Psalms of lament have a special spot in my heart. It’s not that they have ever been especially import in my own devotional life, but I have seen the power that teaching the lament Psalms can have in people’s lives, especially in the lives of youth.
Today’s lectionary reading features Psalm 80, which is a classic lament Psalm:
“Restore us , O God: make your face to shine upon us…” (v. 3)
“How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors, our enemies mock us” (v. 4-6)
“You have transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the natios and planted it” (v. 8)
“Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick it grapes?” (v. 12)
“Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.” (v. 17-18)
The Psalmist here spares God no mercy in his critique, as he charges God with having forgotten and forsaken his people. This Psalmist even recalls to God all that God has done for Israel and asks “Why if you have done all this have you now abandoned us?”
Why have these Psalms been so powerful for me in youth ministry? Freedom. Too often we and therefore our youth have a “spy in the sky” image of God – a God that is distant, and detached, looking down at the world with disapproval, and punishing bad people and rewarding good ones. To many of us, the words of the lament Psalms seem at best impious, and at worse downright blasphemy. Yet, they had an important role to play in the liturgical life of the nation of Israel based on their presence in the book of Psalms.
What I have observed on a few occassions in the incredible freedom and empowerment youth felt when I introduced them to the lament Psalms. Suddenly, they could really tell God exactly how they felt they had been treated and knew that they were not the first to do so. Suddenly their faith became a real relationship in which they could express their honest and heartful displeasure with God.
What is interesting about today’s pairing is that it is paired with Romans 5.
” Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5, TNIV)
I actually used this text during one of the first sermons I ever preached the summer I was interning in Montrose, CO. Paul’s take on suffering would seem to question to lament tradition. While the lament tradition would seem to extol the virtues of telling God how it is, Paul encourages us to glory in our sufferings because ultimately they produce hope. What an interesting word – hope. More on that latter…
The key to understand how to balance Psalm 80 (and the rest of the lament Psalms) with Romans 5 is to recognize that different people are at different points in their lives. I know people who when faced with suffering immediately are ready to talk about taking joy in them, while others never get to that point and need the lament Psalms to keep their faith alive in times of trouble. The good news is that both Psalm 80 and Romans 5 are in the bible. As a pastor, it is my job to discern whether the Lord is telling me to encourage the person to lament, or pointing them to take glory in their sufferings and hope.
So today was my first day be linked off of Presbyweb and I had nothing of substance to say… alas. I have been meaning to write a substantive post on Moltmann’s understanding of promise and how it relates to the church’s mission in the world, but I haven’t had the time to craft it. I am going to try and write a post on my understanding of “miracles” but haven’t really had the time for that either. This being a homeowner thing takes time, what can I say?
So last night Renee and I plugged away at our painting project until about 1 am when we finally called it quits… highlights included pulling out the fridge and stove to paint behind them.
Today we put the finishing touches on the kitchen and moved onto the dining room with the same color. This didn’t stop us from having some fun though while painting. Here you can see Renee showing off her fabulous artwork
Late in the afternoon Renee decided she wanted to go for a taupe color for one of the four walls in our living room. But… as you can see, it didn’t turn out quite as well as we had hoped.
So tomorrow we hope to wrap up the painting adventure by turning that wall to turqoise. Once it’s all done it’ll look great.
Renee and I have embarked upon our first home improvement project since we were married – painting the entire downstairs. We got started today with the kitchen. Here’s Renee showing off our very first wall!
The lectionary for today includes Matthew 20 – the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, which is always a good parable to be reminded of the character of the Kingdom of God. Read it here
Two interesting readings from today’s lectionary caught my attention.
The first is Paul’s discussion of the righteousness of Abraham in Romans 4. v. 11 in particular caught my attention. “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” While the line “An outward sign of an inward grace” is often credited to Augustine I cannot find it my collection of Augustine’s writings. Nonetheless, a search of Augustine’s works for the phrase “outward sign” leaves no doubt that the principle of the often credited statement is one that is supported by Augustine. (Side note – if anyone knows the reference where this is taken from I’d appreciate it).
