Sermon for Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 15 July 2012
At the close of a recent Sermon from this Pulpit, Fr. Nick Frayling said, ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… ‘It is a peace that is indeed beyond our understanding – a peace of which the secret is praise.”
In our most unsettled moments, to find that indescribable peace of God, to find calm and to make sense of the difficulty we experience; we might think the last thing we want to do is to offer praise to God.
Yet we look at Job and even at Paul, and see two, amongst many different examples of people who irrespective of their experience continue to offer praise, continue to give thanks to God perhaps mainly because they comprehend for a moment their inability to understand the awesomeness of the God we worship.
As Paul Flemming has just put it, they give thanks, for, “The One God who gives thee what is thine, watches over us all”; and in being watched over, no matter what the detail of our life might be, we are to give thanks and praise. As Job’s friend puts it, “for misery does not come from the earth, nor does trouble sprout from the ground; but human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward”. So we grow up desiring peace, resolution in understanding ourselves, and the troubles we experience, and I suspect most of us seek a peace which we have come to understand comes only from God, and that is a peace of which the secret for us is praise.
If you need inspiration for praise, then look no further than the psalms and towards this evening’s psalm. For the psalms give us a language which articulate the entire gamut of Israel’s speech to God, from profound praise to the utterance of unspeakable anger and doubt. The psalms are the voice of the gospel, they sing of good news, of God’s triumph and they draw our entire life under the rule of God where even there we can switch between plea and praise, but where praise is ultimately to be offered. The psalms might reflect Israel, but they draw each of us in, to share in the history of God’s life in creation, and in a hope realised through God’s faithfulness to his people.
Our psalm this evening is one of communal and personal thanksgiving, for both are possible. It affirms the ancient story of God’s providential deliverance, no longer only towards his people Israel, but now through our Lord Jesus and the mission of Paul, God’s deliverance for Jew and Gentile alike. Praise alternates with thanksgiving as the poet recites what God has done in the community’s remote past, recent past, as well as personally, what God has done for me; and we too are drawn in to give thanks for all that is past, and for all that is given to us in this moment. Praise and thanksgiving for God’s deliverance open the psalm, and a closing benediction expressing gratitude for God’s steadfast love close the psalm. We through our faith are caught up in a great thanksgiving, but it cannot only be for when times are fruitful and for those times we perceive a benefit. Our success as a people of faith is dependent on our giving thanks and praise because we perceive, like Job, the awesomeness of our divine creator, of Almighty God, the creator and sustainor of all things. As R.S .Thomas puts it:
I praise you because
you are artist and scientist in one. When I am somewhat fearful of your power, your ability to work miracles with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off your scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.
To give praise is not to be diminished or to be “put in our place”, it is our liberation, it is the means by which we find God and find peace. ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … ‘It is a peace that is indeed beyond our understanding – a peace of which the secret is praise.”
Sermon preached by Fr John Pritchard