Psalm 92:1–9; Isaiah 64,65; Colossians 4:10–1 Thessalonians 1:5a

Originally published 8/4/2017. Revised and updated 8/3/2019.

Psalm 92:1–9: Designated for the Sabbath day—and doubtless sung on the Sabbath throughout Jewish history—this psalm celebrates the act of worship. As far as the psalmist is concerned worship occurs both in the morning and evening. He also designates the appropriate musical instruments to accompany the choir:
It is good to acclaim the Lord
and to hymn to Your name, Most High,
to tell in the morning Your kindness,
Your faithfulness in the nights,
on ten-stringed instrument and on the lute,
on the lyre with chanted sound. (2-4)

The impact of the act of worship on the worshipper is substantial because it causes one to reflect on God’s faithfulness, as well as his creation:
For You made me rejoice, Lord, through Your acts,
of the work of Your hands I sing in gladness. (5)

It is this very reflection on God’s kindness and faithfulness and the profundity of his works that makes us realize that he—not we—is the center of the universe. As the psalmist implies, singing the psalms helps increase wisdom by putting the acts of the ungodly into their proper perspective:
The brutish man does not know,
nor does the fool understand this:
the wicked spring up like grass,
and all the wrongdoers flourish—
to be destroyed for all time. (6-8)

These are immensely encouraging verses as we witness—and endure—the venality and gross stupidity going on in Washington DC (and for you residents of California—in Sacramento) among our so-called leaders.

Today’s reading concludes on an enthusiastic note:
And You are on high forever, O Lord. (9)

We can be grateful that among the noise and hubbub, as well as the constant cultural refrain that denies his very existence, God still reigns.

Isaiah 64, 65: Isaiah wishes for something that I think every believer wishes for: a theophany when things seem hopeless:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
    so that the mountains would quake at your presence—

to make your name known to your adversaries,
    so that the nations might tremble at your presence! (64:1,2)

Isaiah goes on to describes his—and our—feelings of discouragement at God’s apparent absence. It feels like God gave up on us because the world has given up on him:
There is no one who calls on your name,
    or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have delivered  us into the hand of our iniquity. (64:7)

But then as now, and despite our frustrations, we must remember who is is Creator and who are God’s creatures, as the poet famously reminds us:
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand. (64:8)

Of course most of us persist in wrongly imagining ourselves as the potter fully in control of our destinies. And God’s silence today is just as frustrating as it was for Isaiah. Just as the temple had been destroyed, so it seems our very civilization teeters on the brink of destruction—and still God remains silent:
and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord?
    Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely? (64:11b, 12)

We rightly wonder what God is thinking as he looks down on the tumult and destruction that humans have created. The prideful folly of our humanity has gotten us into this fix and we rightly cannot expect God to bail us out. After a brief moment of thanking God, we would simply resume our sinful ways. After all, we have the back and forth history of Old Testament Israel as a prime example of people corrupting themselves and then wanting God’s rescue.

Isaiah’s frustration comes to the fore in chapter 65. His prophetic words have been ignored:
I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
    to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
    to a nation that did not call on my name. (65:1)

It’s an enormous frustration to Isaiah as he writes how God witnesses the hypocritical stupidity of the people’s false religions:
a people who provoke me
    to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
    and offering incense on bricks; (65:3)

A great image: offering incense on bricks is symbolic of our own idols that in the end are simply bricks.

Basically, God plans to do away with these people who have drifted far from him:
...because they offered incense on the mountains
    and reviled me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
    full payment for their actions.” (65:7)

But God will not punish everyone. As always, he will spare and bless a faithful remnant:
so I will do for my servants’ sake,
    and not destroy them all.
I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
    and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
my chosen shall inherit it,
    and my servants shall settle there.” (65:8b, 9)

But as for the majority that have abandoned God, he will in turn abandon them:
I will destine you to the sword,
    and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter;
because, when I called, you did not answer,
    when I spoke, you did not listen,
but you did what was evil in my sight,
    and chose what I did not delight in. (65:12)

At this point, things turn apocalyptic as God promises a brand new creation to the remnant of believers. The old creation will not merely become a distant memory, rather, it will be forgotten altogether:
For I am about to create new heavens
    and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
    or come to mind. (65:17)

I suspect the author of Revelation was familiar with this passage that describes a perfect world, if not heaven itself:
No more shall there be in it
    an infant that lives but a few days,
    or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
    and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

They shall not labor in vain,
    or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord
    and their descendants as well.” (65:20, 23)

This is indeed a blessed hope for us since we have become those very heirs through Jesus Christ (and what is explained at great length in the epistle to the Hebrews).

Colossians 4:10–1 Thessalonians 1:5a: Paul’s letter to Colossae concludes with a remarkable list of people who are with Paul. As a special bonus in addition to the names, we are given hints about these people themselves and/or what they are doing:

  • There’s a fellow prisoner named Aristarchus.
  • Aristarchus, Mark and Justus are the only Christian Jews with Paul.
  • Epaphrus, apparently from Colossae, “is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf.” (4:12)
  • Epaphrus has not only worked for the Colossians, but the Laodiceans as well.
  • Luke is the “beloved physician” and Demas is Luke’s and Paul’s friend.
  • And a certain Archippus is called upon to “complete the task that you have received in the Lord.” (4:17) Would that we knew what that task was.
  • The letter needs to be passed on to Laodicea after being read to the Colossians
  • There was apparnetly a letter from Laodicea Received by Paul  that raised some of the same issues as at Colossae, which Paul has addressed in his letter.
  • Depsite his enthusiasm, Paul asks that everyone “Remember my chains.” (18) He is, after all, a prisoner of the Roman state.

The letter to the Thessalonians, which is thought by theologians to be Paul’s earliest letter, opens with the usual compliments about its recipients, who are also the subject of Paul’s prayers: “ We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:2,3)

Interestingly, it appears those at Thessalonica became believers not just through Paul’s sermons and teaching, ” but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”  (5) Which I take to be some kind of miraculous occurrence. As usual, we are left without the details…

With the introductions taken care of, Paul will soon get down to business. Both the conclusion to Colossians and preamble to 1 Thessalonians reminds us that Paul had a very human side. He valued friendships and was quick to spread credit among his associates. Unlike some self-centered preachers today, Paul did not claim all the glory for himself.

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