Bible Study 11.14.11, 11.17.11, 11.20.11 For Worship 11.27.11

Bible Study 11.14.11, 11.17.11, 11.20.11 For Worship 11.27.11

Psalm 148

Psalm 148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights!

2 Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!

3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!

4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.

6 And he established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds which cannot be passed.

7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

10 Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

12 Young men and maidens together, old men and children!

13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the LORD!

COMMENTARY

Just three weeks ago our scripture was the quintessential offering of praise Psalm 150. Psalm 148 was one of the classic songs of the Temple. The images are powerful metaphors and may hearken back to a more primitive period of Hebrew religion and liturgy. The heavens are called to give praise, the angels and then sun, moon, and stars are called upon to give praise. Many religions in the Ancient Near East worshipped the sun, moon, planets and stars. (Note that Judaism still uses a lunar calendar.) All of nature is called upon to offer praise to God, very much like Psalm 150 calls upon everything that breathes to offer praise. Psalm 148 also calls upon kings, princes and rulers to offer praise to humble themselves in the presence of the Creator of the Universe. So much of Near Eastern religion confused the King with god verse 11 then is an important departure from the theology of many of Israel’s neighbors.

Of some interest is verse 14 and the expression “raised up a horn for his people.” This is probably a colloquialism in the Hebrew referencing how an animal, particularly an ibex or a mountain goat will hold their horn high as a sign of strength. One Biblical Scholar has suggested a possible sexual reference, but since this particular use of the raised horn is in reference to God, the possibility seems somewhat remote. Translating colloquialisms from one language to another can be very difficult. Just imagine trying to explain to a non-English speaker the meaning of “now that’s a horse of another color.”

When we studied Psalm 150 we talked about the relationship between praise and remembering, praise and grief. As we come to the beginning of Advent I am proposing we look at the relationship between pride and praise.

If there is any message in the incarnation, the meaning of the word made flesh is that God enters the world humbly, as a new born infant, born to a poor homeless peasant family, with no money for the motel. We wouldn’t give a poor family like that a second glance. God is humble, what’s our problem?

The Greeks called it hubris. The church labeled it one of the seven deadly sins. The ancient Hebrews saw pride as a source of personal undoing: Proverbs 16:18-19 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” “Proverbs 29:23 A man’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Much of the “craziness” in our lives is rooted in the inflation of our egos. Robert Moore describes our problem in his book Facing the Dragon:

Once you begin to understand what a great struggle against infantile grandiosity we all have, then you will understand how important prayer is, and liturgy, and active imagination. We need creative ritualization. We really blew it when we depreciated the importance of ritual in the Enlightenment. We need ritualized containment to help people manage unregulated grandiosity.

Another resource for regulating grandiose energies is a regular participation in communal worship and liturgy. This recommendation of prayer is perhaps my most radical suggestion. People who have a regular prayer life ritual handle their compulsions and impulsivity better than those who do not. They are less fragmented than those who do not pray regularly. Prayer is any spiritual discipline that enables you to be connected with the basic energies of life and keeps you from an unconscious fantasy that you yourself are God.

Prayers of Confession are a form of liturgy that can help us to “confess” our hubris.

We confess, O God, that the world we live in is bounded by our own self-interest. We have put fences around it to try to make it manageable. We have tried to put you in little boxes to limit your influence in our lives. We have feared change and refused insight. We have selected what pleases us, and we have ignored what could mature us. We have created patterns of life that are encrusted with pride and self-will. We have failed to acknowledge your spirit because you challenged our worship of ourselves. Forgive us, and return us to humility and sanity. Help us to know that you are God and we are not. Amen.

As important as confession may be for our souls, prayers of praise are another important ritual of containment for our egos. When we focus on a higher power outside of ourselves and offer praise we are acknowledging that God is God and we are not. So let us spend time amidst the marvels of nature, and offer praise for all that God has made.

LET’S ASK QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. To whom is praise to be directed?

2. Who and what are directed to offer praise?

3. According to the Psalm who created the heavens?

4. What elements of weather are directed to offer praise?

5. What animals are directed to offer praise?

6. What plants are directed to offer praise?

7. How many different kinds of human beings are told to offer praise?

8. What meaning do you find in, “He has raised up a horn for his people?”

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. What metaphors would you include in a poem praising God?

2. What do you think was the purpose of including the heavenly bodies in the Psalm?

3. What is your astrological sign?

4. What weather phenomena do you find most powerful in thinking about God?

5. How would you change verse 11 to be more reflective of our life together in a modern democracy?

6. What do you think is the most difficult aspect of containing pride?

7. What rituals do you find most helpful in your spiritual life?

8. Could you write a praise poem?

9. If you were to compose your own personal prayer of confession, what would be the most important elements of that prayer?

 

 

 

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