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Four Duties

Summertime is always a challenge for the preacher.

Church attendance is a bit patchy and the preachers are tired after a busy year. It is easy to conclude that not much in the way of joined up preaching can be achieved during this time.

Over the years the Book of Psalms has been my main stop-off point for summer sermons.

The Book of Psalms is made up of 150 self-contained compositions that address the A-Z of biblical spirituality.

Sometimes I preach one-off sermons on a random selection of Psalms. At other times I have gathered them around a common theme, like lament, or on one of the natural sequences of the Psalms, like the run of five Hallelujah Psalms (Psalm 146–150)

This summer I am involved in a preaching series at Communitas International Church in Riga. It is based on some words of Bernard of Clairvaux which are a helpful framework for a true and healthy spirituality:

“The heart has four duties to fulfil: What to love, what to fear, what to rejoice in and for what to be sad.”

The statement reminds me of a typical day of British weather, where it is sometimes possible to experience all four seasons in one day. We need to learn how to live with the different tones and layers of human experience.

Preaching the Psalms can provide an excellent way to reflect on how to communicate the full range of emotions.

Perhaps the duty that is most pertinent for this summer, the second summer we have had to navigate Covid-related restrictions, is “for what to be sad”.

The Psalms are a great place to explore this theme. Dotted throughout the Book of Psalms there are many psalms of lament. These psalms express the deep cries of those who are puzzled, heartbroken and in pain.

I was interested to hear Professor Tom Wright preach at the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast last week. His theme was ‘Life beyond Covid’.

What struck me about his message is that lament, which is deep cry of the heart, is more than simply getting things off our chests. True biblical lament is based on a strong sense of biblical hope. This is a hope that is based on something solid, wrestles with things not being as they are intended to be, and then moves tentatively toward resolution.

The psalms of lament teach us how to put into words the things that make us sad. They literally put words into our mouths. They give us permission to express our questions, sorrow and rage in the words of Scripture.

The past year or so has given us many reasons to be sad. Yet sometimes we need some help to know how to articulate how we feel, so that we can experience God reconstructing our hope.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13)

Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash

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