Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 7, 2013

2013.07.07 “Psalm 30 – A Psalm of Joy in the Morning”

Central United Methodist Church

Psalm 30 – A Psalm of Joy in the Morning

Pastor David L. Haley

July 7th, 2013

Psalm 30

 

Psalm 30 (Grail Version)

I will extol you, LORD, for you have raised me up,

and have not let my enemies rejoice over me.

 

O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,

and you have healed me.

O LORD, you have lifted up my soul from the grave,

restored me to life from those who sink into the pit.

 

Sing psalms to the LORD, you faithful ones;

give thanks to his holy name.

His anger lasts a moment; his favor all through life.

At night come tears, but dawn brings joy.

 

I said to myself in my good fortune:

“I shall never be shaken.”

O LORD, your favor had set me like a mountain stronghold.

Then you hid your face, and I was put to confusion.

 

To you, O LORD, I cried,

to my God I appealed for mercy:

“What profit is my lifeblood, my going to the grave?

Can dust give you thanks, or proclaim your faithfulness?”

 

Hear, O LORD, and have mercy on me;

be my helper, O LORD.

You have changed my mourning into dancing,

removed my sackcloth and girded me with joy.

 

So my soul sings psalms to you, and will not be silent.

O LORD my God, I will thank you forever.

After spending the week with Psalm 30, I began to feel like a fire chaplain again.  Because the voice we hear in Psalm 30, sounds like the voice of victims, patients, and parishioners I have heard over the years.

Out in a roadway, a man stands by his totaled car; thanks to airbags, he walks away without a scratch:  “I can’t believe I survived this; it happened so fast.  I’m lucky to be alive.”

A man says of his near-death experience: “Thank God I was where I was when it happened; the doctors and nurses saved my life.  I am thankful to be alive.”

A woman sits in a living room and wipes a tear from her eye as she says: “It was a terrible time; I don’t know how I got through it.  If it had not been for the prayers and support of others, I don’t think I would have made it.”

A family stands in front of what’s left of their house after a major fire: “We’re lost almost everything, but the good thing is, nobody got hurt. Thank God we made it out alive.”

Actually, it could also be our voice, because almost all of us could tell a story of near disaster, some incident in our lives that we were fortunate to have survived.  Perhaps it was a car crash, an illness that threatened us or a series of circumstances that could have put us in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For example, many years ago, my Dad told me a story I’ve never forgotten. He said that when I was a small child, he and his cousin were getting ready to plow the field by our house with a tractor, pulling discs, sharp round blades that break up the soil.  My Dad’s cousin, John, was on the tractor, ready to put it into gear. My dad said he looked over, and there I was, standing right in the middle of the disc blades.  He ran and grabbed me, lifting me up and out just in time. If he had not, not only would I not be standing here today, my life might not have been. It’s shocking to think about, isn’t it, how our lives and everything about them, including everyone and everything we know and love, hang by such tenuous threads.

It is such a voice as these – a voice like ours – that we hear this morning in Psalm 30. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:

“I give you all the credit, God—

you got me out of that mess,

you didn’t let my foes gloat.

God, my God, I yelled for help

and you put me together.

God, you pulled me out of the grave,

gave me another chance at life
when I was down-and-out.”

When we say such things, it is all the more exuberantly and gratefully exactly because we know, life is tenuous.  The mystery of why some survive and others do not, is not known to us.  All the more reason for those of us who do survive near misses, to offer our full-throated thanks and praise to God, as Psalm 30 does.

On previous Sundays, we have talked about Walter Brueggemann’s classification of the psalms as psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of reorientation.  The last couple of weeks, we have looked at psalms of disorientation, such as Psalm 77 and Psalm 42, psalms of sleepless nights and troubled mornings, times when life falls apart and we are disoriented.

Psalm 30, on the other hand, is a psalm of reorientation, which tells the story of “getting into trouble and getting out of trouble.”  As James Luther Mays says, Psalm 30 “is a prayer that is wholly praise; it is praise that comes out of prayer.” (James Luther Mays, Psalms, Interpretation Commentary, p. 140)

Nobody knows the specifics, but a lot of the language is the same language used in lament:  there is reference to the pit and to sheol, the hebrew underworld of death; there is reference to crying and foes rejoicing. Hebrew is a wonderfully earthy and descriptive language; they were talking about being in the pit long before we ever used that term, e.g. “my life is in the pits.”  And by that they meant not only troubles, but standing with one foot in the grave.  So this is a psalm of thanksgiving about not crossing over, but being delivered, God be thanked and praised.  Understandably, the Psalmist – whoever he/she is, cannot contain themselves, and invite all faithful people (hasidim) to join the song, as we do this morning.

The superscription of Psalm 30, is in many ways misleading. “A song of dedication of the temple.” “Of David.” On previous Sunday we have acknowledged that many of these psalms may have arisen and been written out to the experience of individuals, which is how they attained their timeless, universal appeal. And then, they were communually sung in temple services to express the feelings and aspirations of many, just as we sing Thomas A. Dorsey’s hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”

But it was, again, Walter Brueggemann who suggested that there is a danger of overgeneralizing them, removing them from the lived experience of people like us, and our lives of agony and ecstacy.  And so he has proposed that the superscriptions be updated.

