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Sunday 16 August 2020

Let all the peoples praise you

Psalm 67/68; Matthew 15:21-28

 

By Hannah Hupfield

Church of England priest and Associate Diocesan Director of Ordinands, Worcester

Context: a Sunday morning Eucharist in a rural parish

Aim: to celebrate the goodness of God’s gifts and embrace the divine invitation to be transformed by faith

Last summer a small, fluffy border collie puppy joined our family. Aside the wonderful walks and cuddles, some unexpected new patterns emerged. Puppy-soothing radio noise became ubiquitous. Listening to Desert Island Discs set me pondering. They would permit taking the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible to my island. But what if it was just a single Biblical book? Which to pick? Instinct drew me towards a Gospel, but perhaps I could recall many events and parables; maybe instead, the Psalms? That wonderful collection that has led individuals, groups, congregations and nations in worship and praise (to quote DJ Fatboy Slim) ‘through the hard times and the good.’

Psalm 67 (68) is curious. It evades simple categorisation and isn’t neatly swept up with other similar psalms. Things that are unusual intrigue me. We are, more or less, creatures of habit. When using the Psalms regularly they become familiar both in content and rhythm. So, when a psalm dodges the standard types (lament, praise, thanksgiving, etc.) I wonder what its original purpose was and what it means not only to read that psalm but to pray it and live its meaning. This psalm resonates with the words of the Aaronic blessing, reminding us that all blessings in life have their origin in God.

 

ENCOURAGED TO PRAISE

Hearing Psalm 67 sung by its community accompanied by stringed instruments would be a rather different experience from the way most of us experience its message. We might be more accustomed to a solo spoken voice, or the chanting of cantor and choir, or we might ‘hear’ our voice as we silently read. However, as experienced this psalm has a prayerful, but not passive, tone. The writer implores, ‘Let the peoples praise you, let all the peoples praise you,’ and intersperses requests for and examples of God’s goodness and blessing upon their life.

The repeated call to ‘let the people praise’ is captivating. Is it an instruction, ‘let’s get started!’ or a directive to ‘permit and not prevent’ people from praising God? Perhaps the answer is both - and perhaps more besides. The ambiguity adds layers and depth. There are ripples of meaning here, and they seem in keeping with the message of the story of the Canaanite woman begging Jesus to respond to her despair. The image of Jesus we find clashes with the expectation that of course Jesus would display compassion instantly. We encounter a steely, challenging Jesus who refuses. He repeats generations-old derogatory names, repeats age-old social barriers. He obstructs. This is a shocking Jesus. This woman is determined; driven by need. Jesus’ actions are challenged. His change of heart grants the example that even our most unexamined and long held barriers can be broken down and healing discovered.

 

GOD’S ABUNDANCE

We are invited to live like Jesus. When healing is granted, He doesn’t make her daughter a bit better. She receives the fullness of healing. Abundance not crumbs.

Jesus’ actions show much of the same message of Psalm 67, that both He, and the Jewish community, then as now, know so well. Faith is asserted, prayer is to be offered and the goodness of God simultaneously prayed for and rejoiced over. When God makes His face to shine upon us that is more than a personal luxury. Instead we take up the challenge to share that blessing and goodness, allowing one another to flourish and find a place where we are assured of welcome.

This is no simple faith to live out.

 

CHALLENGED TO INCLUDE

The readings set for today repeatedly emphasise inclusion. We are called to look beyond the ‘expected’ or the stereotype. Jesus isn’t always meek and permissive. Nor should we judge members of other groups.

No one is to be too far, too much of an enemy, too different, to be included. As a species we have a shameful history where inclusion is concerned. We have too often failed to welcome people who don’t look, sound, live, love or worship like us. Jesus shows that we can and must change and do better. That is our challenge. In a world illuminated by God’s light and sustained with God’s blessing we are told to live our faith radically. That is the challenge of Psalm 67. Sustained by abundant blessing our praise can mean ‘all the ends of the earth shall fear him.’ Fear in the sense of a life giving, respectful, awesome wonder. No good thing, no good person, nothing and no one overlooked. That is the gospel lived out.

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