Monday, January 19, 2009

The Word for Today - Daily Office

Psalm 44:1-8 [A psalm of the descendants of Korah.] O God, we have heard it with our own ears-- our ancestors have told us of all you did in their day, in days long ago: You drove out the pagan nations by your power and gave all the land to our ancestors. You crushed their enemies and set our ancestors free. They did not conquer the land with their swords; it was not their own strong arm that gave them victory. It was your right hand and strong arm and the blinding light from your face that helped them, for you loved them. You are my King and my God. You command victories for Israel. Only by your power can we push back our enemies; only in your name can we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow; I do not count on my sword to save me. You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies; you disgrace those who hate us. O God, we give glory to you all day long and constantly praise your name. Interlude

COMMENT: These first 8 verses of Psalm 8 are pure orthodoxy - for Israel, for us... God, it's not our power or our ability that wins the day! You are the one who gives the victory! To God all praise and glory! So far, so good, even a fundamentalist would nod in agreement and say, "Amen!"

It's the verses that follow that are problematic... a prayer that goes beyond the conventions of our theological cliches and formulas: But now, you have tossed us aside ...(vv. 9 ff.) We kept our part of the covenant, God, but you haven't done your part... you have abandoned us... or, to quote the great theological work Bruce Almighty, "the only one not doing their job around here is YOU!" This is very bold speech, yet, for Israel, for us... it is a faithful way to speak to God and about God, crying honestly from the depths of one's own soul. There is a security and intimacy in a relationship that will accuse God of such abandonment and parental neglect without the fear of God's retaliation. Perhaps it is not unlike the child (or teen) who says to the parent, "I hate you!" They are crying out in rage, but because they know of the depth of love the parent has for them, they are not afraid to say things these that may break their parents' heart! Even though it wounds the parent deeply, they don't believe it will cut them off forever.

What interests me is how this very cry of pain (the genre of lament) enables and authorizes the pray-er to move beyond the cry of pain to the cry for help: Rise up, help us, ransom us because of your unfailing love (v. 26). It is an amazing gift of the lament form - to move us beyond the pain to a new appeal for grace and mercy. To continue the analogy of parent and rebellious child, even after their teen has declared their hatred and run off in rebellion, parents often get that call in the middle of the night that says, "Mom, I need you, I can't make it on my own, I want to come home!"  And they are welcomed back! That bond between parent and child is deep, wide, and strong... so strong that it can endure the worst that rebellion can throw at it.

Not long ago, I officiated the funeral of a young woman who, as a final act of desperation, took her own life. It was tragic for her, her parents, her children, her friends... and the only appropriate text for such an occasion was a lament psalm, which I preached. However, the lament does not leave us in despair - the lament, cried out in the presence of the God whose very character is marked by unfailing love, moves us to hope. I said there what I believe with all my heart: God is never nearer to us than at our moment of deepest desperation. If the Passion of our Lord means nothing else, it means that God knows (by personal experience) our suffering, having taken our pain, our despair, our hopelessness into Christ's own body... redeeming us from the pit!

There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.

There is no place where earth's sorrows are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth's failings have such kind judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.

I believe it! I truly do!

Soli Deo gloria

No comments:

Post a Comment