Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, Romans 10:5-15
Last Friday, during my weekly Skype conversation with my Supervised Field Experience mentor in Adelaide, I was told about a book by the theologian and former Mental Health Nurse John Swinton. This book is entitled Dementia: Living in the Memories of God and apparently it describes how people going into and through dementia can continue to live spiritual lives of meaning and worship even when their thinking and remembering functions in other places have diminished. I recently spoke to one woman whose husband is in Anchusa and she said to me “he sometimes forgets who I am, but he always knows the hymns”. My mum says of her mother, my Nana, that “Jesus was the one thing she remembered”.
Our reading from Romans this morning tells us quite plainly that belief and confession are the keys to salvation, and our reading from the Psalm connects believing and confessing with remembering.
Psalm 105 was almost certainly written during the time in which the people of Judah and Israel were exiled away from their land and living in Babylonia. The psalm itself is the story of the Hebrew people’s past and it describes a cycle of promise and set back and promise again. We had Abraham, then Joseph was in gaol, then Jacob came and lived in security while there was a famine, then there was Pharaoh and oppression, and then there was Moses and Aaron and the promise of liberation and a land of our own. The psalm ends with the people still in exile, but ready to obey. This is also where Paul has his readers situated, still in the world but with the promise of heaven and an eternity of blessing and comforts of home. Paul picks up the theme of the story of Israel and Judah but he writes of promise which goes on to endless promise; the old cycle is broken since in Christ all depends on the faithfulness of God in eternity and not on the finite resources of humankind to be obedient. All comes by grace.
So we can see that Paul speaks from within the Jewish tradition, remembering the stories of the people. In this passage he is also doing the scholarly rabbinical work that brings together apparent contradictions in the Torah, in this case the need for men and women to obey God’s laws revealed on Sinai compared with the command to live by faith and not in our own merits. Paul overcomes the contradiction by explaining that the work of obedience God required of the Jews has been done by Christ and we are to trust in his work. In Deuteronomy 9:4 Paul finds that women and men are forbidden to do what God has done, or to take the credit for it. God does what God does for God’s purposes, our job as chosen people is to simply walk into the inheritance and build a home.
It used to be that land was the great promise and that was the promise of heritage given to the patriarchs. The end of Psalm 105 describes the excitement of people ready to leave Egypt and march in to Canaan, and of course the first readers of the poem held a similar hope that they would soon be heading back in to Palestine to reinhabit what God had promised to their ancestors a thousand years earlier. But Paul says that nationality and a “homeland” no longer matter because the inheritance the chosen people of God have is of God’s promise of salvation and a home in heaven, a home which can never be taken away from us. The promise of God through Paul is for a land unlike Israel, a land which will never be in dispute and will never be under attack from rockets and UN sanctions because every person will understand and acknowledge that that country is the place of God.
So what is the word for today? Well I believe there are several.
In the particular focus of the lectionary on verses 16-22 of today’s psalm, the story of the imprisonment of Joseph, there is not only a great parallel to the people in exile in Babylonia there is also a reminder of God’s work in the times of regression and negativity in all human history. This week we remember the outbreak of the Great War even as fighting takes place today in Ukraine and Gaza, and Christians are being molested and murdered in Syria, Iraq and now Lebanon under the Islamic State. We are in a time of regression now, but like Joseph and Moses and the exiles by the rivers of Babylon we can look forward with hope and confidence in the promises of God.
A second point of contact between the lessons of scripture and the life of our nation today is the command to make known the deeds of God are recorded in Psalm 105:1. We are to make known, to actively promote the news, and the news we are to make known is the deeds of God. Verse 2 tells us to tell of his wonderful works. In the midst of the bad news remind people of the good news, and be assured that the news is good. God is just as much at work in history today as God was in the times of Abraham, of Ezra, of Jesus and Paul, and of Kaiser Bill and the Men of Anzac. Remembering is important, and as our own stories of friends and family with Dementia will tell us God is active in stirring memory too. We are reminded by God, of God and it is God who inspires our praise. If not for God’s help we would only praise each other, but God draws our attention toward Godself and that is where we see God’s glory and our breath is drawn from us in awe and wonder.
Our third point of contact is the very message of Paul himself. God chose the Hebrew people and God loved them before God demanded anything of them. That same promise and reassurance is offered to us today in that no one is excluded by God. Our identity is found only in God through Jesus Christ and not in Jew-Gentile demarcation. There is no place for shame, and guilt is removed when we respond to God’s call.
And so to our final point, everyone who calls will be saved. Even as the Hebrews of the Exodus, the Jewish people of the Exile, and Paul himself were saved when they called out to God for salvation, so those who cry out today from Kiev and Kingscote, Palestine and Parndana, and Damascus and Dudley will be saved.
But how will they call if they have not heard?
This is where the points of contact between the story of the Bible and the story of our lives meet relevance. We have something to hold on to, but we also have something to do: we are required to tell. So let us not despair at the condition of the world today, let’s not be downhearted at the news coming out of our media outlets, but let us also not hold back from telling the reasons for the hope we hold so closely.
In these coming weeks keep the faith. Just don’t keep it secret.