Easter 5B

April 27, 2015

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    John 15:1-8

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Acts 8:26-40

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 22:25-31

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Psalm 22 is poignant prayer of lament of a persecuted child of God. It begins with the anguished cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet throughout much of the psalm, the psalmist prays as though she’s not entirely certain that God is even listening to her.

    However, Psalm 22’s tone is quite different by its end. It suggests the psalmist is reassured God has not, in fact, abandoned him. After all, Psalm 22 ends with a majestic vision of the scope of the praise that all of God’s children will one day offer the Lord. The description of this worldwide praise is what Brent Strawn calls “expansive.”

    Yet though throughout most of the psalm the psalmist seems largely uncertain as to whether God is, she speaks directly to the Lord anyway. She even anticipates the day when all the peoples of the earth will praise the Lord with her. So it’s as if even as the psalmist figuratively lifts her eyes to the God “enthroned as the Holy One” (3), she also looks around at the people around her and across the world. That makes the verses 25-31 an appropriate expression of praise for the Easter season.

    Yet even verses 25-31 aren’t expressions of naïve triumphalism that refuses to acknowledge the misery that plagues our world. Psalm 22’s author recognizes the reality of want and need. In verse 26 he speaks of “the poor.” In verse 29 he refers to “all who go down to the dust.” And in verse 29 he also speaks of “those who cannot keep themselves alive.” The reality of that misery that surrounds him may even fuel the psalmist’s sense of God’s abandonment that characterizes so much of Psalm 22.

    However, the psalmist insists misery won’t get the last word in God’s world. She envisions a day when not only God’s Israelite sons and daughters, but also people from across the whole world will offer their praise to the Lord. In fact, as noted in an earlier reflection on this passage, the psalmist envisions God’s praise as spreading across the world a bit like ripples extend outward from the center of a pond.

    Praise to God’s may find its genesis, by God’s grace, in God’s Israelite children who “seek the Lord” (26). However, the psalmist insists that praise will spread to “all the ends of the earth” and “all the families of the nations.” Interestingly, he doesn’t even summon people from across the world to join him in praising God. Instead, he simply says it will happen. “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him” (Italics added).

    So the psalmist envisions a day when even people whom socio-economic realities now often divide will be united in their praise to the Lord. Whether people are now poor or wealthy, some day the Spirit will unite them in worshiping God. The psalmist eagerly anticipates a time when even those who now “go down to the dust,” perhaps to kneel before powerful oppressors, will also someday kneel instead before the Lord of heaven and earth.

    In fact, asserts the psalmist, someday even those who can’t “keep themselves alive,” the dying, will kneel before the Holy One. James Mays notes how striking such an assertion is. After all, in the psalmist’s world those who are dead don’t praise the Lord. So while verse 29 doesn’t refer to those who are already dead as praising the Lord, it’s worth noting it does assert that someday the dying will also recognize they belong to the Lord.

    Another striking feature of the scope of the praise to God that the psalmist envisions is her inclusion of “the rich of the earth.” This is a kind of reversal of expectations. After all, the Scriptures often warn those who are now wealthy, especially people who have unjustly gained their wealth, will someday forfeit it. In Psalm 22, however, the psalmist insists that God is so generous that even “the rich of the earth will feast and worship.”

    The ripples of praise spread so far across God’s world that they even extend into the unknown future. After all, the psalmist asserts “posterity” will serve the Lord. “Future generations will be told about the Lord.” In fact, even those who are not yet born will be told about the Lord. It’s a striking assertion that’s made by a psalmist who’s not even sure she’ll live to see another day. It’s almost as if she insists that no matter what happens to her personally, the praise she has offered will spread across the world.

    Particularly in the light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Psalm 22 expresses an eschatological vision. It invites worshipers to envision the day when, in Jesus Christ, people from everywhere and every circumstance will come to worship the Lord. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, people from every corner of the world and setting are already coming to faith in the risen and ascended Jesus Christ. Yet preachers and teachers also remember that the full realization of Psalm 22:25-31’s vision awaits the new creation where, by God’s grace, rich and poor, young and old will join in praise to the Lord.

    In the meantime preachers and teachers of Psalm 22 may wish to reflect with hearers on Psalm 22’s implied ethics. As God’s kingdom comes, they may want to ask who fill feed “the poor” so that they may now “eat and be satisfied”? Who will work to do all that they can to see that the “ends of the earth” come to “remember and turn to the Lord”? Who will tell “future generations” and “a people yet unborn” about the Lord of heaven and earth?

    Illustration

    In 2011 the Pew Forum released the results of a study of the size and distribution of global Christianity. It reported the number of Christians worldwide had quadrupled in the past 100 years. But since the world’s overall population also grew rapidly, Christians make up about the same proportion of the world’s population today as it did a century ago.

    The share of the population that is Christian in sub-Saharan Africa climbed from 9% in 1910 to 63% in 2010. In the Asia-Pacific region it rose from 3% to 7%. Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, is now home to more Christians than all 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region combined.

    Nigeria now has more than twice as many Protestants (broadly defined to include Anglicans and independent churches) as Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. Brazil has more than twice as many Roman Catholics as Italy.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 John 4:7-21

    Author: Stan Mast