Sunday, June 9, 2013

Song of Ancestors

You can find the entire Lectionary readings for this week here

This is one of the Sunday Lectionary combinations that really work for me as a preacher. I love the pairing of the Hebrew Bible's tradition of Elijah with the Widow Zaraphath with Luke's Gospel account of the restored life of the son of the widow. It makes the ideal apologetic pair. For preaching you don't get much better story telling connections than this.

AS great as those texts are, for today I'm going to spend time on the Psalm that has been selected. The Book of Psalms is often considered the oldest complete collection of ancient worship texts. It represents a sample of the oldest known worship music for Christianity. It's also a shared worship resource with the Jewish community.

Praise the LORD, O my soul!
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them

When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.
Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
whose hope is in the LORD their God;
Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
who keeps his promise for ever;
Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,
and food to those who hunger.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger;
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
The LORD shall reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
Hallelujah!   Psalm 146
When I read this I can imagine that this Psalm helped form the mind and message of Jesus of Nazareth. Whether or not Jesus remembered with perfect memory that he had shared the Divine mind, co-eternally and had participated in the inspiration of the Psalm in prior centuries I can't say. I can imagine that this psalm helped form the message Jesus preached to later generations. I can even imagine that the people who flocked to hear Jesus teach out in the fields, on mountaintops, or at the shoreline, also were reminded of this psalm.

Here is a poem and song that carries hope, confidence, and a theology of liberation. It echoes the prophetic message of Isaiah  and recites the sacred history of the story of the creation. There is also the sound of warning and caution against placing any trust in the rulers of the world, a recurring theme in the Hebrew Bible. Yet, while there are words of confidence, I am confounded by the denial of community that comes from the text. Do you see it?
"Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them"
Given my own understanding of power dynamics and the frequency of abuses of power by rulers, I can see the merit in withholding trust in rulers of nations. But not any child of earth? Is there no one that can be trusted? Is no one able to provide help? Surely that isn't so, God. Aren't we to care for one another, and do for one another in the Name of Jesus? Maybe this is one of those places in time where YAHWEH could see that the message was getting all bungled up and would need a corrective measure centuries down the road.

In fact, this psalm creates tension the more I meditate upon it. That tension is present in the contradiction of the value and connection which I believe we are to draw from one another. Christians are called into a specific form of community. We are called to be the people who follow the way of Jesus. The gospels all make it quite clear that there is an interdependent relationship which forms when one follows the path that Jesus marked out.

The psalm forces me to shake my head:  what are we to do?
Look to God for relief?
Look to Community?

Well, it's not an either/or answer. It's a both/ and answer. The best is to take the middle road which recognizes God as the source of all good. Inspiring humans to reach out in care and compassion is how God delivers.

Here is why:
God is the source of all good inspiration.
Let me repeat that. God is the source of ALL GOOD inspiration.
Jesus, being the incarnation of God, gave sufficient instruction to the disciples that caring for one another is how we are to demonstrate our love for God. Christians really must put their hands and feet into action to fulfill the promise of the Psalm. And perhaps the best way to reconcile the contradiction is to look within the text for where the church, the community is within the psalm.

Look to what the LORD loves.

The Righteous are the Children of God. These are the ones who must be the deliverers of the message of hope and deliverance.

The message still carries significance. It is left to us, the readers to grasp that the psalm describes the natural man rather than prescribes what the redeemed in Christ are called to do.

In many ways as a people called to follow Jesus,  it seems that the project of modernity has decieved us into believing that each of us can live full and complete lives without any concern for the future of others. For several centuries, with the advent of Nation-States, during the gradual decline of Christendom, many leaders of the church have been handing down a message that misled the people of God. Instead of maintaining awareness that being bound together in the Body of Christ meant that all believers held an important role in manifesting God's concern for the broken world. It was left primarily to the religious (those who made life-vows dedicating themselves to God) and to the clerics.

If I stopped at this point you would miss hearing the exciting changes that are taking shape as the Holy Spirit has been stirring things up. SHE has been cooking up a renewal, a people who take on the life of service as bearers of the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

This psalm starts the song of praise but it took Jesus to correct and complete the story.  .....

 Are you searching for understanding and the richness of the life of Christian discipleship in community? 

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