Revised Common Lectionary--2007
For May-Aug, 2007 click here
Easter IV (Apr. 29)
Acts 13:15-16, 26ff.
Psalm 23 (I)
Psalm 23 (II)
Rev. 7:9-17 (I)
Rev. 7:9-17 (II)
Easter III (Apr. 22)
VT Killing Meditation
Acts 9:1-19a (I)
Acts 9:1-19a (II)
Easter II (Apr. 15)
Acts 5:12-32 (I)
Acts 5:12-32 (II)
Easter (Apr. 8)
Ps. 118:1-2, 14-24
John 20:1-18 (I)
John 20:1-18 (II)
Lent VI (Apr. 1)
Psalm 22 (I)
Psalm 22 (II)
Lent V (Mar. 25)
Psalm 126 (I)
Psalm 126 (II)
John 12:1-8 (I)
John 12:1-8 (II)
Lent IV (Mar. 18)
Luke 15:11-32 (I)
Luke 15:11-32 (II)
II Cor. 5:16-21
Lent III (Mar. 11)
I Cor 10:1-13
Lent II (Mar. 4)
Gen. 15:1-12, 17-18
Luke 13:31-35 (I)
Luke 13:31-35 (II)
Lent I (Feb. 25)
Deut 26: 1-11
Luke 4:1-13 (I)
Luke 4:1-13 (II)
Rom 10: 5-13
Epiphany VII (2/18)
Gen. 45:1-15 (I)
Gen. 45:1-15 (II)
I Cor 15:35-38,42ff.
Epiphany VI(Feb 11)
Luke 6:17-26 I
Luke 6:17-26 II
I Cor 15:12-20
Epiphany V (Feb 4)
Is. 6 (The Senses I)
Is. 6 (The Senses II)
Luke 5:1-11 (II)
I Cor 15:1-11
I Cor 15:1-11 (II)
Epiphany IV (Jan 28)
Jer. 1:4-10 (II)
Luke 4:22-30 (I)
Luke 4:22-30 (II)
I Cor 13 (I)
Epiphany III(Jan 21)
I Cor 12:12-31
Epiphany II (Jan 14)
John 2:1-11 (I)
John 2:1-11 (II)
I Cor. 12:1-11 (I)
I Cor. 12:1-11 (II)
Baptism (Jan 7)
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Luke 3 (II)
Easter II--April 15, 2007
Bill Long 4/3/07
Psalm 111; Praise from A-Z
If your reading for the morning is from Ps. 118, click here. Here is Ps. 111 in the NRSV.
"Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of honour and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established for ever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant for ever.
Holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practise it have a good understanding. His praise endures for ever."
The most important think you should realize about this Psalm of praise is that it is an acrostic Psalm. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an acrostic as "a short poem (or other composition) in which the initial letters of the lines, taken in order, spell a word, phrase, or sentence." With respect to the Psalms, however, scholars use the word "acrostic" to describe the seven Psalms which have each verse, portion of verse or section of the Psalm begin with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The seven such Psalms are: 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145. The theological meaning of acrostic is significant: the Psalm is trying to say that the subject of the Psalm is covered "from A-Z." Thus, if the Psalm celebrates the law of God (such as 119, where every ninth verse begins with a successive letter of the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet), the significance of the acrostic pattern is that the law of God "covers" life from A-Z. That is why it is useful to memorize it and meditate on it day and night, because in fact it has all you need to flourish in life. Our Psalm is a Psalm of thanksgiving; thus it teaches us that gratitude ought to be our root attitude in life, as we say, "from A-Z."
I can hardly think of a theme more important for the good conduct of our lives than gratitude. When the heart is grateful, it opens up like a spring flower. Other hearts will likewise open to you. But gratitude is also quite elusive, I have found. The multifarious cares of life tend to crowd into our daily existence and crowd out gratitude. Thus, this Psalm can help us regain our roots in gratitude.
How do we best study this Psalm? Not as a "three-point outline" which tries to extract three points of an argument as the Psalm progresses. The whole nature of an acrostic is that it is a literary exercise; a sort of challenge to the author who must conform his thoughts to the poetic form he has taken on. Therefore, don't look for progression of thought in such a Psalm. The best way to "get at it" is to highlight a few phrases that anchor the notion of gratitude in the text and in our hearts. For me the three phrases that leap out of the Psalm are: (1) "with my whole heart" (v. 1); (2) "studied by all who delight in them" (v. 2); (3) "wisdom" (v. 11). Here is a brief word on each.
I. "With My Whole Heart" (v. 1)
The Psalmist thanks God with his whole heart. The phrase also occurs in another acrostic Psalm: "Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart" (119:2). The phrase actually originates in Deuteronomy and relates to the dual contexts of worship and the law of God. For example, if the Lord scatters the people of Israel among the nations, the way they can reverse that dispersion is to "seek the Lord your God...with all your heart and soul" (4:29). Then, when Moses gives the commandments to Israel, the first of them is the Shema: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (6:5). See also 10:12 and 11:13. The meaning of seeking God with our whole heart is that God fully engages us. It doesn't mean necessarily that we drop out of our other activities, though it may mean that, especially for a season, but it also means , in the words of the hymn "Be Thou my Vision":
"Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light."
But, according to the Scriptures, we don't go unrewarded in our search. If we read Deut. 4:29 in its entirety we have:
"From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul."
Or, in the memorable words of Jeremiah:
"Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart" (29:12-13).
When you give your heart to anyone, God included, you open yourself up vulnerably to loss and terrible pain. But you also become aware of blessings beyond your imagination. The Psalmist challenges our hearts today.
II. "Studied by All" (v. 2)
The NRSV follows the RSV in its use of the arresting phrase, "studied by all." The KJV has "sought out of all them that have pleasure therein." The referent is the "works of the Lord" (2a). They are what is "studied" by those who delight in them. What does it mean to "study" the works of God?
The Hebrew word is darash which, in later Hebrew, means "to interpret the Scriptures." For example, we have the early medieval phenomenon of Midrash, which are detailed Jewish commentaries especially on the Pentateuch. These works pay so much attention to the text that even the Hebrew letters are seen to be invested with spiritual significance. But in Biblical Hebrew the word darash is usually translated "seek" and has more of a worship connotation. It may mean a visit to the sanctuary of God.
"For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:/ Seek (darash) me and live;/ but do not seek (darash) Bethel" (Amos 5:4-5).
The Psalms also recognize this. One of the great Psalms of worship is Ps. 24. It asks "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?" (v. 3). That is, it is concerned with proper worship. The answer is: "Those who have clean hands and a pure heart" (v. 4). Then follows the appearance of darash:
"They will receive blessing from the Lord,/ and vindication from the God of their salvation./ Such is the company of those who seek him./ who seek the face of the God of Jacob" (24:5-6).
Thus, in Biblical terms, we study God by worship.
III. Wisdom (v. 10)
A whole book could easily be written on the Biblical concept of wisdom. Suffice it to say here that gratitude and "studying" lay the foundation for wisdom. When it says that the "fear" of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the Psalmist is not pointing to an attitude of terror or shrinking away from God. Rather, as Gerhard von Rad, the leading OT theologian of the last generation says, the fear of the Lord includes both the experience of awe and the irresistible attraction to the graciousness of God, but it is not a state of anxiety.
In fact, from all that has been said, it sounds like the one who praises God is in love with God. That isn't a word that is overly used in the Psalms but it one for our day. We give thanks with our whole heart. We "study" the works of God through worship. We cultivate an "irrestistible attraction to the grace of God." Our lives and our hearts are irreversibly touched by the Easter news. Praise be to God.