Friday, September 22, 2006

Let Those Saved By God Tell Their Story

Reading Psalm 106 last night, when the pattern struck me (you get used to reading something a certain way, you forget there are patterns in it; or maybe it's the translatsions)

Give thanks to the Lord of goodness,
for God is lasting love.

Let those saved by God tell their story:
how the Lord snatched them
from the oppressor's might,
gathering them from east and west,
from north and south.

They wandered through wasteland,
trekked over sands,
finding no city, no home.
Weak from hunger and thirst,
their lives were fading away.

Then they cried out to God,
who snatched them from danger,

leading them up a straight road
in a place they could settle

Let them celebrate God's love,
all the wonders revealed to them.

The Lord slaked their thirst
and filled their aching bellies.

There were some confined in darkness,
chained by suffering,
for they rejected God's word,
scorned the plan of the Most High.
Burdened by their misery
they fell with no one to help.

Then they cried out,
and God snatched them from danger,

shattering their fetters,
banishing the darkness.

Let them celebrate God's love
all the wonders revealed to them,

The Lord smashed iron bars
doors of bronze.

Disease struck down others,
for rebelling in their sin.
Sickened by food,
they almost died.

Then they cried out
and God snatched them from danger,

spoke a word of healing,
and kept them alive.

Let them celebrate God's love,
all the wonders revealed to them.

Let them offer a sacrifice of praise
and tell their story with joy.

Sailors went down to the sea,
traders on merchant ships,
and saw the works of the Lord,
all the wonders of the deep.

At God's command
a storm whipped up the waves,
high as the rolling clouds,
low as the fathomless depths.
Seafarers trembled,
lurching and reeling like drunks,
helpless without their skills.

Then they cried out,
and God snatched them from danger,
hushing the wind,
stilling the waters.
They rejoiced in the calm
as God brought them to port.

Let them celebrate God's love,
all the wonders revealed to them.

Let the assembly shout "Hallelujah"
and the elders sing praise in the temple.

God turns rivers into sand,
springs to thirsty ground,
rich earth to salt flats,
when evil dwells in a land.

But God turns deserts to flowing water,
dry land to fertile valleys,
and gives this place to the hungry
where they built their city.

They sow crops, plant vines,
and gather the harvest.
With God's blessing they prosper;
people and cattle increase.

But if they fail to prosper
and suffer oppression and pain,
God will scorn their leaders
and let the wander in chaos.
But God will lift up the poor,
shepherding them like flocks.

Good hearts, rejoice!
Evil mouths, be shut!
Let the wise listen
and wonder at God's great love.

Alright, so it's painfully obvious when it's pointed out. It just struck me, especially as I've been pondering bits of Mark recently. I'm set to preach on three consecutive Sundays in October, the longest stint of preaching I've done since 2001 (has it been that long? Where does the time go?). So, of course, I've been thinking about what to say. The last passage I'll preach on is the story of Bartimaeus. In my usual fashion, I picked up on the details of the story, hoping to find something interesting to say. And I noticed: a) Bartimaeus "cries out" to Jesus (well, we all knew that, didn't we?); and b) Jesus just says: "Okay, you have your sight back." Or something similar.

This last bit is important to me, because we humans love gestures. Harry Potter must brandish a wand and say the right words to get a spell to work. Although, really, it's a question of will. He must (this is obvious as the books progress) learn to discipline his will, to make will and desire one (the sub-text to the battle of Voldemort and Dumbledore in Order of the Phoenix, and a child's view of adults, who have, presumably, mastered such discipline). But we like gestures: Magneto wiggles his fingers, Jean Gray scowls, Jessica Alba (Sue Storm) hurls her "force field" by sweeping it out of her arm through her fingertips. Our will is usually extended through our hands, so we expect a gesture to complete the release, or transfer, of power. But Jesus doesn't mutter in another tongue here (Talitha cum) or spit in the dirt and rub it on the beggar's eyes (John has his reasons for telling his semeia story that way). He just says, basically: "Okay. It's done." A small thing. But, like John's story, Mark has his reasons for telling it this way.

Those reasons appear in Psalm 106. Not as a direct corollary, but as part of the understanding of who God is, and God's relationship to humanity. This verse is the most direct example, although it could apply to any of the healings:

Then they cried out
and God snatched them from danger,
spoke a word of healing,
and kept them alive.
Notice, too, that all of the healings are reversals: from death to life (the little girl to whom Jesus says "Talitha cum"); from blindness to sight; from lame to dancing. Rivers in the desert; fertile ground that was a wasteland. And all this at a word. God speaks, and there is light. God speaks, and a world is created, watered, fertile, populated. And when people cry out, God hears!

Something worth remembering today. Perhaps more of God's people need to cry out, eh?

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