The Lord Will Reign Forever…

Psalm 146  – The third Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, June 9, 2013

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!” (Psalm 146:1)

Dad-reading 1
Okay, maybe Dad’s not reading Psalm 146 to me, but early on people read to me, and I learned to read…and whether centuries ago or now, we all hear those first words that touch (or torch) our hearts.

Did Jesus first read Psalm 146 in Hebrew?

Did he hear it in Aramaic, or even a mash-up of Hebrew and Aramaic like our modern day Spanglish?

I read Psalm 146 in English.

Because I choose a lectionary lesson each morning, I spent time with Psalm 146 on the day after Elijah had encountered the Zarephath widow (I Kings 17:8-12). I read it two days after Luke 7:11-17’s account of Jesus raising the son of the widow from Nain back to life.

Elijah’s adventures were exciting, faith provoking and elaborate. Jesus’ stunning gift to a widow reverberated with mystery, history and theology.

But I kept wondering about that brief psalm near the end of Psalms:

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God all my life long.

I nested in my office’s corner chair—my praying chair, my meditation space, my Bible-reading cushy recliner—and stared at the ancient psalm. It stared at me.

Jesus could have also referred to it as an ancient psalm, since it had been written centuries before his birth. Whenever he read it or heard these words for the first time, was it Joseph or Mary or a rabbi or a neighbor that shared it with him?

Since Psalm 146 (or the other 149 psalms) was scribed, how many languages have been used to declare:  I will praise the Lord as long as I live? Over a hundred? Five hundred? More than a thousand unique tongues and accents?

How many times has it been sung or danced? How many times has all or part of Psalm 146 found its way into a script, poem, ode, memoir, battle cry, tattoo, novel and stage play? How many times has Psalm 146’s THE LORD WILL REIGN FOREVER been shouted in a worship service, echoing in cramped chapels or soaring cathedrals? How often has a rabbi or priest or layperson muttered the words with such a flat, lifeless tone that the persons in the pew nodded off, heads bobbing, their only response a snore? Continue reading →

You Cannot Be Serious

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c – 5th Sunday after Epiphany – for February 5, 2012

“The Lord God builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.” (Psalm 147:2)

When or where, and from whom, did I first hear . . . I don’t read the Bible literally, but I take it seriously?

A mentor? Perhaps. Was it a gem discovered in a now-recycled magazine article? Could’ve been. Did a renowned theologian first tease me with these words? Possible. This I’m confident about: I’ve quoted it since Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office, wondering why no one liked him anymore. Therefore, before the easily plucked quotations from the digital realms of Google and Wikipedia, I offered this simple, and oh so true, sentence to readers and listeners.

At least it’s oh so true for me.

While studying a few verses of Psalm 147 the other day, I kept hearing I-don’t-read-the-Bible-literally… nudge my consciousness. Nudge? Actually it felt more like tennis great John McEnroe infamously shouting, “You cannot be serious!”

He heals the brokenhearted… (Ps. 147:3). If that’s true, then why do so many of the people I call for hospice weep, sound anguished, speak with voices as if worn out by shouting in a storm?

He determines the number of stars… (Ps. 147:4). Please. In Biblical times they thought the sky was a fixed dome, and the sun moved just above the clouds each day. It’s the Bible that claims Joshua made the sun stand still (Joshua 10). So pardon me if I don’t equate ancient theological metaphors with modern astronomy.

The Lord lifts up the downtrodden… (Ps. 147:6). Can the good Lord please talk some sense into those forlorn homeless men at the corner of Fresno’s Blackstone and Herndon who brandish signs like: I’m a vetran and hongry, pleas help me? They appear permanently downtrodden.

There are other upbeat promises and platitudinous pablum in Psalm 147, so I’ll let you choose your own to be incredulous about. Or, because my views may not be oh so true for you, you can debate or debunk my feeble (un)beliefs.

Psalms 147 is not the only “problem.” The Bible’s chock-full of stumbling blocks and John McEnroe situations.

Such as, can any modern reader study the Bible and not be unsettled with its treatment of women? When scripture was written, women—all women—were property. Find me a verse empowering women and I’ll find you 10 or 100 belittling them. Continue reading →