|Episcopal Church in Minnesota|
Environmental Stewardship Commission
Year A, Easter 2, Psalm
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the deeds of the LORD! *
His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
He gives food to those who fear him; *
|He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice;
They stand fast for ever and ever, *
He sent redemption to his people;
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; *
Reflection on Psalm 111
by John Gibbs, Ph D
"Becoming People Who Are Safe for the World"
This psalm's most famous verse is the first half of the 10th: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." But it may also be the most widely misunderstood. "Fear" is not to be understood as being scared half to death. That we know from other biblical texts, such as Job 9:34 (".not let dread of him terrify me.") and Job 13:21 (".do not let dread of you terrify me."), both texts referring to God.
In his great book The Idea of the Holy (NY: Oxford, 1924) Rudolf Otto (who taught theology at Marburg in Germany) describes efforts to convey the meaning of this Hebrew word [emat] in modern languages. He suggests that the English "awe" comes closest to saying what was meant in Hebrew (p. 14). Awe includes astonishment and wonder.
We are both attracted and repelled by that "great mystery" (mysterium tremendum) for which we have awe. There is "a power greater than ourselves" to which we are accountable, and from which we gather strength for life, as is often said in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. That is not naked power, but the power of grace and mercy (111:4). Awe before God the Lord recalls God's "wonderful deeds" especially in upholding God's covenant (111:5,9), within which "the Lord is gracious and merciful." "Holy and awesome is his name" (111:9).
"PTL," "Praise the Lord" recalls all that. It is not to be said glibly from any self-righteous perspective. The whole history of Israel informs this "Praise the Lord." Wisdom starts in awe before that Lord God, and that history of God's dealings with God's People. Wisdom begins in my giving thanks to this Lord with my whole personality as it has been formed "in the congregation" (111:1).
Awed wisdom bears fruit in the world at large. Those who experience this "awe" know experientially its social consequences: "They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous. It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice. .They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor." (111:4f, 9).
In our time social justice and environmental justice are mutually interactive. Whatever we do against the environment is done also to "the least of these" our neighbors. Whatever we do to preserve the creation for posterity also serves well the poorest nations who are most vulnerable to effects of climate change.
The worship of God is the beginning of wisdom about the ecology of humanity and nature in one creation.
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA
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