Easter 6A

May 19, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    John 14:15-21

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Acts 17:22-31

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 66:8-20

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments and Observations

    21st century society has difficulty remembering anything for more than just a few days or weeks.  Such amnesia isn’t helped by its fevered dash from one crisis to the next.  As I write this article, for example, the world struggles to respond appropriately to unrest in Ukraine.  We act as if we’ve already largely forgotten the ongoing unrest in places like Syria and Afghanistan.

    Such amnesia has profound societal and moral implications.  As one philosopher wrote, “Those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  However, Psalm 66’s hymn of exuberant joy suggests that amnesia also has deep spiritual implications.  That joy, after all, grows, at least in part, out of the poet’s memories of specific acts of God’s salvation.  Come and listen, all you who fear God, he sings in verse 16, let me tell you what has done for me.  Had the psalmist forgotten God’s gracious intervention, the psalm might either be less lively or simply not even exist.

    This offers an opportunity for reflection on the place of memory in the Christian life.  It offers opportunities to explore how forgetting God’s faithfulness can hamper proper gratitude to God.  This psalm also presents opportunities to reflect on how worshipers can keep memories alive of God’s specific acts of kindness.  A study of this psalm might even offer worshipers chances to share memories of God’s “awesome deeds” on their behalf, so that others may join them in praising the Lord.

    At least some scholars suggest that the poet’s own salvation prompts her to burst out in this psalm of praise.  I cried out to him with my mouth, she remembers in verses 17 and following, his praise was on my tongue … God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.  Praise be to God who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me.

    Yet one can hardly read verses 10-12 without also hearing echoes of God’s rescue of Israel from exile.  You, O God, tested us, the psalmist remembers there, you refined us like silver.  You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.  You let men ride over our heads; we went through the fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.

    Clearly Psalm 66 refers to Israel or a specific Israelite’s experience of God’s gracious rescue.  So we might expect the psalmist to invite just God’s Israelite people to join him in praising the Lord.  We might expect him to begin by saying something like, “Shout with joy to God, O people of Israel.”

    Yet that’s the psalmist begins, instead, by writing, Shout with joy to God, all the earth … All the earth bows down to you [emphasis added]; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.  In verse 8 the psalmist continues, Praise our God, O peoples [emphasis added].  So it isn’t just Israel whom the poet invites to join him in praising the Lord.  It isn’t even just the world’s people whom the poet invites to join in praising God for God’s acts of grace.  It’s, in fact, the whole creation that he beckons to sing praise and bow down to the Lord.

    Why would the poet invite the whole creation to celebrate something that God did apparently either for just one tiny corner of it or perhaps one Israelite?  Verses 1-3’s invitation suggests that Israel has a place in God’s heart that’s so special that not just Israel, but also the whole creation should celebrate when God rescues her.  It may even imply that what God does for Israel is good not just for Israel, but also for the whole creation.

    Of course, verse 4’s assertion that “all the earth” bows down to the Lord seems naïve.  After all, far too many people don’t yet worship the living God.  The whole creation does not yet willingly submit to God’s loving rule.  Perhaps, then, the psalmist is reflecting on God’s lordship that is real even though not everything yet recognizes it.  The psalmist may also be writing with a hopeful eye to the future.

    As preachers and teachers consider how to lead people through Psalm 66, theologian James Limburg invites us to remember that when the Bible speaks about God, it often does so by telling what God has done.  Essentially, when the Bible describes God, it generally tells a story.  We might even argue the Scriptures are the story of God’s work in God’s world.

    So we can see the Scriptures as a story that begins with creation and runs through the story of Abram and Sarai.  It continues with Israel’s Exodus to the land of promise that ultimately leads to exile.  Yet the New Testament picks up the story by telling what Jesus said and did and what the Holy Spirit does as the Spirit spreads the gospel across the whole world.

    Yet these aren’t just stories of God’s work in and through ancient people.  God also graciously includes God’s children of every era in God’s story.  One of preacher and teachers’ tasks is to find ways to help worshipers locate themselves in those stories so that they too may remember and tell of what God has graciously done.

    The Revised Common Lectionary appoints Acts 7:55-60 for this Sunday in addition to Psalm 66.  That passage speaks of Stephen’s martyrdom, in part because of his retelling of God’s story that his audience has largely rejected.  It’s a sobering reminder that those who tell of what the Lord has done may pay an enormous price for it.

    The Lectionary also links Psalm 66 to I Peter 2:2-10.  There the Apostle Peter tells an early congregation God has made it God’s own people that it may “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  When God’s children tell of what the Lord has done, we declare those praises.

    Illustration Idea

    In her book, In My Father’s House, Corrie ten Boom writes: Today, I know that memories are the key not to the past but to the future.  I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he will give us to do.”

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Peter 3:13-22

    Author: Stan Mast