Guests: and

Leading Question: When do we as humans need God’s mercy?

Scripture Focus: Psalm 57:9, 10, Psalm 136, Psalm 51

The Big Idea: The covenant loyalty of God is a theme that runs throughout the Bible, and God invites his people to not only see how his covenant love continues forever as the bedrock of existence but also how the invitation remains for humans to partner with God and embody covenant love.

For Discussion:

Discussion question: Psalm 51 is a well-known poem, memorized by many, some of its lines being used a lyrics in modern songs. What is your most vivid memory of this prayer? Are there mental pictures you associate with it? Why do you think it is such a popular and oft-quoted poem?

In Psalm 136 we find an extended recounting of God as creator and as deliverer of his people, every line of which is followed by a short yet powerful refrain “His love endures forever.” The word translated “love” here in the New International Version is the Hebrew word ḥesed, a word that can also be translated “lovingkindness,” “mercy,” or “covenant loyalty.” This word occurs hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible, and around half of the occurrences are in the book of Psalms.

This word describes covenant relationship, and captures the unchangeable state—God’s ḥesed never fails. This word is also an invitation. Humans are invited to emulate covenant love, to embody it in their relationships not only with God, but also with themselves, with others, and with the created world.

Yitz Greenberg talks about ḥesed this way:
“The word ḥesed describes more than lovingkindness; ḥesed really means covenantal love, i.e., love that becomes committed and obligated to the other. Judaism teaches that all humans are related and bound to each other. To perfect the world and to become fully human, individuals enter into a covenantal community. As partners, they are obligated to serve, nurture and sustain each other and thereby to bring out the image of God (infinite worth, equality, and uniqueness) of the other.”

Psalm 136 is a call and response liturgy that recounts the history of God with the people. As you read over it, imagine being part of a group of people re-affirming rhythmically “His lovingkindness endures forever.”

Discussion question: What is covenant loyalty/mercy/lovingkindness? Is there a particular story from the Bible that puts “skin” on this concept for you? If so, which story?

Discussion question: And what is the impact of reciting “his lovingkindness endures forever” in the presence of a throng of others? How is our experience of liturgy different in collective contexts versus reading a song silently in our heads while alone in our rooms?

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