Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 – Remember the Wonderful

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones….

Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold,
    and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they departed,
    for dread of them had fallen upon it.
He spread a cloud for a covering,
    and fire to give light by night.
They asked, and he brought quails,
    and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
    it flowed through the desert like a river.
For he remembered his holy promise,
    and Abraham, his servant.

So he brought his people out with joy,
    his chosen ones with singing.
He gave them the lands of the nations,
    and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
that they might keep his statutes
    and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

Every day I read in the psalms. There are two reasons I do this. First, the psalms are the church’s prayer book.  They are more than reading material; the psalms are meant and designed to be owned for us as prayers. And second, I need their reminders – a lot!

Remembering is a major theme throughout the entirety of Holy Scripture. It is just part of the human condition, fallen and forgetful as we are, to lose sight of what has taken place in the past. Today’s psalm invites us to seek the Lord through remembering all the good and wonderful works he has done.

For Israel, remembering meant continually having Passover in front of them. God redeemed his people out of Egyptian slavery and into a good Promised Land. They were to never forget God’s miracle through the Red Sea, his protection over them from other nations, and his provision of food and necessities in the desert.

We are to remember because we are made in God’s image and likeness. God remembers. God has an ongoing reminder in his divine day timer: fulfill the promises I made; keep the covenant I initiated with the people, even when they’re stinkers and forget who I am.

God does not forget. God always keeps his promises. For the Christian, all God’s promises are remembered and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and ongoing presence and provision are given to us graciously and freely by the God who loves and cares for his people. For us, remembering means coming to the Lord’s Table, entering the once for all loving sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

One of the reasons I write and journal about my life and Scripture is to remember. Sometimes I forget. There are times when I am overwhelmed with life and it feels as if God has forgotten me. In such times, I look back into my journal and see what God has done. And I also peer into the psalms and see that God is active in his big world, always attentive to working what is just, right, and good in his people.

May your daily spiritual journey cause you to remember the Lord Jesus, to have him always before you.

“Now We Remain” by David Haas

We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts.

Living, now we remain with Jesus, the Christ.

Once we were people afraid, lost in the night.

Then, by your cross, we were saved;

dead became living, life from your giving.

Something which we have known, something we’ve touched,

what we have seen with our eyes;

this we have heard; life-giving Word.

He chose to give of himself, become our bread.

Broken that we might live.

Love beyond love, pain for our pain.

We are the presence of God; this is our call.

Now to become bread and wine; food for the hungry, life for the weary,

for to live with the Lord, we must die with the Lord.

Amen.

Psalm 114 – A Mighty God

Mono Crater by Chiura Obata
Painting by American artist Chiura Obata (1885-1975)

God brought his people
out of Egypt,
that land
with a strange language.

When the sea looked at God,
it ran away,
and the Jordan River
flowed upstream.
The mountains and the hills
skipped around like goats.

Ask the sea why it ran away
or ask the Jordan
why it flowed upstream.
Ask the mountains and the hills
why they skipped like goats!

Earth, you will tremble,
when the Lord God of Jacob
comes near,
because he turns solid rock
into flowing streams
and pools of water. (CEV)

I’m a metaphor guy. I like word pictures, analogies, and illustrations. Maybe that’s one reason I resonate with the Old Testament. The Hebrew mind revels in story, symbol, similitude, and even the occasional sarcasm. The turn-of-phrase is something which connects well with me – which is why I like today’s psalm. The language is freighted with metonymy and personification.

This psalm is a poetic response to the Jewish Passover and exodus out of slavery to freedom. It is a brief song of thanksgiving which nicely recounts the Israelite experience from Egypt to the Promised Land. At the behest of a mighty God, the Red Sea parted when the people left Egypt, and the Jordan River stopped its flowing when the people entered the Promised Land.

It’s a whole lot more powerful to say, “When the sea looked at God, it ran away,” than it is to say, “The Red Sea parted.” God is so mighty, so powerful, so large and sovereign that we must use the full extent of language to even begin to describe his wonderful works. A big God with awesome capability needs some wordsmithing worthy of his greatness.

Not only does the sea flee from its place, the river turns back, the mountains and hills shake and skip. To try and somehow capture the immensity of God, the psalmist used language which communicates that even inanimate objects come alive and fulfill his divine bidding.

