Monday, July 31, 2006

“Beyond Your Wildest Dreams”[1]

Psalm 145:8-18; Ephesians 3:14-21

Psalm 145 is one of my favorite Scriptures. I like it because it tells us about a God who sounds very much like the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, the God who sends rain on the just and the unjust, and who makes the sun to rise on the good and the bad alike (Matt. 5:45). I like it because, in a way, I think it preaches the good news of the Kingdom of God—that God’s merciful kingdom embraces the whole creation and God’s grace extends to all humankind.[2]

A Tale of Two Readers. I’d like to tell you a “Tale of Two Readers.” Bible readers, that is. Readers of this Scripture, Psalm 145. The first reader is my wife, Kristi [I have her permission to share this with you, by the way]. She was raised in a very conservative Christian church in North Texas. She went to Sunday School and Church throughout her childhood and adolescence. She grew up studying the Bible and hearing the Bible preached. The other night, I asked her to read Psalm 145 and then tell me what she thought about it. At first she simply said “It sounds good!” When I pressed her for a more specific response, she said, “It describes God as I hope he is.”

The second reader is David R. Blumenthal, Professor of Judaic Studies at Emory University. In a very fine article on Emory’s website, Professor Blumenthal describes how the early Jewish rabbis made this particular Psalm prominent in Jewish worship by requiring it to be recited three times a day![3] He quotes a saying from the Talmud that explains why this Psalm should receive so much attention in Jewish worship. According to a certain Rabbi Avina, it was because Psalm 145 contains the verse, “you open your hand, you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16).

Out of all the verses of the Bible, the rabbis of the Talmud picked this verse to describe who God is. Professor Blumenthal’s explanation of this is that this Psalm is so important “because it contains the verse par excellence which speaks of God’s grace to the world.” The Talmud goes on to say that “whoever recites [Psalm 145] three times each day is sure to be one of those who dwell in the world-to-come.” Blumenthal’s reading of this is that praying Psalm 145 is already a way of “entering” the Kingdom of Heaven—or at least getting a taste of it!

Entering the World to Come. Two Bible readers. One reader comes away from this text hoping that what it says about God is true. Another reader sees the central truth of faith—that God is gracious and merciful to all!

Now, what you have to understand about the first reader [my wife] is that she’s very honest. She’s not going to come away from Psalm 145 without noticing the wonderful way that it speaks about God’s grace and constant love and mercy—to all people. But she’s also not going to definitively say that’s what the Psalm is about because she knows full well—as you and I know—that there aren’t many Christians these days who actually believe that!

I find it surprising that a Jewish scholar reads Psalm 145 as an affirmation that God’s tender mercy embraces all creation and that God’s love includes all people—what I would see as a kind of preliminary proclamation of the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed![4] On the other hand, I dare say that many Christians who, just like my wife, went to Sunday School and grew up studying the Bible, would hesitate to ascribe to God such generous kindness and all-embracing love!

But when you think about it, maybe I really ought not to be surprised that the rabbis of the Talmud or Jewish scholars today would hear in Psalm 145 what I would see as the good news of the gospel that Jesus preached. After all, they start with the same perspective about God as Jesus did—that God always has been “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 145:8).[5] And always will be. They sing praise to the same God that Jesus did. The God who is good to everyone and who showers compassion on all creation (Ps. 145:9, NLT). The God who is “all mercy and grace,” whose trademark on all his works is love (Ps. 145:8, 17, The Message).[6] The God who is trustworthy in all his words, upright in all his deeds, and who always acts only in faithful love (Ps. 145:13, 17, NJB). The God who “helps the fallen and lifts up those bent beneath their loads,” who opens his hand and satisfies the hunger and thirst of every living thing (Ps. 145:14, 16, NLT).

I don’t know specifically where we in the Christian tradition lost touch with that view of God, but I think it’s high time we come back to it!

I think Psalm 145 describes what Paul says: that God’s love is beyond our capacity to imagine. One popular Christian song says, “I can only imagine” what it will be like to finally experience that love in the presence of God. But Psalm 145 reminds us that God’s grace and mercy and love are beyond our wildest dreams!

[1] A sermon preached 7/30/06 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson TX.

[2] H. J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 549: “Psalm 145 is an important milestone on the way to the NT proclamation of the [kingdom of God].”

[3] David R. Blumenthal, “Praying Ashrei: Meditations on Psalm 145,” BLUMENTHAL/AshreiArticle.html

[4] See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.1, 411: “What our God has created He will also uphold, and sooner or later control by His Grace.” See also Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 181: “God works toward the fulfillment of every creature and toward the bringing-together into the unity of his life all who are separated and disrupted.” See further Jürgen Moltmann, Crucified God, 129, 178, 244; Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 38-39, 57, 151; Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 76, 85;

[5] See Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.1, 351-439 on “the Perfections of the Divine Loving.” See esp. pp. 352-53, 357, 363, 375, 383-84, 391-92, 407-408, 422-24.

[6] Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.1.352: “God is gracious, merciful and patient both in Himself and in all His works. This is His loving. But He is gracious, merciful and patient in such a way—because He loves in His freedom—that He is also holy, righteous and wise—again both in Himself and in all His works. For this is the freedom in which He loves.” Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Crucified God, 244.

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