Lent 3A

March 17, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    John 4:5-42

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Exodus 17:1-7

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 95

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Archbishop William Temple once wrote, “If you have a false idea of God, the more religious you are, the worse it is for you – it were better for you to be an atheist.” It’s a sobering warning for anyone who plans and/or leads worship or teaches Scriptures such as Psalm 95. After all, while this psalm invites worshipers into the presence of the living God, it also indicates that God is a “great God” who is not to be trifled with. This psalm also serves as a kind of warning against corporate worship that tries to divorce itself from daily life.

    Psalm 95 is one of a group of psalms (Psalms 93, 95-98) that focuses on God’s reign over all of creation. Part of the scope of God’s reign is humanity, which is naturally resistant to God’s reign. So those who want to worship God in “spirit and in truth,” as Jesus calls us to do, learn to “bow down” and “kneel before the Lord” (6).

    Yet such calls to worship the Lord who “is the great King above all gods” (3) sound strange to most 21st century western ears. After all, the concept of a monarchy with any real authority has largely died in the west. To the Israelites, however, the idea of a monarchy was far from strange. They believed God formed them at Mt. Sinai and established three kinds of governing offices: prophet, priest and king.

    Yet at their best the Israelites also recognized that their God, Yahweh, ruled over all those offices and officers. As her King, God defended Israel and her territory, authored and enforced federal and civil law and maintained civil and economic stability. So while human monarchs helped Yahweh with that work, they were expendable, replaceable and subject to God’s sovereign commands.

    Of course, all too often Israel’s leaders failed in their calling. Most didn’t follow in God’s ways or submit to God’s reign over their personal and national lives. Many did great damage not only to the nation of Israel, but to also God’s kingdom. In fact, some scholars suggest the first 89 psalms in many ways document Israel and her kings’ persistent failure to follow the Lord. Yet Psalm 95’s poet asserts that while human kings may fail to do their God-given duties, Yahweh the divine King won’t.

    Of course, Yahweh had a special covenantal relationship with the nation of Israel. What’s more, few true monarchs remain, at least in the West. Yet Psalm 95 still has implications for modern human leadership. Presidents and prime ministers may not be kings. But the New Testament especially insists God has a special interest in their work and in them. God not only gives them the authority they have. God also expects even leaders who don’t recognize God as King to lead in accordance with God’s plans and purposes. So Psalm 95 serves not just as a call to worship. It also serves to call worshipers to faithful prayer for those whom God has made leaders.

    Psalm 95 offers a pattern of summons, then reasons for obeying those summons. So, for example, in verses 1-2 the poet invites God’s people to worship Yahweh. Verses 3-5 then offer reasons for offering that worship. The psalmist calls us to worship God because God is such a great God. God, after all, holds in God’s loving hands the “depths of the earth” and “the mountain peaks” (4), as well as both the “sea” and the “dry land” (5). Yahweh also deserves worship because God has made himself “our God,” so that God’s vulnerable children are “the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”

    Of course, even God’s children aren’t naturally enthusiastic about such a description of humanity. People naturally think of ourselves as the figurative centers of the universe. We treat the mountains and depths of the earth, the seas and the dry land as if they were our playgrounds with which we may do as we choose. Few of us like to think of ourselves as relatively dumb, helpless sheep. So Psalm 95 poses a challenge to modern assumptions about the nature of people. It rejects our “human-centric” view of the world and reminds us that we live, move and have our being in God’s world at God’s pleasure.

    Yet verses 7b-11 remind worshipers that humanity hasn’t changed much. They recall Israel’s wilderness failure to believe the God who’d miraculously parted the Red Sea’s waters could also miraculously give them water to drink in the wilderness. Moses, of course, took the perhaps same staff with which he’d struck the Red Sea and struck Meribah’s rock so that God sent life-giving water flowing out from it. Yet while this temporarily averted disaster for Israel, Israel’s hard-heartedness resulted in a far greater disaster for her. God exiled her to wander in the wilderness until the Israelites died there.

    Why, then, would the poet end such a glorious call to worship that is Psalm 95 with such a grim reminiscence of rebellion? Sandra Richter suggests it’s the poet’s call to her Israelite contemporaries to show the confidence in and loyalty to God that their ancestors hadn’t. This psalm warns that as surely as God had barred Israel’s ancestors from the land of promise, God could also show the psalmist’s contemporaries God’s wrath.

    This ending also presents those who preach and teach Psalm 95 with an opportunity to reflect with hearers on their concepts of God. Relatively few modern worshipers conceive of God as a God whom even rebellion angers. The god of the 21st century caters to humanity’s whims and doesn’t get angry about sin. So those who lead and plan worship and other forms of discipleship do well to help God’s people remember warnings such as Hebrews 3:12’s: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” and Hebrews 4:7’s: “Today if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your hearts.”

    Yet the season of Lent for which the Lectionary appoints this psalm insists that God doesn’t let God’s anger have the last word with God’s children. In Romans 5:8-9 the apostle Paul reminds worshipers: “God demonstrates God’s own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through” Jesus Christ.

     

    Illustration Idea

    Psalm 95 suggests a certain etiquette for approaching Yahweh, “the great King above all gods.” Worshipers approach the Lord with joyful singing, loud shouting, thanksgiving, music and song. They approach Yahweh on their faces or knees.

    Tom Ryan has posted an article entitled, “What Is Etiquette for Greeting Royalty?” http://www.ehow.com/about_6512955_etiquette-greeting-royalty_.html. Christians might infer from his piece that greeting modern royalty is, in some ways, far more restrained than the “etiquette” for approaching the Lord.

    He notes that bowing to another country’s royalty isn’t required, though dignitaries may choose to bow as a sign of respect. Ryan also points out that people should never touch royalty without first being touched or given permission to touch.

    It’s also important, Ryan adds, to address royalty with the proper respect. People refer to England’s Queen first as “Your Majesty,” and then, “Ma’am.” What’s more, Ryan suggests, people should be aware of specific etiquette for addressing royalty. In Malaysia, for example, those who greet the king put their hands together and raise them to their foreheads.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 5:1-11

    Author: Stan Mast