THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
Sunday, August 6, 2016
Each and Every
Everyone has a favorite psalm. I would guess that many church people are very familiar with about 10 to 15 percent of the psalms. Everyone knows Psalm 23closeAn error occurred.. Other well-known ones may be Psalms 1, 19, 24, 27, 42, 51, 100, 119, 150closeAn error occurred.. Devotionally I read through all 150 of them on a cycle of eight weeks. I am not sure that I could say that I have a favorite psalm. Each one hits me differently every time I read it, usually depending on what is going on in my life.
Years ago I was at a conference on personal spiritual disciplines. The leader was a Presbyterian pastor from Michigan named Fred Cunningham. Fred was a pioneer among Presbyterian pastors studying Reformed spirituality. He suggested that people ought to claim a particular psalm as their own psalm. His was Psalm 16closeAn error occurred.. He learned it in the Revised Standard Version and the verse which resonated most for him was verse 6: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage” (Psalm 16:6closeAn error occurred., rsv).
If I had to pick a personal psalm, I might go for Psalm 67closeAn error occurred.. The verse which sticks out for me in it reads, “Let the people thank you, God! Let all the people thank you!” (Psalm 67:3closeAn error occurred. and 5, ceb). In the New Revised Standard Version, the word ‘thank’ is ‘praise.’ I think that I like praise better. Translators seem to be split on which word to use.
Psalm 145closeAn error occurred. is one of a number of acrostic psalms. In the original Hebrew, the psalm consists of 21 poetic couplets each of which begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The first verse begins with aleph, the second with beth, and so forth until verse 21 which begins with the last letter, tav. If you read along in the Sanctuary Bibles, you would have noticed the Hebrew letters in the margin before each verse. Acrostic psalms were both a stylistic formula for writing and a means of remembering the psalm.
The whole of Psalm 145closeAn error occurred. is an prayer of praise for all that God has done, is doing, and will do. The gathered people of ancient Israel prayed this psalm by heart, possibly accompanied by musical instruments. The structure of the psalm enabled people to learn their faith. As the people prayed, so they believed. Some ancient manuscripts include a congregational refrain that could have been sung after each verse, “Blessed be YHWH, and blessed be his name forever!” The 188closeAn error occurred.7 Psalter Hymnal of the United Presbyterian Church of North America had five different musical settings for portions of the psalm. Our Glory to God hymnal has three settings, one of which we will sing shortly.
This psalm is the only one of the 150 that has the superscript calling it a psalm of praise. James L. Mays calls Psalm 145closeAn error occurred. “the overture to the final movement of the Psalter,” because it sets the tone for the last five psalms of the Psalter, all of which begin with “Praise the Lord!”(1) (Hallelu-yah in Hebrew). The Talmud, an ancient rabbinic commentary on Hebrew Scripture, instructs worshipers to repeat this psalm three times every day. Faith was formed through praying praise.
Psalm 145closeAn error occurred. is well constructed. There is balance between extolling the greatness of God (“My mouth will proclaim the Lord’s praise”) and declaring the graciousness of God (“The Lord supports all who fall down.”) God’s greatness and God’s graciousness are not polarities; they are not extremes of a pendulum swing. They are intertwined realities of who God is.
The psalmist declares that God’s greatness is unlimited and comprehensive. The result of that is that praise is equally unlimited and all-inclusive. We can see this in the number of times the words “every” or “all” or their equivalents are used. For example, in verse 9, God is “good to everyone,” and his compassion extends “to all his handiwork.” In verse 14, the Lord “supports all” and “straightens up all.” The next verse says that “all eyes” look to God. Verse 16 confesses that God satisfies the desire of “every living thing.” That is followed with a statement that God is “righteous in all his ways” and “faithful in all his deeds.” The emphasis is kept up as the psalm closes. Verses 18-21 affirm that the Lord is “close to everyone,” that God “protects all,” that “every wicked person” will be destroyed by God’s judgment, and finally that “every living thing will bless” God’s holy name.
Nicholas Wolterstorff specializes in Christian philosophy and theology. He asserts that the Christian faith has what he calls the “each and every principle.” This principle states that God is concerned with each and every living being. It is a vision of the faith that is both expansive (the every) and particular (the each). Psalm 145closeAn error occurred. clearly expresses in poetic form this “each and every principle.” God “is good to everyone,” says verse 9, expressing God’s providence in expansive form. God also “supports all who fall down, straightens all who are bent low,” in verse 14, expressing God’s particular attention to individuals who struggle, who fail, who mourn.
We need to keep these two aspects of God’s being, the expansive “every” and the particular “each” in close tension. Our Christian faith will be seriously constricted if God’s care for the individual or the particular is the only note sounded. Some expressions of our common faith in Christ are so focused on the salvation of the individual that the communal nature of gospel is lost.
Some churches seem to peddle the gospel as a product to “meet your needs.” This theology gives way to this tendency. Some churches preach a prosperity gospel that claims that God desires to make people wealthy. Yet verses in scripture that use the word ‘prosper’ point not to material wealth but to spiritual wealth, wholeness, and a close relationship with God. Psalm 145closeAn error occurred. holds together the dual affirmations of God’s expansive care for everyone and God’s particular care of each one.
Christian faith will be just as seriously constricted if the prevailing emphasis falls only in the communal aspect of the faith. There can be no doubt that God is the God of all creation, of all creatures, of all cosmic forces. If focusing only on the individual is like not seeing the forest for the trees, then focusing only on the communal aspect of God’s care is like seeing the forest and not seeing the particular trees that make up the forest. It is incredibly important to affirm God’s very particular care. When a believer is sick or lonely, frightened or spiritually diminished, the thrust of our faith is that God attends not only to the grand scheme of the universe, but also to all the ups and downs and the smallest details of an individual life.
Although Psalm 145closeAn error occurred. was likely used as a hymn in ancient Israel’s community worship, its words and phrases bring comfort to anyone who needs to hear that “the Lord is close to all who call out to him sincerely” (v. 18).
What Psalm 145closeAn error occurred. tells us is that God is the God of all things great and small. God can deal with those of us who are big sky dreamers, who see things from a 30,000 foot perspective, and God can deal with those of us who are into micro-managing the nano-dimensions of everyday living lest the slightest detail gets overlooked.
God supports and undergirds. God governs. God also is faithful in all that God does and shows favor to those who honor him. That is to say, God pays attention; God notices. God does not govern from afar with broad brush strokes of creative genius. God maintains a deep connection with creation by keeping track of all the details. God knows the details, cares about them, and includes them in all divine actions and intentions. Our God is not too small to deal with the every of creation. Nor is our God too big to deal with the each of creation. Our God is God of both the each and the every.
Thanks be to God!