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Sermon, August 16, 2020 | Grace Reformed Church

To Be Home
Sermon Series: 
Psalm 42
Luke 2:41-51
Date: 
Sunday, August 16, 2020

To Be Home (August 16, 2020)

Psalm 42

As I said last week, we’re going to be looking at Psalms for the remainder of the summer, through Labor Day weekend, and then we will start a much longer study of a single book—I’ll let you know which one as we get closer. Last week we looked at Psalm 91, and talked at length about the great safety and security that we have living in God’s shadow. Such beautiful language used to express that! And that Psalm was indicative of the main theme of Book 4 of the Psalms, which overall was comfort. Today and next week we are going to turn back to Book 2, and look at Psalm 42 and 43. If you’ll turn to Psalm 42, we will read it in just a minute, but a quick note about these two Psalms, 42 and 43—they are actually a kind of package together. In fact, in many early manuscripts they are combined into a single Psalm. They have a thematic unity in that they feature the same refrain, the one that we first see in verse 5, so you will notice that. And actually today we will look mainly at the first half of Psalm 42, which has another extremely timely message for us, just like last week. The first verse is extremely familiar, but gains so much more depth, more intensity when it stays with the rest of the psalm, as we will see. So let’s turn now and read together Psalm 42. Listen, this is God’s Holy Word:

Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?

To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.

42 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
3 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
    and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
    a multitude keeping festival.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation 6 and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

Like I said, a very familiar verse opens the – “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” In fact, the entire psalm is imbued with nature language—deer, waterfalls, etc. By itself, it sounds like a lovely confession of faith, describing the depth at which the Psalmist, or we, long for God. Just as the deer pants for water, so we pant for you.

That is a beautiful image, and poetically beautiful as well, which is one of the reasons why this has been set to music a number of times. One of my favorite settings is one by the British composer Herbert Howells, with organ and chorus. I wouldn’t expect you to know it, but the setting is not a confident confession. Like I said, the verse out of context sounds like just that—a confident confession. Actually, Howells’ setting of this text really captures the real mood of this Psalm. His setting, which uses the older English translation, “Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks,” is haunting. The melody is beautiful, but also unsettled, wandering, and dissonant. Why? Well, it takes into account the entirety of the Psalm, which we get in the title: “Why are you cast down, o my soul?” The Psalmist is expressing an extreme longing in this passage, it is not a great time in his life, it is an intense lament. But what specifically is he longing for? Just generally after God?

I said last week, and it bears so true again this week that in the Psalms we find God-given guidance for how people should respond in every life circumstance. In these pages are the entire human experience. In Psalm 91 last week, there were threats on all sides—disease, war, threats to physical safety. And in that case the Psalmist ran to the safety of the shadow of the almighty, to his true refuge. And here, in Psalm 42 we have another picture, of another time in the life of the Christian. Last week’s situation for the Christian—the threat to physical safety—was definitely timely for us. And this one too, for the entire church, as the Psalmist in Psalm 42 longs for what? Not just God in general, but specifically  to be with the community of believers, to return to the sanctuary.

Verse 2: When shall I come and appear before God? There are various suggestions from scholars about what is keeping the Psalmist from coming to appear before God, but what we absolutely do see, is that this is written at a time when the writer is unable to be with the family of God, unable to be in corporate worship, in exile from the gathering of the church. That’s not timely, is it?

I mentioned it very briefly in the sermon last week, but here it comes into focus. What is being described in this passage is the actual experience, right now, of a sizable part of the Christian church in this country, and the entire world. Even those of us who have returned to corporate worship, there are still some who have not yet returned to worship because of concerns about meeting with this many people. Right here, again in the Psalms, is a real experience for the Christian, almost three thousand years later.

So in this passage we have received from God, instruction about what our attitude toward corporate worship should be. And here we see that we are to long for it, to pant for it, to thirst for it, intensely. That is the first point. When we can’t come together, it should eat at us. It should torture us like it does the Psalmist. And if it does not, there is something wrong.

