Psalm Psnippet 26: Should we eat with Hypocrites?

“I do not sit with men of falsehood,
nor do I consort with hypocrites.
 I hate the assembly of evildoers,
and I will not sit with the wicked“

Psalm 26: 4-5

This baffles me. In Psalm 26, David pleads his innocence and begs God to rescue him rather than sweep him away with the wicked. Part of this plea: David points out he avoids even the company of the wicked and the hypocrite.

aid71329-v4-900px-Avoid-Someone-Step-5-Version-2As a psalm, we are supposed to pray and sing this.

But we are also supposed to follow the example of Jesus who ate with ‘tax-collectors and sinners’ (Matthew 9:11; and also prayed and sung this).

Continue reading Psalm Psnippet 26: Should we eat with Hypocrites?

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Psalm Psnippet 25: Guilt & Pardon

“For your Name’s sake, Oh Lord
Pardon my guilt for it is great.”
Psalm 25:11

I’ve been thinking a lot about guilt and pardon recently – especially in a #MeToo context, with lots of guilty men. Pardon is different from forgiveness, which, arguably, must come from the victim.

In this Psalm, pardon means, for David, deliverance from his foes, who “exult over” him and hate him with a “violent hatred.” David sinned: his abuse of Bathsheba is one of the clearest abuses of kingly power in the OT. We can only imagine the consequences of this trauma for her. David’s guilt is great. Bathsheba and Uriah’s family are the people who can forgive but God can pardon: deliver David from his enemies.

Why would God do that? David stakes his claim because of God’s name – God’s reputation is deeply connected with David. The name here is the covenantal name of God which indicates the special bond that God has with Israel. While God teaches David and brings him into the “integrity and uprightness” of verse 21, David can pray for deliverance.

Since David’s hope rested in the Name, how much more can we hope in Jesus Christ who suffered what we deserved even though he didn’t? Through Christ, we are adopted into God’s family: an even closer bond than the Davidic covenant. Difficult questions remain for us as a society and a church: what are appropriate consequences for sin and abuse? Is forgiveness always possible or advisable? But this serves as a reminder that our status before God doesn’t depend on us – it depends on God.

Note: as always for Psnippets, this is intended to be brief with a hard cap at 250 words, and I’m not a real exegete – just some basic thoughts. Would love to chat more if you’ve got thoughts.

Psalm Psnippet 24: Why Monotheism?

The earth is the Lord and the fullness thereof
              The world and those who dwell therin
For he has founded it upon the seas
              And established it upon the rivers
Psalm 24:1-2

I’ve been reading Robert Alter’s wonderful translation of the Torah – especially spending time with the explanatory notes, which usually get short shrift in my devotions. One thing they remind me is that much of the Old Testament is written as polemic: a major concern was to establish the God of Israel as the only god of all the nations. Monotheism wasn’t assumed, so how do we get there?

David does this in Psalm 24 by claiming God’s authority through creation and redemption.

Creation is clear: the earth is the Lord’s because he founded it.

Redemption is more complicated: the earth is the Lord’s because he founded it upon the seas. Think back to Genesis. Before any creation there was a “deep” and the Spirit of God was “over the face of the waters.” These waters were primordial chaos – a nightmarish, destructive rush of power which God rescues the earth from. The waters return to the earth in the judgement of the Flood. After this, God makes a covenant with Noah that water will never again destroy the earth.

That promise is a covenant which we are all included in: Jew and Gentile. God rescued the whole earth from the waters. God redeemed everyone, in a primordial rescue, from the chaos of non-being.

Likewise, Jesus’ redemption is for the whole earth. That is why he is the Lord of the Earth: he redeemed it from bondage to the chaos of sin as surely as God established the earth upon the rivers.

Note: As always, this is a Psnippet. I am not a real exegete, just playing at being one in a tight 250 words.

Psalm Psnippet 23: Lord is My Shepherd

How do you talk about something that everyone knows? I’m not likely to give y’all any new insights on this Psalm. People have been interpreting it since, well, Christianity was a thing.

