Updated: Feb 5, 2021
The Third Sunday of Easter, like all Sundays inside the confines of Episcopalian churches in America, finds a Psalm of David read aloud. Usually the congregation reads aloud, either by half or alternating whole verses, although some fancy churches will have a chanter sing the Psalm (which means “song”). The production made over the Psalm is unlike the production made over the other readings, where only one person reads aloud (not singing aloud) and all the rest just listen.
Think back to when you were in elementary school. Think back to your high school and college days. No teachers sang any lessons to the class. While some classes would read something from a book out loud, going from desk to desk, that was more to practice being bold enough to talk to a group, more than an exercise in learning what a book said by having people read only a portion aloud. If anyone else is like me, then you will agree that it is hard to focus on what is said by someone else out loud, when I am trying to keep track of when I will have to read aloud. Thus, no matter how powerful a Psalm of David is, it is only an exercise in “togetherness” – “See, we all read aloud together. Aren’t we special?”
The problem with this approach is no priest will then walk into the aisle, announce a reading from a Gospel, read that aloud, and then rise above the masses at a podium saying, “I want to talk to you today about that Psalm we read.” Nope. Never happens. However, it should today.
In the Gospel reading from Luke is read the story of Jesus appearing in unrecognizable form as Cleopas and wife (“two of Jesus’ disciples”) walked to their home in Emmaus. That reading comes up Wednesday of Easter Week, Easter evening in Year C, and here on the Third Sunday of the Easter season, Year A. So, regular church attendees regularly hear a sermon about that story from Luke’s Gospel. The repetition might force a priest to put a new slant on an old topic, so his or her words don’t conjure up feelings of déjà vu.
In the Easter season there is always a reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and today we read about Peter speaking with a raised voice and how three thousand Jewish pilgrims would “save themselves from that corrupt generation” by being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ that day … instantly. That is another reading that comes up multiple times during the Easter season. Certainly, a sermon or two will have been focused on that story, so you remember that reading.
This year (A), during the Easter season, is the only time we read from 1 Peter. So, if you did not listen carefully today, there is a good chance you will have forgotten all about what Peter wrote in his first epistle. It is fairly short and says things that can easily be incorporated into any sermon, simply because the epistles tend to state the “catch phrases” that most adult Christians know. Today Peter wrote, “live in reverent fear,” “you were ransomed,” “with the precious blood of Christ,” “your faith and hope are set on God,” and “you have genuine mutual love.”
The Epistles do not get much deep attention in the Episcopal Church, simply because Episcopalians have short attention spans and a priest is limited to twelve minute sermons. Those two traits are not conducive of deep understanding of anything; so it is best to just stick with the catch phrases found in the letters and maybe give the Apostle a quote credit (or not).
Parts of Psalm 116 are read on three different Sundays over the three-year cycle, and on two other week days. It is read on Maundy Thursday – the foot washing service few people attend – so its words might ring a bell, but probably not. Because we need to realize that David was led by God to write songs of praise and lament, his words are recorded to speak to us in the same way God led the other writers of Scripture to record God’s conversations as though directed to each of us, individually.
The people who organized the lectionary were also led by God to choose readings that link everything together, so divine purpose is in play here today and every Sunday. The readings are not randomly picked, and they are not based on what a priest wants to talk about. Certainly, they are not the product of some people in a smoke-filled room saying, “Okay what snippet do we have next to add here and there?” By having that understanding – that everything read today is part of a whole with purpose – we are able to read the words of Psalm 116 and know they deeply relate with the words written by Peter and Luke.
Knowing that the divine purpose is to teach, not to attempt to twist words into some self-serving political message or current event words of encouragement, a sermon has to be a model of the Acts reading, where “Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.”
The Greek word translated as “raised” is “epēren,” a form of “epairó,” meaning “to lift up” are “to exalt.” Rather than “raised his voice” giving the impression of twelve Apostles screaming at the tops of their lungs, so three thousand Jewish pilgrims were scared into signing a petition to join the new Church of Jesus Christ, it is more sacred to read “with lifted voice.” That way, it is easier for us to understand the Apostles spoke divinely. Therefore, their words “testified with many other arguments and exhorted them.”
That means God was speaking through the mouths of the Apostles, who not long before were still nervous about public anything. Surely, before the Holy Spirit hit them, they were not longing to have some rabbi to tell them, “Today class we will read Psalm 116 out loud, with each disciple reading one verse. Andrew, why don’t you start us off.” God then spoke through the Apostles just as God had spoken through the mouth of Jesus. We must agree that it was God coming out of Peter that encouraged seekers to be filled with the love of God in their hearts.
