Easter 7A

May 26, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    John 17: 1-11

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Acts 1: 6-14

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 68: 1-10, 32-35

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments and Observations

                Scholars seem to almost enjoy asserting that Psalm 68 is difficult to understand and, as a result, preach and teach.  They apparently almost relish joining the “many” whom the Jewish Study Bible asserts consider this to be “the most difficult psalm in the Psalter.”  Scholars like to remind us that this psalm contains some difficult words, murky syntax and mysterious metaphors and allusions.

    Old Testament scholar James Limburg, however, suggests Psalm 68’s difficulties have been exaggerated.  It is clear, after all, that it celebrates God’s power to save and thanks the Lord for salvation.  As such, study and contemplation of it can both help and strengthen Christian faith.

    Psalm 68 begins with what Kathryn L. Roberts calls echoes of “the ritual battle call that signified the presence of the ark of the Lord on the field of Israel’s early battles.”  In Numbers 10, after all, we read, “Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, ‘Rise up, O Lord!  May your enemies be scattered, may your foes flee before you’.”

    This adds to the martial tone of Psalm 68 that makes so many modern scholars nervous.  Its God is a warrior who scatters God’s enemies (1) and “blows away” the wicked that “perish before God” (2).  Yet all of this pales, says J. Clinton McCann, before verses 11-23’s portrayal of God as what McCann calls “a sort of male, macho, military commander.”  It’s no wonder, then, that the Lectionary omits that section that contains some of Psalm 68’s most violent imagery from the text it appoints for this Sunday.

    Even Psalm 68’s limited battle imagery to which the Lectionary points, however, calls for careful reflection by those who wish to preach and teach it.  The Church has, after all, always been tempted to claim its martial imagery for itself, sometimes imposing violent military solutions on spiritual problems.  God doesn’t allow the Church to wrap its own kinds of violence in Psalm 68’s flag.

    But the psalm’s depiction of God’s violent reactions to evil remind us that evil is both real and potent.  Evil sometimes robs children of their fathers and wives of their husbands (5).  Evil can have the effect of isolating people from each other (6).  People are sometimes imprisoned (6) out of evil motives.  God’s enemies sometimes wreak great destruction on God’s creation and its creatures.

    So while Jesus turns his followers away from violent responses to violence, Psalm 68 recognizes God sometimes must respond to evil with violence.  In fact, precisely because God reigns and promises to bring evil and its perpetrators to justice, God’s adopted children can “turn the other cheek,” as well as love and pray for our enemies, even as we do what we can to protect vulnerable members of society (5-6) from the effects of evil.

    That’s precisely, after all, what Psalm 68 insists God does.  God’s people can sing with joy to God because God is not just mighty, but also merciful.  God is concerned about people who need God’s help because they have no one else to turn to.  God uses God’s power to “fight” for those on society’s margins.  God serves as a Parent to orphans and Protector of widows.  God even cares for the lonely and the prisoners.

    In fact, Psalm 68 suggests, God extends God’s gracious care even to the neediest parts of God’s creation.  “You gave abundant showers, O God, you refreshed your weary inheritance,” the psalmist sings in verse 9.  Yet by refreshing the most vulnerable parts of creation, the psalmist celebrates, God even refreshed the most vulnerable members of his society: “And from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor” (10).

    On the 7th Sunday of Easter, what’s often called Ascension Sunday, the Lectionary pairs Psalm 68 with Acts 1:6-14’s account of Jesus return to the heavenly realm.  There Jesus insists it’s not for his disciples to know the Father’s schedule for his return to complete the Kingdom.  It’s for the disciples, instead, to witness to that kingdom whose qualities Psalm 68:5-6 reflect.

    The Lectionary also links Psalm 68 to I Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11’s call to Jesus’ followers to remain faithful in the face of the persecution often wreaked by God’s enemies of whom the psalm speaks.  Such persecution, says the apostle, is a cause for rejoicing because it’s prompted by Gods’ peoples’ faithfulness and is rewarded by God’s blessings, exultation and support.

    Psalm 68 is also tied by the Lectionary to John 17:1-11’s account of the first third of Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  There Jesus begs his Father to glorify himself through Jesus’ obedience all the way to the cross.  Jesus also intercedes before his Father on behalf of his disciples who will endure the kind of wrath of God’s enemies that Psalm 68 describes.

    Illustration Idea

    It’s said that Old 113’s setting of Psalm 68 became a kind of Marseilles, an anthem for France’s persecuted Huguenot minority.  It’s said when they were tied to the stake or led to the guillotine, martyrs would sing palms like it so passionately that their captors would cut out their tongues to silence them.  At least until recently, it was the hymn with which the Huguenot Church of Charleston, SC would open each of its worship services.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

    Author: Stan Mast