Cries for Mercy

Lesson 40 –

Psalm 80:7-15 NRSV

7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.

Background
We’ve studied Psalms before and noted the breadth of human experience it details inside. There is a Psalm for nearly every human emotion. This passage is sandwiched between a plea for mercy (in Psalm 79) and a word from God about stubbornness (Psalm 81). Have you ever felt sandwiched between asking for mercy and feeling guilt about your actions? What did that feel like?

Today’s lesson will focus on cries for mercy. Read the scripture out loud together.
Discuss with someone in your home. When have you asked for mercy recently?
What’s happening during this passage?

The writer pleads to God for a “restoration.” God’s face is so desired and longed- for. The writer reflects on the metaphor of the “vine out of Egypt.” Driving out nations, God “planted it,” “Cleared the ground for it,” and it “took deep root and field the land.” The mountains were covered with it. The text describes a vine that moves across the land from “sea” and to “River.”

And yet, the writer asks why God has “broken down its walls” and opened up vulnerabilities for the vine. The writer asks for protection and “regard” so that the vine can come to its former glory. God is asked to “look down from heaven and see.”

Who are these nations?
The “Promised Land” that was given to those in the Wilderness was inhabited before they settled. How is it a Promised Land if someone else lives there already?
While the writer of this passage may have endured their own trauma and oppression, does that excuse the colonization of this new land? Is it a Promised Land if one has to eject people out of that land to live there? Is there enough space for all of us to live with dignity?

What is the general mood of this passage?
Perhaps you read this writer as needy. Desperate. Pleading. These are all valid postures, given what the writer may be enduring. It can be true that the writer has shaky and violent concepts about “driving out the nations” while also having personal and communal struggle. This passage reminds us of the stickiness and even complexity of the human condition. Somehow, the writer can use flowery language to describe their abandonment, and yet, does not see that God has a responsibility to the “driven out” nations as well.

Who has been a predator for this vine? Is it an external or an internal threat?
The writer sees all threats (and help) as external. It is the “boar from the forest” who ravages the vine. It is the ones who “pass along the way who pluck its fruit.”
It is the fault of a “broken wall.” For whatever reason, the writer sees threats as external, not internal.

And at the same time, the writer pleads to God for mercy. Depending on how one imagines God, this can be an internal help or external. If we believe God is within us, and among us, then this is a prayer to someone within reach. But this writer has a different opinion and experience. The writer of this passage sees God as someone who is “looking down from heaven.” There is a clear and explicit sense of distance between the People and God.

What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?

Connection to Today’s World

In spring 2012, religious scholar and author George “Tink” Tinker (wazhazhe / Osage Nation) was giving a lecture. He said to the crowd, “Beautiful place y’all have here. So, how’d you get it?” His point was, “How did Lutheran folk end up with so much Indian land across the northern tier of the United States?” In his own words, he argues that the Doctrine of Discovery was a legal doctrine that Christian Explorers used to claim ownership of Native land.

What does mercy look like for those who have stolen land? How can such violence be rectified? Can they be rectified? And how do you think God feels about God’s name being used to justify these moves?

Journal: What does mercy look like in your everyday life? Have you gotten everything you deserve, good or bad?

Closing: Sing/watch “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,”

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Prayer:

Dear God,
You are the one who not only looks down from heaven, but you look out from among us. You are with us even when we do not feel your presence. We are bouncing about between news cycles and stories of so many disorienting updates. We are human, we are flawed, we are works in progress. We are as di- verse as the grains of sand on a beach. And somehow, we must all figure out how to be together on this Shore. Make your presence known. Protect us and all vulnerable people. In Jesus’ name we pray,
Amen

Works Cited:
https://catholicnetwork.us/2017/10/30/george-tinker-on-the-doctrine-of-christian-discovery-and-the-language-of-empire/

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