Therefore, the first verse read from Psalm 116 sings out with the same exalted voice of God. There, David began by stating, “I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.”
Three thousand pilgrims in Jerusalem “welcomed [Peter’s] message [and] were baptized” because they were Jews seeking a closer relationship with their God. David then sang, “The cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took hold of me; I came to grief and sorrow. Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”
Peter told those whose ears heard his words, “Repent … so that your sins may be forgiven … saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
The Greek actually written (“geneas tēs skolias tautēs”) says, “generation the perverse this,” where geneas means “race, family, and birth.” One cannot presume Peter was only talking about those who just watched the Romans crucify Jesus, but all who think they are added to the family that calls Yahweh their God – at all times between then and today. Thus, as Christians today, WE live in the perversion that has been allowed to be born around us – the generation of perverseness or a degenerate state. It exists now, just like it existed prior to Jesus, when David cried out in fear.
Every Jew in Jerusalem who heard Peter (and the other eleven Apostles) felt the cords of death – MORTALITY – strangling them, not knowing how to ensure God would not punish them because they all had unforgiven sins. They, like us and like David, called upon the name of the Lord to be saved.
You have to see yourself in that light of failure, or you do not call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. If you are okay with your life of sin and say, “Its okay. I’m good,” then you certainly are not getting God’s attention, whether you want it or not. God does not compete with lesser gods – like oneself – so you are free to be part of the definition of a “corrupt generation.” After all, we are each the center of our own universe, which goes whichever way we direct our universe to go.
Seekers, on the other hand, feel guilt and want to stop living lives that cannot cease wallowing in lusts and self-pity. Like the hated tax collector Jesus saw, seekers silently beat their chests and bemoan there is no way to stop. Sure, the money is great, but it all makes me feel dirty inside.
If only sin wasn’t so damn rewarding. Then, like the Pharisee Jesus saw, one can be led to thank God for material things. That’s when one prays, “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord.”
Everyone here today has many reasons to thank the Lord, more than for a good career, a nice house, or a fancy car. God does more for you than give you the latest gadgets of technology to play with. God has given you health, or children, or a sense of redemption. Whatever your personal rewards, God gave them to you without you having to do anything in return. Many Christians just take God for granted, like they deserve all that is good, simply because their parents let a priest drip some holy water on their little foreheads. Not to mention them not complaining too loudly after being forced to learn all those Bible stories in children’s church.
Typical Christians today are just like the typical Jews of Jesus’ days – wallowing in self-gratifying sins with the pretense of being special because they were descended of the people chosen by God. One corrupt and perverse generation after another. The world is a place where perversion is easily handed out, asking nothing in return. Christians do not even know what “the cup of salvation” is.
In the Episcopalian Church, where the Eucharist flows like welfare checks to the poor, freely given at the rail, asking nothing in return, it is easy to think the cup of salvation is the chalice that comes before one, with the altar server saying, “The blood of Christ the cup of salvation.” That is not what David had in mind when he wrote those words.
THE cup of salvation is the second cup of wine poured out at the Jewish Seder meal. That IS called “the cup of salvation,” which is poured out to commemorate the freedom from bondage in Egypt. Whether David’s Israel practiced the Passover exactly the same as do Jews today is immaterial. The “cup of salvation” was the marriage of the children of Israel to God. A cup of wine is then symbolically drank to commemorate that eternal bond. It is like a toast to the covenant, where marriage is a covenant. One MUST marry with God, meaning He is the husband and everyone else is the wife.
With that understood, David then sang, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”
The “vows” are the Laws Moses brought down to the Israelites. Everyone had to announce their agreement to the covenant, in order to enter into a bond of commitment. The wife submits to the will of the husband and the husband guarantees the wife will always be protected. A marriage is therefore a public event of celebration.
Still, when David then sang, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants,” one needs to see how marriage means the death of the old self. Commitment demands sacrifice. In order to receive salvation, one must die of one’s old ways. God does not take delight in the physical deaths of human beings, simply because death is nothing more than a stage of life. Death is like the old 45-rpm records played on a phonograph – when the needle hits the space at the end, it rose and waited for it to be placed back down on that record again. The soul is like the etched meaning in the grooves of the record, which is why it was made.
In the Hebrew of David’s Psalm 116, the word translated above as “servants” is “lahasidaw,” which is a statement from the root word “chasid,” meaning “kind, pious.” The statement better says, “of his saints” or “of his godly ones.” That means the death of God’s “servants” is the end of their life of sins, committed to fulfill a purpose of holy priesthood. In a marriage ceremony, rather than drinking wine to celebrate a new partnership or union, a desired death is then like how the Jews symbolically break a glass wrapped in a napkin when a couple gets married. The death of the old can never cut the marriage asunder. The fragility of a sinful life is shattered, so it can no longer ruin a soul.
