Monday, September 5, 2016

5 September 2016
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul. Psalms 143:8 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Happy Labor Day. Today we begin reflecting on the Psalms. Well, we will actually begin reflecting tomorrow; today we will lay a bit of groundwork. As I’m sure you already know, the Psalms have been used in worship by God’s people for thousands of years. Psalms are the original praise and worship music and many modern hymnals feature them set to music. Take a minute and let this sink in. In spite of-some would argue because of-all our advancements as a culture, these prayers remain as relevant for us today as they were for the ancient writers.   
            Here are a few things to keep in mind as we begin. First, while the rest of the Bible contains God’s words for us, Psalms also contain our words to God. They cover the full range of human emotions in stark-sometimes brutal-honesty. In doing so Psalms mirror our own thoughts and feelings; giving expression to our condition with a depth of emotion we often times simply cannot manage on our own. Once we recognize the words of the Psalmist as our words, we enter into a place where God can begin to reshape us from the inside out. Of course, for this to happen we need to go beyond merely reading the Psalms; we need to move into the realm appropriation, internalizing them, allowing ourselves to be known. In this way the Psalms become our own prayer to God-God’s word returning to Him with its purpose fulfilled, as Isaiah says.
            Internalizing the Psalms in this way as best we can, will be our focus. We will not be overly concerned with the technical or scholarly side of things. I once heard a Rabbi say reading the Hebrew Scriptures in English is like taking a shower with your clothes on-some words just cannot be adequately translated. I believe the Bible contains intentional ambiguities designed in part to get us out of our binary, either/or way of thinking and move us into a ‘third way’, where things that don’t seem to fit together somehow coexist. I mention this because many translations of the Psalms contain footnotes with alternate readings or ‘meaning uncertain’. When we come across these we will assume all possible meanings are correct and proceed from there. I think this leads to a fuller understanding, a richer experience.
            Some Psalms refer to historical events. Here we can read the passage referring to the event and consider the Psalm as a sort of commentary, a glimpse into how that particular event was viewed by the people involved. Many Psalms are quoted in the New Testament. Even though this may not have been what the original writers had in mind, it will be interesting to see how the New Testament writers in general, and Jesus in particular, apply these ancient verses. Finally, while we are not striving for original, creative interpretation here we can at least consider alternate possibilities where they may exist.
            Inner transformation remains the goal. With this in mind, I would like to borrow an idea I read the other day in an email from faith gateway. It’s from 5 Minutes With Jesus, a book by Sheila Walsh. The idea is to start every day with Psalm 143:8. She rightly points out that trusting God is a deliberate, intentional act of will; by starting this way we sort of set the tone for the day. The implication is by trusting the day to God we will be open to whatever new thing He may have to show us; otherwise we might miss it entirely. Try to keep this in mind as you move through your day; may you all have a blessed Labor Day. God willing, we will meet again tomorrow. JRG

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