Browsing articles tagged with " Psalm"
Oct 14, 2014

Sing to the Lord a new song!

Every old song used to be a new song. Karl Vaters wonders who the first worship director was who said “hey, I like that new song John Newton wrote,” before introducing Amazing Grace to the church. Whoever it was, he probably had to deal with complaints from church members who didn’t think it was as good as the hymns they were used to singing. “In six verses the name of Jesus isn’t mentioned once, but it says ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘I’ thirteen times! Today’s songs are so self-centered and shallow!”

The 1941 hymnal that we use at St. John’s United Church of Christ is kinda like that: It has countless numbers of hymns from 1930s and 1940 because they were the most popular songs back then. The church has a long tradition of hiring the greatest musicians of the time and commissioning the most extravagant compositions. And every time the “new hymnal” is introduced the generations who grew loving the previous ones get up in arms. Remember what that was like when the 1941 Hymnal was new? It was a radically new approach! Nobody could have ever imagined that Evangelical Christians and Reformed Christians could ever merge into the one Evangelical and Reformed Church. Well, they did and they even came up with this new 1941 hymnal celebrating their unity combining favorites of both traditions for a new era. After all that’s what the Psalmist charges God’s people to do:

“O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.”
(Psalm 96:1-2 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 19 October 2014)

St. John’s United Church of Christ has been working toward getting a new hymnal for quite some time. A group of musical experts has been assembled and charged with giving the congregation a feel for what is out their until we come closer to a phase of deliberation and a process of decision making. Stay tuned.

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Sep 9, 2014

Gesundheit


When I sneeze one thing really gets me every time – someone responding with a big, fat, friendly “GESUNDHEIT!” In a context where I do not expect to hear my native German I am caught by surprise. Most people will say “God bless you!” anyway. After a little research I found that the ritual of blessing someone after a sneeze dates back to the plague of 590 AD. Pope Gregory I ordered that everyone receive an instant special blessing after they sneezed. A sneeze was one of the early symptoms and so the church tried to do its part in containing the epidemic. The blessing after a sneeze is – not surprisingly – a prayer for Gesundheit i.e. health.

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits.”
(Psalm 103:2 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 14 September 2014)
Blessing one another sounds like an easy thing to do but this word commands us to bless God. How can we do that? Shouldn’t that be the other way around? We need God’s blessing! God is Almighty! How could we tiny, imperfect creatures possibly bless the Creator of heaven and earth?

What is it we actually do when we bless one another or when we ask God to bless us?
It’s about wishing someone well: May your health get better.
It’s about hoping the best for someone: I wish you luck.
It’s about supporting someone: That’s a good cause. I’ll help you.

Can you see the picture? God really does need our blessing. We are God’s hands and feet in this world. If we are not here to spread faith, hope and love, who is? We need to help God and support God’s ministry. And we should also want God to feel well. After all can you imagine what that would look like if the creator of heaven and earth were to sneeze? Bless God!

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Sep 2, 2014

Jesus in my Stomach

The way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Yes, I do believe that is true for all genders alike. Who wouldn’t enjoy a nice dinner? God has known that for, well, probably eternity. The love relation between Jesus Christ and us has always had food in its center: the wedding at Cana, the 5000, the last supper, you name it. God’s love has been brought to us through our stomachs. The lesson learned here is this: Body, mind and soul are one. Loving relationships depend on all three to flourish.

 

At times the church has forgotten that and started singing: “Lord I want to be a Christian in my heart!” Jesus is being reduced to a feeling. “As long as I have Jesus in my heart…” or so goes the excuse. That heart-felt faith all too often serves as an escape from the harshness of life. That Jesus is sweet and provides sanctuary. That Jesus is there to fill an emotional gap when life doesn’t give the satisfaction people were hoping for.

In Western culture we have gotten used to separating body, mind and soul. Aristotle introduced us to a distinction that was never intended to turn into a division. No, love is not limited to stomach and heart. By the way, when you read “heart” in the Bible you have to keep in mind that the Hebrew lb really refers to the seat of the intellect. So heart really means brain the way we understand it today:
“Give me understanding, O God, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.”
(Psalm 119:34 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 7 September 2014)

Give me understanding, O God! That’s what God does: to provide us with understanding, resolve and courage. Taking heart is not just about a warm fuzzy feeling but clear analysis and action as well.

That’s why we are invited to at the Lord’s table: through bread and wine Jesus Christ seeks to enter our hearts, our minds, our bodies. Join us for Holy Communion on Sunday.

