Seventh Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 138

The Sunlit Meadow

The slow-motion run and embrace of people who love each other, usually across a broad sunlit meadow or sparkling beach, is such a cliché in the movies that The Muppet Movie made fun of it when it came out in 1979. One reason it’s a cliché, perhaps, is the mathematical formula that distance does not equal relationship, or rather, a relationship conducted at a distance is a much more complex and challenging organism than a relationship when you’re in the same space.

One of the many aspects of Psalm 138 that caught my attention was the line about two-thirds of the way down, in which the composer writes: The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly, perceiving the haughty from afar. Translations vary. Several of them say that the Lord knows the proud, or the haughty, from a distance. Remember when the Bette Midler song “From a Distance” was all over the radio in 1990? The message seemed to be that when you and I get far enough out for a distant view, as the astronauts did in sharing their vision of the Earth from the Moon, we don’t see the divisions that we humans make. But distance also hampers relationship.

This song of praise to God is an individual todah psalm, one of thanksgiving. And like Psalm 15 last week, which is a collective todah psalm, this one, brief as it is, has so much to show us about living in the Kingdom of God, and where we might find that broad sunlit meadow or sparkling beach in which we and God embrace, wanting nothing more than to be close to each other.

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart, the composer writes; before the gods I will sing you praise. Whoa! Here is a statement on the record that the composer is living and writing in a time and place where many people worship many gods in many different ways. Yet rather than dismissing these ways of worship, the psalmist lives into that reality with a promise: I will praise my one true God before all the other gods who hover in the unknown skies, outside my view, beyond my vision.

          And then the composer writes: When I called, you answered me. I grew up in a family in which when someone’s name was called, an acknowledgement, a response, was expected. Mark did not, which means that when we began to be in relationship, that was something we had to sort out. “Just grunt or something,” I would say. “Let me know you heard me talking.” And he would make a joke about the adults on Charlie Brown animated shows: “Wha-wha-wha-wha-wha.”

Proximity to the person talking typically enhances relationship – something that cell-phone commercials have made much of. “Can you hear me now?” But: in writing, When I called you, you answered me, the composer of this psalm makes it clear that no matter how distant he or she might feel from the one true God, there is always a response. Every time. Without the excuse my sisters and I would sometimes try: “I didn’t hear you!”

The composer clearly understands that proximity enhances relationship. And sings the praises of God, who always hears, regardless of distance, and steadfastly, repeatedly, every time, answers. Every time.

The true God, the God of the composer – Yahweh – is so infinitely great, so immeasurably glorious, that all the rulers of the earth will praise you, O Lord, when they have heard the words of your mouth. Not “if,” but “when.”

And then what happens?

The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly, perceiving the haughty from afar. There’s that distance again! This God, Yahweh, who is over the cosmos, is not at all distant for those who have no power, no status, no right, no logical expectation of being close to God. God runs across that broad sunlit meadow, arms stretched wide, like the father racing toward the prodigal son, and catches the lowly ones up in a great bear hug, the kind you and I get from someone who is just delighted to see us.

The psalms are Hebrew poetry, which means that in many cases, they contain pairs of lines in which the same idea is restated. That’s the case in verse six here. The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly, knowing “the proud” from a distance. The relationship is different when you and I are proud. And what is pride, at its core, but utter self-reliance? The belief that life is a solo act, that we celebrate how much we stand and move through our journey all on our own, with no help. It’s what leads us to insist that we can carry all the grocery bags in from the car in one trip – or lose the circulation in our fingers trying.

The composer of this psalm is singing praises to God because he or she has no expectation of being allowed within the velvet rope. No hope at all of getting into the club. And yet God hears. And answers. Every time! Over and over again. So that it’s clear that living within the Kingdom of God – living in that broad sunlit meadow in anticipation every moment of God’s joyous embrace – is also living each day as though the Kingdom of God right here and right now for you and for me is a kingdom of God’s love, a kingdom of mercy. And that mercy is the justice of the Kingdom of God. God’s love – God’s mercy – is not a forfeiture of what is right; mercy is what is right.

That is: the Kingdom of God is here and now when you and I travel along a path through our lives with the core belief that we are called to look at every other person and animal and plant and living thing and see how much God is embracing every part of God’s creation. And our invitation, our response, to this kind of extravagant, yet deeply personal embrace, is simply to hug right back. To receive and to share that joy with everyone we encounter, every time we encounter them. Without judgment. Without registering the great divide between “someone else” and me. But to run toward every opportunity to love one another, across the broad sunlit meadow of God.