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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Overturning the Princes.



Psalm 146.

I.
            Psalm 146 is one of the most beloved pieces in the psalter.  It has been used regularly by God’s people for thousands of years.  Many Jews and many traditional Christians say this psalm every morning as part of their morning prayers.  In the eastern church, Psalm 146 is chanted at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy nearly every Sunday.
            The Psalm praises God for the way God helps us.  First, we are advised not to put our trust in “princes,” that is, in human leaders and powers. 
            We are in the middle of an election year.  I don’t need to remind anyone of this.  We just completed two weeks of propaganda spectacles called National Conventions.  In about six weeks, we will have big decisions to make.
            I know there is a wide divergence of opinion in our congregation concerning whom to vote for.  We are citizens, and we are called to express our faith by means of the political decisions we make.  I know we will all make our choices prayerfully, responsibly, carefully, and faithfully.  That is what is important. 
            But no matter who gets your vote, remember that in no case are we electing a Savior.  This is not about who will be our Redeemer or Deliverer or Liberator.  Not even our best Presidents were perfect and worthy of complete allegiance.
            Neither do we require or even expect perfection or holiness from our President.  If you want someone perfect you can write in Jesus’ name, but Jesus rejected such power when the devil offered it to him.  In other words, he wouldn’t take the job. We’re not even looking for a saint.  There are no saints among our Presidents, historically.  The ones who came closest to being saints did so only after they were out of office. 
            A Presidential election is a contest to see who will be the alpha dog in the strongest street gang on the planet.  All our choices are wildly imperfect.  All are flawed.  All have compromised with the power of evil.  That’s how they got where they are.
            That doesn’t mean we don’t vote.  It means we don’t “trust in” people to ultimately lead us.  Humans are mortal.  And our mortality, our liability to death, our temporality, which is to say our subjection to time and space, makes us imperfect.  By nature we cannot see clearly.  Our perceptions and understanding are breathtakingly limited.  We are so radically self-centered, that our every thought is tainted, conditioned, twisted, and biased.  Objectivity is impossible for us.
            In addition, every leader, especially in a democracy, has to compromise even a lot of whatever goodness they do have in order to get things done.  Politics is the art of settling for the lesser evil, and the lesser good.  Politicians will not bring about, or even witness to, the Kingdom of God.  They can’t.  They wouldn’t get elected if they did.

II.
            Once that is clear, the Psalmist goes on to talk about God’s ultimate trustworthiness.  Human leaders are undependable; but we may rely upon God.
            First, it is important to indicate which God we are talking about: it is the Lord, the God of Jacob.  Israel’s God, in other words.
            This God is first of all the Creator, who made heaven and earth and all that is in them.  God is trustworthy because God made the earth, and all the patterns and laws and intricate balances of life are all from God.  The fact that God is the Maker means that there is purpose and integrity and coherence to what God has made.  There are certain things we may depend on.  The laws of physics and thermodynamics.  Gravity. 
            Most of all we may depend upon the truth that the planet was made for life and life always triumphs in the end.  Life always finds a way.  No matter how awful the catastrophe, extinction never has the final say.  Life always bounces back, recovers, and thrives.  God is the God of life.
            This means that even in our own little, temporary existences, life will always win.  Even if death ends our time on the earth, we still confess that God’s life transcends the biological life of the body.  Even death is a victory for life, according to our faith.  “God keeps faith forever.”
            The triumph of life over chaos, entropy, and extinction is also visible and tangible in the kinds of things God is always doing in the world. 
            The Psalmist tells us that this God is the redeemer, liberator, healer, and judge of humanity.  This is the God whose work it is to turn our world, our standards, our values, our prejudices, our whole society upside down.
            In spite of what our “princes” have made of this world, with their injustice and violence and exploitation and waste, God is always in the world, the world god made, to reverse trends that try and reverse God’s will.  When we invent systems that militate against God, God intervenes to correct it.  God restores the balance that life needs. 
            We can trust in this action.  God will bring light into our darkness, and God is always coaxing life out of our death.  The gentle will inherit the earth; the kingdom of God belongs to the poor; those who have too much will meet God’s redistributive justice.  This is happening so regularly and frequently throughout the Scriptures that it constitutes perhaps their main story-line.

III.   
            So we hear that God executes justice for the oppressed.  And for God, justice is not necessarily what we would call fair.  For God, justice means restoring the equality and balance needed for life to thrive.  The lowly are raised up and those who exalt themselves are brought down.  It doesn’t matter to God how they managed to raise themselves up.  It doesn’t matter if they say they did a lot of good along the way while they were raising themselves up.
            God feeds the hungry.  And that is the only qualification necessary to be fed.  There is no other means-test.  God made this planet perfectly able to feed everyone.  If that’s not happening, God will intervene to make it happen.  If you are empty, God will fill you.  If you are thirsty, God gives you something to drink.  Those who have nothing receive, and those who have everything lose.  Our God is a God of reversals.  Humans, especially those “princes,” try to make society in their own image.  They have to turn God’s world upside down in order to do this.  God comes into the world to turn it back over to right-side up again.
            To us, God’s world is a kind of “oppositeland.”  Whatever the situation is now, as created by the powers and principalities, God overturns.  He sets free prisoners; he shows how those who think they are free are really in bondage.  He makes the blind to see; he shows how those who think they see very well really perceive nothing.  He lifts up those who are bowed down; and he shows how those who think they are so high and exalted are really subjects, crushed under weights of their own making. 
            “The Lord loves the righteous!”  Righteousness is also something defined by God and exemplified in Jesus Christ.  The righteous is one who lives in and witnesses to these reversals of our standards and orders.  The righteous obey the original justice and balance of God.  They participate in God’s overturning the overturning of God’s will done by human leaders.
            God watches over strangers and aliens.  No one is a stranger or an alien to God.  God’s people know what it is like to be aliens from the days in Egypt.  We now recognize no one as alien, undocumented, illegal, or a stranger.  These are human categories imposed upon us by “princes.”  Neither God nor God’s people have anything to do with them.
            God upholds orphans and widows, those whom our societies and economies leave in the dust, without support or income.  And if God upholds them, that means God’s people uphold them, which is the point.  This is not about standing around and waiting for God to feed people.  It means being God’s people by doing God’s work in God’s name, as Jesus does.

IV.
            All these things that are God’s responsibility become our responsibility.  We are not spectators.  We are God’s agents.  All these things in verse 7 through 9 are things God empowers us to do.  In Jesus Christ we are God’s hands in the world, when we obey God in selfless humility.
            God will bring the way of the wicked to ruin.  But the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord loves those in whom God’s Word is real and active.  The Lord loves those who do the work and live the life we are given in Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
            May our lives, and the life of our church, also reflect and express God’s Word and will.  May we support each other in this project, knowing that God has given us the power, and we need only to get ourselves out of the way and allow God to use us.
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