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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, September 3, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Psalm 149

Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song,
   his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
   let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
   making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
   he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
   let them sing for joy on their couches.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
   and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
   and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters
   and their nobles with chains of iron,
to execute on them the judgment decreed.
   This is glory for all his faithful ones.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

Because supposedly I know a lot about this particular book of the Bible, I tend to think of the last songs in the book of Psalms as all being “especially praise-y” (oh, the hubris). Imagine my surprise when I turned to Psalm 149 in the New American Bible (my first stop as it’s my go-to translation) and the title given was “Invitation to Glorify God with Song and Sword.” The NRSV’s title is softer, “Praise for God’s Goodness,” but the two versions are pretty much identical in verses 6–9 with their talk of “two-edged swords,” “vengeance on the nations,” “punishment of the peoples,” “fetters,” and “chains of iron.”

So much for “especially praise-y.”

Or maybe it’s not the kind of praise I’m comfortable with, the kind that’s easy and familiar and all-too-soon-forgotten.

Our society has begun a season of reckoning. Cultural institutions—churches, schools, government, professional sports, the entertainment industry—are being invited to honestly examine their pasts and especially their presents so that the sins of systemic and individual racism are addressed; some have embarked on these critically important and long-overdue efforts. There are attitudes and practices that need to be excised with the kind of precision a two-edged sword affords. As a middle-class white woman with privileges and powers that are anything but “God-given,” I need to fetter my tongue as I never have before so that I can listen more and better. Statues that glorified slave owners have tumbled down this summer, and our country has seemed to be finally at the point of looking at the long-lasting implications of keeping a segment of its population in literal and metaphorical chains of iron.

Though hopeful that this season will grow justice and reap a “more perfect union,” I know that it is also frustrating for many, painful for others, complicated for all. It is hard. But if we live this time right, we might just honor God—the God who always, always stands with the humble and oppressed—with new integrity and probity.

That would be the most authentic praise there is.

God of all, though the pandemic is keeping me from singing to you with my mouth, may my life be a psalm of praise. Lend me your two-edged sword so that I may discern truth and righteousness and cut out what is neither true nor right. Make me strong as iron in my commitment to my sisters and brothers, especially those I have overlooked or harmed. These things I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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