It is one thing to make a flat statement such as, “Put your trust in God,” and it is quite another matter to open up the tool of language and allow it to picture a divine Being so amazing that nothing nor anyone can possibly stand in his way. And this very same God works for us, not against us.

The Lord God almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, has taken his formidable power and granted us a pinch of it – because that’s all we really need. Jesus, intimately familiar with his mighty heavenly Father, commented:

If your faith is as big as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Dig yourself up and plant yourself in the ocean!” And the tree will obey you. (Luke 17:6, ERV)

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. (Mark 11:23, NKJV)

All of creation conspires together to participate in the great liberating and saving acts of God for his people. And if that wasn’t enough, we have been given his Holy Spirit to be with us forever – uprooting trees and moving mountains to accomplish the good and loving plan of God here on earth as it is always done in heaven.

Mighty God you invite us to be with you, to have a place near you. Your presence is joy, light, and comfort. Your nearness is holy, awesome, and wonderful. In the play of sunlight through rainbows, in the sounds of music and laughter, in the beauty of creation and the taste of bread and wine, your presence is known. Your saving presence surrounds us, whether we are fearful or joyful, laughing or crying. You invite us, welcome us, forgive us and renew us with fresh hope and new life. You love us into your presence. We bless and thank you. We praise and adore you. We enjoy being with you, in the name, the spirit and the presence of Jesus. Amen

Psalm 149 – Praise and Punishment

Church stained glass windows sword dividing

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their couches.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters
and their nobles with chains of iron,
to execute on them the judgment decreed.
This is glory for all his faithful ones.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

The initial question that arises with me is this: Is this a psalm of praise to the Lord, or an imprecatory psalm encouraging the punishment of the wicked? Well, perhaps the obvious answer is “yes.” I suppose what I am really struggling with is that out of all the one-hundred fifty psalms in the psalter, only this one has this unique combination of vocal praise and punishing action.

The psalm begins much like many psalms of praise but takes the unexpected turn of a call to a war-like operation to execute vengeance on enemies. I freely admit that I do not know quite what to make of this strange amalgam. I wonder along with the venerable Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann who said, “One cannot tell whether this is a responsibility to fend off oppressors or a temptation to gather imperial power.”

Perhaps my wrestling with this psalm is really the struggle with history itself. The Holy Scriptures do not shy away from the realism of its times and often offers historical events and human attitudes with unvarnished narratives. The Bible, and especially the psalmist, will not let us sanitize the past as some idyllic bygone era of divine drama to be envied. Instead, we receive the liberation of God’s people with all its harsh truth.

So, it could be that is why I also loathe seeing some mass market crosses which look ornately beautiful, as if Christ’s death was some pleasant affair. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell came at an awful price. Jesus absorbed all the foulness and degradation of a tortuous ignoble death. In other words, he was a bloody mess, publicly displayed for all to jeer at and be repulsed by.

What is more, for the Christian, perhaps the sagest approach to today’s psalm is unabashedly choosing to view it through Christocentric lenses. Christ is the strong man who has bound the ruler of this dark world with iron chains and secured our liberation from a hellish existence. And the Lord will return, the nations of the earth will be judged, and the faithful will reign with Christ forever.

Even if I read a bit too much into the psalm by interpreting it Christologically, it still leaves the intention of the imprecation open as to its true nature. In other words, the psalm simply does not tell us the trajectory of the curse which comes out of the praise. We are left to wonder in what kind of direction it goes. The Christian tradition of reading psalms and seeing Jesus in them might be our best guide.

Whichever way we choose to examine this unique psalm, the thing which we do know is that it unequivocally stands as a defiance of the nations and peoples of the earth who oppose the living God. Resistance to injustice, unrighteousness, and evil is encouraged by this psalm. The only ruler of this earth who has absolute power is God; and, anyone or any group which attempts to gain and grab such power for themselves is to be resisted. For the harsh reality of living on this created yet fallen earth is that violent and insolent people still desire total control and will do just about anything to get it and keep it.

