"The Many Lessons of Psalms" Sermon by Vicar Sarah Kretschmann
In sermons, we preachers tend to focus on the Gospel text, but today I wanted to highlight the psalm we read together. I don’t know if you noticed earlier in the service, but our Psalm for today was the very first one in the Bible.
The book of Psalms, called the Psalter, is a collection of 150 prayers, hymns and poems that make up the middle section of the bible as we know it.
While the psalms are often attributed to King David, we’re not really sure who wrote them. Some psalms include writing above or alongside the text called superscription, but the names they list aren’t necessarily the authors. In some ways these poems could be written by any of us.
I personally LOVE the book of Psalms. I love this section of scripture because it is just so human. It’s just so real. And it is full of all the feels.
The Psalms include calls for help, songs of joy, yells of anger, celebrations of victory, cries of grief, prayers for healing, and hymns of praise. In short, the psalms address the many dimensions of our relationship to God and to one another. As Martin Luther puts it, “ Psalms might well be called a Little Bible.” And I see what he means because they really capture what it is to be human in our world together and what it looks like to be in relationship with God, feelings and all.
These past few weeks, we have heard in the gospel text the common theme of abiding in relationship to God. But what does that relationship look like?
Well, relationship with God can look a lot of different ways. In the Gospel text from John today, Jesus shows us that relationship with God can look like prayer on behalf of our neighbors. Psalm 1 is a little more specific describing relationship with God as following the instructions of faith God gives us.
A translation I like of the relationship advice in this psalm goes like this,
The truly happy person
doesn’t follow wicked advice,
doesn’t walk with those causing harm,
and doesn’t sit with those who do not respect God.
Instead of doing those things,
[A truly happy person] loves the Lord’s Instruction,
and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
They are like a tree planted by streams of water,
which bears fruit at just the right time
and whose leaves don’t fade.
Whatever they do succeeds.
This psalm is what is known as a wisdom psalm. It was written with the intent of educating the community. And I want us to notice how the translation I just shared differs from what is printed in our bulletins. The greatest difference for me is the absence of the word law.
One of the ways that we are in relationship to God is through the law, but not necessarily the laws that first come to mind for us.
The Hebrew word for law, Torah, does not carry the same connotations as the word law in our society today. In the context of the psalms, “Torah” refers to the Bible’s instruction in the way of faith as outlined in holy scripture. When the psalmist encourages us to delight in the law or to love the Lord’s instructions, they are encouraging the reader in their journey of faith and in their relationship with God.
Martin Luther taught that God’s law is good and has two uses. The first use teaches us how to live in the world. The second reminds us that nobody is perfect and that we all need God’s forgiveness.
It is important that we are critical of laws of the world. In our nation and beyond, humans laws have been used to uphold injustice, to defend the genocide of people and to cause harm to the most vulnerable. That is not God’s law.
God’s law is a resource for relationship, not a tool for separation.
And that relationship can look a number of different ways. Sometimes our relationship with God is full of joy and gratitude. Sometimes our relationship is one of doubt or questioning. Sometimes our relationship is one of hurt and anger. All of these, even the mad and sad ones, are good and faithful ways of connecting to God.
It can be easy to think of God when we are in beautiful sanctuaries like this one, but worshiping as we do on Sunday mornings is only one of many ways of being in relationship to God.
Maybe you are grieving a difficult loss and your relationship with God sounds like Psalm 6:6, “I am weary with weeping; every night I flood my bed with tears.”
Maybe you are celebrating a new beginning and your relationship with God sounds like Psalm 92:4, “You, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”
Maybe you are feeling a little lost and your relationship with God sounds like Psalm 61:1-2, “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint.”
Wherever you are. Whatever you are feeling. You are not alone. God chooses you and longs for a thriving relationship with you and the world. Amen.