Season after Pentecost (Proper 17 [22]): The Psalm Passage – From praise to puzzlement to praise; a movement of the spirit

O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.” (Psalms 105:1)

I am often impressed and stand in awe of the Revised Common Lectionary’s matching of various types of scripture passages. This week especially the Psalm’s passage seems to be right in line with the Old Testament reading. Often the Gospel passages and the Epistle passages are in harmony with each other or other readings for the week. It actually makes writing and commenting on them fairly simple and straightforward. Other weeks I struggle to make matches and connections. But then, I do not expect it to be easy. And I do enjoy the challenge that it can bring. Either way – challenge or ease – I praise the Lord!

“Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.” (Verse 2)

Do you sing to the Lord, beloved and gentle reader? I am reminded of the non-scriptural post I wrote last week about my physical/medical health. It was not a cheery posting. And as I sit to write about the psalms passage I am keenly aware of the dichotomy of the two. I need to keep this in mind – that on the same blog site I write two different and sometimes contrary content. It makes me wonder how I reconcile the two aspects of me. Maybe it makes you wonder too, beloved and gentle reader.

All I can do . . . . say I stand with Paul when he says that he boasts of the Lord and not himself. And that the Lord had given him grace and strength sufficient to deal with the “thorns” in his side. If I tell you, beloved and gentle readers, of the difficulties I have . . . I try to balance it out by saying how my faith has helped and supported me.

“Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.” (Verse 3)

Because, if have survived thus far, and survive in the future . . . . it is only because the Lord is with me.

“Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually. Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,” (Verses 4 – 5)

It is not because I have done anything special to merit this favor of the Lord, or that my future is destined to show any remarkable accomplishment. The Lord’s favor and blessing, support and help, is available to all believers.

“O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.” (Verse 6)

When Joseph moved his family to Egypt it was, as I have said before, a major shift in the story of God’s called and chosen people. The land they had lived in had reached a crisis point because of the famine, and a system more diverse and complex than their own was needed to help them survive. So the Lord God moved them to Egypt. At least that is what we can assume. Can’t we?


“Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham. And the LORD made his people very fruitful, and made them stronger than their foes,” (Verses 23 – 24)

Or was it that Joseph made a pest of himself, causing his brothers to be determined to get rid of him the best way possible at the time, and it just HAPPENED that traders bound for Egypt took Joseph along. What was the exact cause and effect, action and result, that made this change in the story of God’s called and chosen people?

“whose hearts he then turned to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.” (Verse 25)

And what about the circumstance of our lives? Are they a series of “cause and effect” events that are tied to the actions of humanity and society as a whole? Or does the Lord God lead us to our “own Egypt” where things happen to us that we need rescue from?

“He sent his servant Moses, and Aaron whom he had chosen.” (Verse 26)

How are we to parse this out, beloved and gentle reader? Could it be that our actions in our lives or in the lives of others that cause problems and struggles? Or do circumstances beyond our control toss us hither and yon until we are dizzy with the experience? To be very honest, I do not know.

It would be easy, and too easy, to say the good things in our lives are because of our good decisions and the Divine smiling on us. Because then we might be tempted to say the bad things in our life are things we have done to ourselves. And the Divine punishing us for our bad actions and decisions.

Or are they things that have been to us? And if done to us, by enemies that are set against us? If that is so, we would we and should we love these enemies, as Jesus the Christ told us to? And if our suffering and misfortune is because the Divine has frowned on us and condemned us to our “own Egypt” why would we love the Divine?

Many commentators and commentaries tell us the misfortune and suffering of the Hebrews / Israelites / Jews was because they did not follow the Lord God and the Divine’s commandments and guidance. A very unforgiving personality for a Divine God.

But yet Jesus is presented as totally forgiving and understanding of human frailty and failure offering chance upon chance of salvation and redemption. Who could fail to love a Divine God like that?

And, finally, am I the only person (that I know of) who sees the utter complexity and paradox of the story of the Lord God’s chosen and called people as it is told in the Old Testament?

The final verse of this psalms passage is . . .

“Praise the LORD! “ (Verse 45b)

Psalm 105 in its entirety praises God for rescuing and delivering the Israelites / Hebrews from Egypt and the cruel taskmasters there. The continuing and unfolding story of the called and chosen people of God continues, and it is not always a pleasant story. The same could be said of modern times.

