230910 – Creation Sings

Yr A ~ Creation 1 ~ Psalm 149

Let’s start with some good old fashioned bible study. It’ll be a warmup for The Porch which will return on Monday mornings in a couple of weeks. Psalm 149:1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, God’s praise in the assembly of the faithful.

We’ll start with the first word – “Praise the Lord!” But that’s three words. Nope. Not in Hebrew. It’s just one word – hallelujah! It’s also the last word of the psalm. We begin and end with hallelujahs. Hallelujah! Sing to the LORD a new song, God’s praise in the assembly of the faithful. ‘Faithful’ here comes from the Hebrew word hesed, which is a beautifully rich and complex word that’s all about loving-kindness between God and humans. Who is in this assembly of hallelujah singers? Not just people who keep the faith – it’s people who are beloved. God’s beloved. Those in loving relationship with God are called to sing! And that’s why we sing our faith so much – every week.

And what are we to sing? “A new song!” Why a ‘new’ song? What’s wrong with the old songs? Does it mean we’re only supposed to sing new praise songs and not classic hymns in church? No, of course not. Remember, this is a psalm. It’s poetry and metaphor. It is not meant to be literal. (That will be really important in a few minutes!) So what does ‘a new song’ mean? Does it mean a new beginning? A new insight? A new season? A new depth? Maybe. I think it means to sing God’s song, rather than our own songs – to sing of God’s ways, God’s love, God’s vision of justice and compassion – and not to sing of the world’s ways of power-over, and self-importance.

Psalm 149:2-3 Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise God’s name with dancing, making melody to God with tambourine and lyre.

Look at those verbs! Sing, rejoice, be glad, dance, make melody, play instruments. It’s all celebration, and praise, and love. All those years our mainline church culture had us sitting on our hands, never showing emotion, always maintaining a cool dignity and a stiff upper lip. Boy, did we get that wrong! The bible is overflowing with joyful worship imagery.

In Exodus 15, Miriam “took a tambourine in her hand” and all the women followed, “with tambourines and with dancing.” In 2 Samuel 6:14, we read that when the ark of the covenant was being brought into Jerusalem, “David danced before the LORD with all his might.” (A little bible fact that many of us learned from the movie Footloose!) According to 1 Chronicles 25, David appointed temple musicians who led “the music in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God.” [paragraph borrowed from WP, and edited]

Perhaps we’ll see some leaping and dancing during the hymn after the sermon?

Psalm 149:4-5 For the LORD takes pleasure in God’s people; God adorns the humble with victory. Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.

The faithful are exulting now – singing for joy… “on their couches!” Couches! See!!!! The bible anticipated online, livestreamed worship!!!!! It’s a verse specifically designed for our congregation on YouTube! You should be singing and dancing in joy during worship too! It’s funny though, when I’m participating in online worship I find it a little strange to be singing and praising (and dancing) if there are other people in the room. If I’m alone, I’ll probably let ‘er rip! I know, we’re supposed to sing and dance like no one’s watching. But if someone is watching we tend to sit on our hands again. If you were to go to a big music concert you’d be among hundreds or thousands of people, and you’d be singing at the top of your lungs, and dancing all over the place, and you wouldn’t give it a second thought. But at church, for some weird reason, we all become self-conscious and don’t want to make a spectacle of ourselves. The truth is, if we all did it, like at a concert, no one would notice! (I can’t wait until we sing the next hymn!!!)

So, we’ve had 5 verses of beautiful, heartfelt, singing and dancing and praising with abandon. What a fantastically uplifting psalm! And then verse 6 happens. It starts out well, and then it gets a wee bit dark.

Psalm 149:6-9 Let the high praises of God be in their throats (so far, so good) and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron, to execute on them the judgment decreed.


You know how a lot of the time I take a troublesome verse of scripture, and dive into the roots of the words in the original language, and show how there’s a field of meaning, and how we can interpret it in a broader, perhaps more helpful way? Well, sadly, I can’t do that here. I wish I could. It is what it is. No less a scholar than the eminent Walter Brueggemann says this about these verses: “I do not know what to make of this, for it is quite unexpected in the hymns.”

Here’s my attempt to redeem it. You’ll need to stay with me. I think the two most upsetting words here are “executing vengeance”. Vengeance means vengeance. But execute doesn’t mean ‘to kill’, here, it means ‘to accomplish, to do’. Like, “You executed that dance move perfectly during the hymn.” We all love how in Micah 6:8 God calls us to “do justice” – it actually says to “execute justice.” Here, instead of executing justice we’re executing vengeance. I don’t think it’s all that different. Remember, Micah is a prophet, calling us to action on behalf of God. The psalmists are musicians and poets, painting word-pictures and metaphors, trying to inspire us to see things in new and deeper ways. This is a metaphorical call to arms. It’s asking us to consider the place of righteous anger.

