21 When you did all of this, I didn’t say a word, and you thought, “God is just like us!” But now I will accuse you.
22 You have ignored me! So pay close attention or I will tear you apart, and no one can help you. 23 The sacrifice that honors me is a thankful heart. Obey me, and I, your God, will show my power to save. (CEV)
Click on the link for the Psalm above for the text or listen to Psalm 50:
The last time I presented Psalm 50 in worship, I focused on idolatry too.
Idolatry is the mistaken thought that God is like us, and then worshiping that false image of God. We are all created in God’s image. But sometimes, we mistakenly think the reverse is also true, and that God must bare our image. I grew up singing “Jesus love the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” But, I grew up singing that song in a primarily white middle class church, and so even though we sang about loving everybody of every color it seemed to me that God was an old white man, kind of like a grandfather figure, who loved the kids in my church. All of the pictures I viewed of Jesus were white, nativity sets had white figures, and most biblical characters were depicted as older white men. All of the Christians I knew were white and lived in my hometown. So, we sang about a God who loved all people, but my experience of who God loved and what God looked like was white. No one meant any harm, in fact, I grew up with what some would call “good faith”, but the way I have carried that childlike faith into adulthood is very different from others who grew up with that same “good faith”.
The New Interpreters Bible Commentary warns that “Good faith is always in danger of becoming bad religion –a mechanistic system to put God at our disposal and to give us the illusion of merit and self-control. If we think that we are deserving, and if we think that we have things under control, then there will be no need for us to call upon God or to live in dependence upon God. All that is left is to glorify ourselves (see v. 15). The issue, then, is this: Will we live to gratify ourselves? Or will we live in gratitude to God?” NIB p. 445
In my personal life and in our national news, I have seen people warp “good faith” and use the Christian religion to justify racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, antisemitism, and a host of other ugly views that are antithetical to a God who loves all the children of the world and calls us to do the same. We have exchanged the God who loves all to the God who loves us, and only us. And when I say us, I mean white Christian Americans.
In adult forum we have been reading antiracist books and our current reading is “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by James Cone. Cone addresses the way white Christians and black Christians understand how their faith responds to lynching. I can not deny that white Christians have endorsed, participated in, and glorified atrocities including slavery, segregation, and lynching of black bodies. I can see the parallels between how white American Christians behaved in the past to the white supremacist American Christians who participated in the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol building with the intent to terrorize and harm the people inside. Their message was one of lies, racism, antisemitism, and self-glorification of white Christian supremacy in America.
I read Psalm 50 as a condemnation of the hate that has been perpetuated by Christians who believe the lie that God is white, male, and christian and condones whatever white supremacists christians do in his name. Especially verses 21-23 in the Contemporary English Version.
21 When you did all of this, I didn’t say a word, and you thought, “God is just like us!” But now I will accuse you.
22 You have ignored me! So pay close attention or I will tear you apart, and no one can help you. 23The sacrifice that honors me is a thankful heart. Obey me, and I, your God, will show my power to save. (CEV)
Rejection of white christian supremacy is central to my understanding of the gospel. Like James Cone, I believe that Jesus “was crucified by the same principalities and powers that lynched black people in America” (p. 158 Cross and the Lynching Tree). And I believe that those same principalities and powers continue to be at work in America masquerading as ‘very fine people’ and even christians. What we saw done in the name of Jesus on January 6th was not a reflection of the Jesus I know and love. But I believe there is hope. I find hope in other clergy and congregations that are also denouncing white supremacy and working to be anti-racists. And, there is hope that God will intervene to save us from ourselves by again renewing the promise to be in relationship with all of God’s beloved children.
God desires transformation not destruction. With God’s help, misunderstanding, racism, and self-glorification is replaced with new learning and understanding, anti-racism, and worship of God. We can leave behind our tendency towards self-glorification and return to the God of love offering our gratitude. Only when we worship the true God, not the one we made up who is like us, can we participate in God’s work of salvation for the world.
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
The Lord’s Prayer is about the amount of time you need for hand scrubbing 😉
Breath Prayer: I am including breath prayers because this is the practice that I engage in most often. Sometimes, I simply manage my breathing as I would when I was singing as a warmup and strengthening exercise. This practice helps me to feel centered, strong, and connected with myself and the divine. Sometimes, I add words or intentions for the inhalation and exhalation.
