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First Impressions: Psalm 113

November 11, 2009

United Methodist preachers have the option of using Psalm 113 this week, and I’m exercising that option.  The text fits well with our stewardship emphasis this week, Local & World Outreach.  I have not yet found a helpful commentary for preaching the Psalms, so if you have discovered any good resources, please pass them on to me.  I did find some decent material in Westminster Press’ Old Testament Library series (Artur Weiser, The Psalms [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962], 704-08.).

113:1-3 The first several verses focus on the continual need to praise God.  The natural question of the curious would be, “But why?”  In preaching this text, you could address the issue of praise.  Quite apart from God’s worthiness to receive praise, the preacher could wonder aloud why we should need to praise.  What is the purpose?  Does praise actually do anything for anyone—God, Creation or us?

We spontaneously praise choirs and sports teams and our children.  There is something in us that recognizes excellence, especially when we understand that the level of skill is beyond our own.  I applaud a centerfielder’s great catch because the feat was on the edge of impossible.  I applaud my daughter’s dance more fervently and joyously, however, even if there are many others who can perform the routine just as well.

Praising God seems to fall into the former category.  God alone is God, and we praise the Lord because the works of Creation seem too marvelous to be true.  I praise God’s grace, because at times, the blessings in my life seem to be far more than I deserve.  The question I would approach in the sermon is not “does God deserve praise?” but “why do we praise at all?”

113:4-6 These verses discuss God’s worthiness, and not simply God’s exalted character, but God’s unique character.  God is certainly “above all nations” but even “above” the heavens—not alongside or in the heavens, but above.  The rhetorical question of verses 5 and 6 has already been answered in 4.  I will use this section to compare God’s exalted nature with God “stooping” to human beings.  The “looks far down” from verse 6 of the NRSV is translated as “stoops” in the World English Bible Version.  Precisely because it is such an anthropomorphic image, it really resonates with me and gives me a more visceral feeling of what it is for the high God to get down into the dust with human beings.  (The Christological possibilities are present in verse 6 if you use “stoops,” but I will only touch on that, if at all.)

113:7-9 God is here in the dust and on the ash heap with the poor and needy.  God stoops to the barren woman.  The poor get out of the dust; the needy sit with princes; the barren woman is joyous with children.  God is not only the high, exalted deity, but is also a present help in our messy lives, especially for those whose lives are so messy as to seem to be beyond redemption—both physically and spiritually.  God is both great and good. That is why we praise God.  That is why we worship God.  That is why we serve God.

I will connect God’s practical goodness with us to our Local & World Outreach.  When we love and serve the poor, needy and barren (“barren” can be used as an image to refer to a wider range of human experiences), we are doing what God does.  We have become partners in God’s plan of redemption for Creation.  Loving and serving in those ways can become our praise.  We praise by serving.  We praise by imitation of our great, exalted, stooping God.

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