1Please help the king to be honest and fair just like you, our God. 2 Let him be honest and fair with all your people, especially the poor. 3 Let peace and justice rule every mountain and hill. 4 Let the king defend the poor, rescue the homeless, and crush everyone who hurts them. (CEV)
For Third Presbyterian Church on January 2, 2020 (Epiphany service and communion)
Psalm 72 is set for Epiphany, likely, because it speaks about kings. Epiphany is a day we remember in our Christian calendar that the kings (or wisemen or magi) visit Jesus. They bring gifts that we understand as symbolic of Jesus’ life. And we remember that these visitors disobeyed king Herod’s request for information about the child to protect the vulnerable Jesus. The holy family is warned about the slaughter of children targeting their precious child and escape even as many other precious children are murdered. In Psalm 72 kings are called to protect the vulnerable.
Psalm 72 might have been used as part of the coronation ceremonies for ancient Israel, so it is also fitting for an inauguration. It is a psalm that sets the tone for leadership and its mission by naming the attributes of God that we hope our leaders emulate and that we hope we can emulate too: Honesty, Fairness, Justice, Peace, and Defender of the poor and vulnerable. And when we recite these words, we must also remember it is not only the king (or president) who is listening. The people who hope these words are true and the people whose experience is that these words are not true of all leaders hear these words.
Psalm 72 says that it was written by David, son of Jesse for the coronation of Solomon. This Psalm was read for the entire kingdom, everyone would have heard it. And as I imagine all the people that might include, I am struck by one person who most definitely heard it, the Queen Mother, Bathsheba. Likely, she was standing there close to the center of attention in all her royal splendor listening the psalm David wrote for their son Solomon. I wonder if it was hard for her to *not* roll her eyes.
Bathsheba is part of this story because David wasn’t living up to being a good and righteous king. Let’s go back to 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 when the Israel was at war and instead of leading his troops in battle, David was at the palace on a balcony checking out the local women, when he saw Bathsheba, the wife of one of his loyal commanders on her roof top bathing in what would normally have been complete privacy. When David saw her, he wanted her and even though he knew who she was, he still summoned her to the palace and raped her. Later, when he received a message indicating Bathsheba was pregnant, David summoned her husband home and tried to encourage him to sleep with his wife. Uriah refused to go to his house, but instead stayed at the palace out of what we can guess might have been loyalty and solidarity with the troops who could not go home to their families. Uriah’s actions show us how a real leader should be thinking about those he leads. So, David sends a message with Uriah that says to have Uriah killed in battle and make it look like an accident. Either Uriah couldn’t read or more likely, he didn’t read it out of respect for his king. Uriah is killed for being a good soldier and the husband of a desirable woman. When news of Uriah’s death reaches David, he summons Bathsheba again, and hopes no one does the math when the Baby is born. But the prophet Nathan confronts David with a parable about stealing sheep. David is angry with the man who stole the sheep. When Nathan reveals that David is that man and Bathsheba is the livestock in question, David repents. We have that repent recorded as Psalm 51.
Psalm 51 evokes the image of a broken and contrite heart, it does not show the restorative acts that we might assume would come from a heart like this. If we take seriously that Psalm 51 is attributed to David as a prayer after the prophet Nathan tells him that what he did to Bathsheba and Uriah is wrong, we might expect to see David making amends with Bathsheba since she is the only surviving victim of his disgusting behavior, but the only person David seeks forgiveness from is God. This confession does not include the restitution we would hope a king after God’s own heart would provide.
Nathan tells David that the son Bathsheba bore him will die. David fasts and prays hoping that God’s heart will change, and the child will be spared. But the child dies. David stops his fast, praises God, and his life goes on. He consoles Bathsheba and they have another son Solomon.
Much later (in 1 Kings chapter 1) we learn that David is aging (and probably not up to ruling). Adonijah proclaims that he will be king. Nathan and Bathsheba talk to David and remind him that he promised Solomon would succeed him as king. While Adonijah is feasting with his followers, other officials including the prophet Nathan, with David’s blessing anoint Solomon king and do all the official things. Adonijah finds out what has happened, and he fears for his life. Solomon’s first act as king is to spare Adonijah and tell him to go home.
Bathsheba certainly knows exactly how un-kingly David can be as she listens to Psalm 72 read over and over again throughout the kingdom. I have to wonder what she is thinking. Maybe she hopes that Psalm 72 is true even after her very different experience of what kings are like.
