How are you doing with the psalms? What is God saying to you through the hymnbook of Israel?
Author: Trinity Lutheran Church, Monroeville
Psalms for week of January 20, 2019
Hearing God through the Psalms: Week of January 13, 2019
How do you imagine people describe you when they are telling someone else about you and are trying to get that person to come to some recognition of who you are?
For example, if I said, you know the guy, the one with the comb over hair, reality tv star, bad temper, lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
Or, someone closer to home- used to work for the railroad, tall, always has a little dog named Jack following him around, kids love him?
Or a tall guy with white hair, in his eighties now, very creative and artistic, makes beautiful things out of wood that he harvests from his back yard?)
There are many words to describe each of us – and in some way they all point to who we are and what we are like. But each of us is much deeper than a few sentences of descriptive language.
Psalm 29 uses one word twice in the first couple of verses. It’s not a word we often use in our everyday language. That word, “ascribe” has at least two poignant meanings. To ascribe something to someone is to give them credit. For instance, as believers we ascribe to God the creation of the world and all that is in it. We give him credit for being the intelligent designer of the universe, from the highest mountains to the tiniest bits of DNA.
To ascribe also means that a person has a particular characteristic or quality – it’s part of their personality. We ascribe to the Lord such character traits as wisdom, faithfulness, power and majesty. Those all come from the psalmist. Ascribe is a helpful word that we can use to describe people, places, feelings etc. But there’s one more definition that is helpful as we look at Psalm 29: to ascribe to something means to “hang on.” [To hold tightly or to wait for.] There are many things we find ourselves hanging on to that perhaps we shouldn’t:
- grudges, past hurts, grievances, arguments that have long been settled (or so the other person thought)
We are really good at holding on to that which does not give life and that which does not enrich or benefit us in any way. For whatever reason, those things can be hard to let go of, but rather than holding on to the negative, the things that cause us fear or pain – it would be much better for us to follow the lead of the psalmist who holds on to the Lord God. He ascribes to God all glory and strength, he ascribes to God his holiness. He worships the one in whom he puts his ultimate trust. It is the Lord whom the psalm writer clings to for dear life.
Imagine that the only Scriptures we had were the Psalms – the hymnbook of Israel. Imagine we had no Old Testament, New Testament, no gospels, no prophets, no epistles… What would we know of God? Would we know specific stories about his goodness and mercy? [Maybe not all the details but we would receive hints.]
Would we know about the patriarchs and the matriarchs of Israel? [Not fully, but we would hear some of their names.]
Would we know of God’s character? The answer to that one is a resounding yes. If all we had were the psalms, we would have enough to know that the God the hymn writers of Israel wrote about is one who loves his people and who can be trusted.
The psalms give us a wonderfully vivid picture of who God is and what he like. The whole book of psalms ascribes for us the exact demeanor, character, and traits of the One and only Lord who made heaven and earth. Just in this psalm alone we hear about God’s voice – the voice that was heard at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river, the voice that all who gathered that day heard say, “This is my Son, my beloved, with him I am well pleased.”
What the psalmist tells us about God’s voice is that it is full of power and majesty; it breaks cedar trees – imagine that – the largest trees on earth are split and felled at the sound of God’s voice. His voice makes the old skip like children and play like young animals. His voice flashes forth fire and shakes the wilderness. His voice makes deer give birth, causes labor to be induced, and it strips the forests bare of their leaves, like a rushing wind that sweeps through the trees. His voice causes all who hear him to bow down in worship, to honor him in all his glory!
The God who is sung about in the psalms is the Lord in whom we put our trust. This is the one in whom we hang on to! He sits enthroned over the floods that course through nature, he sits enthroned over his people forever. He gives strength to his people and blesses us with peace. All of that we learn about God from this one, eleven verse psalm! But there’s more! So much more! That’s why this year we will be focusing on the psalms as our discipleship focus for 2019. I want us to dig into the hymnbook of Israel and hear God’s voice calling to us, guiding us, showing us the way!
Remember how recently I talked about the word “eulogy” and how it means to bless? This is what Martin Luther said about the psalms, “Many of the holy fathers have highly eulogised the Psalms, and preferred them to the other sacred books of Scripture. The Work, in fact, abundantly eulogises the Master.” Luther loved the psalms, having recited and sung them during worship daily as a monk. Later in life he wrote extensively on them saying, “I will add now my own praise and my own gratitude.”
Friends, we need something to hang on to! We need someone to hang on to! And we have exactly that one who is faithful and true! The wonderful thing is there is always something new to learn about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! We never stop learning! Each week you will receive a devotional page with three psalms to read, study, ponder and reflect on. It will be on our website, Facebook page and in hard copy form here. I do hope you will join me in reading through the entire books of Psalms this year!