But what does cause me to “Praise the Lord” (because I do beloved and gentle reader) is that I can ask such questions, query the Lord, and ask for understanding. Because when you set God outside of your daily life and experience, you can attribute all sorts of things to that God. But when you hold God close in your daily walk, and believe that God is there, you don’t feel as if that God is against you but for you. And suddenly it does not matter if the troubles in you life come from your own self or the people and world around you. Because you know . . . that the Lord who is with you wants the best for you, even if it seems like the worst is happening.

So yes, I do have very diverse postings. But when it comes down to it, it comes from the same source. And for the same purpose – to make my way in this world following the Lord God that I utterly believe in and need. Selah!

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Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Psalm Passage – A Preacher and Seeker dialog dedicated to those who stand for peace and compassion

Preacher: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say – “
Seeker: If the Lord God had not been standing with us . . .
Preacher: “ . . . if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, . . “

Seeker: If the Lord God had not been at our side . . .
Preacher: “. . then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;”
Seeker:
But we were used and abused, attacked, wounded and some killed! Where was the Lord God then?! Why were some of our number allowed to suffer?! Why were we not protected!
Preacher: “then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;”

Seeker: When one among our number is lost, we mourn. When two have us have been taken away, we wail and weep. Those who have been lost, are remembered and honored for their sacrifice and courage. We ask and plead, where was the Lord?
Preacher: “then over us would have gone the raging waters.”
Seeker:
It is true, there is a strong remnant left. Our courage has not fled from our spirits, and our resolve is greater than ever. We gather together our number, and fortify each other, lifting up our spirits and vowing to remain strong.
Preacher: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.”

Seeker: Our foes and oppressors have bitten and gnawed at us, but we are resolute. Our ranks may be thin, but our spirit is strong. We will not be taken over.
Preacher: “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.”

Seeker: Our faith and hope has not been captured or dissolved. We will rise up and stand strong against those who attack us and hate us.
Preacher: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124)

Seeker: Blessed it be the Lord who has taught us the strength of peace and compassion. We live our lives here, on earth. But the greater reward will come in the life hereafter. Now we face trial and tribulation. Those who have gone ahead of us, wait for us in the shalom of the Lord. We will stand tall, and will not be dissuaded from the course our Lord God has set before us. We are not alone, for the Lord God is with us and holds us until this time is over. Then we may rest also in the Lord God’s shalom. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Psalm Passage – Seek and treasure harmony where you find it

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)

While the psalmist might have had his own and close-by family in mind, these verses are perfect for the reunion of Joseph and his family. And their moving to a place and culture that had abundant resources. I am sure Joseph and his father Israel thought that the move to Egypt would be good for them and the coming generations, a blessing and life forevermore. But we, beloved reader, are keenly aware (or should be) that any material abundance in this world will not last and transfer over to the world to come. And that is where our true home is.

I was reminded of this by a FB firend who was lamenting that the world we live in now, and how everyone seems so eager and set upon sharing their discontent. That there is no acceptance of differing opinions, and that it seems in the world at large whoever disagrees with you “must be” bullied and shouted down. That there is, in a word, no unity.

While the psalmist may mean “kindred” to be family related by blood or marriage, the broader meaning is the family of God, humanity. There is the “good” and “pleasant” of life together. It is in shalom (increasingly rare in the world at large) where the Lord’s ordained blessing is most often seen. And if the shalom is truly from the Lord God, you can be assured it is good, pleasant, and blessed.

It would probably be easier for me if I were to draw the curtain and not look down the road to where the Israelites went from honored guest to slaves. But turning a blind eye has never been my forte. Neither has being naïve about the way of the world. I am trying these days to support and nurture the pockets and places of the Lord God’s shalom. Rejoicing where I find it, and trying to maintain those places of peace and blessing.

I had once read that humanity cannot be “peace makers”; that is, we can not create peace but can only keep peace where it is found. That seemed kind of pessimistic to me. But I understand that better now. We can keep the peace that the Lord God has created in us. And we can keep the peace that exists between two or more people who have kept the peace that was created by the Lord God and Jesus Christ in them. But we cannot “make” peace where no peace already exists. That is what I was trying to tell my FB friend. That all we cannot do where there is no peace, is not to create (or not create more) disharmony and disunity.

