready to quote any of them as needed.  If we look at the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, we find many quotations from the Psalms. 

Psalm 84 v 11; “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness, is an echo of Psalm 1.

The Psalms may seem to the modern man and woman an archaic way of expression and worship.  Actually, they still speak to us from 3000 years ago, and provide a plan for living.  Obviously, we need to read them and place their message into a modern context, yet in many ways people were not so different in King David’s time than they are now.

So many of our attitudes show similarity to those of our forbears. We only have to listen to some opinions held by members of the public when interviewed in news programmes to realise that we have not travelled so far from our ancient ancestors. The opinions and prejudices are similar, only brought up to date by being applied to modern situations.

This is the first of a sermon series which will take us through until the end of August.  In this one my request to you is to look once more at the Psalms in which ever version you feel most comfortable, and see what messages come out that speak to you even after 3000 years.

Our Lord used the Psalms in His preaching and worship, and thus saw how they could speak to His followers. If He felt they had important things to say, who are we to ignore Jesus.


Roger Wookey. 

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