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The Psalms: A Fusion of Praying and Preaching

27 May 2020

Preaching from Year A, August to October 2020

Duncan Macpherson is Features Editor of The Preacher, Roman Catholic Permanent Deacon in the Westminster Diocese, and former Principal Lecturer in Theology, St Mary’s University, Twickenham

‘If the psalm prays, you pray; if it laments, you lament; if it exults, you rejoice; if it hopes, you hope; if it fears, you fear. Everything written here is a mirror for us.’ — Saint Augustine

‘The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become.’ —Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Megan Daffern sets the scene for our approach to the psalms by urging us to start ‘from a standpoint of prayer taken from or influenced by the prayer book that Jesus himself used’ and she goes on to ‘describe the Psalms as the most natural and authentic fusion of praying and preaching.’ Or, as Mark Whiting expresses it, ‘faithfully preaching a psalm means making it sing anew.’ And the psalms are no mere annex to the Gospel. As Robin Gibbons says, ‘The whole story of Exodus and of Christ’s passion and death is being lived out in the here and now … a safety valve of 150 parts which allows expressions of anger, confusion, hate, all the rawness of fear and grief but manages to pull us back to where we eventually must be, forgiveness, compassion, trust with God.’

Our sermon writers in this issue were invited to integrate some focus on the psalms, whether, if, and where, they thought it appropriate. Three sermons stand out as examples of the way in which the psalms not only stand on their own as the Good News, but also how they can often serve to illuminate the Gospel readings.



Ian Banks, in his sermon for 2 August, allows the verses used from Psalm 145 (Greek 144), to be a mirror both for us and for the Gospel reading on the generosity of God as shown in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The first reading from Isaiah too speaks to the exiles in Babylon with the promise, ‘not just of the basic necessities that God can provide but of so much more.’ For Ian, this psalm is a ‘wonderful song to God’s goodness’ and, together with the Isaiah reading and the Gospel passage, it says ‘something about the overwhelming, freely given, generosity of God’, serving as a ‘reminder that we’re in this together – and that if God cares for the poor and oppressed, then so should we.’



In her sermon for 16 August, Hannah Hupfield ‘sings anew’ verses from Psalm 67 (Greek 66), a psalm that she sees as resonating ‘with the words of the Aaronic blessing, reminding us that all blessings in life have their origin in God.’ The Gospel reading (Matthew 15:21-28) records the meeting between Jesus and the Canaanite woman with the daughter who was possessed by a devil. Hannah notes the way in which the psalm combines the exhortation to praise with the prayer ‘Let the people praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you!’ She goes on to find ‘ripples of meaning’ that ‘seem in keeping with the message of the story of the Canaanite woman begging Jesus to respond to her despair.’

In the conclusion to her sermon, she sees ‘the challenge of Psalm 67’ in the words ‘all the ends of the earth shall fear him.’ Fear here refers to fear ‘in the sense of a life giving, respectful, awesome wonder’ and tells us that ‘no good thing, no good person, nothing and no one is overlooked.’



John Deehan, in his homily for 13 September, focuses on Psalm 103 (Greek 102), working from his conviction that ‘the Psalms show us how our ancestors prayed, in good times and in bad, how the Church prays, and above all, how Jesus prayed.’ The first verse of the psalm reads ‘My soul give thanks to the Lord and never forget all his blessings’ and continues ‘All my being bless his holy name!’ (v 1). John reasonably infers that this was written by ‘someone who is profoundly aware that life comes as a series of gifts and blessings from God and responds with the whole of their being.’ The psalm goes on to reveals that the blessing consists of ‘forgiveness of sins, and healing.’ Later the words of verse 9 affirm that ‘his wrath will come to an end. He will not be angry for ever.’

Finally, following Saint Augustine’s dictum that ‘the Old Testament is revealed in the New, John sees the psalm as confirming the Gospel story of the wicked creditor ‘who had no pity for his debtor,’ with its ‘warning to us not to imitate the wicked creditor in our dealings with others, because God is not like that, and did not create us to be that kind of human being.’



These examples validate the wisdom of Saint Augustine that the psalms are a mirror for us, as well as that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that they can simplify and enrich our prayer. And if praying the Psalms, as he suggests, can make our prayer simpler and richer, then surely the same can be said for preaching them.

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