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You have brought us through fire and water (Ps. 66:12)

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These are incomplete and somewhat scattered notes, not a full manuscript.

Here is the slide show with visual aids that was displayed while the sermon was preached.

Bible Readings: James 1.17-21; Psalm 66; John 16.5-15

Introduction

Jesus says, I am going away (I will be, if you’ll forgive the phrase, ‘physically distanced’ from you). But this is actually to your advantage because then the Helper, the Holy Spirit, will come to you and the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Q. What things are these belonging to Jesus that are given to us?   We’ll come back to that Q. in a bit.  

The First Text Message: Psalm 66 v.5,16                                               

Psalm 66 has a very unique claim to fame. Did you know that its words were used in the very first ‘text message’ ever sent?   In 1844 Samuel B. Morse invented the telegraph; and the first message he sent successfully using what would come to be called ‘Morse code’ was Psalm 66 v.5 “Come and see what God has done”   And the reply was: “Come and see what God has done for me” (v.16)   

- Celebration of technological advancement to the glory of God 

- The telegraph was the distant precursor to text messaging. Think about how text messaging (and prior to that ‘email’) have changed our lives.      

It’s become commonplace to say that we are living in a ‘technological age’. But in fact, humans have always developed technology. The difference today is that technology is largely digital and advancing rapidly.

Definition of technology - 'the application of the knowledge and usage of tools (such as machines or utensils) and techniques to control one's environment' (Advanced English Dictionary)

Human maturation always involves technological advancement.  

How does the Bible view technology? The tool is the extension of the human person in the same way that the Spirit is the extension of the Son.

All tools do is glorify and extend who we are and what we can do:

  • a hoe makes it easier to cultivate the soil than fingers do, a trowel makes it much easier to plant a plant.
  • Likewise musical instruments – they are amplifications of the of the human voice
    • obviously true in the case of wind instruments, which amplify and glorify the sound/breath from our lungs and wind pipe
    • more inderectly, stringed instruments amplify vocal chords, which are the strings of the throat   

Every tool we have extends from us and flows out from us to bring glory into the world. In the same way, the Spirit flows out from the Son to bring glory into the world   Jesus: The Spirit will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare (or proclaim, reveal, show, deliver) it to you.  

[To be sure, some things should not be glorified, it’s possible to glorify in bad and destructive ways, tools can be used for good or for ill]  

But what I love about Samuel Morse’s quotation of Psalm 66 to celebrate the telegraph was that he gave ultimate glory to God for this tech. advancement. And thats the key to using these tools well.

I want to suggest that we can see our Zoom services in much the same way:

Zoom, and other forms of video communication, are tech. tools that allows us to be partially present with each other face-to-face even while physically absent during the pandemic. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that this is as good as an in-person gathering, because it’s obviously not: we cannot sing together as one body; we can not share in Holy Communion, we cannot embrace one another. But this does bring us together in the best way possible for these circumstances.  [You know this from your own Zoom/FaceTime calls with family and friends]      

Here's a great article that helps us think through the awkwardness and various issues of digital worship.

Psalm 66  

So how can Psalm 66 help us navigate and get the most out of these circumstances? We learn 3 things:

  1. The importance of both congregational membership and individual discipleship
  2. Trusting God in a time of trial
  3. Living a life of prayer and thanksgiving  

#1 - The first part of the Psalm is addressed to the congregation in the plural. For example, v. 8: Bless our God, O peoples … The last part of the Psalm is the expression of an individual: e.g. v. 16: Come and see what God has done for my soul. So there’s this move from the collective to the individual. But these are not opposed, in fact they support/buttress, amplify/glorify each other: at the end, the psalmist gives thanks to God for answered prayer in the context of God’s commitment to the congregation/covenant people as a whole. And the mission of the covenant people (Israel/the Church) is to be a blessing to all humanity.     

#2   The heart of the Psalm is v. 8-10: Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.  

The psalmist does not dwell on the difficult questions of whether the trial was brought about because of unfaithfulness or because of God’s mysterious purposes. But he does view the trial in retrospect as a test, as an opportunity and occasion for growth and strengthening: you have refined us as silver is refined in a furnace.  

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6–7 ESV)

#3 - And the psalmist credits God with his deliverance through the trial and he responds to this with praise and thanksgiving: v. 12 you God have brought us to a place of abundance.

Now v.12-15 are strange and probably off-putting to us because they mention animal sacrifice, which we no longer practice in the context of worship, but if we understand the meaning of the two sacrifices mentioned, we’ll see that they are very applicable and relevant to us. (See Leviticus 22:17-)

  • Ascension offerings (or burnt offerings) were for personal consecration, representing the ascension of the worshipper into the presence of God.
    • How can you put this into practice?
      • through the ascension of our prayers, praises and thanksgivings to God
      • Sing! Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (In fact, the Ascension offering was accompanied by song)
      • daily Bible reading
      • bring the teaching and example of Christ into your everyday life, particularly today's lesson from James: Know this, my beloved: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. [21] Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1.19-21 ESV)
        • This is a timely and relevant lesson for us during the stresses and pressures of this pandemic. Many people are struggling with anger and irritability (not to mention 'filthy' and 'rampantly' destructive practices)
        • Ps. 66.18 – If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. Taking responsibility for one's inner thought life (in my heart), living/acting/relating to others in a Christlike way - this goes together with a vital prayer life.          
  • Vows [i]: freewill offerings which expressed  personal gratitude to God, a way of saying ('God, you're awesome!')
  • In v. 14, it would seem that the psalmist first spoke of his intention to offer the vow in the midst of his distress and commits to following through on the pledge now that he is 'in a place of abundance.' 
    • How can you make a freewill offering?:
      • make a freewill financial offering to the ongoing work of the church 
      • plant and tend to your garden to the glory of God   

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

(Romans 12:12–13 ESV)

[i] In the present psalm the offerings are wholly Godward, not of a kind that allowed the worshipper and his friends any share in them. The more usual thank-offerings, which formed the basis of  a feast, emphasized the joy of fellowship these burnt-offerings spoke of total dedication. This suggests a mood of chastened rather than exuberant gratitude, as if to reflect the gravity of the threat that has now been lifted, and the depth of the offerer’s debt. The lavishness of the gifts in these verses underlines the point, saying in poetic fashion that the whole gamut of sacrificial beasts would scarcely do the occasion justice. (Derek Kidner, Psalms, Tyndale Commentary, p. 254.


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