Marriage to God must be recognized as what that commitment truly means. David sang, “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant and the child of your handmaid; you have freed me from my bonds.”
Here, the repetition of “servant” is accurate, from the Hebrew “abdika,” from the root “ebed,” meaning “servant, slave.” To rise from the lowest of the low, which the state of being a “child of a maidservant” indicates, means one must feel deeply indebted to God for that favor granted. The only thing one so low can ever be expected to repay is one’s complete devotion. Devotion to God means serving His every need as His priest.
David then sang, “I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the Name of the Lord.” This does not say that “thanksgiving” is a “sacrifice,” as if one begrudgingly has to suffer through repayment with lip-service, like: “Oh okay. Thank you God.” THE sacrifice is the death of your self-ego, which you do in the most sincere “thanksgiving” to God. No words are necessary, as God knows each and every heart of His wives (i.e.: saints). Still, when David sang, “call upon the name of the Lord,” that is equally not some “catch phrase” that is meaningless. That needs complete understanding.
The literal Hebrew there says, “ubesim Yahweh eqra,” which means “upon the name Yahweh will proclaim.” This is where one grasps that the wife in a marriage takes on the name of the husband. Regardless of modern perversions of the human institution of marriage, “in the name of” means, “I am now known as.” To take “upon the name of Yahweh” one has become married to God, becoming a saint in His service, so one can “call” or “proclaim” just like we read Peter spoke “with raised voice.”
This is important stuff, becuase just as David used “the name of” so too did Peter. In Acts Peter said to the pilgrims, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That says one IS JESUS reborn. God is the one who forgives sins through the “cup of salvation,” thus when one has married God then one’s sins are forgiven and one receives the wedding gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what baptizes one so one becomes Jesus resurrected in the flesh.
In Peter’s epistle he wrote, “with the precious blood of Christ,” [the sacrificial lamb] “you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory” [as THE WIFE OF GOD]. Peter then added, “You have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” That is a statement about marriage and commitment.
From that, Peter was led to write, “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” To be “born anew,” one must first experience death, where David wrote, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Marriage to God means the death of the sinner and the rebirth of the Saint in the name of Jesus Christ. David then sang again the words, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,” but this is not the same as the marriage vows first taken. Those vows are taken publicly; but the life of a Saint is not for one’s personal enjoyment.
A Saint lives to BE the resurrection of Jesus on earth, as God incarnate. This is not so one can boast, “Look at me! I am married to God!” Instead, one becomes like “the child of [God’s] handmaiden,” a servant to the Word of God. A slave whose only role is to offer the cup of salvation to seekers of the truth. The vows of marriage to God are the realities of being a priest of God, using the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the public eye. That is then the meaning in David’s last verse, where he sang, “In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Hallelujah!” That says the Saint, as the reborn Jesus Christ, is the house of God. God resides within one’s heart center.
Jesus is the High Priest who rules over one’s brain, as the Christ Mind. Every area of life one comes into becomes the courts where divine judgment will keep one from wandering into the worldly traps of sin. When David wrote “in the midst of you,” he was not focusing on a place on the earth, but his being one with God. It has the same meaning as Jesus saying, “I am in the Father as the Father is in me.” The word “Jerusalem” then bears the eternal meaning of “foundation of peace.” Jesus Christ is the perfect cornerstone from which the foundation of eternal peace in heaven is built.
By seeing this coming from Psalm 116, it is easy to set one’s eyes on the affect an unrecognizable Jesus had on two disciples who had known him all his life. Cleopas looked at his wife, Mary, and said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Those two were just like the three thousand who listened to Peter offer “arguments” as explanations of Scripture. They all received an invitation of marriage to God, carried by God’s messenger Saints, and they all happily said, “Yes!”
On this Third Sunday of the Easter season, when the counting of fifty days marks when Moses came down with the marriage proposal of God to his Israelite brides AND also when Jesus returned from heaven and wrote the marriage Covenant on the hearts of those who said “Yes,” it is time to make your choice about God’s proposal to you.
Do you say, “I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him”? Do you love God because he feels like your sugar daddy, giving you everything you want?
Or, do you say, “The cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took hold of me; I came to grief and sorrow,” so you pray to God for forgiveness of your sins?
David sang a song about your life. You just need to understand what the lyrics mean. Ignoring them will do you no good.
A serious proposal has been made. It is up to you to determine your outcome.