Monday, May 16, 2016

Speed Bump

Each Sunday morning as our worship begins we recite a Psalm.  While I don’t use the Revised Common Lectionary for preaching I do look each week to see what Psalm it includes and then use that psalm in our worship. 

Well, that is kind of what I do.  Sometimes the lectionary includes just a few verses of a psalm, or sometimes it may omit large sections of a psalm, and some psalms are completely excluded from the lectionary.  I understand part of the reason why this is, because the psalms include the full range of human emotions.  On the one side it is easy to include psalms heavy in praise and joy.  Way off to the other side, the psalms that call for God to avenge God's enemies…those require a different touch to be used well in worship. 

So my practice in planning our worship has been to use entire psalms, wherever practical, by length and topic.  The lectionary repeats over a period of three years and if I have already used a psalm in that time-frame I may look to see about using one of the psalms the lectionary passes over.

This past Sunday we recited Psalm 104, verses 24-35.  The psalm is 35 verses long, and perhaps a bit long to use in its entirety.  The heading to the psalm in my Bible is "In Praise of the Creator" and that is basically what it is.  It is a song of praise to God the Creator, making mention of many of the things found within creation, all made  by God.

I was led to choose this section of this psalm because it was in the lectionary.  Sort of.  The lectionary included verses 24-34 and 35b, omitting the first part of verse 35.  In the Good News translation, the version of the Bible in the pews of our church, verses 24-34 read:

 Lord, you have made so many things!
    How wisely you made them all!
    The earth is filled with your creatures.
 There is the ocean, large and wide,
    where countless creatures live,
    large and small alike.
 The ships sail on it, and in it plays Leviathan,
    that sea monster which you made.
 All of them depend on you
    to give them food when they need it.
 You give it to them, and they eat it;
    you provide food, and they are satisfied.
 When you turn away, they are afraid;
    when you take away your breath, they die
    and go back to the dust from which they came.
 But when you give them breath, they are created;
    you give new life to the earth.
 May the glory of the Lord last forever!
    May the Lord be happy with what he has made!
 He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
    he touches the mountains, and they pour out smoke.
 I will sing to the Lord all my life;
    as long as I live I will sing praises to my God.
 May he be pleased with my song,
    for my gladness comes from him.

This last third of the psalm is joyous. It begins with praise for God as Creator, then shows God as the Sustainer of creation, and then shifts to the psalmist personally praising God.  Then comes the first part of verse 35:

May sinners be destroyed from the earth;
    may the wicked be no more.

That is the speed bump, before closing with these words:

Praise the Lord, my soul!
Praise the Lord!

I can only guess as to why the people compiling the lectionary left out the first part of verse 35.  I'll grant that it does interrupt the flow of praise that builds throughout the whole psalm.  But on the other hand, if the entire Bible, from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 21:21, is God's Word, and a relentlessly good word, then perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to pass over those things that might offend our sensibilities. 

The psalmist knows that not everyone looks at the world from the same vantage point he does.  Not everyone has praise for the Creator, Sustainer and ultimately, the Redeemer, of the world.  And so he calls for God to bring His just judgment on those people.

And as I think about our use of the psalm from yesterday the speed bump gives me pause.  If I consider what it means, in an eternal sense, for sinners to be "destroyed from the earth," for "the wicked to be no more," that end is frankly horrifying.  And so the speed bump gets my attention and calls me to serve God in ways which lead others to see His goodness and mercy, revealed perfectly in Christ Jesus, so that they, and I, and the psalmist, can join together in singing our praise to God.

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