sermons by ian banks

The heavens declare

At our last Sunday@Seven I was given a two or three minutes to say something about Psalm 19. Think of it as a speed sermon! The intention is to have an ‘open mic’ section in future Sunday@Seven services for anyone who feels led to share a word or two, either prepared or off-the-cuff.

Sunday@Seven services are normally on the last Sunday of the month. We’d love to see you! Check out the calendar for the location or look out for the posts.

So, deep breath, here we go…

Psalm 19

I’m indebted to Rev Dr Shauna Hannan for her commentary on this Psalm, a Psalm attributed to King David. [You can find her commentary in full by following this link.] It was an eye-opener since she interprets this wonderful scripture as a guide on how to preach.

My attention was grabbed by Shauna pointing out that King David finishes where preachers often start: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” I’ve done it myself. It’s as if those that are preaching are saying “Please may all the preparation be worthwhile Lord and may the congregation concentrate on what’s being said rather than on yesterday’s sports results or what they’re going to have for dinner”, before launching into the sermon.

But for David, he finishes there. Is he saying: “Well, I hope that was OK Lord?” Or is he expressing a desire for what happens next, what gets taken home? That what stays with you for the rest of the week is acceptable? Praying a blessing on the words that will go with you…

The wonder of creation

For Shauna the Psalm can be split into 3:

  • Firstly, verses 1-6: the wonder of creation
  • Secondly, verses 7-10: the words of the Law, the Torah
  • Finally, verses 11-14: a forgiving and redeeming God

God speaks to us through two books: the book of creation and the book of Scripture – and it’s perfectly reflected in this Psalm. The word for God in the first section is ‘El’ the creator God of Genesis 1. In the second it’s ‘Yahweh’, the name of God who gave us the Commandments and the God who came looking for us in the garden. And in preaching, we need to open both of those books and cover each of those aspects of God.

In this Psalm, David uses poetry and metaphor to describe those two aspects – and the preacher should think about doing the same to help let loose the imagination of those listening. Even when talking about the law, David was less interested in the ‘what’ or the ‘how’ – here it was the ‘why’. Perhaps as preachers we should be less focused on discovering and passing on a fresh insight (guilty as charged) and concentrate more on leaving the congregation with a sense of the awe and the majesty, pointing to God’s handiwork and glory.

Intimately concerned

But the Psalm concludes by reminding us that God is also a forgiving and redeeming God, interested in restoring relationship with us. “God in search of man” as Heschel says. God is both an awesome creator of the universe and one intimately concerned for us and wanting our company. And the preacher must hold this in balance too.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Yes, indeed. Amen

And here’s the Psalm…

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The wonder of creation

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The words of the Torah

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.

A forgiving and redeeming God

By them your servant is warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
    Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
    may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
    innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight,
    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Shauna K. Hannan, Associate Professor of Homiletics at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, for permission to use this summary of her commentary.

For Ian’s next talk, on Paul & Silas in their made for TV drama, please follow this link. For more by Ian please follow this link to the sermon archive.

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