Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes | Devotional:
You all know how important music is to my life. Whether it is a camp song from my youth that produces a sense of nostalgia to a song heard at a concert for the first time music, of nearly every genre possible, lifts me up or meets me where I am in the moment. I don’t know where I would be without it. Despite this affinity I will admit that I have not always appreciated poetry as much as I should. Put poetry to music and I’m in but put a book of poetry in my lap and I struggle to sit still. I’m hoping this changes, especially as I find pieces the speak to our current days of unrest. I’m also hoping that as we spend the next four weeks studying the Bible’s most prolific poetry that we all can appreciate how timeless some poetry is. The psalms are a collection of sacred poetry that I think we often take for granted. Many of us have a favourite psalm or are familiar with one or two, maybe we can even recite a psalm word for word, and yet, I sometimes think we misuse the psalms. Which is why I have decided to spend the next four weeks to talk about one of the most treasured and timeless books of the Bible.
The psalms are also poetic liturgical prayers. My former professor Dr. Art Van Sitters said, “the power of the Psalms is to enable people to give voice to their deepest anguish and their highest ecstasy.” I will admit that there are some psalms I avoid because there is also a dark side to the psalms. There are celebratory psalms that give great praise to God but there are also laments psalms that accuse God or others of great violence. The psalms are a liturgical cry that is both a declaration of faith and a statement about reality which is why I think it is important that we spend some time learning about these hymns, poems, and prayers.
Along with being a masterpiece in poetry the Book of Psalms is also a great piece of history. Just as Shakespeare’s works can tell us a lot about culture and language in England in the 15th century the Psalms tell us a lot about the history, experience and worship life of an ancient people. The psalms express emotions and the relationship with the divine in ways that narratives and prose can’t. The psalms were used in the temple for worship but also the book of psalms is one of the few books in the Old Testament that traces the entire history of the Israelites. But it is not done as a chronicle of events rather the psalms express the history of the Hebrew people through emotional experiences. By studying the psalms one enters the worship life of Judaism at its best. We know that Jesus had intimate knowledge of the psalms in part because he quoted them twice while being crucified. The psalms deal with matters of serious import from love and death to alienation and estrangement to hope and eternity.
Psalm 1 introduces this entire work. It is a wisdom psalm in which the people of Israel have two options to choose from, the can act for God or against God. In this psalm the option is to live in the lay of the Lord or walk in the way of the wicked. That’s a pretty heavy starter! But as we travel through t he book we discover what the consequences are when one chooses to live according to the lave. There are numerous psalms that challenge such a decision, that challenge God and even accuse God of being unjust in that decision…but that’s for another Sunday. Psalm 1 begins the book with a choose your own adventure option but only one option leads to happiness.
We will weave our way through this book, not reading all 150 psalms but studying snapshots of what happens throughout this relationship as the people follow the law and then fall out of favour with the law, as they sing joyous songs of praise and as they cry out in anguish. This is going to be a truly emotional roller coaster. But today we not only hear the first psalm but one of the last psalms. So, take heart- we know how this book ends. At the end of it all, throughout all these ups and downs, the last five psalms end in theological fireworks. The last five psalms sun up what all of our spiritual journey’s are about. Albeit that our cultural experiences may differ, our faith journeys are very similar to those of ancient Israel.
Psalm 149 in particular, helps us realize that everything results in greater praise. Psalm 1 we were given an option to be righteous or to be wicked. Through the book there will be internal battles about whether God really will reward the righteous, whether it is really worth it, will God protect us and grant us happiness? And all of those questions come to a peak and are answered in Psalm 149, because God has taken pleasure in God’s people, the faithful are exulted in glory and those God defying nations better watch out because their kings are chained and hauled off to jail. The judgment on them is carried out as it was decreed in psalm 1.
Psalm 149 is a celebration and victory psalm. The Israelites have united together in communal praise because God’s goodness prevails. It begins with “Praise the Lord, Sing to the Lord a new song.” This is a 2nd personal plural imperative. The English language doesn’t quite capture this but if we lived below the Mason-Dixon line we might read it as “y’all must praise!” The whole nation is being commanded to sing together.
We’re kind of in the eye of a storm right now. There are challenges, frustrations, and definitely uncertainties there are psalms that express just that and we will look at them in the coming weeks but there is also praise. Sometimes we are so busy focusing on all that’s going wrong in the world that we forget to sing to the Lord a new song. We were given the option in the first psalm and we have chosen to do our best to live as God’s people. Which means not only doing our best to make choices according to God’s law but a command to praise. We chose to live as God’s children and even though we have our own person roller coaster rides at the end of it all is our objective to praise. Sing to the Lord a new song, because God delights in God’s people!