Psalm 138:8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.
This verse reminds us of two important facts: God made us and God has a purpose for us. The psalmist is thinking positively of all God has done for him. He is also filled with hope and expectation. It goes like this: God made me, God put a lot of work in creating me. “God, do you really want to waste all that effort? You thought me worthwhile to make, God, don’t you also think I’m worth sustaining and helping?” In this way, the psalmist also reminds himself, and us, that our God is not some impersonal creator. God does not create the universe, and then abandon it, or us. God is actively involved (sending Jesus proves that), even though it feels at times, like God is distant. That God is actively involved with us is not a new revelation; it is a song the ancient Israelites sang for worship. It functions the same way as the more modern song “Awesome God” (Our God is an awesome God who reigns from heaven above.”). Both the psalm and our modern song take truth about God and repeat it with others in worship until it sinks in emotionally. Hopefully, then, that truth sticks with us.
God, help us to remind ourselves who you are and what you do so we can live our life with hope. Amen.
Psalm 137 Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem 1 By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows[a] there we hung up our harps. 3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
The people of Israel were in Babylonian captivity, after their city had been ransacked. It is interesting to me that this Psalm is included. We in our own hymnals, seldom have songs that are less than super-happy, except in Lenten hymns. Some of the older hymns can be meditative without being happy (Take My Life or Children of the Heavenly Father). But nowhere in our hymnal, to my knowledge, is there a genuine lament like Psalm 137. We might be better off if we had a couple. Can you imagine Lament over COVID-19 (By the Rum River we sat down and wept, when we remembered life before the virus hit…)? Lament over the Divisions in America? It might do us a world of good to get all our grief out. There are those who feel that our lives are ever so much better than in ancient times, and mostly it’s true. But in some ways those Biblical peoples did better than us, at things like grief and loss. They expected nasty things to happen. They got a lot of bad in their lives so they were mores skilled at dealing with it. They knew instinctively that life could deal them a horrible blow at any moment. We today often believe life should be great all the time, and are seemingly caught by surprise when it isn’t. It is far easier, perhaps, if we could remember life is all too often sad and scary. Then we can be relieved if it isn’t. Do you think God wants us to be resilient? I do.
God in the Midst of Change, be with us when life is uncertain. Strengthen our sagging shoulders and shaky knees and give us the courage to live life well, in spite of adversity. Amen.
Psalm 136:1-3 NRSV 1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. 2 O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. 3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;
Each one of these verses has a refrain: for his steadfast love endures forever. It likely was something the congregation sang after each verse of the cantor’s song. There is something 7/10/20quite calming about such a refrain. No matter what happens in the rest of the Psalm, God’s steadfast love endures. The ancient Christian church knew quite a bit about refrains like that. Priests and pastors even encouraged their congregants to repeat such a refrain throughout the day, in order to keep in a holy frame of mind. The most famous of these refrains or prayers is this: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. This short prayer was meant to keep the pray-er in a repentant and humble frame of mind. Sometimes spiritual directors asked folks to come up with their own refrain to repeat. If you created a refrain about God to give you support and comfort throughout the day, what would it be?
Lord Jesus, Show us how to keep our minds and hearts on you all day long. Amen
Psalm 133 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.
Places of worship are interesting places. People of like geographical area, culture, family or beliefs gather together in one place. We in a church often live together in unity, and the ancient Israelites did, as well. That is why it is sung about as good and pleasant.
Yet calling attention to unity also seems to point out how sometimes there is NOT unity in churches and synagogues. It is the absence of something that makes its presence so dear. We miss movie theaters, concerts and large parties since the start of COVID-19. Before, large gatherings were ordinary. Now they seem precious.
If the ancient Israelites were always in unity, they would have been unlikely to sing a Psalm about it. If a group is always in unity, we humans tend to take it for granted.
What causes disunity in religious institutions? The very thing that bring them together in the first place: strong beliefs. Religious ideas are held close to the heart. Such fierceness of belief can bind people together in close bonds, or rip them apart over differences. For the first thousand years there was one Christian denomination. At my last count, there are now more than 40,000 Christian denominations worldwide, including at least 7 different Lutheran churches in this country.
America has more diversity than most countries. Different ethnicities, politics, backgrounds and personalities make America more interesting and more challenging than countries with one ethnic group and a national religion. It is tough to be unified.
With such diversity comes a need for tolerance and understanding, seemingly lacking in this country lately. We must all strive for unity, even as we recognize that we are so very different. Unity is blessedness.
God Who Created All People, Bless us with unity. Help us to live in harmony and unity, despite our differences. Amen.
Psalm 131 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. 3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time on and forevermore.
It’s not often that I can quote an entire chapter of the Bible at the top of a devotion. But there it is, all 3 verses of Psalm 131. It seems to say it all in those three verses. After the shrieking cries of Psalm 130 yesterday comes this quiet Psalm. There is no guarantee that these Psalms were written in quick succession, yet one could easily believe that they were. After great emotion often comes a stillness that seems greater than emotion, when we are all shouted out, or cried out, or (God forgive us) cursed out. It is then, after we have spoken to God, that God can speak to us. If we are not quiet, we cannot hear the still calm wisdom of God. Speaking to God in such a humble frame of mind and soul is a sacred place to be. It is the start of true connection to the reality beyond ourselves.
God of Stillness, listen to our cries, then calm our voices and hearts so that we can hear you. Amen.
Psalm 130:1-2 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Waiting for Divine Redemption 1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
There are times when we seem out of touch with the ancients. There are times when our knowledge of science and technology is so beyond them that we would almost seem like gods to them.
Then there are times like ours recently: economic downturn, pandemic, civil unrest. Times like these make us feel that we are on an equal footing with the ancients, that we understand them and they would understand us. It is times like we experience in 2020 that we cherish the Psalms, because they speak directly to what we are experiencing.
The words above in the first two verses of Psalm 130 could be any of us praying to God today about COVID-19. Indeed, how many of us have prayed similar words the past few months, whether we have read this Psalm recently or not?
This Psalm assures us that it is okay to pray to God with emotion. That it is okay to be impatient for the redemption of our people, our nation, and our churches. Those who pray fervently to God for redemption are those in accordance with God’s will. They understand what God wants and want what God wants. They are God’s children.
All-Powerful God, we thank you that we can raise our voices to you and with you. Hear our cry. Give relief to your children! Amen
2 Thessalonians:1:11-12 NRSV With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
By the time Paul wrote this letter he was convinced that the end the world was near. Was he thinking about himself? No, he was thinking about others, in this case the Thessalonians. He was constantly praying for others.
Do I do that- constantly pray for others? My best days, perhaps, or for a few hours. But not nearly as much as I should. I think instead about my own problems, not other people’s. I pray for myself and not other people. Instead I should be praying for other people’s faith, and love and charity. So that if the end of the world comes, (whenever that might be), they might be doing and being the best they can be. Who might you pray for?
Sovereign God, we don’t know when the end of everything will come, nor even how long we have. Fill our hearts with goodness, and help us to pray for others, that they may likewise be filled with power and joy to great things for you. Amen..