How good and pleasant it is when humanity lives in unity, harmony and peace. It is precious. May you seek and find that peace, beloved reader. Cherishing and nurturing it, keeping it and holding it holy and sacred. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 14 [19]): The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker recite praises to the Lord concerning Joseph

Preacher: “O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.”
Seeker: Praise the Lord, for our God has been mighty amongst us and has shown mercy, grace and justice to the people.
Preacher: “Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.”

Seeker: I will praise the Lord’s name and tell of the wonders that have been done on my behalf!
Preacher: “Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.”

Seeker: I cried out to the Lord, my Lord God, and I was answered. I searched for assurance and my soul was calmed. My heart and soul felt heavy, and my spirit was in a dark place. But the Lord brought light, and my gloom vanished. Now I rejoice for I dwell within the Lord’s favor and love.
Preacher: “Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.”

Seeker: I sought the Lord when I was weak, my strength nearly gone. My knees were weak and shook beneath me. My arms were tired, and eyes closed in fatigue. The Lord gave me rest, and revived me. Now I sing the Lord’s praises and my body is filled with the strength of the Lord.
Preacher: “Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.”

Seeker: I have read stories of the Lord’s mercy and favor. It is good news to my ears that Lord does not abandon the Divine’s children that have been called out.
Preacher: “When he summoned famine against the land, and broke every staff of bread, he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.”

Seeker: Joseph was taken from his family had settled, and traveled to a distant land. But the Lord was with him.
Preacher: “His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD kept testing him.”

Seeker: Joseph was sorely tested, refined in the fires of tribulation. But his spirit shone bright because the Lord was with him.
Preacher: “The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free.”

Seeker: Joseph worked under the king’s supervision, but he served the Lord first.
Preacher: “He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions, to instruct his officials at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom.”

Seeker: Joseph accomplished many things, and received great honor. He extended a compassionate hand to his family, and the people who lived in the land of famine received relief. Joseph honored to the Name of the Lord, and the Lord was faithful in the promises given to Joseph’s family.
Preacher: “Praise the LORD!“

(Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b)

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Psalm Passage – Petitioning the Lord God on the basis of what will be in the future

Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.” (Psalm 17:1)

While this psalm is being used in conjunction with the story of Jacob awaiting the morning when he will see his brother Esau for the first time in over fourteen years, I am mindful that it is most likely King David who wrote this psalm. While Jacob might have thought about this sort of thing during his fourteen plus years away from home, it is David’s contention of freedom from deceit we are reading.

But we can let it be our thoughts and words. And it is probably a good follow up to yesterday’s reflection on the passage from Matthew where I was talking about the Divine non-sinful nature of Jesus in comparison to us.

“From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.” (Verses 2 – 3)

It is interesting to set these verses against the Lord’s prayer, in that section where the pray-er asks the Lord to forgive sins/trespasses/transgressions as others who have wronged the person praying are forgiven. But that is the position and contention of most Christians, that we have not sinned or transgressed. It depends, beloved reader, on who is defining the transgression.

“As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (Verses 4 – 5)

“As for what others do” . . . . . that is a very Old Testament perspective. ‘I am clean, O Lord! Others are dirty!” The Lord God judges each individual’s heart. We are not compared against one another. But in the Eyes of the Perfect and Divine Lord, everyone has fallen short.

“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Verses 6 – 7)

This is the more truer part of this psalm/prayer. It is not because of our relative sin to other people that we are saved and loved. And it is not really that we are only the modest mildly of “bad” people. The Lord God’s steadfast love is for everyone. As is refuge from one’s adversaries.

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” (Verse 15)

Here again we have the protestation of the psalmist that he is righteous (no, it is not God’s righteousness that is meant), and because of this righteousness he expects to see the Lord God.

I probably would not have made an issue of this psalm if I had not written as I did yesterday. And not if I had not made note of Jacob’s missteps in relating to his family. And, furthermore, not if I had not been reading about how sin is the Eye of the Lord God as the beholder. All of these things I have lead me to comment as I have.

The psalmist also touches on the reality that the Lord God is ready, able and willing to forgive us for all of our sins. That our lips are only free from deceit because of God’s grace and mercy, and the atonement of Christ. The psalmist and Jacob, and all of the rest of rely on the Lord God’s plan for salvation. From the perspective of the psalmist, that is yet to come. We know it as a reality. So rather than faulting the presumption of the psalmist (when all is said and done) let us commend his faith that the Lord God will undertake for him, and for all of us. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 12 [17]): The Psalm Passage – Wrestling with the Psalms, of all things!

