Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 16, 2024

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 Commentary

It gets repetitive to point out the RCL’s tendency to avert the reader’s eyes from anything smacking of judgment or the destruction of the wicked and of those who pose themselves as enemies of God.  But here it is again as we scoop out seven verses from the middle of what is already a somewhat short psalm in order to focus on only the upbeat parts of Psalm 92.  It could be supposed that since some of the darkest parts of church history occurred when the church took it upon itself physically to punish and try to eliminate its perceived enemies in Crusades and Inquisitions and other pogroms that we don’t want to encourage this kind of thinking.  So we could best perhaps skip parts of a psalm that could be taken the wrong way or as a justification for bad ecclesiastical behavior.

Maybe.  Of course opting for the opposite extreme of suggesting there is no such thing as wickedness in need of judging and sorting out does not work biblically either in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  In the end, however, we have to leave all of that to God and to God alone.  We need to recognize that our own sins (for which we would otherwise be also duly judged) were laid across the shoulders of Christ Jesus our Lord.  And since he said to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, we will take him at his word and live as he did and taught.

But back to Psalm 92 and the opening and closing verses the Lectionary carves out for us.  What we have here is a celebration of the act of worship.  Unlike some psalms that actively praise God for a litany of specific works and saving acts, Psalm 92 focuses on things like singing songs to God and making music to God on various instruments.  And it notes how good it is to do this, how uplifting it makes the worshiper feel.

Indeed, how many of us did not make the same observation during the days of the COVID lockdown when in-person worship was not safe for a season: “I miss singing with God’s people.”  Yes, some people sing the songs while watching a Livestream in front of a computer and while it’s better than nothing, it is still quite different than singing joyfully in the company of fellow believers.  It is good to sing and make music to God together.  As Psalm 92 notes, the deeds of God make us glad and we need an outlet for that joy and gladness.  By the conclusion of the psalm it appears that recognizing the works of God and properly expressing worship creates people who are healthy, who flourish, and who grow strong in their faith and by being in the presence of God.

In the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards’s treatise on religious affections, he at one point asked a two-part question: First, why do we preach sermons in worship?  Why not just read Scripture?  Second, why do we sing songs in worship?  Why not merely recite Scripture or the Creeds or some such?  On the former Edwards concluded that the Holy Spirit uses preaching as his preferred way to help us proclaim the Gospel and articulate our faith.  On the second item, Edwards suggested that music touches the human heart and spirit in ways nothing else quite accomplishes.  It is as though we are elevated to a higher spiritual plain by the very act of singing in worship.  That seems right.

At the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship it has long been stressed that worship needs to accomplish two things each week.  The more obvious thing is acts of worship as expressive.  We sing, we wave our hands in the air, we sway to the music and in some traditions we dance.  This expresses our faith and our joy in God.  But a perhaps lesser known aspect of thoughtful worship of God is that it needs to be also formative.  Wise worship leaders choose music carefully as well as paying due attention to all the other aspects of a worship service, including the Word preached.  Because we want people not only to have the chance to express themselves but to be formed in ways that enable them to express a whole panoply of proper things concerning God and our salvation.

I would wager that the poet of Psalm 92 would agree.  It is good to sing to God but also good to be filled with the knowledge of an array of reasons why God is to receive our praise.  Even the closing image of maturing trees like the mighty cedar of Lebanon suggests growth in both our faith and our worship in which we articulate that faith and learn ever more about our faith.

Psalm 92 begins by praising God’s love and faithfulness.  That second word is the Hebrew chesed and it is perhaps the Old Testament’s biggest catch-all summation word that captures the core reason why Yahweh of Israel deserved to be praised.  Chesed is love, grace, mercy, faithfulness, lovingkindness all rolled into one.  And it is the preview word for the Greek charis in the New Testament as in “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith!”  At the end of the day with our great God it is all about that amazing, saving grace and thus that same grace is the key reason why it is so good to sing praises to God!

Illustration Idea

“There remains to the church only one unique and peculiar responsibility: the conduct of public worship.  If the church does nothing other than keep open a house, symbolic of the homeland of the soul, where in season and out women and men come to reenact the memory and vision of who they are, the church will have rendered society and each of us a service of immeasurable value.  So long as the church bids women and men to participate in the liturgies of the Christian faith community, it need not question its place, mission, or influence in the world.  If it loses faith or is careless in its rituals, it need not look to avocation to save it.”  C. Welton Gaddy, The Gift of Worship.

Note: the CEP website also has 2 commentaries on Psalm 20:

In 2018 Stan Mast wrote:

In 2015 Doug Bratt wrote:


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