210124 – The Wisdom of the Present Moment

Yr B ~ Epiphany 3 ~ Psalm 62

Ak, hesed! Selah!

What? I just preached the whole sermon. And it’s a great one!
I mean, it kinda has to be with such great material to work with.
Would you like to hear my sermon again? Ok.

Ak, hesed! Selah! Amen!
Did you get it that time?
Ok, I’ll explain more. But in the end, I think you’ll agree that the entire sermon really is Ak, hesed. Selah!

Those are 3 Hebrew words that carry really deep meanings. Let’s look at each one.

Ak is the first word of Psalm 62. It’s actually the first word of 6 of the first 9 verses (vv.1,2,4,5,6,9). All that’s lost when it gets translated into English, but in the original Hebrew hearing that word – ak – repeatedly spoken as the first word over and over again really drives the point home.
So what does ak mean?
It means: truly, surely, only, alone, indeed.

Truly my soul waits in silence.
Only God is my rock.
Surely their plan is to bring me down.
Indeed my soul waits in silence.
Truly God is my rock.
Surely we’re but a breath.

Ak, ak, ak, ak, ak. (Ak.)
It’s so emphatic.
Emphat-ak!     [/groan]

The psalmist is clearly trying to make a point about how important this message is.
It helps to remember that psalms are really music.
They’re like our hymns – meant to be sung. And because it’s music the idea of repeating certain sounds over and over again makes perfect sense. We hear that in music all the time.

Speaking of repeating, you may have noticed that the first 2 verses are repeated almost word for word as verses 5 and 6. Again, we do that in music all the time. It adds importance to the words, and it gives us something to focus on.
Curiously, our lectionary recommendation leaves the first 4 verses out and starts at verse 5. I think they really missed the point on this one.
Sometimes you might leave verses out because they’re really problematic, or confuse the meaning of the rest of the passage, but that’s not the case here.
And leaving them out actually undermines the entire point of the psalm which is to repeatedly emphasize how important and awesome God is.

The third word of my 3-word sermon is Selah. (I’ll circle back and get the second word – don’t worry!)
Selah is a complex word that’s really hard to translate, and usually gets translated narrowly and weakly.
Apart from the 3 Selah’s in Habakkuk, the word is exclusively, found in the psalms, and that’s why it usually gets translated as ‘interlude.’
Remember, psalms are music, so there are times when the words stop and the music takes over.
That’s a good part of the meaning of selah, but not the whole thing.
Why is there an interlude at that moment?
It’s because what was just said was really significant and it deserves to be pondered for a moment longer.

So Selah indicates something like a pregnant pause along with a sense of saying, “Dude, that’s deep!”
It basically means to stop and think hard about what you’ve just heard.
It’s like punctuating your speech with:
“Really!” or “You can say that again” or “Word!” or “True dat!” or “Damn straight!”

It’s used twice in Psalm 62 – in verse 4 when it says that people keep trying to put us down and can be two-faced. Selah!
And in verse 8 – Trust in God at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Pour out your heart to God! God is our shelter, our rest.
Selah! “True dat!”

Then we get the specific ‘wisdom’ portion of the psalm. Wisdom writing is a special genre in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we’d often call the Old Testament). It’s literally a form of writing that is designed to pass on deep knowledge, often from one generation to the next.
Many cultures have this idea.
For example, Indigenous people share the wisdom or teachings of the ‘grandfathers’ and ‘grandmothers’.
In the bible you’ll find wisdom teaching in the book of Ecclesiastes, in Job, in the Song of Songs, and especially in the book of Proverbs.
Psalms, too, are a type of wisdom writing, and Psalm 62:9-10 is a perfect example. Verse 9 –

(Surely) Those of low estate are but a breath (vapour), those of high estate are a delusion (lie);
in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath (vapour).

The low estate/high estate part isn’t just referring to class. It could equally mean things like race, colour, culture – privilege!
The wisdom teaching here is that class, colour, privilege are like a breath, a vapour, a delusion, a lie.
If you were to weigh them they’d be lighter than a vapour.
Nothingness, vapour, these are classic wisdom words.
So is vanity. Verse 10 –

Put no confidence in extortion (oppression), and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

Money and power are not important.
Getting rich by any means necessary is to toil in vain.
If you happen to acquire money, don’t let it control you.
Does this remind you of one of Jesus’ teachings?
How about: Where your treasure is, there is your heart!
Jesus was a wisdom teacher too.

