Yesterday we sought to understand God more deeply by reflecting on David’s prayer to God. Today we turn our attention to the public arena of Israel’s liturgical service. Similar to David’s praise, we can further our understanding of God by exploring what this liturgy reveals about Israel’s communal understanding of God.
Psalm 146 praises God’s commitment to bring justice to the oppressed: two-thirds of the verses praise God for being with the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the prisoner. In this hymn of praise people celebrate God’s constant upheaval of power structures.
Alternatively, Psalm 147 focuses on the praise of God for strength, order, and understanding. The last half of the hymn claims how God has blessed Israel, and, in effect, enabled their current power structure.
Walter Brueggemann, one of the premier prophetic theologians of our time, insists that we recognize these distinct types of praise, as they have drastically different impacts on our relationship with God.
If we offer praise to God that recognizes God’s commitment to lift up the lowly and to care for those who have been forgotten, we develop a readiness for everything (including ourselves) to change. We can see this readiness at work in the raw vulnerability of 12-Step programs, which capture this abandonment and trust in God’s healing by centering recovery stories in their liturgy.
However, singing to a God who has established us as a great nation and will maintain a sense of order in our midst makes us reticent to disturb this order. A hyper-example of this sort of liturgy happens in “prosperity gospel” churches where the liturgy revolves around the idea that God will bless you wildly if you only obey and trust in God’s power. This culture can lead to an unwillingness to question any authority, clerical or political.
Brueggemann encourages us to avoid this type of complacency by keeping stories of renewal and rescue at the center of our worship services. Let us preach and sing of the ways God has healed us and is working to heal our world today. Let us tell of a God that is always making things new. Let us stir our hearts to be open to what such a God might do in our world today.
Prayer: God you are always moving; keep us open to what you might do.
Reflection: Reflect on the worship services you attend. Do the songs and teachings lift up God’s ongoing transformation of our world, or reminders to trust in God’s provision? How could you incorporate the telling of redemption stories into shared worship?
[Follow Natalie's reflections throughout Lent on her personal blog!]
Natalie Finstad began her professional career as a community organizing fellow with Life Together, a program for young adults in the Episcopal Church. Here, Natalie experienced how organizing can simultaneously seek collective justice and develop an individual awareness of agency.
This inspired Natalie to lead organizing movements in Boston, New Zealand and Nairobi, Kenya. In Kenya, Natalie was an Episcopal Missionary and worked with young adults to found Tatua Kenya. Most recently, Natalie was the Executive Director for the Leadership Development Initiative. Natalie worked extensively as a teacher and consultant with organizations such as: The Harvard Kennedy School, St. Paul’s Richmond, Planned Parenthood, and the Global Episcopal Missionary Network. Natalie was a featured speaker at TEDx Beacon Street.
Natalie is a postulant for the Diaconate in the Diocese of Massachusetts and an Episcopal Church Fellow. Natalie enjoys traveling, staying active, hosting dinner parties, and reading memoirs.
- The thumbnail art is a piece entitled Psalm 147 by Elena Hopsu.