Sermon Commentary for Sunday, September 24, 2023
Psalm 145:1-8 Commentary
With 150 psalms to choose from, it is something of a mystery why this is the third time in three months that the Lectionary has had us somewhere in Psalm 145. Even so, here we are again. If a given preacher did preach on part or all of the 145th Psalm in July and/or August this year, I can imagine they might look elsewhere in the Lectionary for this Sunday. But I will try to find a fresh angle on the first 8 verses, which is where the RCL has us halt for this Year A Sunday in Ordinary Time.
What stands out in these verses? Like many psalms so also this one begins with ardent promises to praise God forever and ever. God’s grandeur and greatness are trotted out and declared to be in the end unfathomable for the average human being. At the end of this pericope is also a note on God’s chesed or lovingkindness/grace and a note on how God is slow to anger. That was the focus of one of the previous sermon commentaries in recent months so we will leave that to the side for the moment even as I suggest you check especially the July 9, 2023, sermon commentary if you would like to focus on the “great love” part of Psalm 145:8.
For this commentary, my eye was caught by the line about how one generation tells God’s great deeds to the next. Once that line is uttered in verse 4, that new generation becomes the antecedent for the “they” that crops up in the next three verses. In verses 5 & 6 the psalmist alternates a focus on “they” with a focus on himself.
They will speak of your glorious splendor / I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They will tell of your powerful works / I will proclaim them.
Then in verse 7 it is all on the “they” celebrating God’s goodness and singing joyfully of God’s righteousness.
Psalm 145 is highlighting the vital importance of parents witnessing to their children, of grandparents witnessing to their grandchildren, of all people in the church being mindful that if the memory of what God has done and the character of God are going to be perpetuated, all of that needs to be repeated and proclaimed with joy from older generations to younger ones. And even when that is done, we are still all in this together. None of us can ever leave it up to the next generation alone. We participate in all this right alongside them. They do these things. I do these things. We do these things and tell these things and sing these things together.
As I write this sermon commentary, it is September 11, 2023, and so is the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. As time has gone by, the memorials and remembrances have become less frequent and less focused upon. Facebook on this anniversary used to have a lot of posts marking the grim anniversary but today I have seen only a handful. Still, the upshot of the ones I did see—and of the far more numerous ones that appeared in the past and on significant time markers like the 5th, 10th, and 20th anniversaries—are typically along the lines of “We Remember!” and “We Will Never Forget.” That is so vital.
It reminds me of some markers I have seen at former Nazi concentration camps in Germany. Over the gate going into Dachau in Munich are the words “Nie Wieder,” “Never Again.” Near one of the crematoriums where people were burned alive or burned after being gassed are the words “Denket Daran Wie Wir Hier Starben,” “Ponder How We Died Here.” In recent decades there have been a few documentary film projects headed up by the Shoah Foundation and spearheaded by people like Steven Spielberg in a desperate attempt to capture on film the living memories of Holocaust survivors before the last of them passes away. Because if over time people forget, that is more than enough of an opening for Holocaust deniers and historical revisionists to move in and wipe out the truth of what took place.
All of that involves a living memory of bad things so as to avert their happening again. But it works in the same way in the opposite direction involving the good and glorious truths celebrated in Psalm 145. If we forget and if we fail to keep looping in the next generation and then the next and the next, there is the danger that God’s reputation will suffer, that history will get re-written (or at least will be under-appreciated) in ways that may cause faith to dim if not die out.
Psalm 145 makes clear that a person cannot promise the incessant praise of God as detailed in verse 1 if the next generation is not part of the praise project. Yes, there are always challenges. Starting in the 1960s and in the tumult of those years, a new phrase took hold: “The Generation Gap.”
As vividly shown in the TV show All in the Family when progressive son-in-law Mike Stivic tried to communicate with his bigoted father-in-law Archie Bunker, sometimes it was almost as though the generations were speaking different languages. “I just can’t understand young people these days” we often hear.
So there are challenges here without a doubt. But somehow the generational divides must be bridged. In recent years many churches have tried to do this through an intentional focus on intergenerational worship. What kind of worship service and what form of preaching can bring together the traditional with the innovative in ways that bring everyone along and so fulfills Psalm 145:4’s desire of one generation declaring the goodness of God to the next generation? Psalm 145 is one part of the Bible that reminds us of the central importance of that question.
Few rituals in all of Scripture demonstrate in a vivid, living way the vital nature of witnessing to the deeds and character of God than The Passover as instituted originally in The Book of Exodus. As Seder rituals developed over time and even to this present day among Jewish people, a key moment is when the eldest child asks the question of the father, “Why is this night different from all the rest?” That question then becomes the key that unlocks history’s door to keep the events of the exodus a living memory in perpetuity.
It only made sense, then, that when Jesus instituted a new ritual sacrament for his Church, he birthed it from within the context of The Passover. The need to remember and the need for each successive generation to continue to, in Jesus’s words “Remember Me” is on display each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. Some churches in my Reformed tradition used to celebrate the sacrament no more than four times a year. Perhaps some still do. But many churches in multiple traditions have come to realize that a weekly celebration is not overdoing it. We need to remember, and in a world full of amnesiacs where history and truth are concerned, can we ever remember too often?
Note: If you choose to preach on Psalm 105 this week, here is a commentary on the CEP website: https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2017-09-18/psalm-1051-6-37-45/
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