Sometimes you have to have the context in order to get a person’s point. Sometimes you have to know the culture in order to even read a painting or understand a poem. Sometimes you have to hear the whole psalm in order to understand what it is saying to the people of God. So it is with this psalm we heard tonight.
Here’s the song the psalmist sung. Here’s the song sung in the assembly:
Be joyful in God, all you lands; *
sing the glory of his Name;
sing the glory of his praise.
Do you hear the joyful chords? Do you hear the voices raised in jubilation?
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! *
because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down before you, *
sings to you, sings out your Name.”
Come now and see the works of God, *
how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.
He turned the sea into dry land,
so that they went through the water on foot, *
and there we rejoiced in him.
The people hear these words and they remember. They remember that flight from Egypt. And they remember all that went before it. The years they were enslaved. The hard times. Sons killed. Sisters, wives, mothers forced into a life of hard labor.
In his might he rules for ever;
his eyes keep watch over the nations; *
let no rebel rise up against him.
Bless our God, you peoples; *
make the voice of his praise to be heard;
Who holds our souls in life, *
and will not allow our feet to slip.
The people sing these words and they remember their time in Babylon. Their time in exile. They remember their souls held by a loving God. They remember their feet anchored in faith.
For you, O God, have proved us; *
you have tried us just as silver is tried.
These words give me pause. Is this the God I know? Is this the God I love? A God who tries me, who tests me, who sorts out my impurities?
You brought us into the snare; *
you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
I hear these words and I remember the story of those who sing this psalm. I remember their city besieged, their temple destroyed. I remember the terrible struggle to keep faith when all that sustained their faith was destroyed.
I wonder, are these words spoken in faith and confidence or are they the words of a people whistling in the dark?
You let enemies ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water; *
but and there’s the caveat that sustains, but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.
The people have been refreshed. Their faith is being renewed.
Here the actions shifts. Here the pronoun changes. Perhaps a priest is now speaking for the people.
I will enter your house with burnt-offerings
and will pay you my vows, *
which I promised with my lips
and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.
I will offer you sacrifices of fat beasts
with the smoke of rams; *
I will give you oxen and goats.
Come and listen, all you who fear God, *
and I will tell you what he has done for me.
I called out to him with my mouth, *
and his praise was on my tongue.
If I had found evil in my heart, *
the Lord would not have heard me;
But in truth God has heard me; *
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, *
nor withheld his love from me.
This isn’t a psalm of an individual bemoaning his fate. This isn’t a psalm of an person trying to make sense of a hard patch in her life. This is a psalm sung in community. A psalm sung of community. A psalm re-telling a history shared—some joyful and some challenging. A psalm of praise. A psalm of thanksgiving. A psalm of hope.
I wonder what would our psalm be? What song would we, the people of Live at Five, sing in praise and thanksgiving to God?
Would we remember the dark places of our lives? Those times and places when we felt abandoned by God or God’s emissaries—unaccepted for who we are, unloved, unwelcome?
Would we, with our brothers and sisters of the Exodus, tell of the times when God did not let our feet slip? the times when we knew we were welcomed into God’s loving embrace?
I wonder, would we also remember the hard times we have faced together? Would our thoughts drift back to that year when we first heard that Father Daniel would be leaving?
Would we remember the cloud of sadness that settled over our community? Would we, with the psalmist sing, “You brought us into the snare/you laid heavy burdens on our backs”?
I hope so. That’s part of the strength, part of the appeal of the psalms. They don’t dodge the hard times or the challenging feelings that are a part of life. And while I may quibble—maybe even disagree vehemently—with a notion of God as one who deliberately ensnares people or lays heavy burdens on them, I am grateful that our psalmist doesn’t leave God out of the crummy times that come to every life.
I land on the words, “but you brought us out to a place of refreshment” and I remember Makaiya dashing up to the altar platform to give the peace to her Nano George. I remember hearing Larry sing from the other side of the door, the reply the Innkeeper gives when Joseph and Mary knock. I hear our governing group ask, “How can we as a community live out a life of discipleship?” and then reply, “We’ll take on serving at St. Martin’s.”
“You brought us out to a place of refreshment”—a place where children serve at the altar and where youth lead us in prayer.
“You brought us out to a place of refreshment”—a place where people grope for God and share the challenges they face along the way.
“Out to a place of refreshment”—a place where brown and black and white, young and old, gay and straight, housed and not housed, people with much faith and people struggling to find their faith gather every Sunday at five and Come Alive.
“Out to a place of refreshment”—a place where lay people lead and priests serve at the table.
I am so grateful to be a priest in this community.
So grateful to God who attends to the voice of our prayers and who never withholds her love.