Tag Archives: Psalm 119

With sober judgment

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For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Rom. 12:3)

The Psalms are the heart of the Office because they have for centuries expressed the “needs, hopes, and concerns” of God’s people. They are very human songs, and more often than not I am caught short by the emotion of the psalmist.

Today, for example, the psalmist’s simple love for the law rings false in my ears, perhaps because my own path has been too twisted lately. The version running through my head as I pray sounds more like this:

Oh, how I love your law!
Even though all day long it’s out of my mind.

Your commandment has made me no wiser than my enemies,
Because it is too little with me.

I have less understanding than any of my teachers,
Though your decrees have been my study.
(Psalm 119:97-99, para.)

Some days the Office is inspiring, giving us a glimpse of the ideal we long for. Other days it reminds us how far we still have to go.

But it always points us to Christ and to the Church, reminding us that we are not alone on our twisted path, that we are not truly separated from the love of God.

The “sober judgment” that Paul urges us to have places our real failings in the proper context of God’s even more real love for us shown in Christ Jesus.

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Continual prayer and reconciliation

Seven times a day do I praise you, *
because of your righteous judgments. 
Great peace have they who love your law; *
for them there is no stumbling block. 
I have hoped for your salvation, O LORD, *
and have fulfilled your commandments. 
I have kept your decrees *
and I have loved them deeply. 
I have kept your commandments and decrees, *
for all my ways are before you.
(Psalm 119:164-168)

James of Jerusalem, the brother of Jesus, is called the Just because of his decision not to place restrictions on Gentile converts (Acts 15:19).

He was an early leader of the movement Jesus started, even though he wasn’t a believer until after his brother died. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter and the 12 apostles, then to about 500 followers, then to James, and then to all of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:7).

Imagine being a leader in a movement your brother started, a bishop in the new church, and remaining faithful to that cause for nearly 30 years after he died.

Imagine being a faithful, prayerful, traditional person — and discovering that your new understanding of God meant relaxing some of the restrictions of your faith in order to welcome more people into relationship with God.

Imagine being such an enduring witness to inclusion that your fellow parishioners throw you off the church roof for your trouble.

How does the example of James invite you to continual prayer?

With whom do you need to be reconciled?

What witness are you called to bear?

Collect of the Day

Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 245)

Psalmody and Simony

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Seven times a day do I praise you, *
because of your righteous judgments. 
Great peace have they who love your law; *
for them there is no stumbling block. 
I have hoped for your salvation, O LORD, *
and have fulfilled your commandments. 
I have kept your decrees *
and I have loved them deeply. 
I have kept your commandments and decrees, *
for all my ways are before you. (Psalm 119:164-168)

This verse from Psalm 119 is behind the Benedictine rule of daily prayer in the monasteries — seven times of prayer which since the 6th century or so have been known as Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Compline.

The Benedictine round of prayer is a workmanlike approach to prayer. Each office is relatively short, all 150 psalms are appointed to be read in the course of every week, and there is only minor variation from day to day, season to season, year to year.

The Daily Office in our Book of Common Prayer definitely springs from that Benedictine tradition. The fruits of the Daily Office are revealed only after long use and steady practice. It takes time for the words of the Psalms and of the rest of Scripture to soak into your mind and heart, time and repetition. I’ve been saying the Daily Office regularly for 20 years now, and I’m only getting started.

Now contrast this with the story appointed for today from the Acts of the Apostles, the story of Simon the magician.

Simon was a magician who did deeds of power in Samaria, but when he saw the disciples and their faith he turned to the Lord and was baptized. Apparently, however, he and the other Samaritans who were baptized did not receive the Holy Spirit, so Peter and John came down to lay hands on them. “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 8:18-19).

It’s from this man Simon that we get the word simony, which means making a profit out of sacred things or buying and selling a position in the Church. The word really comes from the Middle Ages, when the wealthy would buy a bishopric or buy a position as abbot for a family member.

The gift of the Spirit is just that, a gift, and you can’t buy it. And the fruits of the Spirit are revealed over time, too — you can’t just leap to the end state.

I’ll bring it back to the Daily Office with an example.

There are several very marvelous iPhone apps that make saying the Daily Office much easier. My favorite is the app (and website) by Forward Movement called Day by Day. Just open the app or the website, click on Daily Prayer, and the office unfolds before you — no fussing with ribbons or bookmarks, no worrying about whether you’ve picked the right collect. Just click and pray.

Here’s the thing, though. The app makes it easy, but you still have to actually pray.

You still have to put in the time in order to give the Word a chance to soak in. So be like Simon — eager for the gift of the Spirit — but don’t be like Simon in his haste to skip over the work.

This is my commandment

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I officiated at a wedding yesterday evening, where the couple chose John 15:9-12 as the Gospel reading.

“This is my commandment,” Jesus says to his disciples after the Last Supper, “that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

This morning, with Katherine and Jack still on my mind, I began Morning Prayer and started to read Psalm 119, which is appointed for today. Psalm 119, as you may know, is a sort of acrostic where each section of the psalm begins with a different letter of the (Hebrew) alphabet and where every verse contains a play on the word “commandment.”

I couldn’t help mentally reframing the Psalm in the light of Jesus’ commandment:

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the love of the Lord.

Happy are they who observe his love,
and seek him with all their heart.

Who never do any wrong,
but always walk in his love.

You laid down your love,
that we should fully keep it.

Oh, that my ways were made so direct
that I might keep your love! (Psalm 119:1-5 ed.)

I think this kind of love is what the former Pharisee Paul may have had in his mind as he wrote to the Ephesians.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:4-8)

Through baptism, we share in the life that Christ lives in the world, and it is through us that the good news of the free gift of God’s love is communicated to the world. In marriage, we see the couple’s life together as a sign of Christ’s love, and we pray that their mutual affection will overflow in love and concern for others (BCP 429).

May it be so for all of us.