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January 15 lesson: Praise God the Provider

January 09, 2017
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Praise God the Provider

Winter Quarter: Creation – A Divine Cycle
Unit 2: Praise from and for God’s Creation


Sunday school lesson for the week of January 15, 2017
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers


Lesson scripture: Psalm 65: 1-2; 5; 9-13
Background Scripture: Psalm 65; 67: 6-7

We love music of many varieties – classical and bluegrass, easy listening and hymns. Many other genres can touch both heart and mind. The Psalms are indeed “Songs of the Heart,” and Psalm 65 touches many chords that resonate within us about God and the work of God’s hands. Please read the entire Psalm, not just the verses designated for this lesson. When you leave out verses, it’s like leaving out stanzas of a hymn – you miss something the author is saying! Even better, read it out loud!

Psalm 65 begins, appropriately, on a strong note of praise. Three times the phrase “to you” is repeated: The first, “to you in Zion,” the mountain of God in Jerusalem; the second, with assurance “to you vows shall be performed;” and finally, “to you all flesh shall come,” a reminder Yahweh is God of all – not just the Jews. Remember, when Jesus cleansed the Temple he declared, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations,” quoting from Isaiah 56:13. All three references “to you” point to the faithful nature and character of the Almighty One being praised.

The universality of the passage is important in an age when we are more likely to exclude than include those God loves. At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon prayed explicitly for foreigners, “so that all the people of the earth will know Your name and fear You.” (I Kings 8:43)

Handel’s “The Messiah” is one of Sam’s favorites to sing, and the very first chorus is: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” The text declares, “All flesh shall see it together!” God’s love and grace is boundless – including even us! Never think we somehow deserve or earn such limitless love. John Newton had it right – God’s grace is truly amazing.

The next verse is among those omitted for this lesson, and its content is the reason it should not have been! Later, we will focus on the awesome nature and power of creation as the source of praise to God, but verse 3 has the sequence correct.

“When we were overwhelmed by sins, YOU atoned for our transgressions.” (emphasis ours)Who made atonement for sin? Yahweh did! Remember, we are in the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament, and God himself is the one making atonement for our sins! Here is certainly a foretaste of the faith we have in God’s action to reconcile the alienated, to forgive the sinner, and to treat the prodigal as a child of God.

Verse 4, another one omitted from the lesson scripture, gives another reason for praise and gratitude – we have been chosen by God to be numbered among those to live near to God. In the Psalm the setting is the Temple, but we know “we have a house not made with hands, eternal…”

Finally, we come to verse 5, the key verse for the lesson.

“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.”

Please note the verse really is the key to understanding this Psalm, because the call to praise at the beginning and the concluding chorus of praise of God’s providence hinge on the fact of God’s saving power which extends across the whole of creation.

Differences in translation can affect how we hear the message of verse 5. God answers with “deliverance” in the NRSV, but with “righteousness” in the CEB. Deliverance can only come from God, but the righteousness of God can be emulated by his creatures as their response of gratitude and praise. We see God’s “awesome deeds” and respond with an awareness we stand before great mysteries we cannot explain or fully understand. God’s ways are not our ways!

Do you recall how God confronted Job with these same “awesome deeds?” When Job brought his case before God, questioning how he had been treated, God speaks to him about matters beyond Job’s knowledge. In chapters 38, 39, 40, and 41, God asks unanswerable questions of Job that leave Job speechless except for his unforgettable response—“my ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5) Job’s personal encounter with God made all the difference!

The Psalm concludes with a litany of praise for divine providence expressed in the way nature functions. Look at the verbs: care ... water ... fill ... provide ... drench ... level ... soften ... bless ... crown ... overflow ... clothed ... covered ... mantled ... shout! Each one is a description of the caring love of the Almighty One who created the earth and established the processes by which its inhabitants live in the wonder seen around them.

We were particularly impressed with the many references to water in verses 9-13. Our son leads an environmental group fighting for the protection of water in the state of Georgia. His work is to constantly remind those with the power to make decisions of policy of the absolute priority of water to support life at every level: economics, cultural values, wildlife, and their interrelationships. His particular expertise deals with the Flint River and the rivers’ crucial role in the agricultural, municipal, industrial, and recreational life of the people of southwest Georgia.

Apart from the literal meaning of water, there is another, even more profound understanding of this passage. God’s grace falls on us, smoothing our ridged ridges, and giving us life abundantly. These “showers of blessing” are given from the loving heart of a gracious God.

As this lesson is written, we are approaching Thanksgiving, and we see a metaphor of the cornucopia used to symbolize the abundant harvest. The closing verses of Psalm 65 are indeed a cornucopia of the many gifts of the Almighty One spilling out on the good earth. We receive them with the refrain of the great hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth:”
                       
Lord of all to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net.

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