Most worshipers take the psalms for granted, treating them like background music that establishes a mood but has little grip on the imagination. Yes, the 23rd Psalm is brought in for comfort at funerals, and folks would miss the “green pastures” and “still waters” were they not invoked.
At a meeting of church musicians and worship leaders, the phrase comfort zone was cropping up everywhere. This was the drift of the discussion: People should feel at home in worship, especially in times like these when everything moves so quickly and nothing (including our daily bread) can be taken for granted.
As some friends and I ate a picnic lunch, we fell into a rambling conversation about politics, real estate values in an earthquake zone and the virtues of sauvignon blanc over chardonnay. Then I mentioned offhandedly that perhaps I viewed something or other the way I did because I was a Christian. This revelation did not strike me as a big deal. After all, they had been talking about Buddhist meditation, Sufi parables and personal spiritual rituals.
Christians throughout the ages have proclaimed that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb.13:8). The implicit teaching is that by being eternally the same, he is therefore divine: a Rock of Ages and, like the Father of Lights, beyond the shadow of changing. He is.
My guess is that most middle-aged people when prodded to consider “aging” think immediately about what the flesh is heir to. In my case, there is the hair once “prematurely” gray now (without excuse) white. The root canals. The face that looks increasingly lived-in, the lower back that threatens to go out.
Traditional Christian appropriation of the Hebrew scriptures often flattens them. Stories become precursors of later New Testament events rather than genuine events in themselves. Vivid multidimensional characters become mere prefigurations instead of figures in their own right, and complex narrative situations are reduced to a single theological point.
Sometimes the point of scripture is the transcendence of the Holy One. This was something Isaiah knew well—“Truly, you are a God who hides yourself” (45: 15) —as did the long-suffering Job. So did Paul, who comes to a point in his Epistle to the Romans when he realizes he cannot go any further. “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God!” he writes.
The Psalms have always functioned as a book of common prayer. But there is also a long history of turning to the Psalter as a sourcebook for poetry. It is not difficult to see why. Many of the psalms foreground the act of speech or song—the activity of utterance itself—as the chief end of everything that has breath.
The lectionary loves to take biblical texts that share some things in common and then watch as worlds collide once differences come to light. This week’s comparison-contrast of call stories is a perfect case in point. The story in 1 Kings 19 comes directly from God’s lips to Elijah’s ears and from there to Elisha’s shoulders.
How do you prove that your uncle killed your father on his way to seizing both a crown and a sister-in-law for himself? Hamlet decides that a bit of drama called “The Mouse-trap” might be the way to “catch the conscience of the king”: