If Casey Kasem were to do a count down of the Psalms, Psalm 52 would not be in the Top 40.
But Casey Kasem didn’t create the lectionary or write the Psalms. So when Psalm 52 appeared as the assigned Psalm for Sunday, July 18, 2010 in the lectionary, I felt a responsibility to study this difficult little chunk of God’s Word and present it in the best possible light to my congregation. The problem is that a casual reading of the text highlights a “holier than thou” vibe which is a turn off in our culture (v3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth) which is quickly followed by another cultural taboo–wishing ill on others: v5 God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Yikes.
The gulf between the Psalmist’s culture and ours is pretty wide, but if we dig a bit deeper arrive at some common ground. Psalm 52 works out of a basic belief that there is a good way to live and a bad way to live. Yes, you can get ahead using deceit, treachery and lies. (Come on, we’ve all been the recipients or perpetrators of this approach.) But in the end, our riches will provide no refuge in the face of death. So, the Psalmist says, it is better to live a life of trust in God’s steadfast love.
But enough preaching! The song started its life as an email to two friends asking if they knew of any dynamite settings of Psalm 52. Doug Gay wrote back in short order with his own metrical version of the Psalm. As the clock kept ticking I didn’t feel like I had any winners from my hymnal collection, so I sat down with Doug’s text at the piano. A new tune slowly emerged, and a new version of his text emerged as well. I don’t know that I’m ready to declare it finished yet, but we sang it in church on Sunday and it worked pretty well.