You are herePsalm 145 - Beyond the Cliche (this is what I'll do)
Psalm 145 - Beyond the Cliche (this is what I'll do)
I'll be blunt.
I’m going to just come right out and say it:
I hate Jesus Junk.
You heard me. I hate Jesus Junk. I hate that key chain flash light with a bible verse printed on the side, and the Jesus fish shaped eraser, and I hate “TestaMints,” All those cheap plastic novelties made in China with a scripture verse stamped on the side, I hate them all.
I hate them because they trivialize our faith. I hate them because they add nothing of value. Is anyone’s spiritual life honestly enhanced by a plastic ruler that says “faith is the measure of our lives”? No. Not really. We are not benefited in any way by this crap. Rather, all this Jesus Junk actually works against our faith, diminishing it instead of ennobling it.
I recently read an article about how even Christian book stores have a problem with shoplifting. And do you know, or want to guess what the most commonly stolen item is? Those stupid WWJD bracelets. Eight million of those things sold (and or stolen) and apparently the message is not being communicated.
In a recent review of our church activities it was suggested to us that one way we could further the ministry of our congregation would be to print up “Jesus is the Bread of Life” stickers to affix to the loaves of bread that we give away in the mornings. I am appalled that such a suggestion would even be made. Seriously? What truth would we be communicating with such a sticker? Would we really want to reduce the very real and very significant truth of that statement to something that people will be discarding without a second thought?
I completely understand, and even sympathize with the Jewish tradition of not writing out the Lord’s name, and even not writing out the word God. They hold God’s name in such esteem that they won’t even write out the word G-D for fear that the paper it was written on would be thrown away or littered on the ground. They are unwilling to disgrace God’s name in that way. And I wish that Christians would maybe lean a little from that example. I wish that we’d quit slapping Jesus’ name on every little piece of junk. It must embarrass him.
I worry that we too often reduce our faith to the level of kitsch and that we reduce the eternal truth of scripture to meaningless clichés. Instead of this book being a book of depth and challenge we plunder it for a verse (often ripped out of context) to print on the side of a pencil or a balloon or a bottle of bubbles. If the medium is the message what are we saying? That the message of this book is ephemeral and made as cheaply as possible? That it is something to be bought cheap and casually discarded when no longer wanted?
I want the foundational message on which I am attempting to live my life to be a bit more substantive. I would like to believe (and I would like others to believe) that our faith is something more than a collection of trite, feel-good, clichés.
And so with that rant behind me I come now to Psalm 145.
Psalm 145 is one of 7 acrostic psalms – psalms that are written so that each verse begins with the next letter of the alphabet. In Hebrew that would be Aleph, Bet, Gimmel and so on through the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
You might point out that Psalm 145 has only 21 verses. It is one letter short. One commentary I read suggested that is a letter short so that we might pay more attention to the content of the psalm than to the form, another suggested that a perfect acrostic psalm would be fit for the Church Victorious in heaven, but for those of us in the Church Militant here on earth, still in need of perfection, incomplete acrostics are good enough.
It’s more likely that the missing verse is due to a copyist error somewhere along the line, but for whatever reason, the verse between 13 and 14 – the verse that would begin with the Hebrew letter Nun has been lost from our earliest copies of the Psalms. It is restored to us in later copies and later translations of the bible – and so some of your bibles might have it with a footnote.
Psalm 145 is attributed to David but makes no reference to any specific event or situation in David’s life.
It’s not one of my all time favorite psalms – but it’s not at all my least favorite (that place is held by another acrostic psalm: 119). Some Rabbis so valued this psalm, held it in such high estimation “that they assert, if a man with sincerity of heart repeat it three times a day he should infallibly (!) enjoy the blessings of the world to come.” (Adam Clarke)
I don’t know about infallibly but what I do appreciate about Psalm 145 is the challenge that presents to us. Can we – can you, can I – take the words of scripture and make them our own without reducing them to the level of kitsch and cliché? The challenge is to make it connect to our minds and our hearts so that it becomes an authentic part of our lives and not just another throwaway piece of Jesus junk.
The author of Psalm 145 (be it King David or someone else who’s writing was attributed to David) didn’t settle for a string of cliché’s but instead worked deliberately and intentionally, choosing the right words to express his praise rather than settling for the almost right word, or the good enough word. He used the acrostic form to focus his creativity; its strictures forced him to think carefully about each line before he put pen to paper. He would not be content with mediocre praise, would not compose a song to be forgotten and discarded.
The challenge for us is to do the same. Can we describe our faith, can we give voice to our praise without relying on “Jesus Junk” or is our expression of faith merely a collection of religious clichés?
Here, then, is my attempt to read Psalm 145 in such a way:
*(I am unable to get the formatting right...Every third line begins a new verse/letter. sorry.)*
This is What I’ll Do (Psalm 145)
And now it is this that I’ll do
or rather, what I’ll attempt:
to fill the spaces in between with praise,
blessing your name to everlasting eternity,
day after day blessing your name
from here to infinity,
chasing your greatness across shoreless oceans
into unfathomable depths for
you are more worthy than I could know.
Day following day, one generation to the next
will take up this course and follow
as we describe your mighty acts and
examine the splendor where you reside,
the glory in which your presence hides,
as we meditate on the melody of your name,
filling our minds with the amplitude of your identity
until our mouths fall open and we
proclaim your awesome power.
God! what we remember,
your generosity, your justice
and God! what we often forget,
how you are so slow to rise in anger,
that you are filled with compassion
and ever-faithful love, enfolding us
indeed, embracing your prickly creatures
and all our thorny attempts
to push you away.
Just let us speak and we’ll thank you,
all your creatures and children,
the devoted denizens of your
kingdom shall speak of your glory
in whatever words we have
to whoever will listen.
Listen! Our God has done great things
hear me, you daughters of Adam
and all you fleshy sons of Eve.
Moving through the folds of space and time
this kingdom of aeons
will last through immeasurable time
opening the way for those who have fallen
for those who are bent over and broken
to be lifted up, restored,
providing us the very things we need
at the very time we need them,
as we watch and as we pray.
Quench our hungering and thirsting
with the opening of your hand,
satisfy our needs with your
righteousness and your compassion,
with the loving kindness
that defines your eternal character;
stay close to us when we call,
our little voices are so weak,
we are so very small.
Trembling in our human frailty
we cry out to the one who can save
and you hear us; you hear our call.
Universal love for those who fear you,
for those who love you,
but destruction for the wicked.
Vast, unending praise is yours, O Lord
from my mouth
into the ever-expanding recess of time.