1 Unless the LORD builds up the house, its builders toil in vain; Unless he keeps the city safe, they vainly watch maintain.
2 In vain you rise before the dawn and late hours vainly keep That you may toil for food to eat— he gives his loved ones sleep.
3 Sons are a precious heritage, a blessing from the LORD; The children that are born to us are truly his reward.
4 Like arrows in a warrior’s hand are children of one’s youth. 5 The man whose quiver’s full of them is blessed by God in truth.
Such men will not be put to shame— that will not be their fate— When they contend against their foes who face them in the gate.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune McKee (with a wee introduction first) here or the tune Wiltshire here or the tune Evan here.
As I read this Psalm, I think of Downton Abbey. Who else but His Lordship would have the luxury of sleeping in or enough food to feed a “quiver full” of children? Truth is – living is hard work. And yes, life is more difficult for some than others. Is the farmer, milkman, or commuter who gets up before sunrise less loved by God? And what of person who is quite happy not to have children? Is that person less loved by God? Certainly not! Seems to me that this Psalm was written for the benefit of a monarch or an aristocrat. This Psalm celebrates the continuation of His Lordship’s manor and His Lordship’s legacy as a gift from God. In that light, the first verse is very pertinent.
Today’s leaders in politics, commerce, influencers , etc – they can build what they like – deep political divisions, walls, “us vs them” thinking, a national liking for the cutting remarks of the Dowager Duchess… But unless the leaders are following God’s lead and playing their part in what God is building – their works are in vain.
Next Sunday is the 4th Sunday in Advent – a season of reaffirming that Christ will come again. As we reread the story of Jesus’ birth, let us remember that God’s Kingdom’s King didn’t end up with lots of children in the usual sense, and we don’t know much about his sleeping habits. We do know that at least one night, he fretted so much for His Lord’s estate (creation) and heirs (that’s us) that he sweated drops of blood. Our comfort is in the discomfort of God’s King – His Lordship who has “no place to lay His head” (Luke 9:58) and whose family is not always genetically related (Luke 8:21).
God of the 1% and God of the 99%, God of the “big house” and God of tarpaulin sheet, Emmanuel, dwell among us and lead us to a better way of living together. Build your community here, we pray. Amen
The Rev’d Angela Rigby, Minister, Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks