A is for Apocrypha; P is for Psalms

given on Sunday, April 7, 2013

Every once and a while an idea just starts bubbling up in the brain, and no matter what you do, you cannot get rid of it.  Several weeks ago, even before Lent, I started wondering about the apocrypha.  Never had it been included either in Bible studies or in Sunday school classes, or even mentioned in sermons.

Yet, somehow I wanted to know what was locked away in this series of Biblical books.   Maybe the term Biblical does not apply because the books certainly are not included in our common versions of the Bible.  Still I could not shake the questions and the ideas that seemed to be flooding my brain.

Even though Lent demanded attention and then Easter called for more traditional readings and sermons, I could only subdue the raging in my head until time had come to consider post-Easter sermons.  That is when the phrase exploded—A is for Apocrypha!  Post-Easter means April and the A’s had come together—A is for Apocrypha.

To begin, the apocrypha is published in between the old and the new testaments and usually only in Catholic Bibles.  Why?  Turns out that the dates the various books are written are between 400 BC and Christ’s birth.  Apparently the gap really does not exist because various religious manuscripts surfaced during that time and were commonly accepted by the Jewish leaders.

Today we opened our service with Psalm 150; a glorious hymn of praise that we frequently include when the tone of our worship is full of energy and excitement.  The tone reverberates the loud music that is listed within the lines.  As April begins and we finally see the promise of spring, the promise of God’s gift of eternal life, Psalm 150 lifts us up from the worst of winter and makes us want to jump for joy.  A is for April, but P is for Psalms of Praise!

As Christians we recognize that Psalm 150 closes the book in the Old Testament.  Studies of Psalms explains the breakdown of the book into various themes and are arranged in an order that journeys the reader through the emotional ups and downs typically associated with David’s life.  Some are written by David, some are not.  But buried in the apocrypha is Psalm 151.  Why?

The Bible is a foundation for our faith.  We read it for guidance, for understanding, for God because he can speak through the words to guide us in our daily lives.  The Old Testament is what the Jewish people read.  The New Testament is added so the story of Christ completes or bridges our earthly life to eternal life.

Psalm 151 is different from those in the Old Testament.  It is autobiographical, written by King David, explaining God’s choice of him over his brothers.  Look back at those verses 1-4:

I was the smallest of my brothers,
the youngest of my father’s sons.
He made me shepherd of his flock,
ruler over their young.

My hands made a flute,
my fingers a lyre.
Let me give glory to the Lord,
I thought to myself.

The mountains
cannot witness to God;
the hills cannot proclaim him.
But the trees have cherished
my words,
the flocks my deeds.

Who can proclaim,
who can announce,
who can declare the Lord’s deeds?
God has seen everything;
God has heard everything;
God has listened.  —the CEB

The first verses of the psalm show who David is—a shepherd, a musician, an average guy who seemingly does not have the same qualities of his brothers.  Yet it is David that God chooses rather than any one of his brothers who most would identify as leaders of a nation.

Some translations of Psalm 151 consider the four verses the complete psalm.  But the scroll on which this psalm was found included the other two verses:

God sent his prophet to anoint me;
Samuel to make me great.
My brothers went out to meet him,
handsome in form and appearance:

Their stature tall,
their hair beautiful,
but the Lord God
did not choose them.

Instead, he sent and took me
from following the flock.
God anointed me with holy oil;
God made me leader for his people,
ruler over the children
of his covenant.  —the CEB

These three verses refer back to the story of David and Goliath.  They are written as autobiographical—in first person—so it does not follow the typical pattern of the 150 psalms already included.  In fact, one reference explains that the scroll on which the psalm is written was ripped.  There has been no way to assure scholars that verse 7 completed the psalm or whether there were more that have been lost.

Is there a message in Psalm 151?  Certainly.  God chooses those to serve.  David may not have felt he was worthy to be called in comparison to his own brothers, but he answered the call.  And in the verses 5 and 6, he explains that by referring back to his battle with Goliath.  He was the smallest, most unlikely of his family to become the leader that he did.  God called him, God anointed him, and God made him leader of the Israelites.

Are we hearing God’s call?  Maybe we do, but we do not believe in ourselves enough to answer.  All too often we ignore God’s calling.  All too often we talk ourselves out of acknowledging God’s call to us personally.  God knows the gifts he provides us, God goes with us wherever we go, and God gives us the strength to handle the whatever we must as long as we believe.

April is renewal.  Easter was the beginning of a new chapter in Christianity.  And just like A is for Apocrypha and P is for Psalms, there is more for us in April:

R is for Reading scriptures;

I is for Inspiration from the scriptures; and

L is for Listening to the Word of God.

The Old Testament spoke to the ancient tribes of Israel; the New Testament speaks to Christians since the beginning of the Church.  What lies in the Apocrypha is a mystery to the Protestants, but has been speaking to the Catholics and the Greek Orthodox faithful.  Therefore, A is for APRIL, a time of renewal, of exploration, and of listening to the stories of the Apocrypha, too.

Dear Eternal Father, Author of Our Lives,.

Open our minds to the stories in the scriptures.

Open our hearts to the messages Your Words share.

Keep us curious as we seek understanding.

Keep us faithful to Your commandments.

Use us to reach out to others in need of Your grace.

Use us to demonstrate Your love to one and another.

As the scriptures tell us the story,

Let us tell the story, too, so others may be transformed.  –Amen

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