And so, maybe Psalm 30 is a “Song of Vocational Affirmation. For Gail.” Or “A song of being restored into community. Of Brian.”  Or a “Song of thanksgiving for Healing. Of Marcie.” We all know plenty of Marcies; they are in our communities, our congregation, our family.  They may even be us.  And so, no longer are these only David’s psalms, they are our Psalms. (My thanks to Shauna Hannan, Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, for these insights in her commentary on Psalm 30, Working Preacher, April 14, 2013)

We may have heard Marcie cry to the Lord, and we prayed for her, when she may have found it difficult to pray for herself.  And then there was a dramatic, radical breakthrough: “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.”  We know people like that; we may be one of them.

Then – as in Psalm 30 – Marcie tells her story to everyone.  She cannot help it, because it’s her Easter story.  The pain of her Good Friday was trumped by Easter joy:  “For God’s anger is but for a moment; but God’s favor is for a lifetime.” “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  If only, at our times of darkness and weeping, we could remember these classic, hopeful, triumphant words of Psalm 30.

Maybe, in church, we need more times of testimony, to tell what God has done and is doing in our lives. I read an article recently by Lillian Daniel, pastor of First Congregational Church, the United Church of Christ, in Glen Ellyn.  She said that in her former church she could always tell when they needed a time of testimony, because the Announcements started getting long.  People were talking about far more than whatever it was they wanted to announce. And so they instituted a “time of testimony” in the worship service, for people other than the Pastor to talk about what God was doing in their lives.

Psalm 30 contains testimony, not just about God’s deliverance, but what God delivered them from. Just because you get relief, doesn’t mean you don’t remember the pain and misery that went before.  As one of my paramedic friends once told me, “I was so low I had to dig up to reach the bottom.”

And so – in Psalm 30 – our sister Marcie becomes more open and articulate about the Pit. She is far enough from the experience that she can confess her previous overconfidence, her blindness, her ingratitude.  Hear this: “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’”  And then God looked the other way, and she fell to pieces.  It’s one thing to confess this to her closest friends, even her pastor – it’s another to confess it to God. But in all honesty, she does.

She confesses she bargained with God, as Abraham did (Genesis 18:23f), as we all sometimes do.  She asked God to consider, “What’s in it for you, God? What profit is there for you if I die? Will the dust praise you?” Only those of us who are the living, can praise and thank God before others. As Walter Brueggemann points out, the purpose of the psalm is to keep alive the memory of the pre-rescue situation, so that the occasion of God’s transforming deliverance remains a power for living and a passion for praise. The language is active, evocative, and truly memorable:

“God’s anger may last for a moment;

God’s favor for a lifetime.

Weeping may linger in the night;

but joy comes in the morning.

You have changed my mourning into dancing,

removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

In a larger sense, Marcie’s story – Psalm 30 – not only reflects the structure of a psalm of thanksgiving, it embodies the entire biblical story. The cry in Exodus 2:23-25, when God heard Israel’s groaning, turns into dance in Exodus 15:20-21:  “Sing to God, what a victory, horse and rider God has pitched into the sea. The “Lord if you had been here” of John 11:21, turns into “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). The tears of Good Friday, turn into the joy of Easter morning.

Even more, the movement of Psalm 30 does not simply reflect the biblical story, it reflects our story; it is our story as God’s people. Life is filled with rising up, from labored breathing to filled lungs, from hunched shoulders to upright torsos, from the pits to praise, from mourning to dancing, from death to life. (Shauna Hannan, above)

In his short story, “Getting Through Sunday Somehow,” the novelist Ray Bradbury paints a contemporary literary portrait of Psalm 30. The scene takes place in an Irish pub on a bleak Sunday afternoon.  A disheveled old man, with too many empty glasses in front of him, staries into the mirror over the bar and mourns to anyone who may hear, “What have I done for a single mortal soul this day? Nothing . . . The older I get the less I do for people . . . It’s an awesome responsibility when the world runs to hand you things.  For instance; sunsets . . . That’s a gift, ain’t it?

A few stools away, a fellow inebriate agrees: “It tis.” The old man now says more loudly, “Well, who do you thank for a sunset?”  The newfound friend answers reluctantly, “Not me!”

“Then ain’t you horribly guilty yourself?,” the old man says.  “Don’t the burden make you hunchback, all the lovely things you got from life and no penny down?”  The other says, “I never thought,” to which the old man says, “Think man! . . . Act, man, before you’re the walking dead.” (Ray Bradbury, “Getting Through Sunday Somehow,” in I Sing the Body Electric?”, p. 298-299, quoted by P. C. Ennis, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, pp. 204 – 206.))

The 20th century German theologian Karl Barth is reported to have said that there is only one sin, suggesting that the single sin from which every lesser sin emanates is the sin of ingratitude – the failure to comprehend that life in all its beauty, abundance, and possibility is a gift. And so the bottom line is, sheer doxology:

“So my soul sings psalms to you, and will not be silent.

O LORD my God, I will thank you forever.”  Amen.

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