I leave you with more words of Martin Luther to encourage you in this endeavor:
So many legends of saints have been circulated in former days, and so many histories of sufferings and of works for our imitation written, that the Psalms at one time were quite neglected; they were involved in too much obscurity that scarcely one Psalm was properly understood, and yet they afforded such preeminent consolation as, even in their badly understood state, to influence and to strengthen the hearts of the pious and the devout. Their language was an object of veneration. But I maintain that no legend and no manual of devotion has ever yet appeared, or can, superior to the Book of Psalms; and if a man wished either to read or to select what is best, both in example, in legend, and in history, he could not do better than adopt the Book of Psalms. For we do not merely find here what one or two saints have done, but what the head of all saints has done, and what all saints still do.
We learn how we are to conduct ourselves with respect to God, to our friends, and to our foes, and how we are to act in all cases of danger and uncertainty. But the Psalms are especially dear and valuable from their detailing to us, so clearly and prophetically, the death and resurrection of Christ; and so declaring his kingdom, and the state and spirit of Christianity, that they may be fairly called a little Bible, in which everything that is in the whole Bible is contained in a beautiful and compendious manner; and they may be considered, therefore, a hand-book to it. It would seem to me as if the Holy Ghost had inspired the composer with the idea of a small Bible, or of an epitome of Christianity and godly people, so that those who have not the means of reading the whole Bible may find the summary and sense condensed in a small volume.
Let us pray. Holy God you have given us a treasure in your holy Word. Bless us and encourage us to ascribe to you the glory of your holiness and hold on to you in faith, trust and obedience all our days. Amen.
Here is the weekly psalm page for your devotions. Encourage others to join you!
Faith Formation: It’s No Joke!
One of the greatest commitments of the church is to provide for the formation of faith for our young people. At their Baptisms we promised, along with their parents and sponsors, that we would support and pray for each of the baptized in their “new life in Christ.” (ELW p. 228) Part of praying and supporting our children (and by “our” I mean every child who enters this church) is to share in the responsibilities given to us in the Liturgy of the Holy Sacrament:
- to live among God’s faithful people (that means coming to church, meeting them here, and being an active part of their lives)
- bring them to the Word of God and the Holy Supper (as the pastor, this is a major part of what I do – preach, teach, and administer the sacraments – God’s means of grace. But, as our Sunday School teachers, Youth Club teacher, church leaders, and catechism mentors, you also bring them to God’s Word and the table of grace.)
- teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments (not only what the words say in each of those things, but what each and every word means and how to apply it to our lives)
- place in their hands the Holy Scriptures (we do not just put a book in their hands and say, “Read it!” But we read it with them, explain it, entertain questions from them, and learn together)
- nurture them in faith and prayer (which means not just praying FOR them, but praying WITH them, talking about faith and what God is doing in their lives and in ours)
All of this is done so that they may:
- learn to trust God
- proclaim Jesus through word and action
- care for others and the world
- work for righteousness and peace
When you think about it, it’s really a tall order! But when we live up to our promises, God works mightily in the hearts and lives of our children! Faith is formed within them at every turn and they become well equipped to live a godly life in the name of Christ.
Martin Luther wrote copiously about Baptism and in 1523 he put the Order of Baptism into German so parents, sponsors, and the whole congregation would hear and know what they were getting in to as they brought their child (or themselves) to the font. As with other aspects of the faith, Luther was sorely disappointed at the lack of knowledge about Baptism and the lack of respect that people had for it. People were just going through the motions – nothing new under the sun about that, is there? He considered their lackadaisical attitude toward Baptism to be nothing but frivolity. He wanted people to be “stirred to a greater faith” through hearing the Word of God in the liturgy of Baptism, which is why he took great pains to put it into German from the Latin.
“In all Christian earnestness I would ask all those who administer baptism, who hold the children, or witness it, to take this wonderful work to heart in all its seriousness.”
Luther wanted believers to know, “this is no joke as far as the devil is concerned.” He wanted people to come to the font in all seriousness, in true faith, listening for God’s promises, and earnestly praying for the baptized. To do otherwise, according to the Reformer, would be an insult to God and a mockery for the devil to rejoice in. In this “new birth” through this “holy flood” of water, we are forgiven of sin, granted God’s comfort, and promised eternity and all of God’s gifts.
Baptism is just the start of the journey of faith. As a community of faith, and as their parents and sponsors, it is our job to ensure that our youngest disciples learn the faith. For them to have any chance of withstanding the wiles of the devil in this world, they need to know all they can know, and trust in the only one we can trust. It is our duty to help them learn more about Christ, be strengthened in the faith, learn to love God and serve their neighbors.
And this, is no joke!
Tuesday, April 3
Moses was a leader chosen by God. He didn’t lead of his own accord, but did and said as God told him. The people were difficult: they quarreled, they complained, they wouldn’t listen to Moses. But Moses listened to God and did and said as God told him.
In Romans we learn that God has given authority to those who govern over us and that no one has authority over us except as God gives it. God knows the big picture, we do not.
Do you quarrel and complain about the leaders God has put over you, or do you remember that God is in control? He is the God of peace. He asks us to love our neighbors as ourself. Do you humble yourself and live in peace and love?