Today’s sermon, at least in draft.  I’m looking at excerpts from Psalm 37 (in verses 1-10):

 

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to preach on today.  I looked at the second half of the gospel and it made me think.  Most of Jesus’ parables seem, to me, to have Jesus saying outrageous things – like abandoning 99 sheep to find one lost sheep – as though they were normal, rational actions.  And certainly my response to who would serve someone working for you all day first is that, of course, I would.  Yet I suspect (without actually knowing) that, in this case, Jesus’ story actually reflects the norms of his (very stratified) society.  I looked at the first half of today’s gospel and thought:  wasn’t it C. S. Lewis who quoted this passage?  Didn’t he say that, of course, non of us take this literally?  And then he wondered (in it’s aftermath) if World War II might have been averted if only we Christians had been more faithful in our prayers.

Prayer.

Prayers.

I’ve always meant to preach on the Psalter.  We know, on one level, that it’s poetry (or, since it was likely meant to be sung in some fashion, song).  And, as poetry, it’s my impression at least, most people don’t seem to take the psalter very seriously.  But the Psalter is known, in tradition, as the prayer book of the Bible.  And in monastic tradition, it is the backbone of the daily offices.  The psalms are recited together in community, slowly, again and again, day after day.  Monastics talk about being slowly ground down and formed by this recitation of the psalms.

All of life seems to come up in the psalms.  Joy, anger, sorrow, despair …  Victory, defeat, revenge, deferral of dreams …  Love, friendship, betrayal of relationships …  God, enemies, liars, comforters …  Bliss with God …  Anger at God …  All of life is there.  I read somewhere that a rancher in Wyoming, who was feeling totally disconnected with life, was encouraged by his therapist to read and reread the Psalter.  He would begin to see himself and others in what he read.  It would reconnect him with the human experience.

I think the monastic approach is similar.  If I actually followed the full practice of four offices seven days a week outlined in the Order of St. Helena Breviary I would read every psalm in the course of two weeks of worship.

And then begin again.

And repeat again.

It’s a grind.

The psalms can grind you down and slowly, ever so slowly, begin to shape you in God’s image.

Let’s take this morning’s psalm.  I’m wondering if any of you really remember what it said.  It began:  “Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; do not be jealous of those who do wrong.”  We’ve all known people who’ve done wrong – people in fact who’ve done US wrong.  And sometimes, in my experience, they’ve seemed to prosper and get ahead by their actions.  That’s been my experience.

Well, maybe it’s good advice not to be jealous of them.  Or, rather, since jealousy is an emotion, and emotions happen whether we want them to or not, and whether we want to acknowledge them or not, maybe the thing is not to feed my jealousy and remain jealous.  Maybe jealousy is like anger, an indication that something is wrong.  But not an indication of what is wrong.  Or who is wrong.  Something, rather, that invites me to look at my own role in what has happened …

Oh!  Yeah!  The psalm continued while my thoughts wondered.  What came next?  “For they shall soon wither like the grass, and like the green grass fade away.”  RIGHT!  The way Bill Cosby’s Noah responds to the Lord.  “Noah!”  “Yes …”  “It’s the Lord, Noah.”  “RIGHT!  Who is this really?”  I mean, I guess it’s true in the sense that, someday, each and every one of us is going to die.  But I’m not sure I find that useful.

A lot of the wealthiest people I know of, say, robber barons, for example, continued by all appearances to benefit from their wrongdoing for the rest of their lives.  And not only their lives.  They seem to have begun dynasties.  Everyone knows who the Rockefellers and the Gettys are – not to mention the Kennedys …

They may have died.  But the legacy lives on.  The sense of privilege and entitlement lives on.  And it isn’t just about money.  I’m still furious when I remember being assaulted, literally run over, full speed, with a hard elbow to the face, knocked to the ground and stripped of the ball – in a refereed basketball game, where no foul was called, and the miscreant scored an unopposed layup on the other end, and the play changed the flow of the game, and we went from being comfortably ahead to narrowly losing …

Or is that really what matters.  Life is not always fair.  But is my life any worse because we lost – all those many years ago?  And is his life really any better?  And, if so, do I wish him harm?  Really?

Back to the money.  I remember reading somewhere that the founding Rockefeller was once asked, late in life, how much money was enough.  He responded, “A little bit more than I have.”  And I’ve always thought he meant it.  He could never be satisfied.  He always needed more.  There never would be enough in his life.

I don’t know any Rockefellers.  But I once knew a Getty grandchild.  There were a lot of broken relationships in her family.  There was a lot of sadness and tragedy …

And I think life is about relationships, don’t I?

What’s the psalm say?  “Take delight in the LORD, and he shall give you your heart’s desire.”  Heart’s desire …  That was Anne, once – an unattained desire.  Not that she isn’t still.  But back when we were courting it was different.  It’s still an ongoing process of becoming.  But it is also something that today I know I have.  Back then, I wanted it.  It might be coming someday.  But I knew I didn’t really have it then.

Maybe that’s the kind of relationship I’m being invited to have with God.  To take delight in God, the way I took delight in Anne – the way I still take delight in Anne.  To invest myself in that relationship the way I invested myself in my relationship with Anne …

“Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him, and he will bring it to pass.”

 

So that’s me, reading this particular psalm on one day.  Another day other things will strike me, and my reflections will move in a different direction.  But when I read them slowly and reflectively, the psalms invite me into the human condition.  They make me reflect on my life and my relationships – including my relationship with God.

Maybe you’ve been reading the psalms this way for years.  Maybe you’ve moved more deeply into them than I have, at this point in my life.

But if not, this is an invitation.  An invitation to deepen your relationship with your God.  And it’s not so much that I expect to find final answers in reading the psalms.  It’s that I want to bring my life, my whole life, every part of my life, into relationship with God.

“… do not be jealous of those who do wrong …

Put your trust in the LORD and do good …

Take delight in the LORD, and he shall give you your heart’s desire …”

 

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