Have you ever wondered why we read the particular Bible passages we do each Sunday? I promise it’s not just because I chose the ones I think are easiest to preach on! Some of you might be aware that in the Church of England we follow something called the lectionary, the origin of which can actually be found in Judaism. Dating back to the time of Moses, the Jewish faith had a system of reading through The Torah ( the Jewish word for Bible) and this practice was adapted by the early Christian Church and has continued to this day. The lectionary readings for each year commence on the Sunday before Advent, often known as Christ the King, and follow a three year cycle. On weekdays there are nine different readings. At Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer there is a Psalm, Old Testament and New Testament reading set and for Holy Communion, either an Old or New Testament passage, a Gospel passage and a Psalm. On a Sunday there will readings set for Morning and Evening Prayer following the same pattern and for Holy Communion there are four readings – Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel. In some churches it is tradition to read all four passages but often, as in our parish, only two passages are read.
So where is this all leading I hear you say! Well for this week I thought I would reflect on one of the passages set by the lectionary each day, from either Morning or Evening Prayer or Holy Communion.
Today I’m going to have a think about Psalm 86 which is set for Evening Prayer. From it’s very first line we can see that this is a Psalm of lament and a cry for help – “Incline your ear, O Lord and answer me, for I am poor and in misery” We don’t know what has happened to the psalmist that has caused him to call out to God in such desperation but as we read on we can tell that this is a person in the depths of despair. Yet despite that the psalmist’s faith is still strong – “Preserve my soul, for I am faithful, save your servant, for I put my trust in you” The psalmist has no doubt that God will uphold them and answer his prayer. He praises the Lord for his greatness – “Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, nor any works like yours…..for your are great and do wonderful things; you alone are God”
The psalmist speaks of his longing to be a true disciple “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth…give your strength to your servant” and gives thanks for God’s love and compassion – “But you Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and full of kindness and truth”
These beautiful words may have been written thousands of years ago but I think they still speak of our lives today. All of us have experienced those times of desperation when we have reached out to God, praying that He give us just one small sign that all will be well and He faithfully responds. Not always when we would wish Him to or in the way that we had hoped but God always replies in the way that He knows is best for our lives, even when we don’t completely believe this to be the case!
In these troubling times, our need to call out to God is perhaps greater than it has been in any of our lifetimes. Yet the topic of resilience is also high on the agenda, there are bound to be people for whom calling out for help is incredibly difficult, those who feel they need to solve their own problems, not reply on the help of otters and particularly not on an unseen God who can’t possibly know all that we’re going through. We are a nation who are still stuck in the culture of the stiff upper lip, who don’t easily express emotion or feel able to ask for help, not just from Gd but from anyone at all and that is what is tragic in our world today. The number of people who literally suffer in silence, too ashamed to ask for help, worrying what others will think of them.
But before God we can strip away all those barriers and simply call out to Him in our brokenness and need – iust like the Psalmist all those centuries ago.
Sometimes we find it hard to talk to God so if that is something that you struggle with, why not use the words of Psalm 86 as your prayer “ Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.In the day of my trouble I will call to you and you will answer me “ Amen