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Jul 22, 2014

A Creature of Habit

calendar
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your custom toward those who love your name.”
(Psalm 119:132 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 27 July 2014)

People are set in their ways. There is a certain rhythm to the things we do. We follow traditions and schedules. We like things to be repetitious. It’s comforting to know that school or work starts at a certain time every day. It’s a good tradition to worship every week. The annual cycle of vacations and holidays gives structure to the year. That youth follows childhood shows us we are growing up and when adulthood turns into retirement we have to learn to relax again. One thing follows another and that makes life easier.

This week’s watchword applies the same logic to God. At first glance it almost looks like it says: “Because you have always blessed me, please just keep doing so.”
What is true about that is that God is also described as a creature of habit. The creator of heaven and earth has something in common with us little creatures. We are not alone in this and people have talked about God’s rhythms from “the beginning” in Genesis all the way to the end of all times in Revelation. But this watchword is not actually part of that train of thought. Here we are in the longest Psalm of the Bible which has one purpose: To sing the Glories of God’s Law.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your custom toward those who love your name.” Loving God’s name needs to be a custom just as God’s being gracious is a custom. This kind of loving is celebrated in the middle of a celebration of the Law – a book of stories and songs and regulations that help people not being stuck in their old habits and ways but empowers them to grow beyond themselves, to try and not be stuck in the daily rut of doing things the way they’ve always been but following a fresh new call that God gives anew every day. The love of the Law as Psalm 119 sings it is not about an ancient book but the love of being challenged anew every day in a variety of ways. Maybe I’ll drive a different route to work next time to shake things up a little.

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Feb 29, 2012

Leap Day Psalm

Leap Day Doodle
There are 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms. That means for most people there is one for every birthday they are celebrating. Cannot think of an inspirational line for a birthday card? Flip open the person’s age as a chapter in the Book of Psalms and more often than not you will find a word through which God is still speaking to the birthday child. That’s not magic or so, it’s just that the psalms have many inspirational verses in them. Also works for anniversaries and other special days like Leap Day:

Bravo, God, bravo! Gods and all angels shout, “Encore!”
In awe before the glory,
in awe before God’s visible power.
Stand at attention!
Dress your best to honor him!
God thunders across the waters,
Brilliant, his voice and his face, streaming brightness—
God, across the flood waters.
God’s thunder tympanic,
God’s thunder symphonic.
God’s thunder smashes cedars,
God topples the northern cedars.
The mountain ranges skip like spring colts,
The high ridges jump like wild kid goats.
God’s thunder spits fire.
God thunders, the wilderness quakes;
He makes the desert of Kadesh shake.
God’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing
A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches.
We fall to our knees—we call out, “Glory!”
Above the floodwaters is God’s throne
from which his power flows,
from which he rules the world.
God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace.
Psalm 29 (The Message)

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Dec 17, 2011

Temple Access

Temple

“Who has the right to go up the LORD’s hill?
Who may enter his holy Temple?”

Psalm 24 has a very precise answer:

“Fling wide the gates!”

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Nov 20, 2011

Oldies but Goldies

Traditionally music was written for church use. The greatest rock stars for most of history wrote the hymns of the day that everybody celebrated as the latest and coolest thing. The book of psalms is like Israel’s best of worship music collection. Today’s psalm 96 explicitly encourages: “Sing a new song to the LORD!”

Johann Sebastian Bach was a hero to his contemporaries as was John Wesley to his. At some point all of this changed. When was it ever decided that church music must be two generations old before it can be called any good?
When did the church decide to no longer be the driving force of the music industry?

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Nov 19, 2011

Mizmor Shir L’yom HaShabbat

Psalm 92: This psalm is a song written for use on the Sabbath, the day for rest and worship. It celebrates God’s goodness and righteousness. Many of the psalms were intended to be sung as part of the worship in the temple in Jerusalem. How are psalms used in your community of faith?

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Nov 18, 2011

My communal lord and savior

Have you ever heard people say “Jesus is my personal lord and savior”.
That is nowhere to be found in the entire Bible.
Psalm 66 is actually a very good example of the parallelism of communal and personal devotion. Look at this great analysis from enterthebible.org:

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Nov 17, 2011

Harvest Festival

Thanksgiving
Between Germany’s Erntedank and America’s Thanksgiving there are plenty of harvest festivals around the world.
Psalm 65 is a great song for the occasion:
10 You send abundant rain on the plowed fields and soak them with water; you soften the soil with showers and cause the young plants to grow.
11 What a rich harvest your goodness provides! Wherever you go there is plenty.
12 The pastures are filled with flocks; the hillsides are full of joy.
13 The fields are covered with sheep; the valleys are full of wheat. Everything shouts and sings for joy.

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