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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Psalm 137

This semester I'm taking a grad course on preaching biblical genres, the genres at hand being the Psalms and Wisdom Literature. It's a hybrid, with 2.5 days of in-person, intensive interaction. One of the requirements is to preach a sermon on a psalm when we arrive, and I chose 137. I have to admit, I had never read or heard this particular psalm. If you haven't either, check it out here. It's pretty short, so it shouldn't take long.

The first time I read it, I enjoyed it. But the more times I read it, the more my reaction moved from excitement to sorrow. I was listening to it on an audio Bible, and the anguish in the voice of the woman who reads it is apparent. Now understand, I don't cry if I can help it. I hate crying, and not because I'm trying to be manly (as it were, no one has ever accused me of being manly). I just dislike the sheer vulnerability of such emotions. Even so, after listening to and reading Ps. 137 however many times, it brought me to tears. 

In any case, it's not a pleasant psalm. It is a lament through and through. It remembers destruction, cries out at oppression. It is the plea of a tormented people who seek not just justice, but vengeance. It would be great if it ended something like this:

But you, O LORD, are gracious and merciful. 
     Deliver me from my peril,
     From my torment, rescue me.

Let us sing a song to the LORD,
     A song of joy, a song of Zion!
     We will weep no more,
          For your mighty hand has brought us justice.

Wipe away our tears, O LORD.
     Lead us by your river of life,
     By the rivers of Zion guide us.

But it doesn't end that way. It ends with a violent curse, and mentions God only once (which is done as if in passing). It's not inspirational. It's not happy. It is hopeless, vengeful, anguished.

I've done a bit of research into Jewish lament, and when I wrote that particular paper, I realized how many Christian traditions have lost the ability to lament, to grieve, to suffer. That's why I picked Ps. 137 to preach on. It'll be something like preaching on Hard Mode, but it's something we need to hear. It's something I need to hear.

But what will the church do with such violence, such suffering? Where do we go when we hear this? This sermon will be hard, yes. But it is easier than suffering itself. Many have suffered, but we must learn to suffer together.

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