Psalms in the Key of Life

Psalm 1 – May 31, 2015 Pentecost2

I am still an album person – I like to listen to an entire album: both sides of the record; the entire cd; sides a and b of the cassette tape. Certainly, I’ve downloaded single songs from iTunes and only know some artists by their one hit, but for the most part, I love to dive into an entire album and see what’s there.

This past week, I actually put Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” on my turntable and listened to it from front to back. I dug up a review from Rolling Stone from the year that it was released – 1976 – where the reviewer both complained and praised the fact that the double album is unfocused and yet he kept discovering new things upon each new listen. All at once, Stevie is overflowing with joy at fatherhood, talking to God and then lamenting pain, violence, and the complexity of being a black man in America. He brims with hope, counting on love. He sighs and laments. Indeed, it’s unfocused. It’s beautiful and schmaltzy. It’s corny and passionate. It’s angry and joyful and persistent.

It’s the perfect introduction to the book of Psalms – the prayer book of the Bible. The book that is mostly human voice addressed to God. The book that praises God and curses God sometimes in the same breath. It is a wildly unfocused and uneven book, swinging from great joy to deep regret. It is the book in the Bible that so clearly gets us – is us. This is our double album, people. These are our songs.

And I imagine many of you have had the disquieting experience of turning to the middle of your Bible to read a Psalm and then you land on that Psalm you forgot was there or the one you tend to skip and then, there it is and you read it and this part of the album couldn’t be more offensive or off the mark about your particular station in life. You were looking for the pop song you are certain is on this album and you landed in the middle of the hardcore punk number you usually skip.

The thing is, the book of Psalms isn’t just for you. I mean, it is. But it’s for all of us and there is a rhyme and a reason to this book. It is shaped just as our lives are shaped – it has the very rhythm of our lives: [cycle picture]

  • things are great! up is up. down is down. you know right where you stand.
  • things are awful! nothing makes any sense. it’s all a lie.
  • things are back to great – I have new eyes, I’m changed somehow.

We’re always in motion between those 3 realities – moving in and out of being disoriented and in despair to being reoriented back to new life.

Today’s psalm kicks off our next 5 weeks of spending time in this prayer book where we will most likely hit one you like and one you can’t identify with – which is sort of the point. It’s sorta like life. Because this book reflects the human condition, you can take comfort in and be disturbed by the fact that faithful people all over the globe, beyond this time and this place, are swept up in the wide embrace of the psalms.

Which means the psalms are not our personal play list. It’s not a book curated down to just our taste, to just what we’re going through. It is the ultimate double album because it spans all of the stuff of life and death. And we wrap our lips around the words of the psalms and beg our hearts to follow as we pray, knowing that someone, somewhere is suffering or rejoicing or cursing God or giving up or being made new. And they need our voice, our song, our prayer, our lives, just as we need theirs.

Psalm 1 introduces us to this ultimate play list, this prayer book that looks like our lives by describing two paths: the pathway for those who are faithful and nourished by God’s teaching and the pathway for the wicked who are on a road to nowhere. The faithful delight in the law, the teachings of the Lord. They are nourished by God like a tree that is planted by streams of living water. They are nourished even in the hard times, even through suffering.

The wicked on the other hand, they can’t take suffering. They don’t depend on God but themselves. Sinners rebel against God. Scoffers mock God, call God names.

There is a word in this psalm that will teach us how to pray this psalm in just a little while. Take a look at your Psalm insert and look at verse 2: all their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they mediate day and night. First, law means teaching – how we are continually being taught and changed and transformed by a living God who is active here and now. But it’s the word meditate. That word may conjure up in you a vision of a serene setting with your eyes closed, clearing your mind, “oooming” a bit perhaps?

But this Hebrew word for meditate pictures more a tug of war between 2 growling dogs. So if we’re going to meditate on God’s law, on God’s continual teaching in our daily lives, then there’s a sense of active engagement, a push and pull, a wrestling, a growling. And, if you look around, here we are, meditating together. Growling over these teachings together. It’s what worship is made of. This is how Jesus was raised, going to synagogue, meditating on God’s law in worship with others. They would pray the Psalm out loud together, but not in unison but as they were moved, their bodies moving in the rhythm of the prayer. It is the way we will pray together in just a bit.

That meditating on the psalms gives us words for prayer. This growling over, wrestling with the psalms gives us words for life. It’s like the lyrics that come with an old record album – the psalms teach us what to say. Instead of “Everything happens for a reason” the Psalms teach us to say, give us permission to say “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And isn’t life a growl between the familiar and the new; the tough times and the times filled with joy. The struggle and the joy of being alive is caught up in this word meditate, growl – isn’t it? We’re always growing and changing – this is a life of faith.

And because it’s Riverpalooza, a time for our community to look ahead together and to celebrate how God is calling us, shaping us, teaching us – well, let me just tell you about a few people and experiences where I’ve seen God at work through you, teaching me:


I can’t possibly name everyone today. It is the delight of being community together. It is the delight, the growling of life, as we learn what God has to teach us as we go out into the Hutchinson community this summer to show love simply by showing up. Don’t worry – it’s not about hitting people over the head with the Bible. It’s to love them right where they are. If you’re worried about what to say, just open to the book of Psalms. It’s your ultimate double album. It’s got the song of your life written in it – in all the keys – it’s God’s song of your life. It will teach what to say. It will teach you who you are. What an awesome thing.

Thanks be to God.