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Summary: Year C Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 4th, 2001

Year C Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 4th, 2001

Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church

Web page http://lordofthelake.org

By The Rev. Jerry Morrissey, Esq., Pastor

E-mail pastor@southshore.com

Heavenly Father, “I am a sinful person,” thank you for sending Jesus to pay for my sins by his death on the cross. Amen.

Title: “I am a sinful person.”

Psalm 138:1-8

This is a psalm from the postexilic period. While it is classified as an Individual Thanksgiving Psalm, it is suited for communal worship, either with a soloist praying in the name of the community or the community identifying with an individual’s good fortune by including their own in his. In the background of these postexilic psalms there is always the great and paradigmatic experience of the, “Return from Babylonian Exile.” The people would see every individual answer to prayer as a specific, if small, instance of that great deed God did for all of them, an example of “corporate personality” in action. In this psalm the writer may have been delivered from an illness or some other calamity. In any event, it would be an example of moving from an negative experience of life to a positive one and credited to Yahweh’s love and fidelity.

Typical of all thanksgiving, the psalmist calls on the spirits of the heavens and the rulers of the earth to join in the praise, to expand it to a scope and volume appropriate to the revelation of God’s limitless love. While the physical locale may have originally been the outside gate of the Temple or just outside the gate of the Holy of Holies, the inner Temple, the psychological locale of gratitude for answered prayer would enable to psalm to be sung anywhere.

The structure is straightforward: In verses one to three, give thanks for deliverance; In verses four to six, invite all nations through their kings to join in the sentiment; and verses seven and eight, state confidence in Yahweh’s presence and enduring love. This is not great poetry. It is for ordinary people whose religious life is relatively routine and are quite used to the oft-repeated phrases and ideas expressed. It attempts to bring the extraordinary awareness of God into ordinary time.

In verse one, I thank you, Lord, with all my heart: The psalmist makes a conscious effort to retrieve his original experience when God granted him deliverance from whatever disorienting condition he was in before his prayer was answered.

Before the gods: It is not clear when the Israelite people stopped believing that other gods existed at all. No doubt the belief existed long after the prophets had preached otherwise, especially among common folk. By now, they were generally believed to be lesser gods than Yahweh, if they existed at all, and they were frequently identified or grouped in with “angels, “ heavenly spirits who ministered to and for Yahweh. The LXX translates the word here in Hebrew, ‘elohim, with the Greek “angels,” a word meaning both heavenly spirits and messengers. The psalmist is calling on superworldly powers to both witness and join in his praise of God’s goodness to him. The arena of the Temple and worshipping community is not a big enough audience for the great sentiments he is expressing. Later, in verse four, he will call on all the earth in the personages of their kings to do the same. He is very much aware of the inadequacy of his little contribution of praise to so great a God.

In verse two, for your fidelity and love: Unlike the pagan gods who were arbitrary, unpredictable in their response, Yahweh was always there, always the same, always consistent. He behaved according to a discernible pattern and that was Hebrew hesed, “love,” a term which summed up his entire range of attitudes toward his people.

Toward your holy Temple: When an Arab prays, no matter where he is, he faces Meccah, the Holy City. So, too, “toward your Temple” can be anywhere. It is the focus which is important, not the locus.

You have exalted over all your name and your promise: His deeds far exceeded his fame, what people said and sung about him. They are beyond words, yet words are all he had to express his enlarged heart.

In verse three, strengthened my spirit: Lit, “You made me proud in my soul with strength.” Yahweh widened his throat so he could breathe, live, freely, thus making him capable of stronger praise of him in words and firmer witness to him in deeds.

In verse four, all the kings will praise you: This is better taken as a wish or invitation, that is, “Let all the kings…” or “May all the kings…” First of all, he talks as if he were a king himself and some scholars think this is a royal psalm sung by a king. His sentiment is really that he feels as if God has treated him “like a king” and so he can address them all as equals. They represent all the nations and so he wants everybody to join in the thanksgiving and praise. He alone is too small to be equal to the task. When a person is grateful he or she wants everyone to share in the joy as in Luke 15.

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