Sights and Insights
Written by Peter Jensen
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
Last week, Pastor asked if I would write a meditation for Sight and Insight. He suggested two verses from Psalm 40 and offered some guidance. I was quick to respond affirmatively, thinking how difficult could this be?
I was struck by the line “I have told the glad new of deliverance in the great congregation” and wanted to read the entire Psalm 40 to understand the context of this line. When I looked it up online, I wasn’t paying attention to which translation and came upon the King James version of 1611. In it, verse 9 reads “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation” and I became concerned. What does it mean to be righteous? Am I righteous? Have I preached righteousness? Who is the great congregation?
When I read the psalm from the beginning, no matter what version I read from, I am reading the story of a person whose life is dismal and failing and this person has no one to call upon for help other than God. In just eight lines, this person writes of opening up to God and of all the good that has happened because of this. When the author says “I have told the glad news of deliverance” he is simply saying I have told my story.
Who is this great congregation? The Psalms are central texts of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the children of Abraham. The great congregation is the people of God.
The structure of our sanctuary is unique in that when we gather as a congregation to worship and praise God, we sit around all sides of our Lord’s table. While I might see the back of a few persons’ heads, I will certainly see the faces of so many more that are gathered across the table from me. Looking carefully, I see joyful faces, quiet faces, solemn faces, distracted faces, nervous faces, sad faces, calm faces. I see a subtle tapestry of emotions in the faces of our congregation. In all the emotions that I see, I understand that we are living out the story that the author of this psalm has written about. He wrote it for us to sing about.
When we affirm out Baptism, the congregation affirms that it will be a witness to our journey, and that they will guide us and lift us up. By gathering around this table, we see each other’s journey, we are witnesses to each other’s story and this enables us to stand with each other.
So often I think of righteousness as someone telling a glorious story of perfection and looking down on my imperfection. Righteousness also means speaking of what is right and of being honest. I don’t think we can tell the story of God’s perfect love if we don’t know what it means to be broken and imperfect. At times I am righteous about my perfection, yet my truth is that I am perfectly imperfect.
August 18, 2021