What Paul seems to be arguing here is the actual act of circumscision was of no redemptive value in Abraham’s life. Circumscision was a “seal of the righteousness that he had by faith”. Without a doubt I am showing my covenent/reformed background here but if circumscision is a forerunner to the sacraments Paul’s teaching here should shape how we view the sacraments. The sacraments themselves are not of redemptive value. The thief who died on the cross was never baptized nor did he ever recieve the eucharist – but Jesus said “this day you will be with me in paradise”. (I am well aware of the lengthy discussion over what “this day” means but I am choosing to avoid it because it doesn’t really tie in with what I’m trying to say). However, the sacraments are important and in fact essential to the church’s life. As John Calvin points out, we as humans are phyiscal being and it is one thing to hear words, it is another thing to have them physically enacted in our lives. That is what the sacraments are all about. They are physical signs and seals of the grace of God in our lives. Two principles need to be kept in balance here. First is the point that the sacraments are not essential to salvation. A person’s eternal destiny is not in danger simply because they have not received the sacraments. However, in the life of the church the sacraments (which I define as baptism and eucharist) are essential to the life of the community because we as humans need to do more than just hear about God’s grace in our lives, we need to feel it, smell it, and taste it.
The second passage that caught my attention this morning was Matthew 19. This is Jesus’ teaching that only with difficulty will a rich person be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. When he’s done, Peter replies, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Part of what I love about Peter is that consistently through the Gospels he is the one who says what everyone is thinking but no one else will say. While sometimes this gets him in trouble (Mark 8) other times its simply beautifully honest. Matthew 19 is one of the latter cases and for his boldness he receives good news. The line I like the best, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first”. This bit at the end I would think would have great power in the lives of those who suffer for the sake of the gospel. While I personally cannot claim to have suffered much (okay, suffered at all) for teh sake of the gospel, I hope and pray that those around the world who suffer because of their faith will know that when all is made right in the world they will receive a reward a hundredfold what they have given up. God is good.
So of late I’ve concentrated a fair amount of my reading on the Trinity. My final term in seminary I took a course on the Doctrine of the Trinity in which we read Moltmann’s The Crucified God and The Trinity and the Kingdom. Now, I’m current reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics 1.1 (the later part) where Barth develops his doctrine of the Trinity. At the same time, I’m reading Hilary of Pointiers On the Trinity (which as you might have guessed is his development of the doctrine of the Trinity)
What has been most interesting is to see where all three of these authors start their development of the Trinity. Moltmann starts with Jesus Christ being identified as the “Son” of the “Father” and proceeds from there. Not suprisingly, Moltmann emphasizes the “threeness” over the “oneness”. Barth starts by identifiying God as being “One” and then develops from there into the doctrine of the Three “modes of being”. Finally, Hilary starts with a doctrine of God the Father by defining God by what we are not. (Omniscient, eternal, etc.) and then develops the doctrine of the Son by expounding the “Christological passages” of the New Testament (John 1, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”, etc.)
What has been most interesting is to see the three different approaches and what I see as their strengths. From what I can tell, Moltmann is correct in his assessment of the dangers of developing a doctrine of God from classical theism – by saying that God is everything we are not (as Hilary does) because it can end up being a stretch to connect that image of God to the image of God presented by Jesus Christ. Barth and Moltmann start in similar places, but Barth’s insistence on starting with God as one leads him toward his modalistic tendencies, while Moltmann’s starting with the three leads him toward his tritheistic tendencies.
What has been perhaps the most interesting is the realization that Barth rightly critiques the use of the word “person” given the post-enlightenment context in which he wrote. While Moltmann tries to explain how he is defining “person” I think he ultimately fails because the word just carries too much baggage. While I’m not sure the phrase “mode of being” (in English – this is one time I wish I knew German) is a great alternative Barth’s development of it has calmed some of my fears about the direction in which he was headed.
Well, that’s enough mindless musings for tonight. I have a feeling this is one of these posts that makes little to no sense, but it helps me sort things out in my head.