Pentecost, Psalms

Enough to go around

LORD, you have done so many things!
You made them all so wisely!
The earth is full of your creations!

The skunk in our backyard was out this morning, early. And while I hope that eventually she will be a displaced homemaker, for today she is my neighbor. My backyard is her front stoop, her entry to the world from the abandoned groundhog den under my human neighbor’s garage.

All your creations wait for you
to give them their food on time.

We don’t know yet how many children she is feeding. I only know she seems harried, working late into her night and rising before the sun goes down. They are hungry and growing, and they are her responsibility.

When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled completely full!

Here in the house, Hoagie is up early, too, roused as I move from window to window to watch Mama Skunk. He is waiting for his breakfast, and he stands by the bag of kibble, a suitably gigantic bag for a big dog. He is also a portly dog, and his rations have been cut. He stands by the bag, hopeful. Maybe today there will be more. Maybe today!

But when you hide your face, they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to dust.

Not today, Hoagie. You are provided for, but still on a diet.

We’ve all felt like Hoagie, sometimes, wondering if there will be enough of God’s goodness to go around.

When you let loose your breath, they are created,
and you make the surface of the ground brand-new again.

I watch the skunk. She works so hard. Behind our house is the stump of an old silver maple. It had seven segments coming off one central trunk, each one a good-sized tree in its own right. I moved into the house in 1998, a few months after the big ice storm. When a powerful thunderstorm struck that August, big pieces of the tree came down, and in our small neighborhood, that meant they came down in other people’s yards, on other people’s garages. I had the tree cut down, but removing the stump, five feet in diameter, cost too much money. Fourteen years later, it is a rich feeding ground for Mama Skunk. She digs around it and under it before scooting under our gate.

Then she is off, through a different neighbor’s backyard, tail above the Forget-Me-Nots.

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive.

(The italicized lines are Psalm 104:24, 27-30, 33 Common English Bible)

Common English Bible, Easter 7B, Faith, Psalm 1


Psalm 1 is sort of awful and wonderful, all at the same time. It exhorts us to live by the law of the Lord and promises that things will go well with us if we do. Don’t sit with the scoffers, it warns, because things are surely going to suck for them.

For the righteous faithful, things sound better:

They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. (Ps 1:3, NRSV)

I haven’t always felt so fruitful as that, despite my best efforts to be faithful. Sometimes the streams of water, of grace, of love have seemed unreachably far away.

Agnes Leung

Today I read this Psalm in a new translation, the Common English Bible, and I found something I needed to see. Here’s the fresh look at verse 3.

They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
which bears fruit at just the right time
and whose leaves don’t fade.
Whatever they do succeeds. (Ps 1:3, CEB)

RE-planted! I love it!

A tree can be transplanted, and while it’s not always successful, it is possible for a tree to thrive. The apple tree planted in my backyard came to us from a nursery, root ball in a burlap sack. It had already been growing somewhere else, clearly. I thought it was simply a flowering tree and looked forward to enjoying its blossoms. But in my backyard it found a home and sunk down roots and even gave forth unexpected apples.

Of course the trick is we have to be willing to risk ourselves, to choose to be transplanted, away from the things and people and habits of mind and heart that separate us from God.

The truly happy person
doesn’t follow wicked advice,
doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful. (Ps 1:1, CEB)

So it takes more than passive, nice, safe faithfulness. And don’t kid yourself; being active and rigorous and discerning involves risk, because it upsets other people who like us the way we always were before. Loving the Lord’s instruction (again CEB) requires an energetic commitment. We have to choose away from the disrespectful, the road of sinners, the wicked advice. We have to choose toward God. That’s when  we will find ourselves planted anew, by streams of water.

And maybe, just maybe, our leaves won’t fade.

Psalms, Revised Songbird Version, The Bible, Worship

Word work

For the past year, I’ve been trying to put the Psalms into words we can more easily say and understand, mostly to use as Calls to Worship. I like to use the week’s Psalm that way, but I recognize that some of the words typically and rightly used to translate them are not heard instantly as anything other than “churchy” sounding.

One great example is “ascribe.”

“Ascribe to the Lord,” says the Psalmist. Some people will certainly think of the word “scribe,” which is to say someone who writes things down, but even that is an old-fashioned word, not in common use. Imagine sitting in a pew and reading that word when you’re not a Bible student. (Honestly, isn’t that most of the people in our pews, UCC people? Other Protestants, Catholics, your mileage may vary.)

A-scribe. Unless you’re whipping out your smart phone to look it up quickly, which you’re most likely not, the word is going right by you, and it’s just one more pretty-sounding piece of church blah-blah-blah.

(Not that some of us don’t like church to be just that way, pretty-sounding blah-blah-blah. Pretty-sounding blah-blah-blah is SAFE.)

Ascribe to the Lord means Give God the credit for whatever the thing is. Or, you know, impute, because that would be more easily understood by the general population. It means “attribute or think of as belonging, as a quality or characteristic.”

“Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.” (Psalm 96:7, New Revised Standard Version)

So give credit to God for having glory and strength.

This week I looked at the Common English Bible, which I mostly love, and I used it as a model for our Call to Worship (granted, I eliminated male pronouns, which required some other adjustments, too), but I’m not satisfied with the closing line and wish I had done something different.

One: Give to the LORD, all families of the nations—give to the LORD glory and power!
All: Give to the LORD the glory due to God’s name!

I added the “to” in the last line for clarity, even though I don’t like the meter, and as I say, I’m not satisfied. But at least that rendering of verse 8 in the response line makes the point that we’re giving God God’s due.

Anyway, next week, I hope I have time to lean less heavily on the CEB and work up a Revised Songbird Version instead, even though I mostly love it.