What do you make of church at the moment? I know that some folk are really frustrated with it at the moment, largely because of the ongoing restrictions on singing. And I think this Psalm has something important to say about our attitude to church. We’re going to look at it under two headings, two things that the Psalm calls us to do.
1. Rejoice in the Church.
It’s easy to get cynical about churches that blow their own trumpets a lot, but when we do, we can miss the real value of rejoicing in the church like the Psalmist does here.
Here the Psalmist rejoices in the church because he rejoices in God. God isn’t obviously the main focus of this Psalm; it’s more about God’s people when they gather. But he is right at the start and end of the Psalm, and right in the middle too. God’s people are amazing because God is amazing, not because of what we have or haven’t done, or because of the quality of the music. We’re amazing because of the identity of our God, and because we are his people. And God’s identity and his greatness don’t change because we can’t sing together.
But also because of the unity they experience together in worship. I think that’s what’s going on it v3 – it’s talking about the crowds and the bustle at festival time. He rejoices in the diversity of God’s people, not naturally in harmony, sometimes even at war, but gathering together and mingling in the same crowd as they come together to worship God.
And I wonder about us. Do we need to recover some of that thrill and excitement about church, whether we’re attending onsite or online at the moment? To gather together with others of different cultures and backgrounds and ages to praise the awesome God who saves us, calls us his children and gives us unity?
Just as we see a sliver of the moon in the sky and still say that it’s the moon, so we can see a hint of God’s new creation in the church today. It is a tiny and imperfect foretaste of heaven. We may have zits, but we’re still the Bride of Christ.
2. Pray for the church.
And the key word in the second half of the Psalm is “peace”. It is peace that comes from submission to the rule of God’s righteous king (v5). It is peace between members of God’s kingdom (v7) but also security from those outside. It’s also peace that seeks prosperity; the classic Old Testament picture of peace is everyone being able to sit down under their own vine and fig tree.
So it’s not the kind of fake peace that comes from papering over cracks or putting a nice face on things or failing to speak up when there’s something seriously wrong – that isn’t real peace. Real peace is handling conflict well, learning to speak the truth in love, and also receive the truth in love because we recognise that it’s not ultimately about us or our own convenience; it’s about acting for the sake of our family and friends v8, and for the sake of the house of the Lord v9 – doing conflict well for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Do we pray for the peace of God’s people?
Do we act for the peace of God’s people? Not stirring up unnecessary conflict, and when conflict is needed not shirking from it, but instead seeking to do it well and lovingly for our long-term good and prosperity?
And when we’ve messed up or hurt others in the church, are we willing to swallow our pride and admit our fault, recognising that our mission to the world and the wellbeing of our friends and family is far more important than our own feelings.
Brothers and sisters, let us love the church. Let us love one another despite what we are often like because of who God is and what he has done for us. Let us love one another by praying for one another, even and especially those we do not naturally get on with. And let us love one another not just in words, but also in actions, by seeking the good of the church.