Tuesday, July 17, 2018

In the Morning

I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
But I will sing of your might; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.
—Psalm 59:16-17

Verses 16 and 17 are a further demonstration of why Psalm 59:9 is incorrectly translated in most modern versions of the psalms. Verse 9 refers to "his strength"—note the ending on the Hebrew word: עֻזּוֹ. While v. 16 has a different ending, indicating "your strength": עֻזֶּךָ, in v. 17, there's another ending, rending it "my strength": עֻזִּי. 

I don't really want to talk about that this morning, however. I just wanted to show how valuable it can be to look at the Bible in its original language. What inspires me this morning is morning itself. The psalter portion appointed for the day I was born says that "weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning" [Ps. 30:5b], and that pretty much describes what's happening in Psalm 59:16. The danger is real, but even in the midst of dire threat, the psalmist is able to affirm that s/he will be singing for joy in the morning. The protection offered by God in the time of distress is so real that, even before reaching safety, the psalmist celebrate what's to come.

I suppose this could be dismissed as the power of positive thinking if we were to take it out of its original context. But the context is so fraught with danger, so full of bad news, that it's not exactly possible to accuse the psalmist of "positive thinking" when most of the psalm appears to be so negative. Happiness in God, therefore, isn't found in denying reality, but in incorporating the bad news I experience into the promise of good news to the faithful.

Keep me true to you, O God. Transform me not into a Pollyanna who sees only the positive, but into a David who keeps the faith when all else seems to have gone wrong. If my present is filled with danger, pain, or sadness, help me through your word to remember victories of the past and to look forward to the coming victory in Jesus Christ my Sovereign. Amen.

Monday, July 16, 2018

I Will Entrust His Strength

O my strength [sic], I will watch for you; for you, O God, are my fortress.
Psalm 59:9

Psalm 59:9 is a very strange verse. At some point, modern translations seemed to agreed that "strength" must refer to God, and that the pronoun should be the first person singular. But the Geneva Bible and the KJV after it thought otherwise. Calvin himself preferred this translation: I will entrust his strength to thee... Indeed, the Hebrew should not be rendered as modern translations seem to prefer, for it speaks of "his strength" not "my strength."*

The reason as Calvin sees it is that the psalmist is in Psalm 59 speaking of threat, and in this case, the threat is from Saul. This interpretation seems clear enough, but there's a problem: Verse 9 is the only place where the enemy is spoken of as he. Everywhere else, the enemy is they.

Still, I think I prefer the old translations, which are much closer to the Hebrew. When I translate it the way it appears to be intended, I can acknowledge the strength of another—and sometimes it's a strength that threatens me—but I can hand that strength over to God. God isn't just muscle or persuasiveness; God is an entire fortress of strength.

They are strong, Lord, but you are stronger. I know of their muscle, I acknowledge their silver tongues, but I entrust it all to you. Just as I pray that your will will be done in me, I pray that you will use others to accomplish your purpose. Whether their strength is benevolent, benign, or bad, it is yours to do with as you will. Amen.

*I'll talk a little bit more about this tomorrow.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Benediction for July 15

Around the symbol of our church
are these words of Jesus:
That they may all be one.
We are sent into the world this day
as a living answer to Christ’s prayer,
united in loving thought and service,
and striving for a world where,
through the power of the Spirit,
all acknowledge each other as brother and sister,
children of one heavenly Parent.
Therefore in the love of God,
the grace of Jesus Christ,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
we go forth to be the church in the world. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer for July 15

We thank you, O God, for the signs of hope
you grant us on a daily—even a moment-to-moment—basis.
In the glory of creation we see your abiding presence.
In the love of family, friends, and church
we experience your constant nurture.
And in the victories we witness, we still experience your miracles.
We are especially mindful this morning
of a group of children in a country far away
who were reunited with their families as the world looked on.


✑ It is written that he was born when his parents were on a trip to Bethlehem. Since there was no room in the inn, his mother is said to have given birth to him in a stable, where his first bed was a feeding trough. And when he reached out for someone, all he wanted was for his mother to fulfill his needs.

He grew up in Nazareth, the son of carpenter. He was exposed early on to the traditions of his people—even going to the Temple in Jerusalem as a boy. On the way back home, he got separated from his family and so when he needed to reach out to someone for safety, he returned to the Temple. And the teachers there responded, fascinated by this boy’s insights and the intelligence of the questions he asked.

Surely There Is a God

Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge people fairly?
No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth.
—Psalm 58:1-2

We no longer hear much about Asherah and Baal, Osiris and Isis, Marduk and Ishtar. There's just not that much of a temptation for modern day believers in the God of Israel to kneel before them. But we have other gods: greed, power, money, lust, capitalism, militarism. But because we don't acknowledge them as gods, we don't realize that we worship them.

But make no mistake—it is by their hand that war, injustice, and oppression is meted out on earth. The ancients at least their gods gods. We're incapable of even acknowledging it, because our gods are such an integral part of our lives that they have, in fact, become us. And the inequality and violence that we have created in their names is astounding

The 58th Psalm offers a solution, but it is not a pleasant one. This solution involves the oppressors receiving what they've been dishing out, a turning of the tables. When people say, as they do at the end of the psalm, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth,” it is because they see vengeance taken upon the wicked. 

I thank God that at the center of my religion is grace. But if the world refuses to turn from the path it is currently on, no one can assume that we are due the grace offered by Christ in the New Testament.

I pray to you, Lord, 'deliver us from evil,' and yet I seldom acknowledge that I have already fallen prey to temptation, and that it is my own evil that I need deliverance from. Forgive me my selfishness and for constantly making 'heroes' out of those whose work involves weaponry. Deliver me into a broad place where all are free, where all are safe, and where we all work together for justice; in Jesus' Name. Amen.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Storming of the Bastille

🎼 Today is France's national holiday, commemorating the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.