I grew up in a parsonage. Fortunately, and rather uncommonly, my whole childhood was raised in the same town and the same church. When I first became a pastor I thought that my childhood had introduced me well enough to this role. Oh how wrong I was… I had no clue what this role would mean until I stepped into it. And all of a sudden memories of my father’s 23 year pastorate came flooding in; memories I hadn’t remembered.
One story that has come to mid frequently and recently is that of a quarrel in the congregation. The full details have left me, but apparently one parishioner was frustrated at either my dad or a situation in the church and vocalized this to my father and other parishioners. He was visibly taken aback and maybe a bit stunned by the comments. Upon seeing his reaction a fellow parishioner said dismissively, “Oh don’t worry about her, Pastor, she has a narrow base.” My dad’s response, “What do you mean?” “You know, she has a narrow base, she topples easily.”
Having a narrow base has since become a common phrase in our household. Someone with a narrow base is the opposite of those old creepy clown punching bags. You remember those? No matter how hard you punched or kicked those nasty things they would always pop back up!
At the sake of transitioning too abruptly, our Psalm for the fourth Sunday of Epiphany is one of the most straightforward in all of the Psalms. It was likely used as a liturgical processional ritual. It would have been used as a question and answer ritual for entering the temple. It isn’t written in the recognizable poetic forms we may be familiar with. It’s rather easy to understand.
It begins, Who can inhabit your tent? What does God desire of those who worship? It might be expected that the response would be something like burnt offerings or sacrifices, but this isn’t what we see. At least not in terms of the sacrifice of an animal. I would contend, though, that this Psalm says that God desires the sacrifice of one’s own body and one’s own self.
This short psalm is filled with bodily language. It begins by saying those who can enter God’s tent are those who walk blamelessly and who speak truth. Where we go and what we say ought to be given to the Lord. But more than that, it is those who speak truth from their heart; an explicit bodily reference. It continues that they do not slander with their tongue. Our bodies are participants in the things we say and do.
Then the psalmist mentions that these are those whose eyes do not look upon the wicked, who stand by their oath. Even verse 5 intimates bodily surrender. The Hebrew word for interest (nesek) comes from the root meaning “to bite.” The interest is something bitten off. Those who can enter the temple are those “who do not lend money that bites.”
Maybe this Psalm doesn’t mention burnt offerings or animal sacrifices because what God really wants of God’s people is a sacrificed life, a sacrificed self. We see this in the bodily referents, but more so in the content of those referents. A sacrificial life is a righteous life (verse 2), it is an honest life (verse 2), it is a hospitable life (verse 3), it is a holy life (verse 4), it is standing with your word (verse 4), but then it is a just life (verse 5). Those who enter God’s holy dwelling practice justice, righteousness, reconciliation, and are peace-mongers.
One can’t help but hear echoes of our first reading, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8.
And all of this brings us to the tag of the psalm: “Those who do these things shall never be moved.” This word for “moved” in Hebrew מוֹט (mōt) is more demonstrative than simply “moved.” It means “to topple,” “to fall,” or (my favorite) “to totter.”
It seems to me that it’s becoming easier and easier to topple over. Throughout the recent American election we’ve seen nearly all parties totter at the slightest issue. Yes, we’ve seen our now president seemingly totter over issues as insignificant as the size of the inauguration ceremony. But he’s just the easiest target. Pundits and media personalities are so easy to topple due to the slightest issue.
It seems that we have given so much energy and attention to those who have incredibly narrow bases.
Here come the words of the psalmist: those who are permitted to enter God’s tent – those who are noble, honest, just, peacemaking, forthright – will not easily topple. They will stand by their word even if it hurts them; even if it tarnishes a reputation.
If these who live this way will never totter what does it mean when we’re so easily tottered?  McMann, J. Clinton, Jr. New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015, p. 340.