We started by talking about God, and waiting for God, and trusting in God alone – ak!
God is described as my rock, my salvation, my fortress, my hope – then my rock, my salvation, my fortress again – then my deliverance and my honour; my mighty rock, my refuge.

Then we get the wisdom teaching that status, and class, and privilege are like vapour – they don’t matter.

So what does matter?
What’s better than riches?
What inspires such devotion in the psalmist?
What makes us pour out our hearts to God?

It’s God’s Presence!
It’s that God is right here, right now – fully revealed and available in this present moment.
And what is the nature, and quality, and character of God’s Presence?

Psalm 62:11-12 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.

Once spoken/twice heard is another classic wisdom idiom.
It just means that while it may have been said once its impact is so great that it’s like it was heard multiple times.
Also, did you notice that the psalmist started off by talking ‘about’ God, then it spoke ‘to people’ and now in the end the psalmist is directly and prayerfully addressing God personally?

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.

That’s our second word of this 3-word sermon: steadfast love which in Hebrew is hesed.

Hesed is a gloriously complex and spiritually rich Hebrew word that gets translated with several different English words.
The most prevalent ones are: loving-kindness, mercy, truth, steadfast love.
Hesed is used to express how full and deep and holy God’s love is.
It’s kind of like the Greek word agape which is reserved for a special kind of holy love that’s different from romance or friendship or family.
Hesed, loving-kindness, God’s steadfast love – that’s the starting point, that’s the grounding point, that’s the foundation of everything.
Jesus oozed hesed!
His was a radically all-inclusive loving-kindness that knew no bounds.
God’s hesed is the thing that our psalmist – and we – ultimately thirst for.

I say this all the time because I think it’s a crucial aspect of theology – and I think our history has focused on a very different – if not contrary – interpretation of who God is and how God is.
In the New Testament the phrase is ‘God is Love.’
In the Hebrew Scriptures it gets expressed as: God is hesed.
That means that God ‘heseds’ and God can do nothing other than hesed.
Why do you think the psalmist is harping on this? Same reason I do!
It’s because we need to keep reminding ourselves of this truth of God’s loving-kindness because otherwise we tend to fall back into fashioning God in our own limited, human image.

But God is much bigger, and better, and holier than that.
God is hesed! Love!
All love, only love.
Not because we’ve earned it, or because we’ve said the right words, or thought the right thoughts, or because we’ve checked off all the supposed right boxes on our ‘get-to-heaven’ scorecard.
God just loves.
In this sacred, present moment.
And before, during, and after this present moment too.
Hesed, hesed, hesed.
Love, love, love.

After all the other teaching, in the present moment it comes down to this: power and steadfast love belong to God.
Strength and hesed, mercy, loving-kindness are what we find in the present moment when ak/truly we open ourselves to God in the silence – when we realize that ak/only God is our rock, our salvation, our fortress, our hope, deliverance, our honour, our refuge – ak God!

The last line of verse 12 can feel a bit out of place if we don’t spend a moment reflecting on it.
Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you,
O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

All of a sudden it sounds like we’re earning God’s hesed when just a minute ago I made a big deal about how we don’t earn anything.
So we know it must mean something deeper because that interpretation doesn’t square with who God is.
The word ‘repay’ here is misleading. Its richer meaning is: to be complete, as in restoring to fullness.
God doesn’t reward us for our actions – but our actions, our deeds, our compassion, our caring, our loving all allow God’s loving-kindness – God’s hesed – to resonate, and bloom, and grow in us – and that kindled hesed restores us to fullness, and makes us complete and whole in the present moment.

So now let’s hear the whole psalm again (with a few interpretations added), and hopefully it will grace us with deeper wisdom:

(Ak) Truly my soul finds rest in God, in silence; from God comes my salvation.
God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. Selah

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.
God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in God at all times, O people; pour out your heart before God; God is a refuge for us. Selah

(Surely) Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no confidence in oppression, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,
12     and steadfast love (hesed) belongs to you, O Lord. For you (restore to fullness) all (through their loving).

This is the wisdom of this present moment.
Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
Ak, hesed! Selah!