Proper 27A

November 03, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 25:1-13

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 78:1-7

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Scholars sometimes call the book of Psalms Israel’s songbook.  After all, its calls to praise and worship suggest Israel often used the psalms as a means to worship the Lord.  Yet as Phillip McMillon notes, the psalms are much more than just a songbook.  They’re also prayers of misery and grief.  Psalms also call on God for help in times of trouble and persecution.

    Psalm 78 us one of the psalms that refer to Israel’s history.  It’s a psalm that uses that history to make a particular point.  Its history, says Karl N. Jacobson, “might be characterized as a vehicle for theological education.”  Yet while we sometimes think of theological education as the chief subject just for those studying to be church leaders, Psalm 78 has quite a different “audience” in view.  The psalmist tells these “parables,” these “hidden things, things from of old” (2) so that succeeding generations “would put their trust in God, and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (7).

    If that goal doesn’t grab worship leaders and teachers’ attention, then perhaps little ever will.  There are, after all, few things for which parents and the whole Christian community long more than that children receive God’s grace with their faith.  To paraphrase one biblical scholar, we deeply desire that the children whom we carry into church to baptize or dedicate someday walk into church on their own two feet to profess their faith in Jesus Christ.

    However, we sense that entire enterprise is under increasing duress.  Both anecdotally and statistically we sense that increasing numbers of people who were raised in the church are growing up to abandon it.  We no longer assume the children of Christians will somehow “automatically” grow up to make their parents’ faith their own.

    Add to that what Walter Brueggemann calls the assault under which families seem to be and we have plenty of reason to pay close attention to Psalm 78.  Fewer people are marrying.  Those who do marry seem increasingly vulnerable to getting divorced.  Increasing numbers of children are being born and raised outside of the context of marriage.  Children and adults alike are being constantly exposed to technology and ideology that undermines Christian understandings of reality.

    Jacobson points out Psalm 78 is the poet’s effort to obey the statutes God “decreed … for Jacob” and the “law in Israel” God “established” (5).  It’s part of a faithful response to God’s call to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:7 to “Impress [the commandments] on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

    What, then, does the psalmist call Israel to “talk about” with or “tell the next generation”? (4).  What the Israelites “have heard and known, what” their “fathers told” them (3).  Quite simply, the psalmist invites God’s Israelite children to tell their children what they heard from their parents.

    And what sorts of things did the psalmists’ ancestors tell her contemporaries and her?  Two things seem primarily in view, though they might be seen as one entity.  First, Israelites told their children “the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (4).  Then, as if to tell the Israelites exactly which of God’s praiseworthy deeds they are now to tell their children, the psalmist fills verses 12-72 with a stirring history lesson.  What must Israelites tell the next generation?  Of God’s praiseworthy deeds in Egypt and the wilderness.  What must God’s Israelite sons and daughters talk about with their sons and daughters?  The power and wonders God showed Israel in the land of promise.

    Those who preach and teach Psalm 78 will want to explore ways to invite worshipers and students to remember God’s praiseworthy and powerful wonders in their own lives.  They’ll want to invite them to remember so that God’s people may pass the stories of God’s acts not just as described in the Scriptures but also as they experienced them themselves to the next generations.

    However, the psalmist also recognizes God called Israelites to “teach their children” the statutes God decreed for Jacob and the law God established in Israel (4).  While 21st century worshipers sometimes assume this merely refers to what we think of as the Ten Commandments, Psalm 78 actually refers to the whole Torah God gives to Israel, particularly in the first five books of the Bible.

    Here, too, are lessons for 21st century worshipers.  God calls us to communicate to the next generations God’s will for our lives.  So we teach our children not just the Ten Commandments, or the Bible’s first five books, but also the “whole counsel of God,” all the ways God invites us to respond to God’s grace by faithfully obeying the Lord.  So those who preach and teach Psalm 78 will want to help worshipers and students identify God’s will as it’s expressed across and throughout the Scriptures.

    Yet as I noted above, we might think of God’s “praiseworthy deeds” as including both the “wonders” God has done and the “law” God established in Israel.  Such an approach would unify the message God’s Israelite sons and daughters have for their own children.  Isn’t, after all, the gift of God’s law no less “active” or “wondrous” than God opening a path through the Red Sea and into the land of promise?

    Why does the psalmist call worshipers to teach their children both God’s praiseworthy acts and God’s statutes?  First, so that the next generation may not forget God’s works.  Those “praiseworthy deeds” remind Israel that she’s neither self-made nor self-sufficient.  They serve to remind even 21st century Christians that life is a gift rather than an achievement or invention of our own.

    However, the poet, secondly, also calls Israel to tell the next generation about God’s wonders and laws so that they may “put their trust in God” (7).  “It is odd, but true,” writes Walter Brueggemann, “that our capacity to hope is precisely correlated with our ability to remember.”  While that sentence alone has the seeds for a sermon, it’s certainly applicable to any exploration of Psalm 78.  The seeds for trust in God lie, by the grace of God at work through the power of the Holy Spirit, in remembering both what God has done and commanded.

    Finally, God calls Israel to tell the next generation about God’s works and will so they might keep “his commandments” (7).  The psalmist recognizes that true health lies in a faithful relationship with the Lord that includes the doing of God’s will.  After all, since God creates life, God best knows how life should be lived.

    Illustration Idea

    On the Psychology Today website in an article entitled “Storytelling Connects Us All” posted on March 2, 2010, Pam Allyn writes, “What child doesn’t remember a magical story told to them by a parent or loved one? What adult isn’t captivated by an evocative piece on the radio, or a coworker’s rendition of their weekend adventure?

    Storytelling is one of humans’ most basic and effective forms of communication. In fact, researchers at the Yale Child Study center are even finding that storytelling–especially between children and caregivers–is a key component of our neurological development, and a skill that will ultimately help create a well-adjusted and resilient youth.”

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

    Author: Stan Mast