In Great Company

Scripture Focus: Psalm 68.11
11 The Lord announces the word,
    and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng:

Reflection: In Great Company
By John Tillman

For a decade of ministry, I quoted this verse from the NKJV: “…Great was the company of those who proclaimed it.” (Psalm 68.11) Our traveling ministry group was called “The Company.” When we introduced ourselves, we leaned into the pun but emphasized that “great” did not refer to the quality of our group but to the great number of God’s people charged to proclaim the good news.

Some commentators describe Psalm 68 as a liturgical script for a procession. It may have been a song to accompany a reenactment of the Ark of the Covenant arriving at the Temple. As an artist and actor, this possibility is intriguing. It does seem that parts of the psalm reenact the past, and parts predict the future.

In context, the “word” proclaimed in this psalm is good news of a battle won. Powerful and wicked kings and armies are overthrown as if they are nothing. The psalmist compares them to smoke scattered with a breath or wax melting away before the flames even touch it.

It is news of a victor who is mighty to save. The vulnerable are protected. The lonely are gathered into families. The prisoners are liberated. The poor are bountifully supplied.

This word of good news is true in several ways. It is historically and literally true. God gave Israel many military victories. It is prophetically and metaphysically true. God promises to crush the serpent’s head and destroy evil throughout all time and creation.

Most of all, it is finally, physically and spiritually true in Jesus. He shed his blood for us, his enemies, and was crushed for our misdeeds. Yet, he is the victor who wins the battle. He has overthrown sin and death as if they were nothing. He is the liberator who breaks captives’ chains. He is the provider who bountifully gives to the poor.

We don’t do many celebratory liturgical reenactments in the modern church. One that we do often, however, is communion. When partaking of the cup and the bread, you are also proclaiming its message. Communion proclaims Jesus’ death, his victory, his gifts, and his glory. 

We are part of a great company charged with proclaiming the good news. Let our reenactment spill out of the sanctuary. May we reenact and proclaim the life of Jesus, not merely in art or liturgy but in action and love.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to be heard;
Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip. — Psalm 66.7-8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 16 (Listen 3:46)
Psalms 68 (Listen 4:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 17 (Listen 7:19Psalms 69 (Listen 4:04)
2 Kings 18 (Listen 6:72Psalms 70-71 (Listen 3:29)

Read more about The Facade of Worship
What platforms are we willing to sacrifice for that compete with the sole worship of God? Some things must be secondary in life; God must be primary.

Read more about Platforming Idols
Sometimes, not always, the burden in our lives is the false god we’ve decided to carry…

Platforming Idols

Scripture Focus: Psalm 68:19
19 Blessed be the Lord who daily bears our burden. God is our salvation.

Isaiah 46.1-2
1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
    their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
    a burden for the weary.
2 They stoop and bow down together;
    unable to rescue the burden,
    they themselves go off into captivity.

Reflection: Platforming Idols
By Erin Newton

“Important” people are easy to spot. These social influencers are usually surrounded by crowds. Royalty and the political elite are transported in special caravans. The importance of a person is often depicted by how they are presented to the common people. (Even Star Wars’ Boba Fett is mocked for walking instead of being carried as a symbol of status.)

The vision set forth in Psalm 68 is a royal procession. God has cleared away his enemies, he goes before the people who sing songs of the great deeds he has done. Gifts from foreign kings are brought to his temple sitting high upon a mountain. All while the earth trembles at his presence.

God is lifted high to the center of attention, glory, and majesty. Amid this promenade, an interesting statement is made. God daily bears our burdens.

The ancient world had religious ceremonies where idols were carried out among the worshippers. Images gilded in gold and set with precious gems would ride upon platforms for the crowd to revere. However, Isaiah 46.1 reveals the true nature of these gods. “The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary.” These gods, once exalted in festivals, are a millstone around the neck of the people. They go from deities to rubbish, “…unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.”

What a difference between the gods of the earth and the true God of heaven!

The psalmist expressed not only the magnificence of God but the unique nature of his intercession for his people. God is not the burden on our backs. My early life was one filled with extensive legalism. The daily spiritual checklist that I thought defined my worth was burdensome. Legalism did not anchor me in faith, it anchored me into hell.

Are there things you have trusted that were more burdensome than you imagined? Sometimes, not always, the burden in our lives is the false god we’ve decided to carry. It is time to remember that God is the one bearing our burdens. Abide in him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart. — Psalm 32.12

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 6 (Listen – 3:22)
Psalm 68 (Listen – 4:26)

Read more about Gods of Ruin and Ridicule
We must decide every day whom we will serve. The gods of this world bring ruin and ridicule.

Read more about Lamenting Materialism
Today, Ba’al wouldn’t be a rain god, he’d be Gordon Gekko. Or Bernie Madoff. Or Jordan Belafort…Materialism is one of the chief idols of our age.

Too Good Not to Be True

Psalm 68.11
Your procession, God, has come into view,
   the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary.
In front are the singers, after them the musicians;
   with them are the young women playing the timbrels.

Reflection: Too Good Not to Be True
By John Tillman

I have personally always been drawn to the unusual stories of the Bible and I pray that many of you have benefited from an extended look at Balaam this week.

I worked with some writing partners on a children’s Bible teaching curriculum for many years. But before that curriculum, my partners had worked on another curriculum with a major Christian publisher. My partners wanted to tell the story of Balaam, but got pushback from the publishers, “Donkeys don’t talk and we don’t want to confuse the children.” My friends responded, “Does that mean we can’t teach Lazarus because dead men don’t come out of the grave?” The publisher eventually got their way and the Balaam lesson was cut.

It was a deep feeling of accomplishment when we eventually put a lesson on Balaam in the curriculum we wrote together later.

In his book, Telling the Truth, Frederick Buechner challenges preachers not to shy away from the fantastic and the miraculous, but to tell the truth in all its childishness.

“The preacher is apt to preach the gospel with the high magic taken out, the deep mystery reduced to a manageable size.

The wild and joyful promise of the gospel is reduced to promises more easily kept. The peace that passeth all understanding is reduced to peace that anybody can understand. The faith that can move mountains and raise the dead becomes faith that can help make life bearable until death ends it. Eternal life becomes a metaphor for the way the good a man does lives after him.

Let the preacher stretch our imagination and strain our credulity and make our jaws drop because the sad joke of it is that if he does not, then of all people he is almost the only one left who does not…

The joke of it is that often it is the preacher who as steward of the wildest mystery of them all is the one who hangs back, prudent, cautious, hopelessly mature and wise to the last when no less than Saint Paul tells him to be a fool for Christ’s sake, no less than Christ tells him to be a child for his own and the kingdom’s sake.

Let the preacher tell the truth…Let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true.” 

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me. — Psalm 101.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 25 (Listen – 2:20) 
Psalm 68 (Listen – 4:26)

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Read more about Balaams and Balaks
Balaam is not concerned with whether what the king wants is right or moral. He does not care about reconciling men or nations to God. Balaam’s prophecies are for sale.

Read more about The Prophet of Profit
Despite his close relationship with God and his ability to hear God speak Balaam seems to show the Lord no loyalty, reverence, or love.