Proper 20A

September 15, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 20:1-16

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Exodus 16:2-15

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 145:1-8

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments and Observations

    Those who preach and teach this psalm of exuberant praise face an immediate challenge.  Its theme of divine sovereignty is reflected in verse 1’s: I will exalt you, my God, the King.  However, the royalty with whom modern worshipers are familiar are largely ceremonial monarchs.  Their duties seem largely confined to opening parliament, making public appearances and attending each other’s weddings.  So those who preach and teach this psalm may want to spend at least some time familiarizing worshipers with the role monarchs played in the psalmist’s day.

    Regrettably, much of this psalm’s vital royal language falls outside of the text appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary.  After all, verses 11-13 don’t just form the heart of this psalm.  Scholars also note that the three Hebrew letters which start those verses together form the consonant root of melek, the Hebrew word for “king.”  What’s more, those verses refer extensively to Yahweh’s “kingdom” and “dominion.”  So those who preach and teach the Lectionary’s approach to Psalm 145 may also want to at least summarize the vital parts of the psalm the Lectionary omits.

    “Praise” is one of Psalm 145’s key words.  It’s not just that the word is used six times in the psalm.  It’s also that the poet uses similar words and phrases such as “exalt,” “celebrate,” “joyfully sing” and “extol” throughout.  So any message, sermon or lesson on this psalm should reflect its thankful tone.  While one might argue that no psalms are very conducive to the old “three points and a poem” approach, it seems particularly inappropriate for an explanation of this glorious hymn of praise.

    In Psalm 145 the poet vows to praise King Yahweh for ever and ever.  In fact that vow brackets this psalm.  I will praise your name for ever and ever, the psalmist sings in verse 1.  My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord … for ever and ever, he concludes in verse 21.  That eternal element of praise is even more relevant for those who worship King Yahweh after Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.  After all, while the psalmist and his contemporaries had a largely undeveloped theology of eternity and the new creation, the New Testament offers a more developed, though still admittedly somewhat hazy, theology of the new creation in which worshipers will literally praise King Yahweh for ever and ever.  Jesus’ saving death opens the way for God’s sons and daughters to spend eternity in God’s glorious presence

    While Psalm 145 is sung in the first person, there’s a real sense that the poet anticipates that succeeding generations will echo her praise.  So, for example, in verse 4, she sings, One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.  The psalmist recognizes that what God has already done is so “mighty” that even future worshipers will remember it.  The psalmist also at least hints that King Yahweh will continue to do “wonderful works” in the future.  So this is in many ways a very hopeful psalm.

    There’s an interesting interplay in verses 5 and 6 between the poet and succeeding generations of worshipers.  In verse 5, for example, the poet says future generations will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I [emphasis added] will meditate on your wonderful acts.  That pattern repeats itself in verse 6.  So it’s as if the poet and people yet unknown are united in a common bond of praise to and worship of King Yahweh.  In fact, they even form a kind of antiphonal chorus of praise.

    In verse 4 the poet speaks of God’s “works” and “mighty acts.”  She then uses much of the rest of the psalm to describe those mighty acts.  At the appointed text’s boundary, the poet speaks of God’s grace and compassion.  This God, the poet adds, is slow to anger and rich in love.  Outside of the text appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary, the poet speaks of God’s faithfulness to all of God’s promises, God’s love for everything God creates, God’s uplifting of those who fall and God’s provision of everything God’s creatures need.

    Old Testament scholar James Mayes calls Psalm 145 the “overture to the final movement of the Psalter.”  At this psalm’s end the poet promises to “speak in praise of the Lord.”  The rest of the psalms in the psalter begin to fulfill that promise.  Each, after all, doesn’t just begin with a call to “Praise the Lord.”  Psalms 146-150 are also ringing psalms of praise.  What’s more, Psalm 150’s ringing call for praise with all sorts of musical instruments echoes 145’s ending “Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.”

    The Old Testament lesson appointed for this Sunday, Exodus 16:2-15, provides a concrete example of God’s grace and compassion.  It describes Israel’s bitter complaints about God’s provision for her as she wanders from Egypt toward the land of promise.  Yet despite their complaints, God graciously gives the Israelites the food they need.

    The Gospel lesson for this Sunday also points to a very gracious God.  Its parable of the master in the vineyard points to a God who deals with God’s servants not as they deserve, but as God graciously chooses.  Ironically, this grace enrages those who assume latecomers to God’s kingdom don’t deserve it.

    Illustration Idea

    When people approach human royalty, certain etiquette must be followed.  While the rules seem to be more relaxed now, traditionally those who met European royalty addressed them by their formal title.  Men bowed their heads slightly.  Women sometimes curtsied.

    But those who met European royalty were also expected not to do certain things.  People didn’t extend their hands for a handshake until the monarch did first.  And they traditionally never spoke to a monarch until the monarch first addressed them.

    Contrast that with the poet’s approach to King Yahweh.  He insists that the Lord hears the cry of those who fear him.  But what if worshipers were never allowed to cry out to the Lord until the Lord first addressed them?

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Philippians 1:21-30

    Author: Stan Mast