High River United Church of High River, Alberta

Connecting with You - June 18

Grace & Peace to You!


Psalm 48

 This is another psalm that reveals some of the cultural practice at the time when it was written. Especially, it reveals life in the king’s court, and was likely written to be sung for the king.  The image of the king walking around his city and country contemplating the love and wisdom of God is a beautiful one.


David’s Reflections on Psalm 49

I will solve my riddle to the music of my harp. (vs.4b)

When I consider the whole of Psalm 49, it feels like this little phrase doesn’t fit.  The main theme of this Psalm is about wealth and the very real fact that upon our death, we can’t take our money with us.  It’s a rather sober psalm, to be honest.  But, at the same time it causes us to reflect carefully on our life, our priorities and the things that frighten us.  I imagine the writer of this psalm playing the harp while figuring out life.


And l then I thought… what do I do when I am reflecting on my own mortality or suddenly caught up with the very real fact that I, like all the animals, will die? I often sit at the piano and noodle around while the music helps me puzzle out meaning or add calm to my consternation.  


The wise and foolish, the wealthy and the poor will all pass away.  No amount of wisdom or wealth will save the day.  Illusions of power and wealth mean nothing in the face of death.  Amassed fortune will not follow the rich to the grave.  It sounds like those who are vulnerable at the hands of the rich should take comfort in that raw truth.  Ultimately, any fear of the wealthy is assuaged when they die.  “Do not be afraid of the rich. When the wealth of their houses increases.  For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them” (vs. 16-17). Hmmmm.  More time needed to puzzle at the piano?


As I puzzle away at the keyboard and if I were honest, I do fear the rich—the 1% of the world’s population that controls roughly half of the world’s wealth.  I don’t think they care very much for me and the remaining 99% of the population where two-thirds or more live in dire poverty.  We’re all caught in an economic trap that doesn’t provide for the vast majority of the world’s people or its environment.  That is scary.  So, how do we take comfort in this psalm?  Does it mean don’t fear the 1% ?  How does one make sense of this?  Because honestly this situation is scary and obscenely unjust.


This psalm reminds us that no amount of wealth can pay for a human life.  Life itself is priceless and sacred.  So those who live the opulent life surrounded with wealth that is beyond our imagination and, therefore, suffer the illusion of being immune from the daily struggle to put food on the table and provide for our children are suddenly, subject to their own mortality.  For the wealthy, their mortality is a bit of shocker, I think.  They wind up being no different than any other human being. They die like everyone else as do the animals.  


So it’s a rather sobering psalm on the one hand.  But, it’s also rather inspiring on the other hand.  Why?  Because this psalm proclaims the value of human life and all life in general as that which is held in trust by God.  No amount of wealth proves anything, nor does it make substitution for the value of life which, as I’ve noted earlier, is considered priceless.  This is where we need to pay attention. Wealth does not make us any more or less human.  It merely adds illusion, privilege and entitlement into the equation—a temptation that leads the wealthy to think themselves somehow elevated and better than the rest, while those excluded from the 1% should just be “grateful for what we have.”  This is quite insidious and of course, keeps wealth concentrated for the few, while leaving the majority of the world’s population scrambling to make ends meet. The good news of Psalm 49 is that all life is sacred and held in trust by God. Life cannot be bought or sold despite the machinations of the wealthy and the systemic injustice, racism or gender inequality.


As the psalmist puzzles while playing the harp, wisdom comes to the fore.  No amount of wealth or power determines the value of life.  God will not be paid a ransom by those who live the illusion that their wealth is more valuable than life itself.  It is not.  In a time of deep racial division and conflict, this psalm is timely.  It calls us to see life from a different perspective, from God’s perspective, and make change.


Susan’s Reflections on Psalm 50 & 51

The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth!

Sometimes I think that I make God too small. I make God in my image and imagine all sorts of limitations for God’s actions. Because I can’t notice what God is doing, I assume that God is unable or unwilling to act. In trying to understand the Divine Creator of the Universe, I shrink God down to what I can fit in my brain and in my human language.   Psalm 50 challenges the ways I have shrunk and limited my understanding of God.


The Mighty One speaks and summons the earth. God arrives and does not keep silence. Before God is an all consuming fire and a mighty tempest of wind and water. This God calls me to account. And what can I do but fall down in wonder, in praise, and in humility before this God of All!


God challenges us. God does not accept all the ways I might try to earn God’s love or attempt to show how special I am. All God wants from me is my thanksgiving. God reminds me, “If I was hungry, I would not come to you! If I were in need, you could not satisfy me, when I have the whole world that is mine.”


Psalm 50 is a humbling psalm but it is also a psalm that reminds me of the mighty God who holds me when the world around me is falling apart, the God of steadfast love who cares for me when I am overwhelmed, weary and in grief and the saving God who will never abandon me.


It seems so right, then, to have Psalm 51 follow immediately upon Psalm 50. “Have mercy on me, o God, according to your steadfast love,” the fifty-first psalm begins. Having been reminded of how small I have made God and how mighty God really is, having been called to account by God, what can I do but fall down and reflect upon the ways that I have sinned. The word sin means to have broken relationship.  It is not about the little mis-steps and mistakes that are all part of my learning and growing. Sin is about breaking relationship with God, with other people and with creation itself.


This is a time when I, and you, our society and our world really need to do some reflection and some soul-searching about the broken relationships in this world, just like the psalmist. How do I contribute to racial bias in society? How do I exclude others? How do I impact the environment? There is much to contemplate right now, so that the change that is needed really happens and is not just an empty declaration.


And so, with the psalmist I pray, “Put a new and right spirit within me, o God.” Hold me, o God, in this time of soul-searching until I truly understand what I need to understand, until I transform my ways for the good of the world you love.


With love and blessings,

Rev. Susan & Rev. David

High River United Church – a community of help, home & hope

“Just to be is a blessing; just to live is holy.” A. Heschel








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