Do you remember, beloved reader, from back on Tuesday when we talked about how Jacob had treated his brother Esau, and deceived his father? And he, Jacob, was deceived by his uncle, his mother’s brother? And the week before, we talked about Jacob and his dream of the ladder up to heaven, and God giving him the same promise as his grandfather Abraham was given? We also talked about how these men (and women), called children of God, were charged with the creation of a nation of people who would be God’s shining light for/to the rest of the world. Promises were given by God, in exchange for faithfulness. These people – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons – formed the foundation. The Old Testament is the history and story of this called and foundation. We know that the earlier called people of God did not follow the call as faithfully as they might. But then Christians, called by God, also have problems being faithful.

The psalmist tells us what the reward for faithfulness is.

“Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!” (Psalm 128)

Now according to Old Testament/Israelite reasoning, this wonderful life is the reward of faithful living. And if this reward is not evident, it is because the living has not been faithful. At least that is a message that comes through from the history of Israel, Judah, and the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews. But we also know that we live in a fallen world where the dictates and direction of the Lord is not followed by many, and the tragedies in the world are the result not just of the recipient of the tragedy but because troubles are also inflicted upon the innocent.

So what should we say and believe? That if our lives are not as the psalmist writes, then we are at fault? Or that the misdeed and evil of others have deprived us of such blissful living? It is a conundrum that believers have wrestled with for generations. And probably one that will be wrestled with for generations more.

As the history of the Israelites continued, the idea of this “blissful living” moved from being an assured reality to a dream of the future. It became “shalom”, peaceful and harmonious living, and was a hope for the life to come. It is one aspect of the hope that Jesus offered to his disciples. And that Paul assures us will be ours in the world to come.

It is helpful to keep in mind this evolution of what the Israelites hoped would be their lives under the Lord. What they felt they were promised, but didn’t always get. It is also helpful to keep in mind when you think about what the Jews of Jesus’ time hoped that the Messiah would bring them. And, beloved reader, it is a dream that is helpful for us to keep in mind as we journey through our present lives. That this reality will not be the only reality that we are destined for. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 11 [16]): The Psalm Passage – Far away, and close to home . . . the Lord is there

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)

As you may have figure out, beloved reader, this Psalm passage is meant to match up with the other scripture readings this week, and by consequence, match the Old Testament passage concerning Jacob. But I think every person in the Old Testament who had been called by God could say that they have they have been searched and known.

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.” (Verses 2 – 4)

And not just Old Testament figures, but New Testament and Epistle writers also. They were known and inspired by God and Jesus Christ. In fact Jesus himself was inspired by God – that is, the aspect that was Jesus was fueled by the aspect that is the Lord. Triune theology can get complicated and wordy at times.

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Verses 5 – 6)

We too, beloved reader, are known by the Divine. Known and thoroughly known. All that was, is, will be is known by the Divine. Just sit with that for a moment. While we do not know the future, or can only make guesses from our human knowledge and abilities, the Divine knows what the future holds for all of us. Good, bad, and in-between. Why, we ask, does the Lord God not prevent the bad? Why does the Lord God not make only the good things? It is because humanity does not exist in a vacuum. What one person does intersects with what another person does. If every single person on the planet lived every single second of their life in perfect harmony with the guidance of the Lord, it would all be “good.” But humanity has been given free will and choice. One poor or unwise choice collides with another, and before too long the shalom that the Divine wills has been upset. The only good thing that can be relied on is that we are not alone in the world.

“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Verses 7 – 12)

Abraham traveled far from his home and family to establish a new way of life. The Lord was there. Isaac established a place for himself and his family. The Lord was there. Jacob returned to his grandfather’s ancestral home, and the Lord was there to work out the events that would establish Jacob. Joseph was taken to Egypt, and the Lord was there. The Hebrews were in Egypt for many generations, and the Lord was with them. Then Moses lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, and the Lord traveled with them to the land that would be theirs. The Lord God follows those that set out in the Divine’s name. And is there at each one of their destinations.

The psalmist speaks for all of us when he wrote these words. Let these words be your request also . . . .

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Verses 23 – 24)

Selah!