Noticings – June 23, 2021


Our denomination generally follows a set of scripture readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. It’s a three-year cycle with 4 readings offered each week: one each from the Hebrew Scriptures, Psalms, New Testament, and Gospels. It gives a nice structure to the year, and takes you to readings that you might otherwise not select. However, it has its faults too. One is that there are large parts of the bible that it never goes to at all. But the one that drives me around the bend is that it tends to skip over the hard parts. This is especially true in the Psalms.

I love the Psalms. If I was ever to go back and do more formal study that’s what I’d want to dive into. Psalms are essentially hymns, but we don’t have the music. Psalms have a flow, and they take you on a journey. But if you were only to read the suggested verses in the Lectionary you’d often be skipping over really important parts of that journey. You see, Psalms are also brutally honest, and nakedly real. The writers pour their hearts out, including their anger and frustrations. It’s not uncommon to find a psalmist ranting about injustices inflicted upon them, wishing harm on an enemy, or shaking their fist at their distant, uncaring, hurtful God. Of course God is none of those things. God is only and always Love. But when you’re in the midst of a hard time, or a hard season, it can feel like God is absent.

Psalms usually start with praise, and then they go into the hardship, and then by the end there is an understanding that God really is here, and really does love, and hope really is present. In other words, psalms resolve. Usually. Yet if you skip over the middle of the psalm you miss out on the wrestling with the ‘hard stuff’ parts. We’re in the middle of a psalm right now. This pandemic is taking its toll on us. I’m certain there’s a lot of fist shaking at God going on right now. It’s ok. God can take it! To deny that part of our being is foolishness, and unhealthy.

I think the Lectionary skips the middle of the psalm because we’ve inherited a bizarre notion that everything is supposed to be all nice, and happy, and good at church – and if you’re not feeling that way you’re doing it wrong. Ridiculous! “Smile, Jesus loves you.” Yes, that’s true – but that doesn’t eliminate the middle of our psalms! So go ahead and rant away. Shake your fist. Be angry. Vent. But don’t be unloving! And after you’ve let that stuff loose, take a deep breath. You’ll find that your thought-to-be-distant God has actually been holding you through your ranting and raving and flailing around, and will always be with you, strengthening you and encouraging you – loving you, and journeying with you as you inevitably face the middle of the next psalm. We can’t skip the hard stuff – but we never have to face it alone.

Rev. Larry