Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
Psalm 147 is one of the psalter’s five last psalms, each of which begins and ends with a “Hallelu Yah!” It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate way to close God’s people’s hymnbook. In fact, this psalm even basically begins by asserting the fittingness of praise to God. It is, insists the psalmist, “good,” “pleasant” and “fitting” to praise the Lord. In a culture that always seems to ask, “What will this do for me?” the psalmist claims that praise to God is appropriate all by itself.
Of course, while Psalm 147 is part of the end of the church’s songbook, the Lectionary appoints its second half for a beginning, for the first Sunday of the new year. So it might be helpful for those who preach and teach this psalm to ask themselves how the Spirit can use this psalm to speak at the threshold of a new year. What might this psalm say about new beginnings?
Psalm 147 celebrates God’s loving care in history and for God’s creation. The part of the psalm appointed for this Sunday that is its second half picks up and, in fact, expands on some of the themes the psalm explores earlier. As Jennifer Green notes, while the poet earlier celebrates the way God binds wounded and heals brokenhearted people in the first half of the psalm, in verses 13-14 the poet goes even further. There she notes that God protects God’s people, blesses children and grants God’s shalom.
God doesn’t just feed God’s children (9). God also, according to verse 14, fills them with the best wheat. In God’s creation God doesn’t just send relatively “pedestrian” rain (8). In verses 16-17 the psalmist notes that God also sends dramatic snow, frost and hail.
Who can withstand these dramatic displays of God’s power, the poet asks in verse 17? Well, of course, neither any person nor any thing. So, the psalmist adds, God also displays God’s tender mercy. God melts the dangerous ice into life-giving water (18). Of course in a world where temperatures are rising, melting ice may not sound like particularly good news. But those who preach and teach this psalm should see God’s melting of ice as those who try to walk down January’s sidewalks would, as a sign of God’s mercy.
Green points out that God matches the psalm’s growing intensity of God’s power with growing provision for God’s whole creation. God doesn’t just recognize the needs of God’s whole creation. God also provides what God’s creation needs, even in the face of great suffering such as that which Israel experienced in exile.
How might this psalm “preach” or “teach” on the first Sunday of the new year? Among other things, it assures worshipers of God’s ongoing faithful ways with what God creates. The coming year will probably include signs of the kind of growing ecological chaos that the psalmist could never have imagined. Yet the poet knew about different kinds of chaos. Even in the face of that, she could still insist that God remains utterly faithful to what God creates. It’s a profession that worshipers can share: if the Lord tarries, God will remain faithful to what God creates throughout the coming year.
The National Museum of American History owns the second of the two “Bibles” that Thomas Jefferson created by “editing” the gospels to reflect his understanding of Jesus’ true philosophy. Jefferson wanted to distinguish Jesus’ genuine teachings from what he called the “corruption of schismatizing followers.”
Jefferson was heavily influenced by the principle of deism. He imagined a divine being that created the world but is no longer interested or involved in its daily life. So he chose not to include in his “gospel” the miracles Jesus performed. He, in fact, rejected anything that he perceived as “contrary to reason.” Jefferson’s gospel ends with a description of Jesus’ burial, but omits an account of his resurrection. He kept Jesus’ own teachings that include the Beatitudes.
Psalm 147 is a good antidote to such an uninterested God who is uninvolved in what God created and still creates. Many of the verbs it uses to describe God’s activity are in the present tense. Its God is not some uninterested, uninvolved deity. It is a God always at work, creating and caring for what God makes.
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, December 21, 2014
Psalm 147:12-20 Commentary