Almighty and sovereign God, we, your people, ask in the Name of your most precious Son, Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended Lord, to look upon the good desires of your humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of your power to be our defense against evil in all its insidious forms. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Psalm 8 – The Majesty of It All

MilkyWay
The Milky Way

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (NRSV)

This little psalm grounds us by dealing with ultimate questions of existence: Who am I?  Why do I exist?  What is the purpose of my life?

The answers to those questions are supremely important because we can lose sight of who we are and why we exist. If we were to peel back the layers of any random person’s life, we may find a deep sense of not belonging, of being in profound touch with their own mortality, and of having a disconnected sense of their personal role in the world. Many people have lost their original purpose of being a person and belonging to the human family in a way that makes a significant contribution to the world.

We live on a big planet, and that causes some people to feel quite small and wonder how they fit in. Gaping at such a large universe we may ask along with psalmist, “What are humans that you are mindful of them?”  This question forms the center of the psalm.  Hebrew poetry is typically arranged to have the front and the end of the poem point to the middle as its focus. So then, the psalmist purposely wrote this psalm so we would consider the great question of what God thinks of humanity within the scope of this exceptionally large universe.

To put this largeness in perspective, if the Milky Way galaxy were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup. Even now, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For thirty-five years they have been speeding away from Earth, having traveled 9 billion miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes over 13 hours to arrive. Yet this vast neighborhood of our sun—in truth, the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their planets in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.

Moraine Lake, Canada
Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada

Out of the billions of galaxies in the universe, what is planet Earth that God should care about it?  Even on our planet there are billions of creatures. Yet, out of all those bugs, animals, fish, and birds, God has a special relationship with us, humanity, and cares for us deeply. God has even entrusted us with the responsibility to care for creation.  We are the only creatures who have the charge to steward all that God has created.  To put it another way, we, as people created in the image of God, have a job that is befitting of royalty, and it is more than a duty – it is a delight.

Furthermore, it is a godly and spiritual thing to engage in good creation care, whether it is properly feeding and caring for a pet, properly attending to relationships with grace and civility, or playing a crucial role in responsible land use.  Whatever it may be within this vast created world, God has entrusted to us this expansive Earth we live upon.  Literally everything in all creation is under our stewardship.

Out of all the creatures on earth, only people have been given the task of caring for every other created thing.  Only we as people have the self-awareness and perspective of the world which is needed to govern the world.  So, then, we can only find our true purpose and belonging in the stewardship of creation.  Care-giving is at the heart of being a person.

The glitch to this, and why so many lose their way, is that the world is still living under a curse due to the original fall of humanity into sin.  When we allow other dominions to supersede God’s dominion, then we have major problems.  When the power of money, or the significance of a position or job title, or the ability to do certain tasks is our basic identity and place of belonging, then we will likely succumb to anxiety. Other dominions cannot help us find our true God-given majesty as people created in God’s image.  Living any other way than being a proper steward of the world is beneath us because we have inherent dignity as God’s vice-regents over creation.

“There is no such thing as a small thing – only small things done with big love.” –Mother Teresa

That sentiment perfectly captures the vision of the psalmist – that all people are crowned with glory and honor and rule with God to do all the small things of life with a love that comes from our Creator.

Going forward, we have the possibilities of engaging in good stewardship of all that God has given us.  We can use our words in ways that care for others and build them up, rather than saying uncaring things which are not helpful.  We have the chance to be attentive to all the little things of life, whether gardening, building a bird house, working with diligence and care at our jobs, or keeping our community clean and its citizens healthy and happy, it is all important and has a significant place.

Let us, then, continually improve what we do, no matter what it is, so that it befits us as God’s people crowned with honor.  May this topsy-turvy year become one of joy and contentment, knowing the majesty we share with God as humans in his wondrous world.

Creator God, you make all things and weave them together in an intricate tapestry of life. Teach us to respect the fragile balance of life and to care for all the gifts of your creation. Guide by your wisdom those who have power and authority, that, by the decisions they make, life may be cherished, and a good and fruitful Earth may continue to show your glory and sing your praises. Almighty God, you have called us to tend and keep the garden of your creation. Give us wisdom and reverence for all your plants and animals who share this planet with us and whose lives make possible our own. Help us to remember that they too love the sweetness of life and join with us in giving you praise. Amen.