Sermon Commentary for Sunday, August 2, 2020
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 Commentary
The Lectionary presents some mysteries for those of us who follow it closely. In this case we are getting a couple carved-out sections of Psalm 145 a scant four weeks after we had a carved-out section of this exact same poem as the Psalm reading for July 5 (and parts of the August 2 reading are identical to the July 5 reading). There are many psalms to choose from and yet this one we get twice in a month.
I suppose the reason is that the Lectionary folks were drawn to the part of Psalm 145 about God’s giving all creatures their food at the proper time since this could set up some sympathetic vibrations and resonance with the Gospel reading from Matthew 14 and the Feeding of the 5,000. Even so, since a month ago I chose to treat pretty much the whole of Psalm 145—and since no significant flashes of new insight into this wonderful poem have occurred to me since—what follows is a repeat from my July 5 post. Perhaps it will strike you anew this time—or perhaps in what follows there are items you did not use last time if you preached on Psalm 145 last month but that you can use this time. Or maybe you didn’t preach on the Psalm lection for July 5 and so did not read this sermon commentary then. In any event . . . here goes:
Coming as this poem does near the very end of the Hebrew Psalter, we are definitely in the final exultation of singular praise with which this collection concludes. The Psalms have had ups and downs, laments and imprecations. Yet weaving in and through it all was praise and thanksgiving, including even in many of those darker psalms of lament and cursing of enemies. But as the collection prepares to conclude, the Psalter editors selected a half-dozen songs or prayers that ramp up gloriously into a final crescendo, ending of course with Psalm 150, which is a veritable shook-up champagne bottle whose cork flies off with great effervescence!
Psalm 145 celebrates the goodness of God throughout all generations. The breadth of things for which God is praised here is pretty comprehensive: God’s acts of creation and of sustaining that creation, God’s acts of salvation and mercy, God’s closeness to God’s people and how well he listens to their cries, God’s own character of holiness and righteousness. Just about anything you can think of—and just about every subject of praise and thanksgiving that comes up anywhere else throughout all of the 150 psalms—gets tucked into Psalm 145 somewhere. It would be difficult to identify any praiseworthy feature of God or of God’s work that gets left out. About the only thing not included here would be some of the specifics from the more historical psalms that rehearse things like the Exodus from Egypt, God’s presence at Sinai, and other narrative elements of Israel’s past. Outside of that, Psalm 145 is downright capacious.
And in its effervescence it is also downright un-nuanced. We have noted many times in the sermon commentaries on the Psalms here on the CEP website that we ought never take any one psalm and make it prescriptive for every person at every moment in their life. If you took a poem like Psalm 145 and insisted that every believer feel this way every moment of every day, then that would ignore all of those other psalms of lament (about a third of all the psalms) that indicate that there are other seasons of life when the sentiments of a Psalm 145 become longings, distant memories, the kinds of feelings and confidence to which the psalmist hopes to be able to return to someday but for now . . . not so much.
To insist that Psalm 145’s apparent blank check promises that God always hears our prayers and always answers them more or less in a heartbeat ignores all those prayers in this collection that indicate perfectly good and pious people can endure long seasons of apparent divine silence. So we note again the need to read each psalm in the context of the other 149 in the Psalter. Only when taken all together do these prayers reflect the full scope of human life before God.
That, of course, makes preaching on a psalm of singular sunniness a bit of a challenge. On the one hand, we preachers do not want to fail to acknowledge that on any given Sunday, there are plenty of people who, for the moment at least, see their lives and their attitudes reflected quite nicely in something like Psalm 145. And we do not want them to feel guilty for being so upbeat nor preach in a way that tells such people, “Just wait for it—the bottom will drop out for you again one day too!” No, no, that would never do.
Then again, neither can we preach this in ways that ignore those for whom the bottom has dropped out of late, and in these days of COVID-19 pandemic and racial strife, that might just include a few more folks in the average congregation than usual.
So what is the preacher to do?
Preach the Good News that the character of God as reflected in Psalm 145 is true. What’s more, if the poet of this ancient song sensed these truths about God’s character long ago already, then those of us who have now seen how far God in Christ was willing to go to be faithful to all of God’s promises have far more reasons to know of God’s faithful and righteous and compassionate nature. This is who God is! Psalm 145 is right. And if there are those in the congregation experiencing the truth of that already now, then that is reason for all of us to celebrate. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice, after all.
And to weep with those who weep. And for those weeping right now for all kinds of reasons, we remind them that the vision of Psalm 145 is ultimately right and will ultimately be our common reality when God’s kingdom—that eternal kingdom celebrated in Psalm 145—fully comes. COVID-19 will never have the last word. Racism will not rule the cosmos in the end but will vanish like a bad dream. As we live between the times, not only can we not always see the truth of all that, sometimes we have a hard time even believing the truth of all that.
Sometimes we have to believe on behalf of our suffering sisters and brothers. We extend our faith out to their faith to hold them up. But we do so in profound hope. The sentiments and the vision of Psalm 145 and its wonderful and comprehensive litany of reasons to be enthusiastic about our great God are all correct. These things about God have been true in the past, they are true in this present moment (whether we can see them plainly or not) and they will be eternally true.
Can we hold onto the glories of Psalm 145 in the teeth of so much that is wrong with our world and with our lives right now? Yes. It may seem a paradox. But then, central to the Christian experience is the most sacred of all symbols that is itself the ultimate Paradox: The Cross.
There is virtually no way to duplicate this in any translation into any language but Psalm 145 is actually an acrostic. Its 21 verses correspond to the letters in the Hebrew alphabet with each successive verse beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Verse 1 begins with A, Verse 2 with B, Verse 3 with C, and so on. So in essence Psalm 145 goes from A-Z. At the very least we think that some Hebrew Psalms were composed this way to make them easier to memorize. But there may also be a sense in which this literary structure reflects what is also contained in this poem—and as reflected on above in this sermon commentary—and that is the sense that God is being praised here for every reason one could think of from A-Z, the whole kit-n-caboodle, as it were.
That structure is pretty interesting on both levels: first, this is to be memorized, to be carried in our hearts as a constant reminder of the nature and character of our God. These are the truths we must live by! But second, God is worthy of praise for the whole kit-n-caboodle of Creation, Salvation, and soon the Re-Creation of all things. Everything God is, everything God has done and continues to do, everything God will do through Christ Jesus the Lord and by the Holy Spirit—all of it from A-Z and beyond is worthy of all praise!
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