Proper 26A

October 27, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 23:1-12

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Joshua 3:7-17

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 43

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    While the Lectionary appoints only Psalm 43 for this Sunday, it will be treated and referenced here in combination with Psalm 42.  The two, after all, form one psalmic unit.  Among other things, the repeated refrain (42:5 & 11, 43:5), “Why are you so downcast, O my soul . . . Why so disturbed within me?” strongly suggests Psalms 42 and 43 are artificially divided.

    God created people for a relationship with himself.  So we’re not surprised that this psalm, like so much of human life, begins in longing for God.  Yet it also ends in hope.  So it’s as this psalm moves from the foothills of longing to the mountaintop of hope.  That means this psalm addresses people wherever they are in their walk with God.  Some, like the psalmist, long for God.  They want to feel close to God, yet feel far from the Lord.  Or they find themselves in some kind of spiritual “rut.”  While they have a relationship with God, they long for a more intimate relationship with him.  Yet some worshipers also find themselves on a kind of spiritual mountaintop.  They strongly sense God’s presence.  Their walk and relationship with the Lord is intimate.

    This psalm implies God’s children aren’t frozen on the foothills of longing for him or in the valley of despair. God wants to move worshipers to a place of praise.  To appreciate how the Lord moves the psalmist to that place, we need to see this poem is divided into three stanzas.  The first includes verses 1-6, the second, verses 7-11 and the third, Psalm 43:1-5.

    Several phrases pulse throughout each stanza.  We’ve already noted how three times the psalmist asks himself, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul . . . Why so disturbed within me?”  The poet answers his own question by admitting that he has an intense longing for God that we infer is being unfulfilled.  “As the deer pants for streams of water,” the poet writes in Psalm 42:1, “so my soul pants for you, O God.”

    The poet feels as though she’s in a wilderness where there’s so little water that all the wells are dry and cracks split the parched ground.  So she longs for God like thirsty people and animals in drought-stricken places long for water.  However, she doesn’t know how to find God, much like living things struggle to find water during a drought.

    A couple of circumstances heighten the psalmist’s thirst for God.  First, she seems to feel isolated from God.  In Psalm 42:2 the poet asks, “When can I go and meet with God?”  42:6 implies the poet is in northern Palestine, far from Jerusalem where the Israelites traditionally believed they met with God.  This sense of the psalmist’s isolation from God is heightened by her memories of earlier meetings with God in Jerusalem.  She remembers joining many other people in joyful, singing processions up to God’s house.

    The poet returns to that theme of distance from God throughout this psalm.  In the second stanza, in 42:9, he says “to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me’?”  And in the third stanza, in Psalm 43:2, the psalmist also says, “You are God my stronghold.  Why have you rejected me?”  However, his enemies’ taunts also heighten this psalmist’s thirst for God.  “My tears have been my food day and night,” he grieves in 42: 3, “while men say to me, ‘Where is your God’?”  So while the psalmist has longed to drink the “water” that is intimacy with God, he’s only been able to drink his “tears.”

    Part of the poet’s pain stems from the fact that while his mocking enemies can see and touch their idols, the living God is invisible to him.  What’s more his God also seems to the psalmist to be inactive.  After all, God doesn’t immediately vindicate God’s people when their enemies mock God’s.  So the poet doesn’t just feel isolated from and forgotten by God.  His spiritually battered body also feels wounded by his enemies’ taunts.

    The psalmist, however, repeats this refrain of his enemies’ mockery in the other two stanzas.  In the second, in 42:9 she asks God, “’Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’  My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God’?”  And then in the third stanza, Psalm 43:2, the psalmist also adds, “Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

    What, then, relentlessly intensifies the psalmist’s thirst for God?  The absence of God to comfort him and the presence of people who mock him.  So this God-thirsty poet prays, in the third stanza, in Psalm 43:2, that God send out God’s “light” and “truth.”  He’s confident that light and truth will, like guides in the desert, lead him back into God’s presence.  At God’s mountain, altar and home, the poet is confident he will again meet and worship the God in whom he rejoices and delights.  Of course, the psalmist isn’t suggesting that the Temple is the only place where one can meet with God.  He looks to the temple simply because the poet has experienced that intimacy in the past in public worship there.

    The psalmist tries to quench her thirst for God by remembering better days.  So in 42:4 she recalls trips to the temple with other religious pilgrims to worship God.  And in 42:8 the poet also remembers knowing and experiencing God’s presence.  Neither memory, however, can satisfy this psalmist’s longing for God.  While memory can have great power, it doesn’t always affect the present experiences of those who hurt.

    So how does the psalmist “talk to himself” at the end of each refrain?  He recognizes that a crushing burden weighs down his soul.  He also realizes that something like a raging ocean disturbs his soul.  The poet, however, doesn’t cave in to his spiritual depression or excuse himself or his pain.  Instead the psalmist prescribes a remedy for his spiritual depression.   He knows that he must give up his introspection and self-pity.  He must surrender his wistful reminiscence and anger at his enemies’ mockery.  The psalmist realizes that he must, instead, put his hope in God.

    Yet the psalmist doesn’t move from longing for intimacy to perfect intimacy.  This poem doesn’t move from despair to complete joy.  No, this psalm moves from a longing for intimacy with God to hope in God.  It ends with a call to renewed confidence in God: “put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”  Since praise may even grow in the soil that is the most trying circumstance, this psalm won’t let us expect perfect resolution to all our pain.  Yet it does give us reason to again hope in God.

    We often think of hope as a desire that may or may not be fulfilled.  So you and I may, for instance, hope that it rains today or hope that we don’t have to sit here much longer.  However, we also know that it may not rain for days and that we may have to sit here for hours.  Hope in God, however, doesn’t have that degree of uncertainty.  Those who put their hope in the Lord are absolutely confident in the Lord.  We know that God keeps God’s promises, that God will be faithful to himself and his children.

    In his terrific book on hope entitled Standing On the Promises, Lewis Smedes writes, “When God gets into our hoping, we pin our hopes on a Person.  More exactly, on a Person and the promises he makes.  Not that he will see to it that we get everything we wish for and believe is possible, but he will give us what he promises.  So now our hope moves from a belief that the good that we want is possible to a trust that God intends to keep his promise and is competent to do so.”

    The cross is a wonderful symbol of such hope.  It reminds worshipers of the place where Jesus Christ reconciled them to God.  The cross also, however, symbolizes the place where Jesus Christ defeated the immense power of Satan and evil.  The cross reminds us that while God may seem far away, as God appeared to be to this poet, in Christ God actually came to live and stay among us.  It’s a visible reminder, then, that God will yet lead us through our times of loneliness and despair to praise God.  The cross also, however, reminds us that though evil may seem so powerful, just as it did in the life of this psalmist, it’s a defeated power.  It’s a visible reminder that God will yet, by God’s Spirit, lead us through our times of longing and despair to praise him.

    Illustration Idea

    Psalm 42 and 43’s poet feels much like Simon Wiesenthal did in World War II’s Mauthausen concentration camp.  Wiesenthal was a young Jewish prisoner in that doomed camp.  One night a fellow prisoner woke Wiesenthal to tell him about an old woman.  She had looked up to heaven and prayed, “Oh, God Almighty, come back from your leave and look at thy earth again.”  “What do you think of that, Simon?” the prisoner asked him.  “God is on leave.  Let me sleep,” Wiesenthal replied.  “Tell me when he gets back.”  Later, however, Wiesenthal reflected on their conversation.  “One really begins to think that God is on leave,” he wrote.  “Otherwise the present state of things wouldn’t be possible.  God must be on leave.  And he has no deputy.”

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

    Author: Stan Mast