Proper 22A

September 29, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 21:33-46

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 80:7-15

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments and Observations

    Scholars suggest that Psalm 80 is a communal lament.  Yet its central message is a plea for Yahweh to once again help God’s Israelite people.  Such pleas for help, after all, bracket the psalm.  The poet also injects them at key junctures of the psalm.  In the part of the psalm appointed for this Sunday the psalmist begs Yahweh, Restore us (7).  There the poet also prays to God to Make your face to shine upon us, that we may be saved.  Return to us, she pleads with the Lord in verse 14.

    The poignancy of those pleas for God’s help is heightened by the psalmist’s memories of what Yahweh has done in the past.  Yet for whom precisely God did these things is somewhat unclear.  Most of the time the poet seems to speak of the “vine” as God’s Israelite people.  That’s, after all, a common biblical motif.  What’s more, the psalmist speaks repeatedly in the first person plural.  But in verse 15, for example, the poet almost seems to speak of the vine as God’s anointed Davidic king.  Perhaps, however, we try to make a distinction that’s too fine when we try to determine whether Psalm 80’s vine refers to Israel or to her king.  Israel, after all, often seemed to conflate these two entities.  She often thought of her king and herself as almost one.

    This God whom the poet begs for help has not always seemed to be absent just when God’s people most needed help.  Using vivid imagery that’s clearly reminiscent of the Exodus, the poet speaks of Israel as a plant that God lovingly and carefully transplanted from Egypt’s harsh soil into the land of promise’s lush soil.  Using agricultural imagery, the poet recalls how God even prepared Canaan’s soil for Israel by “tearing out” the “plants” that were the other nations.  In that new land, the psalmist wistfully recalls, the vine that is Israel flourished.  She grew into a mighty plant that was a blessing not just to the nations around her, but also throughout the entire region.

    The passage the Lectionary appoints for this Sunday offers an opportunity for worshipers to summon up their own wistful memories of God’s provision.  Of churches that once could scarcely seat all their members.  Of homes that once nearly overflowed with happy children.  Of relationships that once filled people with joy.  Of health that was once vigorous.

    Why, the poet wonders, has God reduced Israel to a defenseless shell of her former self?  Why has Yahweh let marauders wreak havoc on God’s Israelite people?  Why has God become an apparently inattentive gardener?  When, after all, anyone can plunder the bounty that is Israel, it’s not just that Israel suffers.  It’s also that the blessing that is Israel is localized.  She no longer can provide the nations and region around her with what they need.

    The poet’s “Why?” may open an opportunity for worship leaders and teachers to raise questions about worshipers’ comfort level with asking God “Why?”  Most of God’s people ask God why God allows certain things to happen.  But at least some are reluctant to do that publicly.  We sometimes worry others will perceive our “Why, God?” as a sign of a lack of faith or impertinence.

    It’s perhaps no accident that lament has largely disappeared from many at least western Christian traditions.  We find little space in our worship services for it.  Even the new worship music the church is generating seems to contain little lament.  Worship leaders might involve worshipers in this issue by asking which songs and hymns they know ask God, “Why?”

    After asking God why God has abandoned God’s Israelite people, in verses 14 and 15 the psalmist begs God to re-engage with God’s them.  God, after all, seems to have abandoned God’s people.  However, God seems to have particularly turned a kind of blind eye towards God’s children.  Twice in verses 14-15, after all, the poet uses optic images: “Look down … watch over.”

    Psalm 80 also offers those who preach and teach it an opportunity to begin to reflect on the problem of suffering.  The poet addresses it to a God who is a mighty shepherd and king.  Such a God is eminently capable of providing God’s children with everything they need.  Yet worshipers know that God doesn’t always seem to provide even God’s most faithful children with what they need.  So the psalmist’s cries of “Restore us … Make your face shine upon us … Look down … Watch over” are also the cries of 21st century worshipers.

    It’s regrettable the Lectionary appoints only the verses 7-15 for this Sunday.  After all, that omits the hopeful note on which this psalm ends.  It concludes with the poet’s recognition of the only source of Israel’s hope.  That hope doesn’t lie in Israel’s moral resuscitation.  It lies only in God’s gracious turning of God’s face back toward God’s Israelite people.  God’s people are only saved, only rescued because God graciously turns toward and acts for us.

    Illustration Idea

    While they may not look like it to the untrained eye, white-tailed deer are classic marauders (13).  In urban, suburban and rural areas they love to feast on plants and flowers that would-be gardeners plant.

    So gardeners do lots of things to discourage deer from eating their plants.  They may put some kind of mesh over their plants.  They may surround their gardens with things designed to keep deer away.  Some gardeners even erect fences to keep deer away from their plants.

    Yet what happens when someone takes down such fences?  The deer feel free to wander back into the garden and sample from some of its tastier fare.  The plants then bless not the gardener or any other people, but only the deer.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Philippians 3:4b-14

    Author: Stan Mast