Psalm 53

As we’ve been considering the Wisdom Tradition of Israel, we pondered Psalm 111:

Week 31’s Living in The Story blog reminds us that the biblical understanding of one who is “wise” refers to one who is open to teaching and willing to learn; willing to grow.

The blog also reminds us that it is ultimate foolishness to live as if WE are the measure and the standard of truth (the foolishness of auto-nomy!)

It is only God who is the source of wisdom and thus submitting ourselves to God’s Way is the way of wisdom.

But there is another way: the way of fools.

Our psalm for this week, Psalm 53 describes this hopeless spiral:

Fools say in their hearts: “There is no God.”

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As you read about Elijah

There is a bright Elijah thread that weaves throughout the Bible.

The book of Sirach names him as one of God’s greatest proclaimers and prophets.

Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire, and his word burned like a torch.

He brought a famine upon them, and by his zeal he made them few in number.

By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens, and also three times brought down fire.

How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!

Whose glory is equal to yours?

Sirach 48

It is the Old Testament book of Kings that continues Israel’s story of the lineage of David and Solomon.

By Elijah’s time, Israel’s story had become a sad history of rebellion and civil war. David’s united kingdom had fractured into two separate nations: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.

In 1 Kings 16, the storyteller of the northern kingdom says this:

Now Ahab son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. And Ahab did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him.

Ahab was breaking bad and his queen Jezebel may have been even worse. Elijah was the prophet God sent to stand against them and challenge their wickedness. It was a thankless dangerous job and King Ahab disdained Elijah as the “troubler of Israel.”

Usually Elijah’s courage was remarkable.
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What Are You Doing Here?

I don’t know about you, but conflict and confrontation wear me out.

I can’t imagine how it is to be William Barber. I watch his Moral Mondays Movement and his Poor People’s Campaign. I admire his stinging critique of the policies that privilege the privileged and compromise the most vulnerable among us.

I wonder how Rev. Barber finds the courage to keep on keeping on.

I can’t imagine how it was to be Martin Luther King Jr.

How did he find the stamina to continue his work when the vast power of the status quo resisted everything he did, opposed everything he stood for, despised everything he was?

I can’t imagine how it was to be the ancient prophet, Elijah.

Day in and day out, Elijah brazenly confronted powerful and dangerous people because of their abuse and misuse of authority. Elijah went up against some of the worst offenders of human rights and common decency in ancient Israel.

Elijah knew well the personality disorders of unfaithful unscrupulous leaders.

As do we.

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As you read about Solomon

It is a sad irony that the kingdom King David built was so short lived.

David’s heir, Solomon, followed his father’s path of aggressive kingdom-building but then Solomon’s own son saw the kingdom rent by civil war.

The expansive land and legacy of David and Solomon dwindled into the small nation of Judah.

A look at Solomon is a look at the temptation to foolishness even in the wisest among us.

One of the most famous stories about the newly crowned king is the story of God’s gift of great wisdom.

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Psalm 1

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on God’s law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.

In all that he does he prospers.

The wicked are not so but are like chaff which the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1

When our children were young, my husband created a lively tune for Psalm 1 so we could all memorize it. They are in their 40’s now and still can sing this RSV version of the anchor psalm of the psalter.

The anchor psalm

I call it the ‘anchor psalm’ because the editors of Israel’s hymnal organized the 150 psalms quite meticulously into five books, each with their own internal theology.

The creators of Israel’s hymnbook understood that Psalm 1 sets the tone not only for Book I but also for the entire collection of poems that sing the life of Israel.

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The Women Who Anointed Jesus

I title this “the women” (plural) because of the four ways the four gospels tell the story of Jesus’ anointing. Let’s look at all four stories.

The gospel of John

In this week’s readings, Living in The Story focuses on John’s way of telling the story in chapter 12:

  • The woman is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus
  • The anointing oil is pure nard, “a costly perfume”
  • Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair, a provocatively intimate act
  • The anointing triggered Judas and propelled the narrative towards his act of betrayal
  • In John’s narrative, the story is placed just after John relates the death of Lazarus in chapter 11. He includes Jesus’ encounter with this same Mary and the strong confession of resurrection faith by her sister Martha.
  • The story is set just before Jesus’ passion and so John’s Jesus says explicitly that the anointing has to do with “the day of his burial.”
  • The story continues with this odd bit of information:

…the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

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Psalm 111

All the psalms are considered to be part of Israel’s Wisdom Tradition, but Psalm 111 is one that sings specifically and eloquently that:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

  • Fearing the Lord.
  • Marveling at the Mystery.
  • Surrendering to the Inscrutable.

“The fear of the Lord” is submission and alligience and obedience. But this kind of “fear” also suggests an appropriate heart-thumping, knee-knocking, spine-tingling response.

The fear of the Lord comes from faith that trembles at the majesty and marvels at the mystery.

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The Way of Wisdom

Jerry and I were reading to our second graders one time and they were excited to tell us about the newest word they had learned: “genre.”

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These are such smart, clever children!

Back when you and I were in the second grade, even if we didn’t know the term “genre,” we still knew there were different categories of the things we were reading.

We knew the difference between comic books and history books and biographies; we learned how fiction, non-fiction and science fiction works.

The ability to discern between different genres still comes in handy for adults. For example, we know how important it is to notice the difference between objective news reporting and commentary or opinions; between science and poetry; between history with documentable facts and the stories that interpret and make meaning of facts.

This is not to say that some genres are better than others; that some categories are necessarily “truer” than others.

But it is to say that finding meaning and discerning what is “true” requires understanding a big picture, not just one small piece of reality.

Look at our music, for example. We wouldn’t say that only classical music is “right;” or country or rock or bluegrass. We see all those different genres of music as rich and interesting and beneficial as we seek to experience life more fully.

All this variety makes us better and bigger as we share life together with all our different tastes and preferences.

mural finished

In much the same way, we appreciate the numerous genres of Scripture.

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Psalm 32

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Psalm 32 celebrates grace.

Remember the poetic rhythm that often characterizes the Psalms: a lovely coupling where two lines emphasize one another, both saying the same thing in different ways.

Here “forgiven” complements “covered” and “no iniquity” aligns with “no deceit.” These are the people who find “happiness” or blessedness or contentment in life.

But Psalm 32 also remembers sin.

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David’s Undoing

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions…

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise….

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise…

(adapted from Psalm 51)

The church’s traditional understanding is that King David wrote this song of yearning and remorse after his great sin against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.

If you’ve been reading 2 Samuel this past week, you’ve remembered this sad, sad tale of David’s fall and the consequent undoing of his family.

“What goes around, comes around,” our mothers used to say and certainly that is the tale told here.

It was in the spring of the year, when kings go off to war, that David stayed in Jerusalem.

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It was in the cool of the evening when David paced on his high patio and looked down into his neighbors’ garden that he spied a beautiful woman at her bath.

It was in a moment of passion, made toxic by power and privilege that David sent for the woman and had his way with her.

It was in thoughtless carelessness that he discarded the woman he had abused; David sent her home and forgot about her.

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