Saturday, November 05, 2011

Psalm.149; All Saints Day; November 6, 2011;



Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a | new song,*
his praise in the assembly of the | godly!
Let Israel be glad in his | Maker;*
let the children of Zion rejoice | in their King!
Let them praise his name with | dancing,*
making melody to him with tambou- | rine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his | people;*
he adorns the humble with sal- | vation.
Let the godly exult in | glory;*
let them sing for joy | on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be | in their throats*
and two-edged swords | in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the | nations*
and punishments on the | peoples,
to bind their | kings with chains*
and their nobles with fet- | ters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment | written!*
This is honor for all his godly ones. |
Praise the Lord!

Glory be to the Father and | to the Son*
and to the Holy | Spirit;
as it was in the be- | ginning,*
is now, and will be forever. | Amen.

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Now let's be honest. This psalm makes you a bit uncomfortable, doesn't it. I mean, you agree with it at first, then toward the middle it gets a bit rough. I mean praising God with a two-edged sword isn't quite the image we have of church. I forgot my saber at home, what about you? And that "executing vengeance" and "punishments on the peoples" is a bit strong. Does God really mean to slap kings in irons? All of that just doesn't fit with "Sing to the Lord a new song". Well, at the very least it's not a NEW song. It sounds like this is one of those things in the bible that's just a bit outdated, one of those embarrassing things we push under the carpet with a broom when no one is looking. I guess pastor wasn't paying attention when this one was printed in the bulletin... should have stopped it with "Let the godly exult in glory let them sing for joy on their beds."

Actually there are lots of ways to understand this psalm. First of all, in its historical context it made perfect sense for God's people to rejoice in God doing just what the psalm is talking about. They had enemies all around them that we bent on their destruction. God's promise of a Savior extended to his protection of the people from where the Savior would come. They rejoiced in God's protection. And it was right for them to do so. But why then do WE read and sing this psalm? Maybe it would be better just to cut it off in the middle.

Well before we get to that point, I think its a good time to review a bit about the Book of Psalms. First and foremost I want you to remember that the Psalms are the prayer book of the church for all time. In them you'll find every aspect of Christian life described, every emotion, every evil called out, every claim and promise of God. Martin Luther thought very highly of them and used them every day in his daily devotions. The Psalter is a book of poetry. But it is much more than that. It is a prayer book, the prayer book of the church. It you want ample proof that it's ok to pray pre-written prayers you have an example here of 150 of them. The way to understand what the psalms are saying is to understand two things about them. First they are poetry, Hebrew poetry. They have a specific structure. Each verse (usually) contains one thought. The thought is expressed in the first half of the verse (called a strophe, marked by the *). Then in the second half the thought is repeated and expanded or explained. And so the psalms are written to sing antiphonally. That is, back and forth, person to person. Each thought is sung and then repeated by the other person. That's why we speak / chant them the way we do on Sunday morning. Hebrew poetry is also known for its compactness. In Hebrew the psalms don't often rhyme, but they do have a meter, and lots of alliteration (that is words that have complementary sounds). It's like a conversation about God, from God. It's confessing (same-saying) what God tells us about himself.

But the really important thing to remember about the Psalms, and the best way to get meaning out of them is to read them as World War II Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:

“the Psalter is the prayer of Christ for his church in which he stands in for us and prays in our behalf…In the Psalter we learn to pray on the basis of Christ’s own prayer [and] as such is the great school of prayer.”

“In the first place, we learn here what it means to pray on the basis of the word of God, to pray on the basis of promises…In the second place, we learn by praying the Psalter what we should pray for just as surely as the range of the prayers of the Psalms goes far beyond the experience of any individual, we still pray the whole prayer of Christ in faith, the prayer of the one who was the truly human being and who alone has taken into his life the full range of the experiences of this prayer…In the third place, praying the psalms teaches us to pray as a community…the deeper we penetrate into the Psalms and the more often we ourselves have prayed them, the simpler and richer our own prayer will become.”\

Jesus Christ has brought every need, every joy, every gratitude, every hope of men before God. In his mouth the word of man becomes the Word of God, and if we pray this prayer with him, the Word of God becomes once again the word of man. (The Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

A simple way to remember it is to "put the psalms on the lips of Jesus." He did that all the time in his ministry. He quoted them. He prayed them. All at the most important times in his ministry. The psalms are Jesus prayer book.

The best example is Jesus on the cross quoting Psalm 22. It tells us exactly what's going on in Jesus, as he hangs there.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1–2 (ESV)

Jesus means for us to see him speaking the whole Psalm there. And there He wants us to understand that there on the cross he is suffering the eternal punishment of our sin. That is, he was abandoned by God. He suffered the eternal punishment of hell. Eternal separation from God. It is what you and I earn for our lives of sin. It is what you and I could not avoid because we are "by nature sinful and unclean." Had it not been for Jesus sacrifice on the cross there; all we could look forward to is dying in our sin and eternity separated from God, in the eternal punishment of hell. You see, if it were not for Jesus, there would indeed be no "new song" to sing. There would be no reason for "dancing" and "melody" to God. In Jesus this psalm rings out in praise to God for saving us from our enemies; sin, death and hell.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

So the old testament saints sang this psalm in praise for God's deliverance from their enemies, and in light of the Savior who would do the same. And so we sing it, too, because we have been delivered from our enemies.

And what about those saints whose names we'll read in a moment? Well, they are singing this psalm right now. For them the words of salvation are most poignant. They have passed through death to life.

For the Lord takes pleasure in his | people;*
he adorns the humble with sal- | vation.

Let it be so also for us!

And... there's always one more thing. It's that sword thing:

Let the high praises of God be | in their throats*
and two-edged swords | in their hands,

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't make the connection here to Jesus himself.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12–13, ESV)

Our message is this Word of God and it does just what the psalm says. It executes judgment, it binds kings (and all people) to their sin. And that is our proclamation of the Law. Remember the S O S? The Law shows us our sin. It is a necessary part of our message to ourselves and the whole world. So that people see their true place before a holy God, deserving only God's wrath and punishment. Without the proclamation of the Law no one would see their need for Jesus on the cross. But the Sword of Word is also the S O S of the Gospel. It shows us our Savior. Jesus saves us by his life, death and resurrection. The Book of Hebrews continues:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)

This is our two-edged sword. The Good News of a Savior from sin. And is it ours to wield in the world. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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