Psalms Harp3I am delighted to be preaching at all services this weekend, October 12-13, 2013, at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. This important, historic church is now under the strong leadership of my dear friend Greg Waybright. What a vibrant place it is. I want to invite friends and SPU alums in the area to join us for one of these services. It would be great to see you.

As I was preparing this sermon, intending to speak on the biblical poets of exile, I ran into these comments by N. T. Wright in his marvelous new book The Case For The Psalms: Why They Are Essential. Wright claims not to be an authority on who wrote the Psalms, but nevertheless,

It seems wisest to think of the Psalms, in their present form, being collected and shaped in the time of exile in Babylon (beginning in the sixth century BC), when paradoxically the people who found it unthinkable to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land may have found that actually singing those songs (and writing some new ones) was one of the few things that kept them sane and gave them hope.

The reference here is from Psalm 137, the poem that has become so important to me over the last couple of years.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept

as we remembered Zion.

On the willow trees there we hung up our [harps],

[but]there those who had carried us captive

asked us to sing them a song,

our captors called on us to be joyful:

‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? (Psalms 137:1-4, REB)

Indeed, in Babylon, this was a time for weeping, but this poem says something surprising. Even as we find ourselves in exile, the surrounding culture recognizes us for our joy, for the joy of our song, for our joyous way of living, for the joy we find in the goodness of God. Apparently the Babylonian captors heard something radically different in the songs of God’s people. There was a joy they apparently did not know. They wanted to hear their song.

So even in our own discouraging days, our own moment of exile in the twenty-first century, how do we find this joy? Wright goes on to say “it is my suggestion that the Psalms will gently but firmly transform our understandings” of who we are, where we find ourselves, where we are headed. God’s people have turned to the Psalms over the millennia in just this way, to reorient ourselves, to discover again that we live in God’s world, even as we sometimes struggle in hostile environments of exile.

As we enter into this daily, ancient discipline of reading (or singing) the Psalms, we will be enabled to see things as God sees them. The Psalms do this, says Wright, “in order that we may be changed, transformed, so that we look at the world, one another, and ourselves in a radically different way, which we believe to be God’s way.”

I have ventured into this new way of reading the Psalms, daily, with this new openness to be transformed into “a radically different way” of seeing my life and our world. This is critically important for people in exile, for times of discouragement, for people who feel wronged and betrayed. All the troubles are there, but always, we are gently but firmly reoriented to see again God’s amazing love and comfort and justice. This is why we sing a song of joy.

I am eager to engage in this spiritual practice of the millennia. I want to be changed in this way. I will have more to say on specific Psalms along the way.

I’ll see you in Pasadena if you can make it. Watch the sermon online if you can’t. Let me know what you think.