Seeker: “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!”
Preacher: “Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!”
Seeker: “Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!”
Preacher: “Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!”
Seeker: I am imaging the psalmist sitting on top of a hill, looking over the rich and green land below, planted with crops and filled with sheep and livestock. Prosperity at every turn, and abundance where no one is wanting for any human need. Enough to make anyone praise their good fortune. And who is credited with providing all of this. The Lord God, Yahweh, who has blessed the people who worship. It is a wonderful vision, but it stands in stark contrast to the plight of Israel and Judah when the surrounding nations had made war upon them, and Jerusalem was ransacked and her citizens – the prominent ones at least – taken away in chains. No wonder the people of Israel and Judah felt that the Lord God had turned against them. I know at times I seem to rail against the psalm passages. It is praise stuck in the past, when future problems were in way in the future – but no one knew it. I guess I prefer the psalms where it seems that the Divine has come through to rescue instead of a litany that extols temporary good fortune.
Preacher: “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created. He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.” I can see the same picture and vision as you, Seeker. It is easy to praise and extol the Lord when in verdant nature and peaceful surroundings. But the psalmist also praise the Lord when he has felt rescue. It is though, a very different type of praise. But I also note that the psalmist is talking about nature doing the praising. A pastoral scene that is presenting pastoral praise. “Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!”
Seeker: What about nature itself? Is nature and creation in our time as green and verdant? Surely there are many people in need, and nature and agriculture seem to struggle to sustain humanity. I cannot shake this feeling that this psalm passage is so out of step with our times!
Preacher: “Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” You are right, Seeker. It does seem very out of step. It is hard looking back and the past, and realizing that past will never be a reality again. And hope dims that it will ever be in the future, at least not in the future of this broken world. We need to wait until this world passes away, and the world to come is asserted. When Heaven and earth exist in unison. I was reading just recently about the early Christian church, and how love and fellowship were always the order of the day, and no one amongst their fellowship had want or need. They wanted to live out what perhaps they envisioned that heaven would be like, and wanted it here on earth. The writer I was reading said it was a golden time when the love and example of Jesus the Christ burst over the believers. The writer was, I think, in a way lamenting its passing. But you know it is interesting, the writer never got around to explaining why that image of Christian fellowship lapsed and passed away. He said believers should still practice it, but never got around to talking about how it should be revived. I suspect his frustration is yours, Seeker.
Seeker: It must have been hard, Preacher, very hard for the Jews of Jesus’ time to think back to that golden age. Probably just as hard for that writer you are talking about, and maybe for me as well. Golden eras turning to brass and tarnished.
Preacher: I contrast that writer’s opinion of the early church with the suffering and torture that Jesus under went. His forgiving his enemies and refusing to name them as such. Verdant green passes away, but the true strength of unyielding love endures.
Seeker: Yes, I see that – as you have pointed it out. And I have to think, consider, and ultimately decide it is better to be in the now. Better to know that Jesus and Jesus’ love endures even through the hardest of times. Yes, let us come down from the verdant dream and vision, and live with our modern day reality. Let the lushness and abundance live in our hearts. Let us share our hope and faith with those in need. Compassion and care feeds the soul when resources are thin. Maybe then the law of love will be all the more powerful and persuasive in convincing others to follow the Divine.
Preacher: The psalmist concludes by saying, “Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” ( Psalm 148) But Seeker, let the psalmist have his high places of pastoral peace. The real work is done here, as Jesus ministered to those in need. Certainly the early church did much good, and they are to be commended for it. But under the pressure of suffering and persecution, want and need, new ways need to be found to live out our faith. New challenges will test us, and the lessons learned will pave the way to a faith that withstands all pressure. At some point we need to come down and dwell in the low places, find hope and faith amongst the daily tasks of life. Let us look back to when things were golden and new; and then let us look forward to when all things will be renewed. In the meantime the Divine is with us in ways we discover each day. Shalom & Selah!