Monday, January 27, 2014

Psalm 15, The Law

In my limited reading about psalm 15 this week, there are a few things that pop out to me.  My mind went to what Lutheran's tend to think of as "Law and Gospel."  If one were to categorize this psalm into one of the two of these, it would likely be "Law."  Law is not a bad thing.  It is not as if it is "Bad New and Good News," rather we are made free through the law, but how so?

The first verse is a question: Lord, who may enter your tent?  Who, indeed?  The answer is a decologue of commands or admonitions directing the way of the one who wishes to enter the tent.  Let's list them out, for fun:

1- Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right
2- Those who speak the truth from their heart
3- Those who don't slander
4- Those who don't do bad things to their friends
5- Those who don't stir up beef with their neighbors
6- Those who despise the wicked
7- Those who honor people who fear God
8- Those who keep their word, even when it hurts
9- Those who don't lend money with interest
10- Those who don't bribe or deceive the innocent

There are ten.  Good number.  Sound familiar?  When we sing this psalm, we sing these commands and who among us can sing this without being guilty of not being the kind of person who can enter the tabernacle?  Being a part of community, being the "chosen" of God comes with dire responsibility.  It is enough that God has called his people, but they must listen to this calling and this involves sacrifice.  His people have been given a law as salvation and much of that law concerns our relationship with the community.

Think about the list and consider how many of these concern our relationship with others.  That alone is enough argument for a deeper sense of who we are as a community.  We are a broken community.  How do we enter the tent of God if we cannot abide by the law that God gives us?  


Jesus is our once and for all sacrifice for sin and in him is the fulfillment of the law.  This makes sense with the I Corinthians reading for this week.  In his own litany of questions, St. Paul lifts up our salvation as being through the cross and the one who boasts, boasts in the Lord.

As Luther would call us to do, we see Christ at the center of this psalm.  He is evident in the law, its fulfillment and the grace of God outpoured in the cross.  Ponder and search this great mystery that the God of all would give us such grace.  May we be so bold as to give others grace this week and to be renewed in our calling through the cross in this life of grace.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Psalm 40 and a "New Thing"

Psalm 40 (Click HERE to read)

After a conversation with some good friends, we put it this way: if life were a test, we'd all fail.  Look at verse 13.  The psalmist asserts the same conclusion here.  His sins are more than he can fathom, more than the hairs on his head.  And, like the hairs on our head, for a while (I know this well, now) hair will grow back when some has fallen out.  The hope of being removed from our sins seems bleak--but we back up and read the rest of the psalm.

I love verse two--"He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure."  When we are "in our sins," for lack of a better phrase, our hope does indeed seem dismal, but it is present nonetheless.  The psalmist confirms right away that his hope is in the LORD, the holy one who has lifted him up.  Only later does he refer to the pit of his sin from which he has been lifted up and even then his eyes are lifted up to God --"O LORD, make hasted to help me."

We have failed the test of life.  We cannot be removed from sin on our own effort.  I rather like to look at psalms like this in the light of the New Testament, particularly what St. Paul says in II Corinthians 5 - "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away and all things are made new."  We can even consider last week's Old Testament reading from Isaiah, the famous passage "See, I am doing a new thing."

God is doing a new thing, and you are part of it whether you are aware or not.  The answer to the level of your engagement in this "new thing" is given for us in verse 17 of the psalm we're considering: "Let all who seek you rejoice in you and be glad;  let those who love your salvation continually say 'Great is the LORD!'"  and follow that with verse 18, "Though I am poor and afflicted, the lord will have regard for me."

The Lord is your helper today and all days.  Seek him and you will find him.  Look for him and he will be made known to you.  Once you see him, share Jesus in your actions and in your love and quest for love.  He makes all things new and you are part of that.  Get on board!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Psalm 29, Theophany

Psalm 29

Take a second to click on the link above and read this psalm.  Let the imagery wash over you.  Read a couple of times and pray through it.  What is God saying to you through this psalm?

Some sources say that this is a psalm not original to the people of Israel.  This is of no concern to us.  It is typical in the historical tradition of a faith to adopt practices from religious "neighbors" and make them our own.

Let's learn a new word in considering this psalm: Theophany.  Theophany means "physical manifestation of a deity."  This is a theophany psalm.  The imagery proclaims a God visibly at work and audible.  Cedars are broken, flames of fire, the wilderness shaking all make for glorious imagery--oh, and that too, the people of God crying "Glory!"

Rather than delve too much into how this psalm fits in the Israelite culture, something that I am hardly qualified to do, I would like for us to think about this psalm in terms of its liturgical significance this Sunday.  This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.  The gospel writers paint the picture of the Theophany--Jesus, the son being baptized, the Father proclaiming Jesus, the Christ and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove.  God is made visible in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The baptism of Jesus is in part, the inauguration of his ministry here on earth.

This psalm sings of the voice of the Lord over the waters.  It is over these waters in which Jesus is set apart for ministry.  It is over these waters that the voice of God proclaims Jesus as his son in whom he is well pleased.  These waters seal Jesus with the Holy Spirit, just like you and me.  And, just like you and me, these waters are a covenant binding us with God and making us responsible for the work to be done in a creation that God was well pleased to create.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters, ordaining Jesus, proclaiming his work and sanctifying him of the work ahead.  Without getting into too much baptismal theology (a task that I will gladly reserve for those more qualified), I do want to say that in Jesus' baptism we see a model for living and a pattern that begins with giving.  Jesus gives himself in the waters, "the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," to the work of his Father.  This work is the reconciliation of all things completed in the cross and resurrection.  Just like Jesus, we are set apart in baptism and called to work toward the reconciliation of all things to the Father.  This begins with worship and is extended to the world seeking peace where ever possible and actively engaging in the work of justice and reconciliation.

The voice of the Lord has called you.  This voice is a voice of great power.  Worship him.  This voice melts the earth (psalm 46), it makes the oaks writhe.  Listen to the call.