It is not, in any way, meant to speak of human vengeance. It isn’t God telling the Israelites to go and wreak vengeance on their enemies. The idea here is that it isn’t human vengeance, it’s God’s vengeance, for an affront to God. What is the affront? It doesn’t list any affronts in the psalm. You need to read into the context.

The affront to God is injustice. It’s desecrating the sacred. Verse 9 ends with to execute on them the judgment decreed. The affront is going against what is ‘decreed’, which means what is ‘written’, which basically means Torah – which is God’s laws for humanity to treat all of creation (including earth, and humans, and all) with love, and respect, and justice. To not love, to be unloving, is an affront to God’s very being, because God is only and always Love.

We are called to sing to God a new song. The new song is a song that loves – a song that respects – a song that cares – a song that honours all humans – a song that stewards creation rather than exploits it – a song that Jesus would characterize as “the Kingdom of God” – a song that loves, loves, loves. THAT’S the NEW song. The ‘old’ song is one that does the opposite of all that. The opposites are hate, and disrespect, and dishonouring, and uncaring, and exploitation.

How would you suggest we counter such horrendous unlovingness in the world? By wagging our fingers and saying “Tut-tut”? Writing a letter to the editor? Yammering away on a sermon? Maybe it’s time for a double-edged sword to start swinging, and take the legs out from under all the unjust structures, the power-mad institutions, the systems of oppression, the hyper-partisan and polarized politics, and the greed-driven exploitation of the world, and her peoples? I’m thinking sword time is long overdue!

When you have such a pure, and holy, and loving vision of how humanity and creation could be, growing together, flourishing together in loving mutuality – when you have that loving vision then encountering so much unlovingness engenders nothing but disgust and despair. Perhaps the psalmist is thinking they’ve had enough of disgust, and maybe it’s time for some fighting back, and executing some righteous anger and vengeance. No, not literally. Although, that’s been done.

It will probably not shock you to hear that the words of Psalm 149 have been used across history to incite and justify war against those deemed to be the enemies of God. It was used by church leaders to provoke the Peasant Revolt in Germany in the 16th century, and to call the Roman Catholics to a holy war against the Protestants, beginning the Thirty Years War in the 17th century. [from WP]

You might imagine certain branches of modern Christianity using it that way today. Such terrible perversion of scripture is actually a perfect example of the real object of God’s vengeance in this Psalm.

So instead of singing the praises of unjust structures, power-mad institutions, systems of oppression, hyper-partisan and polarized politics, and the greed-driven exploitation of the world, we sing a new song – a different song – a song the world finds offensive, because it lays bare the ugliness of its unlovingness. It’s a praise song – but it’s also a protest song! A song with verses of righteous anger.

That’s the new song that people of faith sing. But how about this? If Creation could sing, what would its song be? If the Earth could produce a song that humans could hear, what would it sound like? Wouldn’t it sound a lot like Psalm 149? Wouldn’t there be a part that was beautiful, and joyful, and hopeful, as the best of a mutually loving relationship is celebrated and both parties – Creation and Humanity – flourish together? Earth gives us food, and water, and life – it gives minerals, and ores – it gives flora and fauna, breathtaking beauty and awesome power – it gives us all the stuff we need, and so much more. Our blessings overflow. And when we “live with respect in creation” – which is part of our United Church creed – then both we and the Earth benefit. I imagine Creation’s song would be filled with such imagery.

And – I imagine there would be a stanza or two filled with the bitter pain of betrayal and injustice that Creation has endured at the hands of humanity. And no, I’m absolutely not in any way, shape, or form suggesting that nature in some way wields any two-sided swords in the form of deadly storms or whatnot – but I can certainly appreciate that if it could do such things, on purpose, that it might be tempted. A holy, righteous anger and vengeance would be totally understandable – if Creation could sing.

I bet Creation’s song would start as a love song, and then morph into a protest song. Kind of like psalms often do! And then, in the end, there’s usually a deep breath and a resolution as the psalmist, or singer, comes to a deeper understanding of God.

Psalm 149:9 – the ending of the psalm – This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD! (Hallelujah!)

This is glory for all his faithful ones. What is the “this” here? What is glory for God’s faithful ones? Living justly and in loving-kindness. Defeating the ways of the world and enacting the Kingdom of God. “This” is God’s glory! And God’s glory is revealed as we sing God’s new song in the face of injustice and unlovingness. Let the singing and dancing begin. Hallelujah! And Amen.