Last week I relayed to you how happy I was that back in April and May when we had worship at home, the members of this congregation expressed constantly how much they desired to come back together. Thankfully, here in Wyoming, relatively speaking, our ceasing of regular services didn’t last too long. If it had lasted much longer, what would we have done? I’m confident that if we had been faced with much longer we’d be meeting in cars in parking lots or outdoors in a field—we would have done something to come together!

What of our brothers and sisters around the country? Our brothers and sisters at Grace Community Church in California have had to go to the lengths of bringing a lawsuit against their own state in order to worship together. They face fines and sanctions, their leadership, their pastor John McArthur facing all manner of possible punishments in order to come together and worship. Their zeal for corporate worship has driven them to risk quite a lot. We are facing Psalm 42 every day in this world right now, and how should we respond?

Like I said before, I worry about churches and professed Christians that don’t seem eager to resume worshipping together. If this Psalm is telling us what a Christian looks like, there are plenty of Christians in America that don’t look like Christians. And it didn’t necessarily take a pandemic to show it, it was clear long before then. It’s the same trouble I feel when I see a large downtown church—this is so often the case—large, beautiful, urban churches especially, that normally have one or two services on a Sunday morning, but on Easter they need to have six or seven. Why? Because a whole lot of people like to come on Easter morning, and only Easter. It’s a family tradition to visit Christianity on that holiday. It wouldn’t be Easter, or Christmas without a visit to that spectacular building filled with extra pomp and show on those days. Which actually brings us to a further truth found in this passage.

What is actually being longed for here? When we listen more closely to the Psalmist, we hear what he is really missing. In verse four he gives us a specific memory of something he is missing while he cannot worship.

4 These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
    and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
    a multitude keeping festival.

He is missing the experience of corporate worship, yes, but he says this in verse four only after he’s confirmed what he is really missing. In verse one he doesn’t say his soul pants for church, it longs for what corporate worship truly is: an opportunity to come before the face of God. That is the question of despair in verse 2: When shall I come and appear before God? It is so much weightier than just coming together, it is coming before the presence of God in this place. And I think this is why there are plenty of people who don’t miss worship like they should. If the reason you came here was to see friends, then even during a lockdown there were other avenues to do that. The church has a very important social component to it, but that is not what makes a church a church and worship, worship. What are we doing when we come together? We are coming before the face of God. That wonderful communion hymn we sing:

Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face, here would I touch and handle things unseen.

We are here to meet God. Truly God is always with us, living and working within us, but there is something special, something unique about meeting God together in corporate worship, and that’s what we long for, that’s what we thirst for.

And it’s also why we’re misunderstood by those who do not know God. They don’t see the big deal. So you can’t meet right now, is that really such a problem? Look at all this technology that lets you record a message and then send it out on the internet, on Facebook! Just do that, and keep doing that! You can get all the stuff that you normally get from church, just virtually! What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that we don’t come to church as consumers. We don’t, if we have the right attitude, come here to get something, worship is not a commodity—you can either come and get it in the sanctuary, or you could just have it emailed to you! We are not church consumers, we are Christ worshippers, and he calls us to come here, see him face to face, and worship together. It is Christ in us that motivates us to worship, and that’s why the non-believer looks at us, looks at the resolve and the risk taken by a church like Grace Community, and they just don’t get it. What’s the big deal?

Are we surprised then that we even find that side of the experience here in the Psalm. So timely, isn’t it. The first three verses again:

42 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

There’s the confession, the expression of longing again, longing to come before God in corporate worship, which is for whatever reason, not possible right now. But in verse three we see what the others, those around him that don’t get it, what they are saying:
3 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

The people around him are saying “Where is your God?” They are adding to his torment, it says that his food has been nothing but tears. And the people around him don’t get it. What’s the big deal? That God stuff is silly. Why do you miss that so much? The world mocks him, the world mocks us, for caring so much about this.

