March 19, 2012

Readings for Monday, March 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 49:1-28; 1 Cor. 10:14-11:1; Mark 7:24-37; Psalm 89


There are “classic” images. One of them was a demonstration on an old Ed Sullivan television show, where a person attempted to keep a variety of plates spinning on their poles. The first few went fine, but he kept adding poles and plates and started running around like a mad man keeping the plates spinning so they would stay up on the poles. We watched in fascination as a plate would slow down and begin to wobble, wondering if the person could work fast enough to come back and start it spinning. Slowly but surely too many of them started slowing down and wobbling at the same time, the man couldn’t keep up, and finally one and then all of them crashed to the floor. (At least this is what I remember of the show; your memory and in fact the show itself may have a different ending).

There are several great lessons in this demonstration. One is that we can so overload our life with spinning plates that we lose track of them and they all fall down. Another is that there are limits; spinning plates slow down (there is no such thing as a machine which, once started, runs forever). Another is that one cannot be stable on a stick unless you are (a) glued to it or (b) doing something. Another is that, if you are a plate and want to be stable without spinning, you are best off resting on a larger, broader, stronger foundation than just a stick (like a table). Another is that order and stability descend into chaos if left alone or if left to human intervention.

Psalm 89 from today’s readings deserves attention. In it we are reminded that God controls chaos; He brings order from chaos – “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them.” Ps. 89:9 In it we are reminded that there is a stability in God’s love and faithfulness to us which does not slow down, does not collapse, does not disappear – “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord forever; with my mouth I will make known Your faithfulness to all generations. For I said, ‘Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness.’” Ps. 89:1-2 In it we are reminded of the covenant God has established with David and his heirs, including Jesus – “My steadfast love I will keep for him [David] forever, and My covenant with him will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of heaven.” Ps. 89:28-29

The context of Psalm 89 is that God seems to have removed His blessing from the line of David and crushed His people. God has let Israel’s plates slow down, wobble, and crash. Order has collapsed into chaos. That is the context of Psalm 89.

And yet Psalm 89 begins with God’s sovereignty over chaos, His establishment of order, His creation of the firm foundation for us, the plates. We cannot keep the plates from falling; God created them so He does not need to. And yet they (we) appear to become unstable, wobble, fall down, and crash. How can we reconcile this?

The key is in the middle of Psalm 89, where God says “If his [David’s] children forsake My law and do not walk according to My rules, if they violate My statutes and do not keep My commandments, the I will punish their transgressions with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him My steadfast love or be false to My faithfulness. I will not violate My covenant or alter the word that went forth from My lips.” Ps. 89:30-34

Gravity, friction, time, our own lack of coordination, time, energy, ability, desire, small sticks acting like foundations – all these cause us and our plates to crash to the floor. The elements of nature and our own shortcomings conspire together to bring down the house.

Then what stabilizes it? What establishes it? Us?

We know we can’t do it but we try anyway. We take the flimsiest of foundations and stack life on top of it, expecting the plates to stay in the air and then marvel when they all fall down.

Why bother? Why not put the plates, ourselves, on the strongest foundation possible, the Word of God, His control over chaos, His steadfast love, His faithfulness to all generations? Then they won’t slow down, they won’t wobble, they won’t crash. And even when it seems like they are (just like what was happening when Psalm 89 was written), we can end the same way the Psalmist did with these words – “Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and Amen.” Ps. 89:52



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