Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 11, 2013

2013.08.11 “Psalm 50 – A Psalm of Judgment”

Central United Methodist Church

Psalm 50 – A Psalm of Judgment

Pastor David L. Haley

August 11th, 2013

Psalm 50 (1 – 15, 22 – 23)

Psalm 50 (1 – 15, 22 – 23) (Grail Version)

The God of gods, the LORD, has spoken and summoned the earth,

from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God is shining forth.

Our God comes, and does not keep silence.

Before him fire devours; around him tempest rages.

He calls on the heavens above, and on the earth, to judge his people.

“Gather my holy ones to me, who made covenant with me by sacrifice.”

The heavens proclaim his justice, for he, God, is the judge.

“Listen, my people, I will speak; Israel, I will testify against you,

for I am God, your God.

I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices; your offerings are always before me.

do not take more bullocks from your farms, nor goats from among your herds.

For I own all the beasts of the forest, beasts in their thousands on my hills.

I know all the birds on the mountains; all that moves in the field belongs to me.

Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness is mine.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?

Give your praise as a sacrifice to God, and fulfill your vows to the Most High.

Then call on me in the day of distress. I will deliver you and you shall honor me.”

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Mark this, you who are forgetful of God, lest I seize you and none can deliver you.

A sacrifice of praise gives me honor, and to one whose way is blameless,

I will show the salvation of God.”


“All rise. The Circuit Court of Cook County, State of Illinois, is now in session, the Honorable Judge __________, presiding.”

As most, if not all of us know, a courtroom is a no-nonsense zone. When the bailiff says those words, not to stand and show due respect can lead to a contempt of court citation.  Once court is in session, there is no joking, frivolity, talking out of turn, or talking back.

Back in February of this year, a young Florida woman learned this lesson the hard way. For the sake of our younger members, I would like to show you the video. [You may view it here at:]

Now take what we have seen in that courtroom, and magnify it to divine proportions. Today, in Psalm 50, we are summoned into a courtroom.  This court is not like any court we have even entered or known; this is not The People’s Court.  It is God’s court, where even the witnesses against us are not mere mortals; they are heaven and earth themselves.

Psalm 50 is different from any Psalm we have looked at thus far; it is not a hymn or a song of thanksgiving; it is composed on the model of a speech for trial proceedings. It is a psalm of disorientation, but not on our part: it is the disorientation that comes when we find ourselves addressed by the Judge of the Universe.

What is the charge? God (YHWH), who calls worlds into being, whose glory blinds and consumes all in its path, whose breath is like a hurricane, who controls the rising and setting of the sun, is suing God’s covenantal people for breach of contract. In Psalm 50, this is specifically Israel, but as Christians – God’s people of the New Covenant – we find ourselves co-defendants. Why breach of contract? Because we have forgotten our Creator and our covenant, because our worship is empty and our conduct is wicked.

Even before we go further, here at the outset, there are two concepts worth noting: one is Psalm 50’s exalted view of God, and the second is its reflection of Israel’s prophetic tradition.

In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, there have always been two poles of our understanding of God: one is of God as transcendent, “wholly other,” beyond our understanding and knowing.  The other is of God as immanent: with us, near to us, within us. Whenever we go to one extreme or the other, our thinking about God is distorted We may address God as Jesus taught us, as “Abba,” Father, but God is unlike any Father we have ever known. This is – after all – the God through whom the universe came into being, who created galaxies and black holes and mountains and whales, to whom eternity is but a moment, much less our minute lives. The greater our understanding of life and the universe, the greater our appreciation of the mystery of God. Is it even possible to have “a personal relationship” with such a God?  And when we say we do, are we being presumptive?

This was often Israel’s problem, and sometimes our problem today: we assume too much, we remake God in our image, we think God is dependent upon us, rather than us upon God. Whenever we think we “own” God, our thinking about God becomes perverted, as does our worship and conduct.

