It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Restore Us, a Reflection on Psalm 80

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Store up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine that we may be saved.

We can read this ancient prayer and deduce the circumstances under which it was first voiced. We can think of times that the people of Israel depended on the guidance of the Lord as a flock of sheep depended on their shepherd. We recognize the names of Rachel's sons. We can recall the various times in their history that they were far from their homes or the times when they were at home but that home was under attack by enemies. And, recognizing and remembering their difficulties, we can recognize and remember that in those difficulties, they turned to the Lord for rescue.

We, their descendants, can also read this ancient prayer in the midst of our own contemporary disruptions and troubles. And, we, like them, can voice our recognition of the power and concern of God. And, we, like them, can gather to ask for God's help.

"O Lord God, how long will you be angry?" this psalm asks. This lament is rather frank--the people are unhappy, their neighbors have scorn for them, their enemies are laughing at them.

They admit their despair, not pretending that things are all right. But they don't accept it as permanent. They continue to pray:

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

The original hearers of this song were the people of Israel facing being overcome by the Assyrian army. They turn to the Lord, "You brought a vine out of Egypt, you planted it in a place you had prepared for it. The vine flourished. O Lord, why have you turned against your vine. Why have you broken down the walls that protected us so that just anybody could reach in and take our grapes? O God, we pray to you. Come back to us. Restore us and this time, we'll be faithful to you."

The psalmist is attributing all good and bad to the Lord. Everything that happens through human actions begins with God. We are being punished because we deserve to be. Even after our sins, we can expect God to care for us and to restore us to well-being.

The Dallas Morning News has a section, Texas Faith, that  discusses matters of religion, politics, and culture. About three years ago, they took  a break from politics because that week had had so many examples of human suffering large and small: Hurricane Ike affects millions. And a 17-month-old boy whose family escaped the storm in Dallas is killed in an accident. Trains collide in California, killing dozens. Suicide bombers in Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq murder innocent bystanders. The genocide in Darfur continues unabated. Etc etc etc.

Here's the panel's discussion: How faith explains suffering

Lectio Divina: Psalm 80:14-15

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