Sermon Commentary for Sunday, February 4, 2024
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c Commentary
A pastor friend of mine who is very dapper and proper in all things, including his attire, once observed another pastor show up for a summertime seminar dinner wearing a pair of shorts. My friend saw this and I noticed the muscles in his jaw tighten slightly before he wryly said, “I believe it is the 147th Psalm that says ‘The Lord taketh no delight in the legs of a man.’”
Well, that’s not exactly the meaning of Psalm 147:10! Instead the contrast in that verse is the main point of all the verses of this poem—including verses 10-19 that the Lectionary leaves aside—and that is that God’s main delight is in people who for their part in turn take great delight in God. The whole psalm is about the necessity but also the joy that comes from people who reverence God and who know how to praise God’s Name for all of God’s works in both creation and redemption.
The opening of Psalm 147 notes that praising God is “fitting.” That’s an interesting word and concept: fittingness. Some of us were maybe raised by parents and/or grandparents who would chide us for some instance of bad behavior by noting “Child, that’s just not fitting.” Maybe it was a word we used or the tone of voice with which we cheekily addressed a grown-up. Maybe it was an action we had taken at the dinner table or in the middle of a softball game with our neighbor kids. Whatever we said, however we said it, whatever we did, an authority figure in our young lives deemed it to be unfitting, ill-fitting.
But what that means is that the opposite is also true: in all of life there are words, tones, and actions that are fitting. Understanding what this means is not all that difficult. Some things just “fit” a given circumstance. There is a right way to speak and use language, and just what counts as “fitting” speech may vary depending on the circumstances. Some ways of talking are properly fitting when sitting with the family on the sofa watching a football game on TV and yet that same language and tone might not be at all fitting if you had the chance to visit the President of the United States in the Oval Office.
In the NBC drama TV series The West Wing, everyone knew that in the Oval Office they were ever and only to address Jed Bartlet as “Mr. President.” On a couple of occasions when he had to remind someone of this, President Bartlet would say something along the lines of, “You understand why I need to be addressed that way in this room, don’t you? It’s not arrogance or pride on my part. But sometimes I need to make hard, life-and-death decisions in this office and when I do, I need to know I am acting as the President, that this is the high office I must uphold.”
Proper address of those in authority is fitting for lots of reasons, and the higher the office, the higher a bar of “fittingness” we need to clear. So when we are talking about the Sovereign Creator and Redeemer God of the cosmos as Psalm 147 introduces this God to us, the bar is set exceedingly high and the only fitting thing we can do is fall down and worship.
Most of Psalm 147 details the reasons for why such praise and worship of God is fitting. Mostly this is one of those “sunny-side up” poems that makes it sound like all God does every day is enrich and bless and heal his own people whilst sending the wicked packing. Psalm 147 goes on and on about this as though the psalmist is blissfully unaware that some of the time life does not feel that way or go like that for even God’s special and faithful people.
The wider Hebrew Psalter knows this unhappy fact, too, which is why fully one-third of the Psalms are Laments. And what gets lamented? The fact that the wicked often prosper and do just fine for themselves, thank you very much. They get away with their crimes. And God’s people? They suffer insult and injury, they get afflicted with diseases that are not always speedily healed by God if in fact they ever get healed at all before the ill person dies.
As we have asked in sermon commentaries often here on the CEP website, what then do we do with the glowingly optimistic and cheery sentiments of something like the 147th Psalm? Well, we can take all that as partly aspirational and inspirational. This does happen in our lives. Prayers are answered, good things do come. A friend of mine says that he and his wife have a practice: every night before turning in to bed, they each come up with one thing that happened that day for which they are grateful. And even on sub-stellar days, they always find something.
We can also take the sunnier sentiments in this poem as things that will be true in the longest possible run of things cosmically. We believe God created this world to be a place of flourishing and delight. And if any number of things have happened to derail that and to vandalize God’s intended shalom, God has taken steps to ensure that when his kingdom fully comes through Christ Jesus the Lord, we will encounter the truth of the saying attributed to Julian of Norwich that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
If this sentiment is at this time only true partially or true just here and then and only now and then, it is even so the trajectory we are on. This is why in his Gospel the evangelist John was very deliberate in not using the word “miracle” for Jesus’s works like turning water into wine and raising the dead but rather they were “signs.” Those events were like highway road signs with arrows to point to what is coming up, of all that is yet to come.
The hope we have been given by God’s grace alone is yet another reason why Psalm 147 is right: to praise this God of all hope and hopefulness is the only fitting thing we can do.
Note: We have a special page dedicated to further sermon ideas and resources for the 2024 Year B Season of Lent and on into Easter. Visit this page here.]
One of the casualties of the sometimes fierce debates concerning cosmic origins and the age of the earth/universe over the past 150 or so years is that we have reduced the concept of “creation” to a singular event that happened fewer than 10,000 years ago according to Young Earth Creationists and something like 13.5 billion years ago according to those who embrace some version of God-driven evolution. In either case, however, “creation” happened at some single distinct point and that was that. But the church has long embraced the doctrine of creatio continua or the continual creating activity of God. Creation was not a one-and-done deal for God that ended the moment he popped everything into existence (all at once according to YEC or gradually after the Big Bang according to theological evolution). Rather, God has never stopped creating! God is the one who keeps creating new daisies, new babies, new landscapes, new stars born in the stellar nurseries of nebulae.
Psalm 147 reflects this view. As my CEP writing colleague Doug Bratt pointed out in a sermon commentary here on CEP 8 years ago, all the Hebrew verbs in Psalm 147 on God’s dotting the skies with clouds, sending rain, feeding cattle are all in the present tense. This reflects God’s ongoing acts of creation. Creation and God’s creating were not a one-and-done deal long ago. We are still blessedly caught up in God’s creative acts right now!
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