And to thank you, O Most High, Showing forth your loving-kindness When the morning lights the sky. It is good when night is falling Of your faithfulness to tell, While with sweet, melodious praises Songs of adoration swell.
You have filled my heart with gladness Through the works your hands have wrought; You have made my life victorious; Great your works and deep your thought. You, O Lord, on high exalted, Reign forevermore in might; All your enemies shall perish, Sin be banished from your sight.
But the good shall live before you, Planted in your dwelling place, Fruitful trees and ever verdant, Nourished by your boundless grace. In his goodness to the righteous God his righteousness displays; God, my rock, my strength and refuge, Just and true are all your ways.
Psalms of orientation are positive and affirming. They focus on God’s goodness, truth and power. They name these as major landmarks of faith, and invite us to steer by them.
Psalms of disorientation raise sharp questions. They speak for us when life has thrown dust into our eyes. We stumble around, the landmarks are hard to see, and the confident faith of easier days seems very distant.
Then psalms of reorientation talk of storms that have passed and of trust renewed. They invite us to step forward, with a weathered and more mature experience of God, yet walking to the rhythms of faith rather than fear.
We need all three kinds. They reflect the changing seasons and cycles of our living. Together they draw us into the varied experiences of faithful people across the centuries.
Today’s Psalm belongs in the first category – orientation. Praise is good, is the opening message. Good in itself: God deserves it. Good for us too: praise gladdens us and alerts us to appreciate God. Then the second verse tells of God’s works, wisdom and ways, of greatness that is practical, perceptive and powerful. God is not to be taken lightly. And the third verse draws the Psalm together, as it sings of the wholesome and nourishing life that God can give. Such life is rich with goodness, like a fresh and fruitful tree. People like this testify to the justice and truth of God. Their living is praise in action, and praise is good.
Of course, experience does not always feel as secure as this. But when the dust flies and the storms blow, it helps to know where the landmarks are. A psalm like this is a reminder.
[Note: The threefold idea above comes from the writing of Walter Brueggemann.]
God of this world, keep us attentive to the landmarks of your love. God of all wisdom, keep us attuned to your ways and your truth. God of our days and years, keep us in touch with your presence, that we may refresh others with goodness and live to your praise. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev’d John Proctor, retired minister, member of Downing Place URC, Cambridge