Nicole Cardoza’s Guided Meditation For Anxiety
Try this short meditation, created by Yoga Foster and Reclamation Ventures founder Nicole Cardoza, the next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious. Read in Yoga Journal.
Mr. Roger’s “Taking a breath” This one is short, but Mr. Roger’s voice is calming for me (and many Pittsburghers) and even his virtual presence can summon childhood memories of calmness and safety.
Let us pray:
One way to think about breath prayer is that whatever is exhaled other people will inhale. So, sometimes we might inhale and exhale the same idea with the hope that what we receive from God, we can share with others. For example, you may imagine receiving God’s steadfast love while praying that others are receiving God’s steadfast love.
Another way to think about breath prayer is to pick something you would like to receive for your inhalation and something you would like to release for your exhalation. The idea is to keep it simple, so I encourage you to simply find one word for each inhale and one word for each exhale. That simple prayer could be something like this: God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your correction and release my self-glorification.
Or you may want to use a short phrase: Help me to see my part in the pain. God, keep me from looking away. (Cole Arthur Riley @blackliturgies)
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes:
“This psalm is not a hymn or prayer or song of thanksgiving. It is composed on the model of a speech for trial proceedings. It begins with an introduction (vv. 1-6) in which the LORD appears, convenes court, and summon this covenant people as defendants. The body of the psalm is a speech made by the LORD to put the worship (vv. 7-15) and the conduct (vv. 16-22) of the covenant people under judgement. The speech ends with a summary statement on worship and conduct, a sort of instructive finding of the court (v. 23).” Mays p. 194
“Rather than addressing God directly as most psalms do, Psalm 50 offers “first-person divine speech” that criticizes Israel’s sacrifices and behavior. Some argue that Psalm 50 belongs to the liturgy of a covenant renewal ceremony (Josh 24); others call it a didactic poem or a covenant lawsuit brought by God against Israel (Isa 1:10-17; Mic 6:6-8). Robert Alter calls it “a prophetic psalm, with God actually quoted in direct discourse for much of the poem, as in the literary prophets.” The “I” in Psalm 50 represents God speaking in oracles delivered by a prophet who need not necessarily be male. Tanakh identifies five women prophets (feminine singular): Miriam (Exod 15:20), Deborah (Judg 4-5), Huldah (2 Kgs 22:8-14), the unnamed woman with whom Isaiah fathers a son (Isa 8:1), Noadiah (New 6:14). Also the daughters of Heman, along with their brothers (“all of these”, 1 Christ 25:6), perform music in the temple under the direction of their father; their music is considered to be prophecy (1Chr 25:1). As Psalm 68:24-25 suggests, women probably played the (small frame drum). The Talmud (b. Meg. 14a) lists seven female prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther. Ezekiel 13:17 and Joel 2:28 speak generally of women and men prophesying. In many texts the masculine plural (“prophets”) masks the presence of female prophets who “are lost to the binaries of grammar.” The NT names Anna (Luke 2:36), the virgin daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9), and females at Corinth (1 For 11:5) as prophets. Though only eleven psalms contain direct “God-quotations,” H. G. M. Williamson argues that it “seems likely” that “the figure of the prophetess was not nearly so familiar in monarchical Israel and Judah as our scant sources initially suggest.” Prophesy as a “male preserve” has obscured the earlier social reality of female prophets.” W pp. 63-65 There were Hebrew words in this text that I don’t have the correct font for.
