Summary: The second sermon in the Psalms series. This sermon talks about four examples of psalms of orientation. It relies heavily on "The Message of the Psalms" by Walter Brueggemann.
Psalms: Songs of Orientation
Last week we began exploring the message of the Psalter. We said that the book is a whole and has an overarching message. It is broken down into five books. The first four end with a doxology, praising God. The final (fifth) book within the Psalter is a crescendo of Hallelujah and the final words of Psalms are "let everything at breathes praise the Lord!" and simply "Hallelujah!"
The Psalter opens with a psalm that praises meditation on its contents with the promise that those who do will have a good and prosperous life. They will be like a tree planted by rivers of water, but the ungodly (meaning those who do not meditate on the Psalter) will be like chaff, driven with the wind.
There is a lot that happens in the Psalter in between the promise of prosperity to those who meditate and delight in its words and the abandonment to exhilarating praise that ends the final book of the Psalter. There are psalms of orientation. These talk about life and creation as Genesis 1-2 describes it, as good, and just, and equitable. As Moses says at the end of the creation hymn, "God saw everything that He had made and behold it was very good." Then there are psalms that question this, psalms of disorientation. They lament that things do not seem to be working as they should and they engage with God as prayers of complaint. Finally, there are surprising psalms of reorientation. They talk about things becoming better again. This is the pattern of the story that we exist in: good creation, death, burial, resurrection, and new creation.
Psalms of Orientation:
Tonight we will talk about the psalms of orientation. These are psalms that were composed, preserved, and relied upon by a community of faithful people. We write songs and poetry based on our experience of God and life. The people who wrote these psalms were experiencing their faith as satisfying and important. The voice of these psalms is one where the speakers are settled and confident. There is no overwhelming anxiety.
There are five representative types of psalms in this category. They are descriptive hymns. They are very even-keeled in their mood. There is no trouble or threat in them. One might call the type of faith expressed in the "creation faith." They view life and creation as a reliable, stable, life-giving system. Chaos is not present. Life is lived under a "sacred canopy." These are the types of psalms that were probably composed by the well-off, politically significant, and economically secure. It is easy to sing these types of psalms when all is well. Psalms of Orientation also include psalms that suggest that the system of retribution built into the fabric of creation always works. Doing bad is punished and doing good is rewarded. These are Torah psalms, wisdom psalms, creation psalms, and blessing psalms. They present a well-ordered world.
They are beautiful, but as we read them we must remember that life is not so grand for everyone. We should keep this in mind before offering them as all the Bible has to say about life, especially to those less fortunate than ourselves. We should also be careful in making judgments about those who are not experiencing life as oriented in a good way. Creation faith may not always be the noblest type of faith. Those who have only experienced the best of life may look in disdain on those who have not. Job's friends judged him in his moments of disorientation, not realizing that they did not know the whole story. Jesus's opening words to the sermon on the mount tell us that there will be an eschatological reversal where the poor will be made rich and the afflicted will be comforted.
These psalms can offer comfort to those who are not experiencing the reign of God in their life situations. They can be pointed to and sung as confessions of faith that say, one day God will make everything right. This is the hope of the gospel.
Finally, there is something about connecting with the creation that gives us a sense of peace and wholeness. When God appears to Job in the closing chapter of the book, God simply points Job to the wonder of creation and its function and orderliness.
Songs of Creation:
These psalms look at the well-regulated and normal functioning of creation. These psalms do not need to be related necessarily to some religious insight. They are based on observing life as it is.
1. Psalm 145
Psalm 145 is one of the most representative statements of "Israel's joyous and grateful confidence in the Creator" (Brueggemann, 28). One of the first things to notice is that it is static in its descriptions of the world and what is true of it. What is true at the beginning of the psalm is true at the end. Creation can be counted on as it is. Many of the things in the psalm could be rearranged without disrupting the intent except that it is an acrostic. Each verse begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is as though the author is praising God for the wonders of creation, from A to Z!