Tumbling in the Sand
The texts for November 20, 2011: Ezekiel 34:11–16, 20–24; Psalm 95:1–7a; Ephesians 1:15–23; and Matthew 25:31–46
“For the LORD is our God, and we are the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of God’s hand.” – Psalm 95: 7
I love this psalm. I think it is my favorite part of morning prayer, set beautifully to a singable melody. In fact, I have this psalm memorized and I used to sing it in the car to myself on long trips when I had the car with no radio (not so much now with the new car with the nice, working sound system). But this line in the psalm always makes me smile. It seems like it’s mixed up. I mean, Psalm 100 puts it similarly, but not quite: “Know that the Lord is God, our maker to whom we belong; we are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.” (Psalm 100:3) See: sheep belong in the pasture, and people in God’s hand… This passage in Psalm 95 makes me imagine people down on their hands and knees munching happily on grass.
I wonder if it is because of the previous passage in the same psalm, where the psalmist invites us to worship, bow down and kneel before the Lord our maker, and that by doing so, we kind of look a little more like sheep, like we people should be put out to pasture. I wonder if it is meant to be playful. I kind of like that idea, that praise and worship of this God whom we declare Lord of all could be playful. To me, it helps to soften the image of this harsh Son of God on a throne, separating sheep and goats with all serious judgement and intent to punish. Because, maybe, just maybe, if playfulness were such an integral part of the worship of God, perhaps God, too, is playful. And perhaps that’s what this parable is about—it’s about God’s playfulness.
See, we have this idea about how things ought to be ordered, about how it is that power is held and displayed. We take all of that very seriously—deadly seriously, even: enforcing power with, well, force. But this king shows up—this God shows up and plays hide and seek with us and power. We think that we should be looking to God for all things? Look again! God is tapping us on the shoulder asking us for a cup of water. We think we should be looking up to look for God? Well, look again! God’s kneeling down, washing our feet. We think that the Son of Man is hanging out in glorious array on a throne? Well, look again! In the very next two chapters of Matthew, we find him hanging on a cross. We find God where we don’t expect to find God, and when that happens our entire deadly-serious world of power and authority gets flipped on it’s head and we’re left feeling, well, perhaps a little sheepish? That, and thankful. Thankful because the only true justice is justice that redeems this world from sin and death to joy and laughter and life. And that justice can only come from a God who turns power on its head by destroying death itself.
Featured image by Joyce Keith. From her travel blog.