Psalm 81:1-5; Deuteronomy 12; Luke 7:1-17

Psalm 81:1-5: Perhaps the Moravians planned it this way–who knows–but the celebratory opening verses of this Psalm certainly seem appropriate for July 4. (Only there were no actual fireworks in the psalmist’s day.) In vivid contrast to the somber anguish of the preceding psalm (80), this opening fairly brims with joy and celebration.  We are not only to sing, but to shout: “Sing gladly to God our strength, / shout out to the God of Jacob.” (2) This sounds more like a sporting event than “church.”

Once again, the psalms disprove the theory that God doesn’t like noisy praise and singing; that reverence has somehow become conflated with respectful silence.  Here, there is an entire orchestra that accompanies the singing and shouting: “Lift your voices in song and beat the drum, / the lyre is sweet with the lute. / Blast the ram’s horn on the new moon,” (3,4a)

Also, extremely unchurch-like is the reason for celebration: it’s the new moon, which Alter informs us was a widely-practiced festival in the ancient Middle East. What gives here? Isn’t worshipping the moon–new or full–a pagan practice?  Apparently not, because in the very next verse we learn that it’s “…an ordinance in Israel, / a rule of the God of Jacob. / A decree He declared it for Israel.” (5) Ordinance. Rule. Decree. Seems pretty clear that it’s time to celebrate.

Not only that, it hearkens back to the time Israel was in Egypt and God came to rescue them: “when He sallied forth against Egypt’s land / — a language I knew not, I heard.” (6)

So, since it’s an ordinance, a rule, a decree, let’s lose our Victorian reverence and sing at the top of our lungs!

Deuteronomy 12:  The order is given: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you are to dispossess worshipped their gods— on the high mountains and in the valleys and under every lush tree.” (2,3)  The reason is clear: remove all the possible places that God could be worshipped, including in nature(“under the lush tree”) in order that God is worshipped in a single place, which of course is Jerusalem, so “to set His name there, to make it dwell, you shall seek it and come there.” (5)  In short, God is saying, “I will be worshipped in one place and one place only, not all over the countryside.”

This command is one reason why we have sacred spaces, aka churches and cathedrals, admittedly all over the world, not just in Jerusalem (although that location obviously continues to hold a special place for Jews: “Next year in Jerusalem!”).

The chapter also deals with sacrifices made at that one place.  While there are many burnt offerings wherein the entire animal is consumed, other offerings do not involve the whole animal.  What is left may be consumed.  “Only wherever your appetite’s craving may be you shall slaughter and eat meat, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that He has given you within all your gates.” (15) This is God’s generosity.  While God may seem all-demanding, unlike the other local small-g gods, He is not all-consuming.  God continues to provide ample provision not just for our spiritual needs, but our physical ones, as well.

There is only one prohibition: not to consume the animal’s blood. Blood has special significance, since it was seen literally as the life of the animal.  For us, of course, blood means only one thing: we have been washed “whiter than snow” in the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.

Luke 7:1-17: The story of the healing of the generous centurion’s son at Capernaum must have had enormous resonance for Luke’s gentile audience.  Not only did Jesus minster–and heal–the gentile’s son, Jesus is “amazed” at the soldier’s faith: “and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (9)  That Jesus could heal without even approaching the son was another remarkable aspect because it meant to Luke’s hearers–and to us–that Jesus can indeed reach out and heal across space, and now across time.

In the story of the widow of Nain, Luke illuminates yet another dimension of Jesus’ healing ministry. Luke is careful to point out that it was the widow’s son who died, which means that in that culture she would be condemned to a life of penury.  While it is the son who receives the physical healing, it is the mother who is completely healed and whose life is in  essence restored as much as her son’s: “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”” (13) Notice that Luke at this moment calls Jesus “Lord.”  This is a clear indication that Jesus our Lord has compassion on ll of us, and will touch the bier carrying our sins, bind up our wounds and comfort us until we can stop crying.

Neither of these miracles is confined to that particular space and time.  They are miracles which come to Luke’s audience–and to us on this very day in this place.

Speak Your Mind