10 July 2021 Sermon by Malcolm Evans - Psalm 59
This seems to me a week of anthems: Three lions on a shirt; Sweet Caroline and here in Church today - Onward Christian Soldiers. I had to choose a hymn for today, Heather was asking. I had looked and chosen something suitable – but could I remember what it was? “Of course, you could have ‘Onward Christian Soldiers. The tune is called St Gertrude.” Heather suggested. I looked it up - it is a tune by that great Victorian musician Sir Arthur Sullivan. He knew a bit about rousing anthems. In this wishy-washy liberal age, it has gone out of fashion. But set against this powerful and difficult Psalm it seems exactly right.
David says in the Psalm:” I will sing of your might: I will sing of your steadfast love in the morning.” And just like: “It’s coming home. It’s coming home”. there are repeating themes in the Psalm- more of that later. But ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ is 12 bore Christianity – at it’s most confident. It is no more - and no less - than the fight between good and evil. Psalm 59 is also about David’s fight against those he saw as evil.
We can sense that David was a deeply passionate man with a black and white sense of right and wrong; good and evil. Perhaps in our modern age we have moved too far towards the grey middle ground where ‘any dream will do’ – and each person’s truth is deserving of the same respect? Nevertheless, this is a difficult Psalm – on first reading. At first, I was inclined to throw it back and try for another one. But I am glad that I didn’t.
I think it helps to understand the context in which David wrote this Psalm. You can pick up David’s story in the first book of Samuel Chapter 19. In a nutshell – David was being persecuted by King Saul. It was very personal. Saul had thrown a spear at David in his court. David’s wife Michal – who was also Saul’s daughter recognized the danger David was in. Saul had ordered his henchmen to watch David’s house and kill him. Michal helped David to escape that night by letting him climb down from her window. David must have felt bullied and threatened by the ‘prowling dogs’ of war. Anyone who has ever been bullied by someone more powerful might understand David’s feelings.
There is a structure to this Psalm. First David looked at the power of the enemy. He described them as bloodthirsty enemies. Then he looked to God for justice and judgement against his enemies. Then he widened his condemnation to all the nations that were fighting against God. He prayed that God would confound them with their own pride and wickedness and show them up for the evil they did. He called on God to treat them with derision. And he praised God’s strength and watched and waited for His justice to prevail.
“Thirty years of hurt never stopped me dreaming” We can sense that David must have revisited this experience many times and it coloured his outlook on life. Like other anthems there are repeated refrains. For instance ‘howling like dogs’ is a very graphic image of a savage and evil enemy.
Another repeated image is of God as a ‘fortress and refuge.’ What strikes me in this image is the importance of Jerusalem and the idea of Jerusalem as a Holy City – Zion City of our God. King David was to build that great City and his son Solomon built the Temple – the home of God for the Nation of Jacob and the people of Israel. And yet so many of David’s successors turned their back on God. They polluted the idea of Jerusalem as a ‘Holy City’.
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