Psalm 24 – The 18th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, September 27, 2015
“Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8)
Look both ways before you cross the street.
Eat your vegetables.
Don’t put your elbows on the table at meals.
Make your bed.
Always say please and thank you.
My parents repeated these and many other statements. The oft-said phrases were house rules, family guidelines, loving warnings, and life lessons.
When my wife and I brought a puppy into our home this year, one of the first phrases she heard was, “Do your business.” Actually, Kynzi—our irksome, wondrous golden retriever devil and angel dog—never heard that phrase inside the home. But the moment her cute little butt roamed the yard, and it appeared she might be on the verge of, er, losing a little waste weight, we proclaimed: “Do your business.”
We repeated the phrase ad nauseam because we wanted Kynzi to understand and remember.
* * *
Though I won’t take the time to review the entire Bible before finishing this essay, I wonder how many times the Exodus story is repeated throughout scripture? Maybe not as many times as there are stars in the sky, but . . . a lot! The exodus memory underscores Psalm 124:
If the Lord hadn’t been for us—
let Israel now repeat!—
If the Lord hadn’t been for us,
when those people attacked us
then they would have swallowed us up whole
with their rage burning against us!
Then the waters would have drowned us;
the torrent would have come over our necks . . .
The children of Israel, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the chosen of The Lord, were enslaved in Egypt. According to the history and mystery of faith, Moses would lead them away from slavery and toward a promised land.
Exodus: God’s deliverance.
Repeat the story. Repeat it to your children, and your children’s children, until the telling of the story is little different than breathing for every next generation. Perhaps Psalm 124 isn’t directly about the escape from Egypt. Perhaps it’s a generalized adulation for trusting God or a specific reference to another time when “people attacked us,” but the Lord’s guidance saved the day. Regardless of the focus, the exodus language permeates this psalm. The repetition of the central theme of deliverance happened whenever the Children of Israel sought and gained freedom, or lost and longed for freedom.
* * *
I have a prayer I repeat nearly every day. It is a simple, even mundane, prayer that has to do with my relationship with my wife. I said this prayer thirty years ago. I said it twenty years ago. I will likely pray the prayer next week, and will likely say and pray it until my final breaths. I will not tell you the words I use, for I’d be embarrassed for you to know. My wife has never heard the simple words. Only me. Only God. And yet, they are representative of the most life-affirming hopes, promises, and memories of my life.
My wife and I both went through divorces. We stumbled onto each other after we’d gone through relationships that had collapsed. I’ve been around enough people in my ministry to know our divorces were tame. There were no custody battles over children or legal skirmishes about property. We were young and had most of our lives ahead of us. Frankly our divorces were easy.
But, speaking only for myself, my divorce broke my spirit.
It is story that shaped the worst of my life.
And then, making a long story short, we found each other. I don’t think of it as luck. I don’t think of it as chance. I am a faithful enough person to believe that God—in all the enigmatic ways the Holy lures and loves—placed a person before me. What would happen? What would I do? What would we do?
Our marriage is far from perfect. We say dumb things. We make more mistakes than McDonalds makes burgers. We are boring. We have things we wished we didn’t do, and things we wished we had done. We are not rich or poor. We pay a mortgage. We are too weary at the end of a typical workweek. We should take more vacations and worry less about job expectations.
But, you see, she is freedom. I know being trapped. I know pain. I know feeling a failure.
And so, on thousand mornings and more, I repeat a silly little prayer. It is for me to remember. It is for God, and giving thanks to a Holy whim and moment. I repeat it and repeat it and repeat it because I don’t want to forget and I do want to remember.
* * *
Exodus appears in many forms. The dream of freedom is global and institutional. It is personal and individual. It is repeated by Jews and Christians, and (I believe) mirrored in other faith traditions. I also believe—thanks be to God—the exodus story is foundational for agnostics and atheists. Non-believers may not claim the exodus, but it claims them.
With thanks to my parents’ repetition of love, I look both ways before I cross the street. How about you?
I marvel at my growing puppy when I use the “magic” phrase. She knows I mean business about the “business.”
I say my simple morning prayer.
I tell my private story.
God hears. Every time.