7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 10, 2016
Psalm 146 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser.
Every day the monks at St Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo California sing the psalms. They chant them at 6:00 and 8:00 am, at 5:00 and 8:00pm. In each service several psalms are sung in alternate verses from one side of the choir to the other. At the end of every two weeks, they have sung them all, all 150 of them. St Andrew’s was my retreat place for more years than I can count. As a young mother, my retreats were day trips, but as I began to study theology, I spent weeks there regularly. Sitting in chapel listening to the psalms and singing along with the brothers was like slip-streaming my own prayer life. I came to associate the psalms themselves with the experience of singing in that community which kept that place of prayer as a refuge, and welcomed me into it whenever I felt the need for the peace they cultivated in their daily work and lives. As the psalms themselves became my prayer place, I spent extra time in seminary studying and writing about psalms. Today we are at the end of our quick tour of Psalms, and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my love of these prayers and poems and hymns with you.
This morning we finish with Psalm 146, the beginning of the end of the whole book. The gathering of Psalms into ‘books’ is not accidental, but how exactly they connect to each other within each ‘book,’ is another of the things about them that is still unknown to us. Book 1 includes Psalm 1 through 41, Book 2, Psalms 42 through Psalm 72, Book 3, Psalms 73 through 89, Book 4, 90 through 106, and Book 5, number 107 through 150. Each ‘book’ ends with a psalm of praise. The last five Psalms have a special place in the collection, they offer praise of God once for each book, and Psalm 150 offers praise in every line.
Perhaps they are gathered into five books because there is so much ‘teaching’ in them and the early compilers of the Hebrew Bible thought of them as another kind of Torah, the five books of Moses. Luther thought of psalms as a ‘little Bible’ because they include all the praise and laments, worship and prayer, and advice on how to live as God’s people that you will find anywhere else in scripture. Psalms existed in the same form we have them by the time of Jesus.
Psalm 145 ends with the statement: “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless God’s holy name forever and ever.” Then you turn to Psalm 146 and the praise begins. Each psalm begins and ends with Hallelujah! Hebrew for ‘praise the LORD!” In each psalm the circle of those who praise the Lord expands. Psalm 146 calls the individual to praise (O, my soul), psalm 147 and 149 calls the people of Jerusalem and Israel to praise. And in Psalm 150 ‘everything that breathes’ is invited to praise. There are other common themes in these last five psalms: they hold up the LORD as the creator and sustainer of life, they tell of God as the deliverer of those in distress, and always lift up the LORD’s concern for the powerless. This is a hymn, meant to be sung in worship or over a campfire, or while you do the dishes. You learn about God’s greatness as you sing God’s praise.
This psalm has some of the teaching elements that we found at the beginning in Psalm 1. It offers a blessing for those who turn to the “God of Jacob” for their help, and shows all the reasons why. God is not only the maker of earth, sky, and sea, but God keeps faith forever. Then we hear how God turns to those in need represented by those need justice, those who are hungry, those who are handicapped, those who are without resources – the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. This is the place to put our trust, says the psalmist, not in civil authorities or ruler. People who rule over us – good or bad – are just human, they die and their works die with them. Better to trust in God and God’s way, because even when humans fail, God is always there to hear, to heal, to save. And like Psalm 1, we meet the righteous and the wicked again. Patrick Miller says that the wicked and the righteous are not just moral categories in the psalms, they are shown in terms of their connection to the LORD. If he did not vindicate the righteous and frustrate the wicked, God would not be keeping the faith.
Can we talk for a minute about who “The Psalmist” is? He or she is unknown to us So we don’t really know who the “I” is in so many psalms, or the “we.” There is usually a superscription on a psalm, right under its number. They say things like, “for the lead player, on judthun, a David psalm.” Sadly, the Davidic authorship enshrined in Jewish and Christian tradition has no credible historical grounding. It was not unusual in ancient times to ascribe new texts to famous figures of the past. The meaning of the Hebrew word that has been translated to fix authorship is more ambiguous than the customary translation “of.” It could also mean, “for”, or “inspired by”, or “in the manner of.” In some ways, that’s all the better, because it makes us able to let those words become our own words. These psalms are not fixed in time, or fixed to a particular person or her story, so they can do for us what they have done for so many throughout the ages. They can lift our eyes to the God who is above the heavens and still stoops to help. It is our God, the One who hears and forgives and heals every time, in every age.