COVID-19: The First Prayer I Say in the Morning; Psalm 95, The Venite

Sermon:         The first prayer I say when I get out of bed in the morning.
Text:                Psalm 95, the Venite
Preacher:       Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:       First Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale
Date:               March 15, 2020

You may Livestream the service here.
Please note that this was a virtual service held for members and friends of
Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale due to the request of the CDC to limit
the size of public gatherings. No live services were held.

In order to better understand our psalm this morning, it is helpful to hear the background upon which is written. The background is from the Hebrews escaping Egypt under Moses’ leadership. Let’s refresh our memory.

Once upon a time, there was a group of twelve tribes from the same ancestor Jacob who lived far from their ancestral home in Egypt.  They were treated horribly there.  God chose Moses to lead the people, many thousands by this time, on a journey back east to the land where their ancestor Jacob lived in Canaan.

They were pursued by a vicious army through the desert. But God protected them with a pillar of cloud and fire before and behind.

In the chase, the Hebrews got pinned between the sea on one side and an approaching army on the other. God parted the water and all the people crossed safely over to the other side.  Pharaoh’s army was swallowed up in the sea as they tried to follow.

The Hebrews wandered in the desert and complained about their hunger and God rained down manna and quail from heaven and gave them all that they needed.

The Hebrews with their full stomachs weren’t satisfied; they began to complain against God and against Moses. They were thirsty. Moses hit a rock with his staff and water came pouring out. Once again, God provided. And the people grumbled and named the place Grumbling and Quarreling, i.e. Meribah and Massah.

This is the background for today’s text in Psalm 95. Turn in your Bible to Psalm 95. It’s also referred to as the Venite and has been used in the ancient church since the 15th century as the daily invitatory, i.e. the opening prayer, to begin one’s day and daily worship. It literally was the first prayer one said when one got out of bed in the morning! I propose to you it should be ours together as well.

The Psalm is written with two distinct parts.  Verse 1 through 6 are the voices of the worshipping community extoling God’s goodness and mercy.  The last half of the psalm comes abruptly; it pivots from praise and worship to an indictment from God that the people who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. Yet, even in God’s indictment, the Lord provides a clue to help the people not relive the mistakes and failings of the past. Let’s see if you can hear that clue. Listen to the scripture!

Psalm 95

1O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!  3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.  4In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.  5The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.  6O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand…

…O that today you would listen to his voice!

8Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”  11Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.” [i]

Today’s Psalm paints the picture of a step-by-step plan for being in relationship with God. First, there is a burst of praise and thanksgiving in verses 1 and 2.  Then there is a reminder of God’s greatness that beckons us to worship Him in verses 3 to 6. The people sing, they pray about God’s faithfulness and the Lord’s overwhelming Providence that will always watch out for them.  And then there is verse 7. This is where God begins to speak in the Psalm: If only they would listen to my voice this day.

The prayer to begin the day begins with thanking God for all God has done, is doing, and will do.  It then ascribes to the Lord focused worship that God is the Lord, there is no other. And then there is a call to listen for God’s voice.

In many church liturgies as they say or sing the Venite, Psalm 95, they stop right there at verse 7.  They omit the harsh part of the psalm because it is uncomfortable. Yet, even Thomas Cranmer, the great English Reformer insisted that the people sing the entirety of Psalm 95.  Why?  Because it’s one thing to offer God thanksgiving, praise and honor and a promise to listen.  It’s entirely something else to shut our ears to God’s voice. When we tune God out, when we shut out his voice, when we fail to listen, the consequences are we end up right back again at Meribah and Massah grumbling against God and one another and putting the Lord to the test and trying God’s patience.

In my Bible there is a marker at Psalm 95 as I first read and pray it every single morning.  The pages are worn there, reminding me of my daily routine.  It’s paramount for me to start the day with thanksgiving and gratitude, with praise-infused worship of God and the daily reminder to stop and listen for His voice this very day, every day. Over the years, I realize that if I don’t, I will fall off the wagon and revert to my old self – the grumbling, quarreling, doubting self, wondering if God is even here.

Friends, this week has been a week for us to easily revert back to our old grumbling, doubting ways. Our lives have been and are upended with the onslaught of the Coronavirus in our country.

People are worried about their job security because of the market instability.

Parents are struggling to find childcare now that the schools are closed.

Churches worry if people will continue to give to the ministries that are still going on even though the people are not here on Sunday morning.

Loved-ones have been physically cut off from one another because of visitation restrictions to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals.

People are resorting to stockpiling and fighting over toilet paper in grocery stores aisles!

Schools are being closed; special events are cancelled; the beloved collegiate Sweet 16 is cancelled along with the NBA, NHL, MLS, and now the threat to America’s pastime, baseball.

Beloved, it is so easy to get caught up in the dour, frantic frenzy we are living in today. It is easy to resort to grumbling, arguing, fighting and fearing one another. The antidote for COVID-19 is the Venite, Psalm 95, as you get out of bed every morning.

It’s a call to be thankful for all we have.

It’s a call to be in awe at the loving, gracious Providential Presence of God providing for us in the midst of hardship.

It’s a call to intentionally still ourselves and listen for the Lord’s voice speaking to each of us, to this church, to this community each and every day. Jesus is talking with us in this apocalyptic feeling moment in time; the Psalm invites us to be intentional in our listening. It invites each of us to live more intentionally with God and with our neighbors.  It invites us to re-examine our spiritual walk during this Lenten season and learn more about ourselves and our God in ways we have never learned before now.

Friends, I’m bullish right now.  I am hopeful right now.  Yes, these are swirly times but I believe God is working in a large way in the midst of all this Corona mess. Just maybe, if we take this psalm seriously, we will hear God’s voice as people, as a church, and as a nation and spiritual revival will blow through once more.

Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[i] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Mystic Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a husband, father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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