This is the problem with all Biblical interpretation. The text has been here for thousands of years. You’re unlikely to come up with anything new.

Should I give up?

Continue reading Psalm Psnippet 23: Lord is My Shepherd

Psalm Psnippet 22: Why Rescue

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord praise him!” (Ps 22:22-23a)

In Psalm 22, David turns to call out to God even as he is forsaken by God and surrounded by people who seek to destroy him. “Trouble is near/and there is none to help” (v 11).

So he calls to God for help. But when rescue comes, David pivots: the good result from his rescue is his praise of God among the people. Rather than simply luxuriating in relief from personal pain, he turns immediately to praising God’s name in public.

Like all the psalms, we can read this as referring, ultimately, to Jesus. After all, he quoted it on the cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” This suggests the denouement of the crucifixion – Jesus’ resurrection and ascension – likewise has the goal God’s glory ‘in public.’

The end of this story is God’s praise. That means, when we tell the story of Jesus (as I’ve just bungled in a church-sponsored “2-minute testimony”), that’s where we should end – praising God, not tangled in metaphysical speculation or engaged in our own struggles. Neither of those are bad but neither are they the point. The point is to “proclaim [God’s] righteousness to a people yet unborn” (v 31).

PCA confronting racism

To say that the Presbyterian Church in America has a race problem is like saying a stray dog has fleas. Clearly true but kinda disgusting to think about too much.

That’s why I’m glad a recent Ad Interim Commission on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation, composed of leaders already doing the work in the PCA, have written a report exploring what the elders of the denomination think about race and making concrete recommendations as to how we can move forward productively. Pointless, you say, but reports by commissions are how Presbyterians take things seriously.

Continue reading PCA confronting racism

Naomi Klein Needs Jesus

Naomi Klein needs Jesus.

Duh – we all do. But in her latest book, No Is Not Enough, we see a Jesus-shaped hole toward the end when her hope lands in people, I’d suggest unsustainably.

Throughout the book, Klein does an excellent job of laying out the extent of our current crisis. An interlocking set of climate change restrictions, radical capitalist manipulations and reality TV politics are pushing us from one crisis to another. We are on a carousel seized by a madman who is spinning it faster and faster and getting off seems impossible.

Although Klein uses many of her old analytic categories, they shed some real light on our current political and cultural moment. President Trump really is a manifestation of the 90s triumph of licensing which she describes in No Logo and Secretary DeVos’ approach to education really is an extension of what happened in a post-Katrina New Orleans, a la Shock Doctrine. If her arguments seem old-school lefty (which they do, to me) perhaps that means we haven’t paid her enough attention.

So, with all of this gloom, how does Klein see a way out? Through the power of the people. The way will be hard, she tells us, but we just need to get tough. People are hungry for real change and when a shock comes, it is also a chance for ordinary people to seize the day and comprehensively fix all our problems. She points to a document she helped draft, the Leap Manifesto, as one attempt to tackle problems comprehensively and at the root. This one document isn’t sufficient but it sets a model for action in other places to address our interlocking crises.

Now, I believe in people power. After all, I work at a place that seeks to empower faith leaders. But that isn’t – that can’t be – where my hope ultimately lies. People screw up all the time. Even large numbers of people. Even the proletariat. Ultimately, my hope for society, as for myself personally, is in Jesus and his work of reconciliation.

That sounds nice and pious but it is difficult to see concrete application. But here is one simple way: we cannot place pressure on ourselves or our politics to fix everything. They cannot do that and we cannot do that. If we try, we will burn ourselves out or become terrible people to everyone around us. Huge pressure to fix everything does that. In my brief time in advocacy I’ve seen examples of both. But the good news is that God can fix it. Jesus died to fix it and he was raised to prove it.

I’m sorry, I don’t intend to get carried away. No Is Not Enough is valuable for what it is: a stirring indictment and analysis of our current political and social moment. Klein’s prescription is even valuable in itself – the progressive movement must take hold of intersectional, knotty problems and pose big answers to big problems.

Ultimately, though, we just all need Jesus.