Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Hallelujah! How good it is to sing praises to our God!
A couple good questions
Early in my ministry, someone told me that there are two questions to ask of any gospel passage heard in church on Sunday. The first: Who is Jesus? The second: What does it mean to be one of his disciples? They are good questions for those standing in the pulpit and for those sitting in the pews. They keep us all on track, a special challenge for preachers.
More recently, I read that St. Francis of Assisi had his own version of those questions. He used to spend the whole night offering this prayer: Who are you, O God? And who am I?
The psalm offered in church yesterday (above) helps us think about the question: Who are you, God? I come away with the sense that God may be the ultimate multi-tasker.
On the one hand, we read that God is counting all the stars and giving them names. God is covering the heavens with clouds and preparing rain for the earth. God is covering the earth with plants, and while God is at it, God is rebuilding Jerusalem and gathering exiles, managing massive social change. God has a big job.
On the other hand, that same God is down to earth, healing brokenhearted, binding their wounds, lifting the lowly. As God does a big job, God is down in the weeds, with us.
It’s transcendence and immanence captured in one holy presence. Which is maybe one of the best answers to who Jesus is, the God of all creation, present with us in the most humble circumstances.
That leads to our second question: What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Or in keeping with the prayer of St. Francis: Who am I, in light of what we learn about who God is?
The answer is captured in the way the psalm begins and ends, with the word: Hallelujah. That one word provides an answer to the question of our identity, the question of who we are. We are those who are called to praise, called to worship. It may be all we can do, for the mystery of the divine could make us stay up all night like St. Francis, wondering who God is and who we are.
That life of saying “hallelujah” shapes our identity. We are those who worship, not only with our lips but with our lives. We worship as we are ever mindful of the miracle of creation that surrounds us. We worship as we follow the commandment to love of God and neighbor. We worship in imitation of the Holy One, seeking to lift up the lowly, committing to a life of service. All of it is driven by our glimpses, by our inklings of the character of the Holy One.
As we live our lives, noting mysteries and miracles that surround us, we find our own identity by remembering that our lives unfold in the presence of God, whose quality is always to have mercy. (That’s why the confession begins with the words: Merciful God.)
Spend some time this week with St. Francis’ questions. Maybe make a Lenten commitment to ask the questions each morning. See what you learn about your own identity by exploring the mystery of God’s identity.