Proper 9A

June 30, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Genesis 24:34-67

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 145:8-14

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Those who preach and teach the part of this psalm the Lectionary appoints for this Sunday face a set of challenges.  First, concepts such as monarchy, kingdom and sovereignty to which this psalm refers are largely unfamiliar to citizens of the 21st century.  The few surviving monarchs are, after all, largely ceremonial.  So preachers and teachers do well to spend some time familiarizing worshipers with the role monarchs played in the psalmist’s day.

    Second, the Lectionary only appoints verses 8-14 of Psalm 145 for this Sunday.  Preaching and teaching only part of any biblical piece is always fraught with danger.  So those who lead worshipers through this psalm must take seriously its context and wider message.

    Third, Psalm 145 is an acrostic.  That means that its first verse begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the second verse with the second letter and so on.  Even the best of English Bible translations struggle to convey that acrostic structure well.  What’s more, acrostics, notes James Mays, convey comprehensiveness.  So if only part of the psalm is preached or taught, as the Lectionary suggests, only part of that comprehensiveness is conveyed.

    Some things, however, are very clear about Psalm 145.  It is obviously a song of praise.  After all, it’s not just that the word is used six times in the psalm. The poem also uses similar words and phrases such as “exalt,” “celebrate,” “joyfully sing” and “extol” throughout.  So any sermon or lesson on this text must reflect its tone of praise.  While one might argue the old “three points and a poem” approach to preaching and teaching is seldom (if ever!) appropriate, it seems particularly inappropriate for exposition of this glorious hymn of praise.

    The section of the Psalm appointed for this Sunday, verses 8-14, covers eight lines of its acrostic, from the Hebrew letters het to samek.  Verse 8 paraphrases what God says about himself at Mount Sinai: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).  When the Israelites thought of Yahweh, they often thought of God in those terms, as gracious, merciful, slow to anger and overflowing with love.

    Yet throughout the section of this psalm appointed for this Sunday, the psalmist insists God doesn’t reserve this character just for Israel.  God, says the poet, is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and overflowing with love to everyone (and perhaps everything) God has made.

    So this psalm begs for its preachers and teachers to reflect with worshipers on the universal scope of God’s loving-kindness.  While the poet may refer to God as his God and King (verse 1), he clearly envisions God as being God and King of all.  So while we often presume God is kind only to those who are kind, this poem insists God’s mercy extends to God’s whole creation, thereby inviting the objects of God’s kindness to imitate God by being gracious and merciful to all.

    Verse 10 turns from language about God to language addressed to God.  “All you have made,” the psalmist professes there, “will praise you, O Lord.”  In other words, those toward whom God is compassionate will respond to that compassion with praise.  This is, of course, in some ways a very eschatological assertion. It is very hard sometimes, after all, to see how people who don’t worship God, to say nothing of some creatures, praise God.  So this psalm points ahead to the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10).  In the meantime, however, Psalm 145 invites worshipers to find ways to invite even those who don’t yet know the Lord to praise God, in part through a faithful relationship with the Lord.

    Verses 11-13 are what one scholar calls “the centerpiece of the acrostic.”  They testify to vital features of God’s character and interaction with human creatures.  Verses 11-13 also form part of the psalm’s acrostic.  Verse 11 begins with the Hebrew letter kaph; verse 12 with lamed; and verse 13 with mem.  Together they form the root of the Hebrew word melek, which means “king” and the word malkut, which means “kingdom.”

    This emphasizes the psalm’s theme, God’s kingship over not only Israel, but also all of creation.  But this Monarch whom Psalm 145 praises is no sovereign tyrant.  This God is glorious, powerful and mighty.  God the King is also faithful to God’s promises and loving toward everything God has made.

    Psalm 145 suggests that it’s among this Sovereign’s subjects’ tasks to make this glorious, loving and faithful God known to all God has made.  God’s people tell of the glory of God and God’s kingdom so that all people may know of God’s mighty acts.  God’s adopted sons and daughters speak of God’s might so that everything God creates and cares for may know about the glorious splendor of God’s kingdom.

    While human kingdoms are very temporary, God’s kingdom is “an everlasting kingdom” (13).  While other reigns come and go, God’s reign “endures through all generations” (13).  God’s kingdom is what Jesus calls a most valuable treasure and pearl, worth selling or abandoning everything else to faithfully receive it.

    Of course, God’s kingdom isn’t always readily obvious.  As this is being written, rebels are sowing anarchy as they close in on Iraq’s already embattled capital of Baghdad.  Nigerian militants are wreaking havoc by killing and kidnapping Christians.  North America’s city streets are all too often littered with the carnage of violence.

    So even as God’s people profess that God is king and that God’s kingdom is eternal, Psalm 145 enlists worshipers in the cause of helping to make that kingdom real and visible.  It invites God’s children to praise the Lord by siding with “all those who fall … and are bowed down” (14).  It summons God’s adopted sons and daughters to extol God by forgiving and praying for enemies.  For where God’s Spirit equips God’s people to do those things, God’s everlasting kingdom comes.

    Psalm 145 invites God’s children to tell the glory of God’s kingdom by being faithful in their marriages and other relationships.  It invites God’s saints to speak of God’s might by caring for every part of God’s crying creation.  For where God’s subjects serve their King in those ways, God’s eternal kingdom comes.

    Illustration Idea

                The 1987 movie, Forrest Gump, fairly sparkles with compassion (Psalm 145:8-9).  It begins with Forrest Gump’s first day of school.  Gump’s physical disability makes him an unattractive seat companion for nearly everyone on the bus.  But Jenny offers him a seat, thereby sowing the seeds for a life-long, if checkered, relationship between Forrest and her.

    Jenny is a compassionate, but flawed character who is deeply shaped by a very abusive childhood.  In fact, you might argue that her sometimes-misplaced compassion is what repeatedly gets her into such deep trouble.

    Forrest reciprocates that compassion by becoming a very compassionate person himself.  In fact, you might argue his compassion becomes his central trait.  He shows that compassion particularly to Jenny.  While she drifts in and out of his life, Forrest never loses his love or compassion for her.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 7:15-23a

    Author: Stan Mast