“A trinity of names identify the judge; he is El, Elohim, and YHWH, whose authority reaches from one horizon of earth to the other (v.1).” Mays p. 194
“As personnel and witnesses for the trial the LORD summons heaven and earth (vv. 4, 1, 6). In the ancient Near East, lists of gods were invoked as witnesses and enforcers of sworn agreements and treaties. In the theological dramatization of covenant proceedings between the Lord and Israel, heaven and earth as cosmic personifications replace the gods (Deut. 32:1; Isa. 1:2; Micah 6:1-2).” Mays pp. 194-195
“As defendants the LORD calls those “who made a covenant with me (confirmed) by sacrifice” (v. 5). The effect of this identification is to equate those to whom the psalm is being spoken with the congregation of Israel at Sinai (Exod. 24:3-8). They are the hasidim of the LORD, the ones whose identity and life are determined by the covenant they have made with the LORD (NRSV, “faithful ones”; NJPS “devotes”). To be a hasid is to hold oneself subject to the LORD under the claims of the covenant. The terms of the covenant are set out in statutes (v. 16) and words (v. 17, i.e., commandments; see Exod. 20:1). The covenant belongs to the liturgical life of hasidim; they recite its terms and pledge allegiance to its commitment (v. 16). By participation in the worship of Israel they have entered into the relation established at Sinai.” Mays p. 195
“The patience of God with his people, the forbearance of the LORD in the face of misunderstanding and faithlessness, could lead to a terrible conclusion. The congregation could make the very worst mistake. They might think of the LORD, and may already think of the LORD, as one like themselves. To project themselves on God and take that for the ultimate reality in terms of which to live, instead of determination of life–what hideous error!” Mays p. 195
“The problem is a misunderstanding and misuse of sacrifice. …. The scornful questions about God’s being hungry and eating the sacrifices are a vehement attack on worship that thinks of God as like the worshiper.” Mays p. 196
“There is a disparity, goes the accusation, between confession (v. 16) and conduct (v. 17). They recite the statues and ignore the commandments. They confess the covenant and reject its discipline. But covenanters must conform to the covenant. Disciples out observe discipline. Servants of God must bring innate human willfulness and selfishness under the control of commitment.” Mays p. 196
“Psalm 50 represents a type and style of speech that the prophets employed (e.g., Isa. 4:13-15). But where the prophets would typically conclude an indictment with an announcement of punishment, this saying concludes with warning and interaction (vv. 22-23). It threatens punishment (compare v. 22b with Hos. 5:14) but offers another way. Understanding must replace misunderstanding. Conduct must take the right way. If the speech is heard, God will save instead of punish.” Mays p. 197
“This psalm can and must be heard in the liturgy of the church because the Christian community has been incorporated into the people of the LORD by a covenant made though the sacrifice of Jesus Messiah (Mark 14:25).” Mays p. 197
“The call to decision presented by Psalm 50, by Jesus, and by Paul is still a crucial one. Hypocrisy is a persistent temptation. Good faith is always in danger of becoming bad religion –a mechanistic system to put God at our disposal and to give us the illusion of merit and self-control. If we think that we are deserving, and if we think that we have things under control, then there will be no need for us to call upon God or to live in dependence upon God. All that is left is to glorify ourselves (see v. 15). The issue, then, is this: Will we live to gratify ourselves? Or will we live in gratitude to God?” NIB p. 445
WBC Allen, Leslie C. 1983. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150. Vol. 21. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1974. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. 8th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2007. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade.
Brueggemann Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Edited by Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
W de Claisse-Walford, Nancy L. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 4-5. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 22. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2020.
W Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 2-3. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 21. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2016.
NIB Keck, Leander E. 2015. The New Interpreters Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Mays Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
McCann, J. C., & Howell, J. C. 2001. Preaching the Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Miller Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
Schlimm Schlimm, Matthew Richard. 2018. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know. Nashville, TN: Abington Press.
Spong Spong, M. (Ed.). (2020). The words of her mouth: Psalms for the struggle. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.
WBC Tate, Marvin E. 1990. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Edited by David Allan. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 20. Waco, TX: Word.
OTL Weiser, Artur. 1998. Old Testament Library: Psalms. Translated by Herbert Hartwell. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.
I began writing Psalm reflections during Lent of 2020 shortly after we decided to close the church building, work from home, and worship via zoom. Many churches use the revised common lectionary that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C). Starting in Advent 2019, Third Church decided to worship with the texts from Year D, which is still not circulated as are years A, B, and C. Year D was created with the goal of including scriptures that were left out or not used as frequently as others. Reflections exploring the Psalms in year D. While we were using Year D, most other lectionary followers were using Year A. Now that we are rejoining those who use the lectionary, we are on Year B. This we hope will keep all of us planning and preparing worship on the same page.
I use the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s resource for lectionary readings to make text selections when I’m following the Revised Common Lectionary.
Other Year B Psalm blog posts:
Advent – Transfiguration: 1st Sunday in Advent Psalm 80, 2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 85, 3rd Sunday in Advent Psalm 126, 4th Sunday in Advent Psalm 89, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Psalm 96, Psalm 97, Psalm 98, 1st Sunday after Christmas, Psalm 148, New Year’s Day Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Christmas Psalm 147, Epiphany Psalm 72, 1st Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 139, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 62, 4th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 111, 5th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 147, Transfiguration Sunday (Sunday before Lent) Psalm 50