Sunday, May 19, 2013

Inappropriate Psalms

In church this morning we celebrated the Festival of Pentecost. The Revised Common Lectionary's appointed psalmody for this day (Pentecost Year C) was Psalm 104:24-34, 35b. It's a fun reading with great imagery: ships going to and fro on the sea, God creating the sea monster Leviathan just for fun. Appropriate to the occasion, the psalm speaks of God's Spirit giving and sustaining life.

But there's that half verse (35a) that gets omitted what's up with that? I don't pretend to know the mond of the lectionary committee but I think I can see what they were up to verse 34a is not appropriate for worship. It says, "Let sinners be consumed from the earth and the wicked be no more."

Asking God to destroy people is antithetical to the purposes of most Christian worship. What's more, many worship services begin with an order for confession, an acknowledgement that we are sinful people. In that context, verse 34a sounds like the expression of a death wish. Best to leave it out, then and skip ahead to 34b: "Bless the Lord, O my soul. Hallelujah!"

Alyhough the Psalms are filled with noble and uplifting sentiments, there are some things in them that are not conducive to worship. I can't imagine worthy liturgical use for Psalm 137:9, "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!"

But this is something that I love about the Psalms. They encompass a great range of human thought and emotion. They may not all be appropriate for a worship service but they teach us that in our devotions and our prayers anything goes. There is no desire that we cannot express to God. God can take it. God will hear us. 

Of course, that doesn't mean that God is obligated to act on our wishes. Or even approve of them. 

In fact, by expressing our desires we may even learn that some of them are not appropriate. 

The psalms were quoted from the translation found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. 

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