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Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation – Canon Peter Collier KC, Cathedral Reader

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Title: “Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation”

Preacher: Canon Peter Collier KC, Cathedral Reader

Date: 19 November 2023, the Second Sunday before Advent

Readings: Ps 89:20-37,  1 Kings 1:15-40; Revelation 1:4-18

“He shall call me, Thou art my father, my God, and my strong salvation.” The words of verse 26 of our psalm sung so beautifully by the choir in the Coverdale translation only a few minutes ago.

Or as the NRSV says “He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.”

Jesus said to his disciples: “When you pray, pray in this way: “Our Father in heaven.””

And very often we think of this idea of knowing God as our father as a New Testament thing introduced by Jesus. Indeed we often think that the religion of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament are quite different from each other. And of course there are differences, but there is a lot more in common than we might imagine.

And as we can see from this Psalm the idea of God as our father is deeply rooted in the Old Testament, in the history of God’s people and in the story of King David.

Ethan, the author of our psalm, was considered a very wise man. Indeed when Solomon, who figured in the first lesson, when his wisdom was being described he was said to be wiser even than Ethan. And here in this psalm Ethan is putting words into the mouth of God, a common practice in prophetic and poetic literature. And what Ethan sets out in the first half of the psalm before the part we came to are all God’s promises to David. And one of them is this one of how David will see and relate to God.

He shall cry unto me thou art my father, my God and the rock of my salvation.

We probably know more about David’s prayer life than we do about any other person in the bible. We see from the psalms many of which David himself wrote what he would say and sing to God, sometimes on his own and sometimes when gathered together with the congregation of God’s people.

We find David at prayer in the good times and the bad, when things are going well and when things are piling up against him. At times he is spitting out his anger to God and at times he is full of rejoicing and thanksgiving to God.

And undoubtedly the reason we have this wonderful mixture of expressed feelings is because David knew that God was his father, he had that security in his relationship with God – knowing that he was God’s son. Whatever then was going on in his life it was a family matter. It was kitchen table stuff. And so he could be completely open and honest with God his father.

“He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.”

The second part of David’s cry is “my God” – literally the God of me. The word for God is El which has the idea of strength or might behind it. And of course there is much about God’s mighty power in the first part of this psalm, and indeed in many of the psalms. And then there is the promise to David in verse 21 that all God’s might will be employed to strengthen him.

In one sense it is no surprise that David will write and sing of a God of power. After all that is really what being God is about. God is God – the beginning and the end, the origin and the source of everything, the sustainer of everything, a God of power and might. It is the very definition of God in any monotheistic world view. But what David will say and often did say was this God of might and power is my God.

It is very easy to misunderstand the idea of having “God on our side”

Bob Dylan had a song in which he wrestled with the ideas in which he had been deeply rooted in his upbringing – that the USA had had God on their side in all their struggles, conflicts and wars; but he was left pondering the future as he concluded:

“So now as I’m leavin’ I’m weary as Hell The confusion I’m feelin’ Ain’t no tongue can tell The words fill my head And fall to the floor That if God’s on our side He’ll stop the next war”

There is no doubt that God is all powerful and God is our God but there is much about suffering and loss that God allows that we will never understand.

Coming right down to this last week – Why does God allow not only such awful conflicts between nations and peoples? But even closer to home – why does God allow the church to be so divided and in such pain? Whether it is the big divisions between east and west, between catholic and protestant, between denominations or as we have seen this week in our own Church of England over issues of sexuality.

If God is all powerful why doesn’t he intervene and bring us all to be of the same mind?

Frankly, we don’t know, but each of us can, in our not-knowing, discover that this God of power and might is with me and for me in my life right now.

So often it is in that place of pain and difficulty that we find Jesus right there with us. In his life on earth he experienced so much of what we go through, and now this God of power and might sits with us and shares our pain.

“He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.”

David’s third cry is to the rock of his salvation. Coverdale translated it “my strong salvation”. The underlying idea here is of a steep and inaccessible safe place where those who are under threat can seek refuge and will be safe. The storms may beat about it but it remains a steadfast and secure place of safety. People may attack it but they cannot climb its ramparts, and those on the top remain safe.

But what does it mean to be safe?

Salvation means a safe space – a spacious place – a wide open place – a place where there is room to breathe.

How we need such places!

There are so many times, and so many ways in which we can feel hemmed in, besieged, attacked. It may be circumstances in our family, or at work, or struggling with health and other issues. We just long for room to breathe.

In our New Testament lesson John was on the island of Patmos,most likely there because he had been exiled there as result of the persecution of Christians by Domitian. But right there as a result of that persecution and in that place he had space to hear God at a very profound level. And the whole book of Revelation came from what he experienced that Sunday on Patmos.

What he heard, as we heard, was – “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. But much more – we now have a revelation that David did not have – this very God is the one who was dead and is now alive for ever and ever.

In him we can find right now the one who is not only our God, but our rock of safety, the place where we can find the spaciousness we need today, this week, and for evermore

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