Friday, August 10, 2007

Brief Look at This Sunday's Bible Lessons

[During worship celebrations of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, we're coming to the middle of a three-part series called Christians and Work. My message for this installment of the series will be built around two passages of the Bible: Psalm 139:13-18 and Titus 3:9-11. To help folks prepare for worship and hopefully, be helpful to other readers of Better Living, here are a few comments on the two passages. By the way, if you live in or are visiting the Cincinnati area, feel free to worship with us. Sunday worship starts at 10:00AM]

Psalm 139:13-18
13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.

A Few Comments...
1. The Psalms are often referred to as the Old Testament hymn book. This book contains 150 songs, most of them obviously designed for use in worship. One of the things that stands out about the psalms is their remarkable honesty. Whether for individuals or groups of people, they give voice to the entire spectrum of human experience, from great joy to grief. Included too are pslams that express anger with God and mystification in the face of tragedy.

The psalms thus encourage the sort of honesty that goes into good relationships. Honesty about our feelings with God are especially important. That fact plays an important part in this psalm.

2. Most of the psalms, like this one, is attributed to David who, in addition to being an accomplished soldier and shepherd, was evidently no mean musician.

3. Because the psalms do run through the gamut of human experience and especially, human experience with God, different types or genres of psalms can be identified. Biblical scholar Claus Westermann names several:
Community Psalm of Lament
Community Psalm of Narrative Praise
Individual Psalm of Lament
Individual Psalm of Narrative Praise
Psalm of Descriptive Praise or Hymn
Creation Psalms
Liturgical Psalms
Royal Psalms [dealing with the place of kings in God's rule]
Enthronement Psalms [used when Israel's new kings were installed]
Wisdom Psalms
Psalm 119 [its own category]
Other Biblical scholars identify categories differently from Westermann. But his list gives a good feel for the range of topics addressed by the psalms.

4. Psalm 139 (see the whole thing here) is, in Westermann's reckoning, a "Psalm of Descriptive Praise or Hymn." Others in this category include Psalms 8, 29, 33, 100, 111, 145-150, and more. Portions of other psalms share the characteristics of psalms in these categories as well. According to Westermann:
The psalm of descriptive praise or hymn (Hebrew: tehillah) is a uniquely liturgical song, the song of a congregation gathered for worship...Psalms of this sort, hymns, were often accompanied by instrumental music of various types...In fact songs of praise which celebrate God are one of the most important sources of music the world over...
5. One of the most beautiful aspects of this psalm is how the speaker sees himself/herself connected to the great God of the universe who sees and understands everything about us.

Titus 3:9-11
9But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, 11since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.

A few comments...
1. While some modern scholars dispute whether the first-century evangelist and preacher Paul wrote this letter. But it has traditionally been attributed to him. The text, of course, claims to be from Paul, although in fairness to those who claim he isn't the author, it was thought perfectly legitimate for those who were taught by a great rabbi or who were trained in his school of thought to write in the teacher's name.

2. Titus, a Gentile Christian who worked with Paul, is mentioned in Galatians 2:1-3. (Paul's authorship of Galatians is undisputed.) Titus was overseeing church on the island of Crete. Like the other "pastoral epistles," which include First and Second Timothy and this book, Paul is giving advice, admonishment, and tips to young pastors.

3. Our lesson comes near the end of the letter. Here, Paul is giving advice to Titus on how to handle things when people wander into spiritual errors. But the words have implications for how we handle disputes in other contexts.


Cluny Grey said...

"One of the most beautiful aspects of this psalm is how the speaker sees himself/herself connected to the great God of the universe who sees and understands everything about us."
This captures in a nutshell the engaging, universal heart-grabbing appeal of the psalms - the completely personal, the intimacy of the words to each of us individually. Thank you for the quotation. Cluny

Mark Daniels said...

Thanks so much for your comments...and for your regular readership here.

Blessings in Christ,
Mark Daniels