Thinking about Bathsheba reminds me that I have been let down by those who I see as leaders as leaders too. Presidents of our country, or our local political leaders, or leaders of big corporations or non-profit organizations, or friends or family members I admire have let me down or have the potential to let me down. And I’m sure I’ve let others down as well.
And while none of us is perfect, we have certain expectations for our leaders. Psalm 72 might have been used as part of the coronation ceremonies for ancient Israel, so it is also fitting for an inauguration. As we approach the actual date of Epiphany, which is January 6th, for us that date will forever remind us of the attack on the capitol that tried to stop the inauguration of our current president. And I’m sure we will all have some feelings about leadership as the news cycle continues to remind us of what happened last January.
Maybe you will join me in spirit reading psalm 72 wherever you are on Epiphany. We can let it be our prayer for our nation, for our church, and for ourselves. And when I recite these words, I will imagine reciting them with all the people who hope these words are true and all the people whose experience is that these words are not true of all leaders. And I will be hoping it gives us the courage to hold leaders accountable.
May Psalm 72 remind us of the attributes of God that we hope our leaders emulate and that we hope we can emulate too: Honesty, Fairness, Justice, Peace, and Defender of the poor and vulnerable.
God help us all. Amen.
I edited a document called Epiphany communion from a couple of years ago, but I don’t have notes about the original sources. We were using lectionary year D so it’s possible it came from there or the book of common worship. I don’t think I wrote this myself.
Make sure everyone picked up the individual communion cups on the way in or distribute them now.
Jesus Christ offers us new life. By accepting this gift, we respond to Christ’s call and claim our place in God’s greater story. There are forces that work in opposition to our response and attempt to claim the role for which God shaped us. Doubt and the temptation to settle for easy answers to difficult questions will make it more difficult to trust in Christ and faithfully respond to calling.
Take courage. Your life matters. You are not alone. You have been chosen and will be equipped by God’s Holy Spirit for a life of eternal significance. Choose fellowship with rather than separation from God. Surrender to God’s love and grace. God created you and calls you to be more than a servant. Step into your calling as children of God through Jesus Christ.
The Words of Institution
On the night before he died, the Lord Jesus took bread,
Pick up Bread
and after giving thanks he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take, eat. This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
Set down Bread and Pick up Cup and Pitcher
In the same way he took the cup, saying:
Pour juice from pitcher into cup
This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.
Set down cup and pitcher
Let us pray.
God of all our comings and goings, we give you thanks for your light that guides us on our way, for your tender care that holds us close, for your strong, protecting arm. Keep us on the right path and safe from harm.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
In your graciousness, you have sent your Son, the promised Ruler who will judge with mercy and defend the poor. Open our hearts to the call of the needy. Give us grace to help those who have no helper. Give us courage to stand against oppression and tyranny. Give us compassion for those who suffer.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
As you protected Joseph, Mary and Jesus and sent them to safety in Egypt, protect all who travel far from home. Keep in your care the men and women stationed abroad, and comfort the families they leave behind. Go with students who leave to return to their studies. Make your presence known to all who travel in their work. Remember the homeless in our communities. Help the refugees from famine and oppression and all who flee from violence.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We give you thanks for all who have come before us: for the prophets and apostles, the faithful disciples, the women and men who saw your light and received the news of the boundless riches of Jesus Christ. We thank you for the church that makes known to us the rich variety of your wisdom and your eternal purpose. We give you praise and thanks for Jesus Christ our Lord, and for our faith in him that brings us boldly into your presence.
And we pray in your presence through Jesus Christ, our Savior….who taught us when we pray to say….
The Distribution of Elements
These are the gifts of God for the people of God!
Thanks be to God!
Help us, O God, to be obedient to your call to join you
Opening our hearts to others as you continue to seek the lost
and celebrating as you bring home the found.
Touch our hearts with grateful wonder
at the tenderness of your forbearing love.
Grant us delight in the mercy that has found us,
and bring all to rejoice at the feast of forgiveness.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever. Amen.
May God give you Honesty, Fairness, Justice, Peace, and strengthen you to be the Defender of the poor and vulnerable. Go our into the world with the radical love of God.
The Lord’s Prayer:
If you are new to breath prayer, I’ve recorded some examples:
Here are some simple breath prayers to accompany this psalm:
Meditate on justice
A simple prayer with one word on exhalation and one on inhalation: God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your love and release my control.
