Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Psalm 85

Click here to read this Sunday's psalm.

In Advent, we get these lessons that often confound us because of our wanting knowledge of the Old Testament.  Perhaps other weeks in the year we can brush past that reading in our worship and hope to catch up either with the epistle lesson or with the Gospel.  In Psalm 85, we see a continuing story in this part of the psalter.  It is a national song, a national lament.

It's difficult for us to think this way in America in 2014.  The only national song that we have is pluralism.  Having been relegated to those of varying levels of talent and sensitivity, our national anthem has even been co-opted as a pre-show song before major events.  Nevertheless, we are a people of differing beliefs and values.  The idea of a people singing a song together doesn't resonate (pardon the pun) with us today.  Even in church, the old model of a church being made up of the same people for generations has gone away.  Today, we are likely to see in our average Lutheran church people from all denominations and backgrounds.  What were once "Lutheran" hymns known by all have to be taught sensitively.

Like most psalms, there is a banner of praise or lament and in some places both.  And, like most psalms, there is a story.  Psalm 80 and 85 are both telling a story of a people, the people of Israel. 

LORD, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
you pardoned all their sin.

The psalm begins with the recounting of what the Lord has done.  Going on, that which isn't found in our lectionary psalm this week:

You withdrew your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us.

Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

The psalmist is asking real questions on behalf of the people.  Notice that.  Pray over that.  What are the real questions that you ask of God?  What are some things that you feel are off limits?  The psalmist shows us the range of emotions in our relationship with God as a people.  How long? is a very important question in the life of a faith community and the psalmist asks it with a sense of urgency and knowing.  Then, he tells the Lord to "show us your steadfast love" and "grant us your salvation." 

After this part of the psalm, which is omitted in our lectionary readings, the psalmist turns the mood.  Looking at the whole of the psalm, what he says here makes more sense:

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
    for he will speak peace to his people,
    to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
    that his glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
    and will make a path for his steps.
To comment too much would be missing the point.  The imagery speaks for itself.  Perhaps what stands out to you is the same phrase that stands out to me, "righteousness and peace will kiss each other."  What a delightful thought!  The salvation of God can only be described in poetry.  Sure, we believe that St. Paul does a pretty good job describing what salvation of God's people looks like but even at his best, it's poetic.  It confirms a thought that I have been having for years now and while probably cliché it remains that God is in the poetry
What's in a kiss?  We've heard that question before.  A good kiss is gentle and preferring of the other.  It is not a collision of ideas or personal desires but rather a sweet acquiescence to the other.  Righteousness and Peace are giving themselves to each other willingly and softly.  Not only that, but the psalmist sings that faithfulness springing up from the ground and righteousness looking over us is surrounding us on every side.  The Lord will give what is good.  What is good is all around us in the salvation of our God. 
As we continue our Advent pilgrimage, though some may be tempted to ignore while others may be tempted to make it a dour journey, I encourage us to see the beauty of Psalm 85 in our traveling through this season.  We are waiting and we are moving.  Psalm 85 is that beautiful landscape that is in reality all around us, springing up from the ground and looking down from the sky.


1 comment:

  1. Well, OF COURSE it's poetry. The Truth is only found in metaphor. Preach it, Brother Cody!