Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Paul's sermon in Athens, Psalm 66, 1 Peter 3 and the Advocate

Last week, I found that the building of the new temple was a theme in the four lessons. It linked the old and the new. This week I wonder if I will be so lucky. Nothing jumps out at me in the first read-through.

Paul is said not to have been too successful in Athens. We have no letter to a church there. His message as reported by Luke includes this: that God "has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."  Imagine the Greek philosophers hearing this and - um - what was that you said, Paul?

It's right there in the next verse - they burst out laughing.

Science is good - even Greek science, and it may yet have the ultimate laugh when it grasps the mystery of the awe in our midst.

We are instructed at the beginning of Psalm 66 to "Raise a shout to God all the earth". Such laughter as is implied is deeper than a mockery based on our assumptions about how life works. There is another psalm where the mouths are filled with laughter (Psalm 126:2). Psalm 66 is both more sober and more universal in its shout. The lips and mouth in this psalm promise to pay vows which were spoken when the poet was in trouble. The poet "will recount to all who fear God what he has undertaken for my being". This is a poet under discipline.

I have the music in PDF form here. The English underlay was more difficult than usual. The feel of regular rhythm in the Hebrew syllables is quite strong and I cannot imitate it in translation. Does this music, through the verses that begin with a rising fifth, indicate that there is a stanza structure?

Look at the sequences of phrase shapes in the first half of each verse and how the mid-verse rest-point (A) is approached.
Verse 1 G-B-A, verse 2 E-F-E-A
Verse 3 E-B-G-B-A, verse 4 E-C-B-G-E-A. 

Verse 5 = v 3, verse 6 E-C-G-B-A (cf v 4), verse 7 = v 6 (differing ornaments), 
   verse 8 E-G-F-A, like v 2 approaching the sub-dominant from below. 

Verse 9 E-B-G-A, verse 10 E-F-A, verse 11 = v 10, verse 12 = v 10.

Verse 13 E-B-A, verse 14 = v 10, verse 15 = v 4 (cf v 6).

Verse 16 = v 3, verse 17 = v 2, v 18 = v 1, verse 19 = v 1, verse 20 = v 10.

There is an obvious link between Luke's recording of that last line of Paul's sermon and 1 Peter 3:22 "who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him." All things whether in heaven or on earth are subject to the Anointed one.

What then is the connection of Paul's and Peter's words and the Spirit coming as the Comforter? And how does the Psalm fit in? Paul is speaking to the Gentiles. Peter is writing to the dispersed tribes.

Psalm 66 is the middle of three harvest poems that are themselves in a wider set of circles formed by the inscriptions of books 2 and 3. The fields ripening to harvest are the Gentiles. So the psalm begins with the whole earth raising a shout to Israel's God. The shout turns out to be for the salvation of Israel through the sea and through fire and water (like Tamino in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte).

Verse 8 asks all the peoples to make heard the voice of praise to Israel's God. Verse 16 asks all who fear God to pay attention to what God has done for the poet.

This is our cue to see in the poet's identity the whole of the people of Israel passing through trouble, and being delivered, even as the Anointed Jesus passed through trouble and was delivered from it. Then all can praise God for the exaltation of the man in Paul's and Peter's words to the position of judge, so the promise of the Psalms that God will judge the world in righteousness can be fulfilled.

Now to the responsibility of those to whom the Anointing Spirit comes as Comforter or Advocate. These too must go through fire and water, spirit and baptism, so that they can pay their vows (Psalm 66:13) in the day to day lives which God has set them in. These also can offer burnt offerings (that same word aliyah, meaning ascension or burnt offering, that we saw last week.)

I invite you to sing the music.