And before we think that we are facing terrible persecution here with respect to being allowed to gather, what of the Christians around the world that are seriously oppressed? Our brothers and sisters in China are especially distressed right now. A faithful Christian cannot worship in the way that the country declares they must in order to be legal. All images, if they have them, must be replaced with pictures of their communist leader. They can’t sing the songs of worship and praise they desire to unless they first sing patriotic, propaganda songs supporting the communist party. It is illegal to allow someone under 18, any minor, into a church building or to instruct them in Christianity. True believers have been forced underground to worship in secret. Frightening stuff.

But in that persecution, there is a blessing—how often do we see persecution and struggle referred to as a blessing and the mark of a Christian—one of the blessings is that it shows true faith, galvanizes the hope of the believer in God. When we live in a culture where it is possible, where it is easy to be flippant about worship, true faith is not always easily seen, and many people fool themselves.

So that’s the situation here in Psalm 42: the Psalmist is grief-stricken over the fact that he can’t participate in corporate worship—he treasures the experience of it, absolutely, but misses primarily the chance to appear before God. And in his grief he is also enduring ridicule from those around him who don’t believe and don’t get it, adding to his pain. So our question this morning is, do we have the heart of the Psalmist toward corporate worship? Do we long not just to come together, but to come before the face of God together? Is that what motivates us? And are we motivated to the point that our desire to come before his presence each and every Lord’s Day could be described as overwhelming thirst? Does not being able to come to worship cause us to weep?

How much do we value what we are doing here? And when we come here, are our hearts and minds fixed solely on Christ and worshipping him with our minds, our hearts, and our voices? If we ask that question of ourselves, and what we find is that we’re just going through the motions of the liturgy, coming together only when it is convenient, or focusing on the social relationships, if we find that we’re valuing the things of worship more than who we are worshipping, then we have some repenting to do.

Deep down this is of course about more than just church, it’s about our entire lives as Christians. Is Christ our greatest longing? Do we long for more fellowship with, more knowledge of, more truth of Christ in our lives than anything else? That is where our hearts should be always. And we know that the desire for more and more of Christ in our lives is not a desire that we conjure up from within ourselves, it comes through the Spirit working in us. And that’s great news! Great news that it doesn’t come from you—the righteousness that produces piety is an alien righteousness, right? So how do you get more piety? Do you try harder? No, you humbly come before the throne of grace like we do here on a Sunday morning and pray to God for it, confessing that it is all about him. 

In Matthew 7, Christ promised us

7“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

God wants us here because he wants to give us good gifts—do we really want them? The writer of Psalm 42 certainly did. And that is why it pained him to be far from corporate worship, because he saw it as a gift, a blessing from God, and something to be mourned when he didn’t have it.

That should cause us to celebrate and treasure the fact that we are here, and we are able to worship, and also to mourn with our brothers and sisters who cannot right now. And for them there is a refrain in verse 5, a refrain of hope, a message of comfort. This is the refrain that comes again at the end of this psalm and the end of the next psalm. No matter the disappointment, no matter the longing, we can look forward with hope. He asks the question of himself:

5Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation 6and my God.

No need to fear, no need to despair. Mourn, yes, but always keep in view the end of all things. Hope in God, because he has been, he is already, and he will be your salvation, and he will take you home. Amen. Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your Word this morning. Thank you for this picture of the heart of the true believer that we can treasure in our own hearts—a picture of one who longs to be near to you at all times, who doesn’t take for granted the means of grace. Make us more and more like Christ in our worship, following the example of the chief worshipper, with whom one day we will worship before the throne. In His name we pray, amen.

 

 

Sunday Morning Worship @ 8:30am

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Grace Reformed Church

834 Wolcott, Casper, WY - MAP
Ph: (307) 237-9509
office@gracereformedcasper.org

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