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“Into the Wild”

 

Scripture: Psalm 22:23-31

Date: March 4, 2012

For the majority of my time as a pastor/preacher I have followed the Lectionary; the Lectionary is a three-year cycle of scriptures that has developed over time to be a tradition of the Church. Each year we follow one of the gospels:  Mark, Matthew and Luke and John get interspersed through all years. For each Sunday there are readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles and Gospels; for me it is a discipline because I must engage scripture that I might otherwise ignore.

In seminary I worked as a youth pastor at a large church where the pastor did not follow the lectionary and it seemed to me that he preached 80% of the time from the Epistles of Paul; after a while it seemed as though he was preaching the same thing every week!

I believe in the authority of tradition in passing down this guideline for our worship that said, I also have problems with the Lectionary:

It is limiting of scripture.

  • Because large portions of some books never appear in the lectionary
  • Sometimes only one reading of a whole book appears and then it can easily be ignored by the preacher whom simply chooses one of the other texts.

The other problem I have with the conception of the lectionary involves something in scholarly circles called a pericope; that is, a unit of scripture.

The Lectionary divides scripture into part; usually smaller parts for numerous reasons, not the least of which is, who wants to listen to the whole book while in worship?  So we get the Bible in bits and pieces or slices and eventually, unwittingly, we are inculcated to view scripture as an amalgamation of many small bits of information, like code. It is a very mechanistic and reductionist way to view the Bible and it fits right in with how we view most things in our culture.

Science is reductionistic.  That is to say, in order to understand something we have to break it down to its smallest parts. If we understand the parts we will understand it.

Recently Kenneth has been learning about the digestive system. While up at Western Washington University, Aaron is dissecting pigs and worms in a lab. In both cases the task is to break the system down into its parts and figure out how the parts work.

When we look at scripture as an amalgamation of periscopes – bits and pieces; it becomes a little too much like dissecting a pig, forgetting that the purpose of the parts of the pig is to be a pig! To role in the mud – to live!

The purpose of the Bible is not to provide us with bits of information or code but to help us to live; the Bible is closer to art than to science.

How does one break apart a poem to get at its truth?

Which finally brings me to the scripture read for today, Psalm 22, which is a poem, a hymn; not a collection of parts.

One of my Old Testament professors made me structure everything in order to see the flow of the text to see the whole of it and thereby better understand the intent of the author.

And the basic structure of the Psalm looks like this:

I feel forsaken
But you are holy O God
I am scorned
But is was you who created me
I am surrounded by dogs
But you deliver my soul
 In the end, everyone will praise you

 

In this structure the lectionary reading is the last part of that. It is all praise! It could make a great praise song but it wouldn’t be true to the whole Psalm.

The first stanza of this Psalm is well known: My God, My God why have you forsaken me?

Where have we heard those words? They are the last words of Jesus before he dies on the cross. That is, according to Mark and Matthew (Luke = Into your hands I commend my spirit.) (John = It is finished.).

Mark originally, and then Matthew copying Mark put these words into the mouth of Jesus as he dies to provide meaning at that time people knew the Psalms and they knew them by heart; as when I say, Our Father who art in heaven… the entire Lord’s Prayer comes to mind.

When the early Christians read the words, My God, My God why have you forsaken me?-  the entire Psalm would have come to mind immediately. They knew its whole meaning and not just a slice of it.

If we read only, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? We will tend to think Jesus was upset, he felt abandoned, maybe even angry. But if we place it in the context of the whole Psalm it is not about being forsaken at all; the whole poem is about our feelings of being lost and our understanding that God is still with us. It isn’t a dirge – if we read the first stanza only. Nor is it a praise song – if we read just the lectionary for today.

It is a Psalm, a poem, an artistic rendering of the reality of God and the ways of faith. It is, alas, a living thing and we lose its real purpose when we dissect it!

I could say much more about this but so far at Cedar Cross. No one has snored while I’ve preached yet and I want to keep that record!

I’ve been reading and thinking about the Internet these days. Specifically about how the Internet has influenced how we think and how we see reality. For example, we do not have to remember anymore because we can store everything. If we find something on the Internet that interests us we just save it. We don’t have to memorize anything. That’s why if we lose our hard drive we feel like we’ve lost something of ourselves.

Second, as one could expect one of those affects is to see things in bits and pieces; the Internet brings speed, but also brevity. People think less about each thing. There’s no time, so we rarely see the whole picture. There is so much information it becomes hard to digest – so to speak. We end up with slogans and sound bites. Everything on the Internet is now.

Facebook doesn’t care about the past:

I’m making gingerbread cookies right now.

Then post a picture of the cookies.

Do I really need to know this? Sustained conversation is not strength of Facebook.

Third, the Internet is an invitation for distraction and interruption. There are so many choices: YouTube, Reddit, Bejeweled Blitz, and Twitter beckons.

How often do you check your email?

We multitask and are proud of it! But what that means is we do not pay attention to any of the multi-things in depth. Our thinking becomes scattered, brief and shallow.

What is the gospel in 140 characters or less?

When people ask, often in bewilderment, why certain mega-churches are growing one of the reasons is the attraction to sound bite theology. The message reduced to its simplest form, the atomistic gospel, the just gospel: just this, just believe this, just say this.

I believe we are called to look at the whole picture: the whole Psalm, the whole poem, the whole book, the whole story, the whole body, and the whole person.

I have all the parts of digestion in my body:  liver, stomach, intestines. But more holistically – I am a person!

When Paul uses the body as an image for the body of Christ it is quite clear that no part can make it alone.

How do we consider people? As bits and pieces? All we need to do is to reduce them to their parts, see how they work, dissect, diagnose them and then we will know them?

Diagnosis always leads to judgment. People are complex interweaving of body and thought, feelings and bones, structures and flows. People are terribly complex – intricately woven, much more!  God’s works of art! They don’t come to us like IKEA furniture – hundreds of parts and pieces and stamped “easy to assemble”.

Too often we observe a bit of a person and assume that we know much about him/her but there is so much that makes up the whole of a person. We rarely really know anyone – as God knows us. To see the whole person is grace… not judgment.

Or, as King Arthur says in First Knight, “You can’t love someone in slices, Lancelot”.

See the whole Bible as the story of God and the people of God. God’s word is not a sound bite nor is it code.

See the whole of creation. God did not create in bits and pieces either.

Dig deep into the soil of life. Spend time with people so as to know them better. Work on lifelong friends, rather than Facebook friends. Listen to the story of persons thinking of them as God’s works of art.

I heard on the Daily Show that the Pope got a Twitter Account. Ostensibly in order to keep up with modern times. At which point Jon Stewart suggested a few other ways for the Pope to grow into the 20th Century.

The Pope said that a lot of the gospel can be communicated in 140 characters or less, really?

Stewart then quoted Psalm 23 in 140 characters:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters
He restores my soul
He leads me in right paths
For his names sake
Even though I walk through the valley of death
I will fear…

 

That’s it!

What is the gospel in 140 characters or less? Simplified, pericoped, cut up into bits and pieces, reduced, and sliced.

But we cannot love in slices nor extend God’s grace in a tweet!

The Gospel speaks to whole people, who have whole life stories and it transforms the whole of us and all of us.

One final effect of the Internet is that in the future attention will become more important than knowledge.

So finally today I am going to read the whole Psalm 22, try to concentrate and wonder about why Mark wanted to associate this Psalm with Jesus’ final breath.

Psalm 22

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

 

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