Sunday 27th November 2011 – BFPC – 10.30am Service
Rev Tim Storey – "Psalm 137 – The God Who Promises Salvation"
Psalm 137; Acts 2:16-24
OK, let’s get it out of the way now. I will not be mentioning Boney M after this point.
There is a story of a man who fell down a cliff and was stranded, clinging to a rock half way up. He cried
out to God “Save me” and felt the complete and utter assurance that God would save him. Twenty
minutes later, a policeman began to abseil down to him but the man waved him away saying “God will
save me”. Half an hour later, a lifeboat arrived at the bottom of the cliff and a crewman began to climb
the cliff. Again, the man waved him away saying “God will save me”. Finally a Helicopter hovered
overhead and a winchman came down alongside him, but the man waved him away saying “God will save
me”. A few minutes later the man lost his grip and fell to his death. As he stood before God he cried out
“Why didn’t you save me?” To which God replied “I did, I sent you a policeman, a lifeboat man and a
helicopter winch man.”
The people singing Psalm 137 were in exile. Jerusalem was in ruins and the people had been carted off
to slavery in Babylon. They had been warned. They had been warned time and time again by the
prophets that unless they returned to God, unless they changed their ways, that it would happen. And
now, they sit there. By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. Psalm 137:1
And to make it worse, their captors taunted them: our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said,
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" Psalm 137:3 Go on – you Jews know how to party and to dance: go on,
sing for us. So that the response is simple: How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign
land? Psalm 137:4
Throughout the autumn we have looked at the Psalms and, in particular, looked at them as seasons of
life. We have seen how God has been there in times of plenty: how he created us, how his love endures
for ever and how he is worthy of our praise. And we have seen how he is there even when we feel in the
desert place or suffering or persecuted. And we have seen how God hates sin with a vengeance and longs
for us to return to him. And the place where we can be is a place of exile, a place where we are
separated from God and we know it. The desert place may be a temporary separation and a place of
hardship or temptation. The place of suffering may cause us to dig deep and to seek God in new and
deeper ways. But the place of exile is where we have found ourselves when we have chosen to go our
own way and we are in a foreign land. How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
says the Psalmist. How can we sing songs of praise or sing of God’s enduring love when we are afar off.
And like the Father of the Prodigal Son God watches and sees us from afar off and longs for us to come
home. The simple question is this: “Do we want to come home?”
Last week, we looked at Psalm 94 and the God who judges. And the Psalm spoke of just how much God
hates sin. His abhorrence at sin means that the slightest speck of our sin means that we can never be in
his presence and what makes it worse is that we do not have a few specks, we are mired in sin. But we
have the promise that on the Cross, the blood of Jesus Christ washed away our sin. Jesus protects us
from the wrath of God, God’s hatred of our sin, by becoming sin himself, so that we go free. It is a truly
amazing thing. There is a verse in Romans 3
which says. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23/24
We live in a world that far too often waters down the extremes. We reduce risk and so people do even
crazier things in order to experience the risks which bring excitement. Extremism and Fundamentalism
are terms of abuse for those who take things too far and too literally and are, therefore, slightly mad.
We clip the wings of anything that we think goes too far. And as a result we have lost sight of God’s
wrath and judgement. We have lost sight of just how much he hates sin. And of how much pain it causes
him. And we lose sight of the seriousness of our sin. We focus on dealing with our guilt rather than the
anger and wrath it inspires in God. We skip over the bit that says for all have sinned and fall short of the
glory of God, because we want to get to the bit which says and are justified freely by his grace through
the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. When we take our sin seriously, then we can truly rejoice
seriously! When we realise how far we are alienated from God when he comes to find us in Jesus to bring
us home: when we realise how far that is, then we get a feel of how great his love is, and we respond
according to that. Romans 5:8 and 9 says this: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we
were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall
we be saved from God's wrath through him!
If I was to show you a map this morning and ask the question “How far are your friends and family away
from you?” I can see my friends and family scattered across the UK and a few scattered across the world.
Some I see occasionally, some rarely and one or two who I haven’t seen for decades. I feel remote from
them. The question for us is this: Where is God in your life? How remote are you from him?
For some, the answer is that they know God intimately, and that they lean on him, day by day. For
others, they are getting to know him and sense a deepening relationship. But for some, God seems
remote. We want him to do more. We want to see miracles. We want him to light up the sky to prove
himself. We put the ball firmly into God’s court. That’s not how the Bible sees it. The Bible says that
the ball is in our court: Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners,
and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning
and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:8-10
The people in Babylon waited for God to come and rescue them. The policeman and the rest of them had
not come. But for us, the rescue has already happened. Romans 5:8:But God demonstrates his own love
for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So where have we got to? We may be in places where life is hard: suffering, desert or persecution, but
we know that God is there and will sustain us with his enduring love. That makes an underlying
assumption, that we know God, that we know the promise of his salvation: not to know about it, but to
know the reality of it. We may want to do so, but we are scared.
A few weeks ago, there was a tragic story about an enquiry into what happened when the ground gave
way and a woman fell into an old mine shaft. People were on the scene within minutes but she died from
her injuries six hours later because health and safety concerns prevented the emergency teams from
going down to rescue her sooner. Imagine the scene in heaven on the first Christmas Eve.
“Father, so you want me to go down there, and be born in squalor and filth.”
“And you want me to survive being hunted down by Herod as a baby”
“And you want me to be hated, abused and even stoned when teaching”
“And finally you want me to be tortured, and to die the cruellest death ever invented”
“I’ve asked the Archangel in charge of Health and Safety to look over the risk assessment and he says No
God stopped at nothing. Jesus stopped at nothing in order that you might be saved. So how do we
respond? Psalm 137:5 and 6 say If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my
tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest
joy. The Psalmist’s heart yearns for his home, Jerusalem. He desperately wants to be there. The Prodigal
Son realises how far he is alienated from his Father as he sits in the pigsty of the far off land.
How do we respond? How do we respond to the one who has already come: the Good Shepherd who came
looking for the lost sheep and carried it home, the one who demonstrates his own love for us in this: that
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. How do we respond to the one who says: Come near to me
and I will come near to you. The one who sent the helicopter before we even fell down the cliff. How
much do you want to be saved? If you are quite happy living your life your way and according to your
rules, then don’t worry about it. If you don’t want to be saved, God will not bring you back at gunpoint.
If we sit and shrug our shoulders, that is our decision. If we sit and weep because we are far from God,
that is another matter. The Lost Sheep is enveloped in the arms of the Shepherd. The Prodigal Son is
enveloped in the arms of his Father and in both stories a party begins. However you feel about God, God
will never stop loving you and will never stop reaching out his arms to you. The response is up to you.