Proper 12A

July 21, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Genesis 29: 15-28

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Psalm 105 is one of the psalms that recite the “wonders” (5) God has done for Israel.  The Scriptures suggest worshipers periodically gathered to hear such recitations of God’s “miracles” and “judgments” (5).  They listened to those stories so that they might “remember” the “wonders” God “has done” (5).

    Yet as Frederick Gaiser notes, this remembering was more than just simply recalling some historical facts.  The Scriptures recount God’s mighty deeds so that worshipers may be drawn into those events.  In a very real sense, when these stories are recalled, God’s saving work becomes, by the power of the Holy Spirit, present for each new generation.

    Yet that call to remember, Gaiser goes on to note, also connects 21st century worshipers to these stories.  In John 20 Jesus tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not yet seen and yet believe.”  We didn’t see, for example, the exodus or Jesus’ resurrection.  Yet through the power of the Holy Spirit we believe God continues to do what God has graciously done in the past.

    While Psalm 105 recounts Israel’s history, that history begins not with human actions, but with God’s promise.  God, writes the poet, “remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded to a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac,” the poet writes.  “He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit’.”  This great promise of the land, and the way God acts to keep it, forms the basis of the praise that floods this psalm.

                While Psalm 105 may seem like nothing more than a long and not particularly exciting Israelite history lesson, a close inspection of it reveals that few of its verbs actually refer to Israel.  So Psalm 105 is not primarily a story of Israel’s political, cultural or military accomplishments.  It’s not even mainly a story about remarkable people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

    No, Psalm 105 insists that Israel’s story is actually largely God’s story.  God, after all, is almost exclusively the actor in this psalm.  Psalm 105 dramatically and repeatedly describes God’s power persistently at work to both save and protect Israel.  God is the one who, after all, “remembers his covenant forever” (8).  God is also the one who confirmed that covenant to Jacob and Israel (8).

    In verse 1 Psalm 105 begins, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,” it begins in verse 1.  “Make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.”  This, however, isn’t just the Israelites’ doxology.  It’s a song of praise that you and I also seek to join them in living out, not just on Sundays, but throughout the week.

    So what does Psalm 105’s long history lesson have to do with such praise and thanksgiving that soaks this psalm?  Psalm 105 gives content to Israel’s praise and thanksgiving.  The Israelites aren’t, after all, just thankful in general.  They thank God for very specific things this psalm describes, for the very specific ways God saved and protected them.

    In a similar way, we aren’t just generally thankful either.  You and I aren’t even just thankful to God in some generic ways.  God has done and continues to do very specific things in our lives.  So you and I try to be very specific in our thanksgiving.

    Christians give thanks to the Lord most of all for the gracious gift of his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit by whom we trust Christ for our salvation.  We give thanks to the Lord for the way God works in his church to spread the gospel of joy and peace to the nations.  Worshipers also give thanks to the Lord for concrete things like friends and relatives, and like food and drink.  Psalm 105 reminds of what God has done, partially so that we may properly praise and thank him.

    Something more, however, is also at work in this remarkable history lesson that is Psalm 105.  This psalm also serves, by God’s Holy Spirit, to encourage worshipers to continue to trust in God’s good purposes.  Israel can, as verse 4 calls, her “look to the Lord and his strength” because she remembers the wonders the Lord has done throughout her history.  By God’s Spirit, Israel’s memory of the kinds of wondrous things God did in the Exodus builds her confidence in God’s ongoing work.

    We too remember God’s faithfulness in order to cultivate confidence in God’s ongoing faithfulness in our lives.  You and I remember God’s work in our past in part so that we may believe in his good plans and purposes for our future.  Christians also talk to each other about what God has done in order to encourage trust in the Lord.

    Yet why does God want Israel to remember what God has graciously done for her?  God did them, the poet insists in verse 45, “that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws.”  So Psalm 105 isn’t just a call to praise and thanksgiving or a summons to ongoing trust in the Lord.  It is also an invitation to thankful obedience to the Lord.

    After Adam and Eve fell into sin, God wanted a people who would live in godly ways in the midst of the world’s ungodly people.  God created, protected and cared for Israel so that she would publicly “keep his precepts.”  God, one biblical scholar eloquently writes, “quite literally moved heaven and earth not just to fix Israel up all nice and pretty in a land where the people could kick back and lead a rich, fat life of milk, honey, wine and cheese.  No, God had orchestrated cosmic events with the goal of establishing a little colony of heaven.”

    Of course, Psalm 105 doesn’t mention just how this heavenly colony fared.  It doesn’t describe Israel’s largely faithless response to God’s gracious care and protection.  The poet leaves it to Psalm 106 to mournfully detail Israel’s disobedient response to God’s wonders and miracles.

    Yet the rest of the Scriptures show that God didn’t give up on our world or God’s idea of establishing a heavenly colony.  So God sent God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the New Israel.  And where the old Israel fails miserably, God’s Son succeeds completely.  In the midst of the world’s blatant disobedience, that eventually includes his own murder, he is perfectly obedient.

    Now, however, that Jesus Christ has returned, in body, to heaven, he leaves you and me with the task of being a colony of heaven.  God graciously saves you and me, in part so that we will be an enclave of obedience in the midst of the world’s depraved disobedience.

    God lovingly created, protects and cares for us in part so that we may represent and display his reign over his creation.  Quite simply, God calls you and me to be different and distinct.  He calls us to be holy.  So in a culture that encourages people to seek their own rights in various relationships, Christians seek to serve and even sacrifice ourselves for each other.

    In a society that calls us to seek out what’s best for us in our workplaces, Christians seek to promote things like racial equality and social justice.  In a society that tells its senior citizens to live it up in retirement, Christians use our new free time to serve the most vulnerable citizens of our society.

    Illustration Idea

    “Memory” and “remembering” play a large role in Psalm 105.  So those who preach and teach this psalm might peruse websites dedicated to helping improve one’s memory.  Sites such as “Memory-Improvement-Tips.com,” “Memory Improvement,” and “Improving Your Memory Techniques” are eager to help memory.

    Why is memory loss such a concern?  It’s not just vital to things like learning and daily functioning.  The loss of our memory also involves a loss of a very basic part of who human beings are.

    When we forget what God has done, we lose a vital part of what God has created us to be.  Is that, perhaps, why the Holy Spirit so often equips those who forget nearly everything else to remember things like psalms and hymns?

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 8: 26-39

    Author: Stan Mast