Wednesday, September 7, 2016

7 September 2016
Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision…
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him. Psalm 2: 1-4; 10-12 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Today we consider Psalm 2, another Psalm of ‘two ways’. Where Psalm 1 speaks to individuals; Psalm 2 speaks to nations. This Psalm points us back to what was happening when it was written; is reinterpreted by Luke in Acts; and points us forward to the time when our Lord returns in final, ultimate triumph. The common threads in all this are the LORD’s ultimate authority and humanity’s consistent rebellion.
            Psalm 2 is usually referred to as a ‘Royal Psalm’; that is, one composed for the coronation of an Israelite king. Commentators generally agree the Psalm refers to David, or a Davidic king in the line of David. The word ‘anointed’ in the Hebrew Bible usually refers to a living king in general and to David or a Davidic king in particular. After the demise of the Davidic line ‘anointed’ and the ‘Kingdom’would be reinterpreted to apply to Jesus, the Christ (or Messiah), God’s anointed, and the coming of His kingdom. Acts 2:25-26 attributes the Psalm to David and sees it pointing forward to the Herod-Pilate-Jewish coalition responsible for crucifying Christ; the believers pray “And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness…” (Acts 4:29; NRSV). Paul quotes vs. 7 while preaching in Pisidian Antioch, saying “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” (Acts 13:32-33; NRSV).
            Reading Psalm 2 in its historical context, as part of a coronation ceremony; vs.1-6 could be the proclamation; vs. 7-9 the king’s response; and 10-11 the concluding proclamation; or vs. 7-11 could be the king’s response. It would be a statement of confidence in the LORD-nations may rage around us but they will not prevail. In The Book of Psalms[1]  Robert Alter notes the irony here-a relatively small, fortified town on a relatively small hill (Zion), capitol of a small country surrounded by large empires, chosen by God to demonstrate His presence to the nations.
            The irony should not be lost on us as we consider the state of our nation and our world. In the United States today we see ourselves as a vast, powerful country-players on the world stage-yet many in the church fear we have been forgotten by God, or we are on the verge of being forgotten by God, or at the very least He would like to forget about us. We seem to be in the grip of some form of nationalism that has more to do with our nation being defined as ‘Christian’ than it does with faith in the risen Christ. To make matters worse, it seems to me that for the last 25 years, some elements of the church have defined Christianity more by what it is against than by the  Gospel as taught by Christ (particularly, as we saw, in the Sermon on the Mount) and reinforced in the rest of the New Testament. James reminds us what real religion is: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27; NRSV). James is merely repeating what the Hebrew prophets taught-“learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17; NRSV).
            These were the marginalized people of that day and they remain marginalized today. And in fact, we have added to their ranks-the chronically poor, the elderly, the uninsured and uninsurable, refugees seeking relief from oppression; not to mention systemic discrimination on the basis of color, race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation, some of which occurs in the name of the One who died for all of us. When so much has been given us, how can we possibly explain the continued exploitation and exclusion of these children of God? Perhaps we should be more mindful of the condition of our hearts; less concerned with enacting laws that would impose Christianity by imposition of will and only produce further divisions. Jesus calls disciples from all over the world, and yet all that diversity still cannot fully express the glory of the Father.  
             Psalm 2 is about recognizing Jesus Christ as the universal King, appointed by God for all people, and adjusting our worldview accordingly. In Psalms for Praying[2] Nan Merrill, paraphrasing v.11, advises us to serve the LORD with reverence, to embrace love; if we do not ignorance and fear will be our companions, and they will bring with them destruction and despair. Maybe it’s time to put aside those things that have divided us for entirely too long and come together around that which unites us-Jesus, the Christ, God’s anointed. I’m thinking of united, concentrated, persistent prayers for revival. Not revival on our terms as defined by proper legislation; not a revival that ‘puts God back into’… (Fill in the blank; as if He could be removed from anywhere); but a true revival that puts Jesus Christ as Lord and King in our hearts. A revival where He sets the terms, lays down the conditions and we resolve to obey Him. Understand-God will not be manipulated into supporting our cause. We must seek first to love and obey Him with all our heart, mind, and strength.
            One quick word about the books I referenced. Robert Alter is a Hebrew scholar and professor; his book is his own translation of the Psalms, accompanied by his commentary. Nan Merrill’s book paraphrases the Psalms, looking at them from a slightly different point of view; that of personal, life-affirming prayers. Two books on opposite ends of the spectrum, yet equally helpful guides to understanding and appropriating these ancient poems.
May the love of God, the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then fellowship if the Holy Spirit be with you all. JRG

[1] Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007), p.6
[2] Merrill, Nan C. Psalms for Praying An Invitation to Wholeness. (New York: Continuum, 2004). P.3

No comments:

Post a Comment