Or you can split a longer phrase between inhalation and exhalation or put a phrase on both. Here is an example: Defender of the poor and vulnerable, help me be like you.
Do what is most comfortable to you. Breath prayer is a practice not something we do perfectly. Some days will be easier than others.
Ok, everyone, take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
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. It is a practice I have continued since. Many churches use the Revised Common Lectionary (RLC) 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. While we were using Psalms in year D, most other lectionary followers were using Year A. In Advent of 2020 we rejoined those who use the lectionary in year B. Advent of 2021 follows year C of lectionary pattern with Psalms in year C.
I use the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s resource for lectionary readings to make text selections.
Other Year C Psalm blog posts:
Advent – Transfiguration: 1st Sunday in Advent Psalm 25, 2nd Sunday in Advent instead of a Psalm the lectionary gives Luke 1:68-79, 3rd Sunday in Advent instead of a Psalm the lectionary gives Isaiah 12:2-6, 4th Sunday in Advent Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80, 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 35, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 19, 4th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 71, 5th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 138, 6th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 1, 7th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 37, Transfiguration Sunday (Sunday before Lent) Psalm 99
Lent: Ash Wednesday Psalm 51, 1st Sunday in Lent Psalm 91, 2nd Sunday in Lent Psalm 27, 3rdSunday in Lent Psalm 63, 4th Sunday in Lent Psalm 32, 5th Sunday in Lent Psalm 126, 6th Sunday in Lent (Palm or Passion Sunday) Psalm 118 or 31
Holy Week: Monday Psalm 36, Tuesday Psalm 71, Wednesday Psalm 70, Maundy Thursday Psalm 116, Good Friday Psalm 22, Holy Saturday Psalm 31
Easter: Easter Psalm 118 or Psalm 114, 2nd Sunday of Easter Psalm 118 or Psalm 150, 3rdSunday of Easter Psalm 30, 4th Sunday of Easter Psalm 23, 5th Sunday of Easter Psalm 148, 6thSunday of Easter Psalm 67, Ascension Psalm 47 or Psalm 93, 7th Sunday of Easter Psalm 97, Day of Pentecost Psalm 104
Season After Pentecost (Ordinary Time): 1st Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 or Psalm 22, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 77 or Psalm 16, 4th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 30 or Psalm 66, 5th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 82 or Psalm 25, 6th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 52 or Psalm 15, 7th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 85 or Psalm 138, 8th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 107 or Psalm 49, 9thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 50 or Psalm 33, 10th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 80 or Psalm 82, 11th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 71 or Psalm 103, 12th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 81 or Psalm 112, 13th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 139 or Psalm 1, 14th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 14 or Psalm 51, 15th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 91 or Psalm 113, 16th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 91 or Psalm 146, 17th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 137 or Psalm 37, 18th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 66 or Psalm 111, 19th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 119 or Psalm 121, 20thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 65 or Psalm 84, 21st Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 119 or Psalm 32, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 145 or Psalm 98 or Psalm 17, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 98, 24th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 46.
Sources and notes:
“Since the king overhears this prayer offered to God about the king he is also addressed and pressured rhetorically to fulfill what is expected of him. The psalm becomes a warning for the king in its function as a “mirror” that allows him to evaluate his reign. …. Also overhearing the psalm are the king’s subjects both peasants and the elite.” W p. 221 Also overhearing this prayer is Solomon’s mother. “Queen Mother Bathsheba would probably have noticed the idealistic hyperbole in the prayer at her son’s coronation, which contradicted her own earlier experience of monarchy.” W p. 225 If I were preaching this text, wondering about how Bathsheba reacted to it would be part of it. When women’s voices are silence we forget that they were part of the event. Bathsheba certainly would have been at the coronation for her son and her emotions/thoughts/prayers were likely complicated. Maybe she hopes that Psalm 72 is true even after her very different experience of what kings are like.
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.
Chittister Chittister, Joan. (2011). Songs of the heart: reflections on the psalms. John Garratt Publishing.
WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Creach Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
DAFLER, J. (2021). PSOBRIETY: A journey of recovery through the psalms. Louisville, KY: WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX.
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.
Lewis, C. S. (2017). Reflections on the Psalms. Harper One, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
Mays Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
McCann McCann, J. C. (1993). A theological introduction to the book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
McCann, J. C., & Howell, J. C. 2001. Preaching the Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Merrill, N. C. (2020). Psalms for praying an invitation to wholeness (10th Anniversary Edition ed.). London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing.
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.