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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 81

Sing aloud to God our strength;
   shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
   the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
   at the full moon, on our festal day.
For it is a statute for Israel,
   an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph,
   when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a voice I had not known:
“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
   your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you;
   I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
   I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
   O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
   you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God,
   who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
   Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

“But my people did not listen to my voice;
   Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
   to follow their own counsels.
O that my people would listen to me,
   that Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
   and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
   and their doom would last forever.
I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
   and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (NRSV)

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has classified the psalms in the categories of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Psalm 81 contains elements of all three. Verses 6–10 recite the previous saving deeds of God, lifting up memory of well-being. God rescued the people of Israel in their distress, liberated them from oppression, and provided plenty for them. They were oriented in their identity as a people who belong to God.

Then verses 11–12 describe disorientation. God’s people made a mess of things for themselves because they did not listen or submit to God but went their own way, following their own designs. God let them have what they stubbornly wanted, even though other gods cannot save. In fact, refusal to listen to God is the path back to enslavement.

But new orientation appears in the final verses. God is amazingly merciful and does not want to leave Israel to its own fate. God expresses a wistful urging, a deep yearning, inviting God’s people again to enter into a new life together. This renewal of a covenant relationship could happen through their faithful listening and living in obedience to God. It would be marked by political liberation for an oppressed people and economic abundance: crops will grow, famine and shortage will end. Brueggemann notes, “And the price is simply the listening that concedes there is no other source of satisfaction.”

Merciful God, we confess that we have followed our own agendas instead of listening to you. As a nation we have threatened or perpetuated war just to save face and not be humiliated. We have exploited the earth in short-sighted ways instead of acting for the good of at least the next seven generations. Forgive us. Thank you for not giving up on us. Make us new. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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