Proper 8A

June 23, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 10:40-42

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Genesis 22:1-14

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 13

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Psalm 13’s brevity is perhaps exceeded only by its intensity.  In fact, Old Testament scholar James May suggests its brevity emphasizes not just the intense pain and power, but also the promise of this psalm of lament.

    It is the shortest of the psalter’s psalms of lament.  Yet scholars note all of the essential features of such prayers for help are found in it.  Psalm 13 is made up of three parts: a description of trouble, a plea for help and an offering of praise to the Lord.  This brief psalm is also composed of the typical “triad” of psalms of lament: you (God), I (the one who prays), and they (the source of the psalmist’s trouble).

    However, while the whole psalm is concise, its address is even terser.  “How long, Yahweh?” (italics added) the poet immediately asks.  In it the poet speaks to God, using the form of address God gave to God’s people so that they could access God’s mercy.

    The psalmist alludes to her “enemy” in verse 4.  However, that foe isn’t really the source of her misery.  The poet doesn’t even bother to explain what the enemy is doing to her.  In a very real sense, Yahweh, not the enemy, is the source of the poet’s pain.

    This gives worshipers something to really “chew on.”  How often, after all, are modern worshipers willing to lay the blame for their pain not at the feet of people or circumstances, but of God?  It’s worth exploring why worshipers seem at least publicly reluctant to scold God for what they perceive as God’s unfair treatment of them.

    The psalmist certainly isn’t reluctant.  “How long?” he asks of Yahweh, not once but four times in just two short verses.  This lends, notes Mays, a strong tone of protest to this prayer.  The psalmist isn’t pleading for more information; he’s pleading for action.  God, after all seems to have forgotten him and hidden God face (1) from the poet.

    After verse 1, the poet quits directly blaming God for her misery.  Yet the next two verses suggest the poet believes God’s forgetfulness and neglect have directly led to her misery she describes in verses 2 and 3.  God, the poet at least implies, has let the poet wrestle with her thoughts and grief (2).  God has let the poet’s enemy triumph over her (3).

    Even if individual worshipers don’t feel as though God has forgotten and neglected them, they can still pray this psalm.  These might, after all, be the words of the neighbor whose spouse is abusing her or whose children are being neglected.  These might be the words of Christians who are paying a high price for their faith and faithfulness.  These are the words, in other words, of the Body of Christ, the Church universal.

    While the exact form the poet’s enemy’s attacks take are unclear, the threat is very clear.  The psalmist suggests he’s in real danger of being killed or at least having his enemies rejoice in his destruction.  While we might think of death as the worst of those two fates, we need to remember that the poet’s enemy’s rejoicing would also be a rejoicing over the downfall one of God’s own, therefore bringing dishonor on God.

    In response to that threat, for what does the psalmist beg?  For God to hear and help her, as well as give light to her eyes.  Maybe the poet feels as though God has either gone to sleep on her or turned God’s attention away from her.  Perhaps she feels as though her prayers aren’t getting past the ceiling of her room.  In any case, she begs God to not only hear, but also answer her desperate prayers.

    The meaning of the third plea, for God to “give light” to the psalmist’s eyes is less clear.  It’s obviously a plea for God’s help.  Just what form that helps takes is unclear, though the outcome of failure to help (“I will sleep in death”) suggests that the poet is begging God to somehow save his life.

    The progression in the psalmist’s address to God is worth noting.  In verse 1 the poet speaks to the “Lord” (Yahweh).  In verse 2 the poet addresses the Sovereign as the “Lord my God” (Yahweh Elohim).  The psalmist is free to address his God because God has graciously given God’s children the right to join together in calling the Maker and Sustainer of heaven and earth “my God” (italics added).

    Psalm 13 ends with a profession of faith (5) and promise to praise (6).  It’s striking, however, that the poet introduces those with the word “But” (waw).   That suggests that as the poet writes this laments, she believes God has not yet paid attention to and answered her.  She may still feel forgotten and ignored by God, as well as threatened by her enemies.

    That little preposition “But” is instructive for the life of faith.  If, after all, God’s children wait until God has said “yes” to our prayers to profess our faith, we may have to wait a very long time.  If we wait until God has fully rescued us, we may never promise to praise the Lord.  Professions of faith and vows to praise must often be made while still in the darkness.

    The poet offers no explanation for Psalm 13’s end’s dramatic and apparently somewhat abrupt move from lament to faith, from complaint to praise.  It can only be, to use an overworked contemporary phrase, a “God thing.”  The Spirit seems to have helped the beleaguered poet to remember that God’s love (hesed), while not always obvious, is always “unfailing.”  The poet seems again confident, not in his ability to pull himself out of his mess, but in God’s great faithfulness.

    The poet reminds us that by God’s amazing grace, protest, profession and praise can live together, however sometimes uneasily, in the human heart.  God, summarizes Mays, is so faithful that one can speak of misery as the absence of God.  However, God is also so faithful that one can also always speak to and about God even in difficult times as “my God.”

    Illustration Idea

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a skillful rhetorician in his own right, employed the psalmist’s refrain “How long” to great affect in his March 25, 1965 speech in Montgomery, Alabama.  He spoke this speech, sometimes called “Our God Is Marching On!” at the end of the march from Selma to Montgomery.

    “Somebody’s asking,” King said, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?’  How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?”

    “It will not be long,” King continued.  “Because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’  … How long?  Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  How long?  Not long, because ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored …  His truth is marching on … Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! … His truth is marching on’.”

    The full speech is in some ways striking in its parallels to Psalm 13.  There are certainly elements of lament in it.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 6:12-23

    Author: Stan Mast