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Love and Worship God
Winter Quarter: Our Love For God
Unit 1: God Is Worthy of Our Love
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 16, 2018
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson Scripture: Psalm 103
The pattern of our study this quarter should be clear to all. The response we are to make to God is obedience, service, and, this week, worship. Our studies have focused on the giants of Hebrew history – Moses, Joshua, and today, David.
With David, we are not studying his history, which is ambiguous at best, but his talent as a poet, singer, and songwriter. He is credited with composing half of the Psalms, including the scripture for this week. The Book of Psalms is the hymnbook of the Hebrew faith. The content of the Psalms is like poetry, running the gamut of human emotions in expressions to God. Like ours today, some Psalms soar with the powerful language of praise, while others are filled with questions. Like Psalm 22, which Jesus cried from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me,” the music resounds with anguish, pain, and anger. Many have heartfelt questions about the ways of God and the apparent Divine absence in times of trouble. There is no “out of bounds” in the Psalms, with the subject matter covered.
For us, the poetry is difficult to discern. The most common form is parallelism. We have a great example in the first verse of the Psalm for today.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me bless His holy name.
The thought of the first line is repeated in the second. In Hebrew, “soul” refers to a person’s inmost being. The line begins and ends with blessing/praise of God, and the second and third phrase emphasizes the involvement of the total person in this act of worship – heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Here is how we are to worship God: the totality of our life is used to declare the greatness of God. What power would there be if our people entered the sanctuary in this frame of body – mind – spirit? Remember what Paul said in Romans 12:1: We are to be “living sacrifices to God.”
Sam loves to sing, and is, in retirement, active in our church’s Chancel Choir. We have a gifted, spirit-filled director who is not only a marvelous musician, but also senses the way an anthem can help the congregation do precisely this – the result is powerful to us who sing and to those who hear.
Think of the divisions of this Psalm as verses of a hymn. Each stanza carries a thought. In Psalm 103 the divisions are verses 1-5 – a call to worship; verses 6-10 – the triumph of God’s mercy/grace; 11-14 – the greatness of God; 15-18 – the eternity of God’s mercy/grace; and 19-22 – a doxology of praise to the eternal King.
The hymn begins with the worshipper bringing his total being to focus on God and the Divine Nature. A listing of the reasons for praise and thanksgiving includes remembering the blessings of the past with forgiveness and healing, gifts that are for our good, crowned with love and compassion. The verse concludes with the powerful metaphor similar to Isaiah 40:29-31: Life is renewed like the eagles.
Before proceeding, a word about the necessity of remembering: We must not forget. Life is filled with current demands, distractions, and detours causing us to forget. The temporary must not make us forget the eternal. Moses had warned his people of the same danger in Deuteronomy.
The second verse shows us the triumph/supremacy of God’s mercy/grace in the ways God has and will act in justice and righteousness, especially toward the poor and oppressed. The hymn reveals the very heart of God as being merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Hebrew word is “hesed” and is the Old Testament equivalent of grace in the New Testament. The word “harbor” refers to containing God’s just anger, not letting the anger take control of the Divine punishment which all humans deserve. With Paul we know “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” God does not deal with us as an accountant balancing the books! The verse closes with this assurance: “God does not deal with us according to our sins or punish us according to our iniquities.”
Just the opposite – as the next verse states beautifully: spatially and geographically God demonstrates the greatness of his mercy/grace. (vss. 11-12) The beauty of God’s character is depicted by the analogy of a loving father disciplining a child. No wonder Jesus told us to pray: “Our Father!” God remembers how we were formed – from dust. We might see this origin as unworthy and inadequate, but from the Divine heart we receive concern and patience.
In stanza four we move from the triumph and greatness of God’s mercy to the eternity of God’s mercy. In unadorned honesty, the Psalmist describes our mortality. When Sam was a pastor, he loved to mow the lawn. For him, it was one of the few things he could do and SEE the results! There is an aroma to newly mown grass, but in a matter of hours, the blades have shriveled and died, blown by the wind. So the Psalmist describes our life: temporary and fleeting!
On the other hand, the Creator is forever – from everlasting to everlasting – and God’s love is extended always to His children who know WHO GOD IS – who fear Him, keep His covenant, and remember to do His commandments. Please note the verbs in relationship to the commandments – action – fear, keep, do!
The final verse of the hymn is a doxology of praise to the King of creation. What a choir is assembled to render this anthem! Think of that angelic choir that sang on the night of Jesus’ birth! The choir call is to all the angels, all the host of heaven, all who do the will of the Eternal King, even creation itself. Over and over, again and again, they sing “Bless/praise the Lord,” and finally the Psalmist joins in as at the beginning: “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
Will you join the chorus?
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.