by Jodi-Renee Giron
Psalm Reading: Psalm 16
For Sunday, November 18, 2012, Year B − Ordinary 33
The psalmist, ascribed to be David, starts with a plea for protection from the Almighty One then unfolds into a number of reminders of the faithfulness of the one praying.
Reading it down, I can almost hear my own plaintive seven year old reminding me of all of the things he’s been doing to “be good” and that’s why he deserves the extra M&M’s after dinner. According to this prayer, which may have been an inscription or a very purposefully arranged song, David attributed his material abundance and physical safety to his own right choices following GOD’s instruction.
A Little Irony
There is a beautiful irony to praying this together on the same week that we read the Little Apocalypse, that we dive into the idea that there is no safe place and no guarantee of the next paycheck or clean bill of health just because we seek to be obedient to GOD.
I can’t imagine that I’m saying anything new to you in that statement. There’s a juxtaposition here that’s hard to miss: the psalmist smugly wishing suffering on those who don’t follow the way of the one true Jehovah while celebrating this his life is so shiny and happy because GOD has given him so many good things and the Great Rabbi looking sadly at the Temple telling his disciples that this beautiful symbol and gathering place of safety and worship was going to be demolished. Oh, and life is going to be really, really hard. And scary.
A little more irony: a miktam may have been a special inscription or song for the Temple. Yeah, the first version of that temple.
The Bartering of Grace
We’ve all done it: prayed at least once in a way that was so flattering of GOD and affirming of GOD’s goodness with the back seat motivation of an immediate need. A kind of “hey, you’re such an awesome GOD and baby needs new shoes, soooo….” Heaven knows that Christian bookstores are full of books promising a happy and fulfilled life if you’d only embrace the cross. You know, the cross. That instrument of death and torture and shame.
This was the firm and fast belief of bronze age Hebrew song writers. Life is good = GOD is good. We have the biggest, strongest GOD = we have the biggest, fanciest Temple. Good people are blessed. Bad people need to get right with GOD or suffer. That sounds more like my fundamentalist upbringing, but I still think it represents the idea that you could barter with grace: I’ll give you this praise and these kinds of good deeds of obedience if you keep me healthy, wealthy and wise.
Surely we can all agree that open eyes and moving outside of our own comfort zones can affirm that this is simply not the case. As the Son of David later reminded us in direct contrast to this psalm: Love your enemies and remember that GOD causes the sun to shine on the evil and the good.
But stepping out even further, I can’t help but wonder if this prayer represents the part of the institution that Jesus is woefully predicting will be demolished.
The Hardest Question
It’s easy to come to the psalms to justify so much of our theology and preconceived ideas of what GOD’s goodness must mean in our day to day. Maybe psalms like this exist to remind us that we can pray anything and GOD won’t laugh at, or worse, smite us because we ask for things with a ridiculous amount of promises to be good the way a seven year old bargains for the next new toy.
So the hardest question for me is: If GOD is not just a big sycophant magnet who hands out shiny gold trophies to the kids who pray the best or who memorize the most Bible verses, how then do I pray when I’m in need? Is it enough to just confess that I’m in need of a running car and meds for the kid and something to eat other than pb&j?
Jodi-Renee Giron is a mess of heretical orthodoxy serving the Evangelical Covenant Church. She pastors Ecclesia Denver and does her best to write evangelical liturgy that has beauty and truth and not too many fluffy adjectives. The rest of her time is spent giving rest to Denver’s weary souls at her gigs as a jazz and soul singer.