How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place

How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place

Liturgy Lesson: September 22, 2019
Call to Worship: Psalm 111
Prayer of Invocation
Hymns of Adoration: Come Thou Fount (#457); Holy, Holy, Holy (#100)
Baptism: Samuel Yohan Joshua Kumar
Song of Response: His Covenant Is Sure
Confession: Prayer
Assurance of Pardon: Jer. 31:31-33
Hymn of Assurance: Great is Thy Faithfulness (#32)
Reading of the Word: Luke 12:35-48
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place; The King of Love My Shepherd Is
Closing Hymn: Jesus, Master, Whose I Am

“You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, the place, O LORD, which You have made for Your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.”
– Exodus 15:17 (from ‘The Song of Moses,’ after the miracle Red Sea crossing)

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.'”
– Rev. 21:1-3

The Garden of Eden. Mt. Sinai. The Ark of the Covenant. Solomon’s temple. These are all dwelling places of the Lord of Hosts in the Old Testament. But each of them, in their own way, had restricted access. Turns out each generation of God’s people had trouble keeping the rules. But the covenant faithfulness of God did not forsake them, and in the fullness of time, God sent his son to dwell on the earth, so that in him, we may dwell with God. And now, we have seen his glory. The curtain is torn in two, and ours is an unfading and indestructible inheritance where forever God will dwell with us and we will be his people. Here’s the awesome truth.

“For through Jesus we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
– Eph. 2:18-22

Did you hear that? Upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, we are being built together into a dwelling place for God by His Spirit. We are being constructed into a living and breathing cathedral, a tabernacle made of toddlers and teenagers, middle-agers and old-timers, each one hand-picked, polished, and placed by the great Architect and Mason himself. This is our story, and this is what we celebrate each Sunday when we gather in the sanctuary, which has now become the doubly-charged dwelling place of God. Which brings us to Psalm 84…

How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place
Text: Psalm 84 (verses from 1912 Scottish Psalter)
Music: Old Irish Air

“How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
…for a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”

– Ps. 84:1-2

It is easy to read Psalm 84 and make it all about heaven, a longing for the eternal courts of the Lord in paradise. But there is more to it than that. Psalm 84 is a Psalm of Pilgrimage. Every year, the Jewish people were required to travel to Jerusalem to worship God in the temple. As they journeyed they would sing songs. This is one of them. So, in a way, Psalm 84, is about anticipation of worship in the temple, the place where the Old Testament saints went to worship God. It is not simply about yearning for union with God in heaven; it is also a Psalm of desire for the presence of God in the assembly and the subsequent joy of gathered worship.

I have often said before that our worship is a glimpse of glory, a foretaste of the feast to come. If that is the case, then we should be able to say confidently with the old testament singers, “How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!”

Oh, for the exuberant joy of this Psalm to permeate our church! And, it doesn’t stop there. Further on, in verse 10 of the Psalm, we encounter this astounding comparative statement which would easily win “deacon of the year” award.

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

I’m not sure about holding the door open all morning, but I understand the sentiment. I am grateful that I can be in a church where every Sunday I am eager to arrive and prepare for worship. I have never been a morning person, but somehow Sunday mornings are easier. Even in the winter months when I arrive in the dark and cold, I know that a warmth and brightness will be found in God’s house. I have heard from many of you how blessed you are by the services at our church, and how the music helps deepen and enrich your worship each Sunday. These are reasons for gratitude and thanksgiving to God! For these gifts, I encourage you to praise the Lord and hug your musicians!

However, sometimes I have hard and honest conversations about the state of worship music in many other churches, and the sort of language used is a far cry from Psalm 84. There is very little delight expressed, and I don’t get the sense that Sunday in those courts was better than even one day elsewhere, let alone a thousand. More often than not, it seems the opposite is the case, as if the music segments at church cause some folks to actually want to be elsewhere. I hear complaints about having to endure this or that musical monstrosity in order to get to the sermon. This grieves me more than you know. It is a HUGE problem when the music inside God’s house is driving would-be-worshippers away, creating hurdles instead of eliciting Hallelujahs! Lord have mercy on us when our music stops creating a taste for heaven’s joys, and instead makes folks start longing and fainting for the exits. This should not be! In church, our hearts should be stirred to wonder at the beauty of the Gospel, and gratitude for Christ, he who is “love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be!”

And this is where Psalm 84 is a convicting and compelling antidote. This Psalm is perhaps one of the finest arguments in all of scripture for the place of beauty in church. The Psalmist is very simply reminding us that the place where God dwells should, by extension of God’s very nature, be exceedingly lovely. Music in church should be delightful and beautiful because the very source of delight and beauty dwells there. Charles Spurgeon would agree. Here he is on Psalm 84:

“This Psalm well deserved to be committed to the noblest of the sons of song. No music could be too sweet for its theme, or too exquisite in sound to match the beauty of its language. Sweeter than the joy of the wine press is the joy of the holy assemblies of the Lord’s house; not even the favored children of grace, who are like the sons of Korah, can have a richer subject for song than Zion’s sacred festivals. It matters little when this Psalm was written, or by whom; for our part it exhales to us a Davidic perfume, it smells of the mountain heather and the lone places of the wilderness, where King David must have often lodged during his many wars. This sacred ode is one of the choicest of the collection; it has a mild radiance about it, entitling it to be called The Pearl of Psalms. If the twenty-third be the most popular, the one-hundred-and-third the most joyful, the one-hundred-and-nineteenth the most deeply experimental, the fifty-first the most plaintive, this is one of the most sweet of the Psalms of peace.”

Full of Sweetness. Compared to perfume, a pearl or mountain heather. All things that awaken the senses, captivate the mind, and gladden the heart. Surely this Psalm is worthy of music that helps (and does not hinder) the soul in its expression of these things. Well, some anonymous soul has given us that gift by pairing this Psalm verse with an old Irish air that has the perfect balance of plaintive longing and effortless joy.

The tune is a traditional folk melody (sometimes called “Homes of Donegal” because of its use in a modern folk ballad). The melody and meter are made up of four phrases. The first and last lines of the music are identical, as are the two internal lines. The voice starts lower, leaps up in the middle phrases, and then settles back down again to repeat the opening melodic statement. This symmetric form has the effect of bringing the singer back to a familiar place of comfortable rest after the yearning and wandering in the middle of the verse. It reminds us, in an exceedingly lovely way, that where the Lord dwells, there is joy and rest, that He is the end of all our striving and searching. Better is one day in His courts than a thousand spent elsewhere.

May the Lord give grace for renewal so that what we do in worship may reflect this truth. May Sunday be that one day that is better than all the others! May our gatherings be at once ecstatic and excellent foretastes of glory. May our churches increase in all manner of outward and inward loveliness, and may our music be a source of delight and repose for the souls who long and faint, so that once again they may say “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go unto the house of the Lord.’”

One more note of interest:
Psalm 84 begins with “according to the Gittith.” Gittith is not some obscure King James synonym for receiving (i.e. “Upon his birthday, the child gittith presents.”). No, “Gittith” is a Hebrew term that occurs also at the beginning of Psalm 8 and 81. It is often left untranslated, but the word is assumed to refer to a musical mode, a particular musical instrument (probably something akin to a harp), or even a particular well-known melody from the region of Gath.

Choral arrangement (a bit syncopated, but captures the delight and dance of the Psalm)
Irish ballad version (guitar/vocal)