This is where the second notable concept – Israel’s prophetic tradition, kicks in.  This prophetic tradition, reflected in Psalm 50 (and also powerfully in the Isaiah text we read today) addresses us, calls us back to proper respect for and dependence upon God, and boldly points out the shortcomings in our worship and conduct. The text we read from Isaiah is a classic example:

“Cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

As for the charges against our worship and offerings (8 – 15), like many Psalms, Psalm 50 contains verses which – once we hear them – become part of our library of Biblical classics. For example, who can forget how Psalm 50 reminds us that God doesn’t need sacrifice:

“I do not take more bullocks from your farms,

nor goats from among your herds.

For I own all the beasts of the forest,

beasts in their thousands on my hills.

I know all the birds on the mountains;

all that moves in the field belongs to me.

Were I hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and its fullness is mine.”

While I am personally thankful no animal sacrifice is involved in our worship (I would not be here if it did), we still sometimes think about our worship as Israel once though about theirs.  As though God “needs” our worship and our offerings, our stewardship drives and capital campaigns, just the way we do them, and, after all, no other way is as good as ours?  And we forget – as Psalm 50 reminds us – that all true worship – regardless of HOW we do it – beings and ends with thanksgiving, as the one essential God seeks. Gratitude is all God really asks for.

God summoned the earth into being, is surrounded by glory, created us from dust, breathed breath into our lungs, and gave us the greatest gift ever, the gift of short, finite, precious life; are we thankful for it? Or do we spend our time thinking and talking and arguing about things that don’t really matter? Do we really believe God cares about English as the only language/The United Methodist Book of Discipline/The Book of Worship/The United Methodist Hymnal/The New Revised Standard Translation/Central United Methodist Church, and our pew in it, anywhere nearly as much as we do?  Really?

All these things have their place, as long as we do not forget their purpose. They are tools and pointers, symbols and gifts God has given us, for the ordering of our worship and the shaping of our lives. If we must have them, let us remember that the ones who truly honor God are the ones whose worship is thanksgiving, whose communion is thanksgiving, whose music is thanksgiving, whose Bibles and Books and even orders of worship, all read and sing thanksgiving. Even in itself, simple thanksgiving would be enough.

While we did not read today the verses (16 – 21) of the other charges God brings against God’s people, a failure of conduct, Psalm 50 makes clear that there is a connection between the way we think about God, the way we worship, and the way we treat each other. Walter Brueggemann points this out in a way that should give us pause:

“When God is not honored but reduced to a household idol, when the first tablet of commandments is not taken seriously, it is certain that the second tablet of neighbor relations will lose its power and compelling authority. When the holiness of God is trivialized, human life will also be cheapened. When human life is cheapened, the saving power of the holy God will not be known.” (Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, p. 91)

On the other hand, as Psalm 50 concludes:

“A sacrifice of praise gives me honor,

and to one whose way is blameless,

I will show the salvation of God.”

Why does Psalm 50 take us through this courtroom drama? Not to scare us silly, but to remind us who and whose we are: children of God, fashioned with God’s own hands, filled with God’s own breath, reflecting God’s own glory.

Likewise, it reminds us who we are as a church: a creation of God, the Body of Christ fashioned with God’s own hands, filled with God’s Holy Breath, reflecting God’s own glory. It is to remind people like us and churches like ours, that (thankfully) it is not the blood of bulls and goats, not liturgically correct services, not what we do, but but gratitude that is all we really need, to send us out of the courtroom, striding toward salvation, singing God’s praise.

This court room drama was never about winning or losing or justice or punishment. It is about God’s love for us – God’s mercy, saving from the small things we fixate upon, until finally they trivialize our lives and tear us apart. (Quinn G. Caldwell, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, pp. 323 – 327)

That young woman we saw at the beginning? Through her courtroom experience, I hope she learned a valuable lesson.  And us – through our courtroom experience in Psalm 50 – I hope we have as well.

And through all we do – in our worship and in our lives – may God be ever thanked and praised.  Amen.


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