“Praise the Lord”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 11, 2018

Psalm 146

 

On this first Sunday after the first Tuesday in November…

In the wake of another bitterly-contested election season…

In the wake of campaign ads filled with half-truths and fear-mongering and mud-slinging…

In the wake of some races still undecided, still undergoing recounts and legal challenges…

In the wake of electoral results that, for people on all parts of the political spectrum, held some good news and some bad news, some elation and some devastation, some hope and some despair…

The lectionary offers us a gift today.

The three-year cycle of assigned scripture readings is tied to the liturgical year, not to our secular calendar.  The readings assigned to this Sunday do not always fall on the weekend after Election Day.  The compilers of the lectionary, decades ago, did not choose these texts knowing the context we would face today, here, now, in the United States, in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut, in 2018.

But the Holy Spirit has a way of showing up everywhere and bringing us what we need.  And so, today, we receive this gift of Psalm 146.

 

“Do not put your trust in princes,” writes the Psalmist, “in mortals, in whom there is no help.  When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, this is a helpful reminder.  When I get too caught up in politics, in global events, in the fortunes of a particular human institution or its leader, I need to hear this message, this reminder that to put our ultimate trust in any human being is folly.  That there is no politician, no political party, no governmental or non-governmental organization that will singlehandedly put an end to injustice, that will unilaterally solve all our problems, that will instantaneously save us from our sorrows, from our sufferings, from ourselves.  That political tides ebb and flow, political fortunes rise and fall.  That all human leaders are limited—both in their tenure, for mortality is part of the human condition, and in their ability to be aligned with God’s movement in the world.

If you are satisfied with Tuesday’s results, this psalm is a call not to let your satisfaction make you complacent.  If you are dissatisfied with Tuesday’s results, this psalm is a call not to let your dissatisfaction make you despair.  For either way, God has work for us to do.

Satisfied or dissatisfied, our ultimate allegiance as Christians must always be to God.  Our ultimate identity must be not Democrat or Republican, not Green Party or Tea Party or Socialist or Libertarian or Independent, but Child of God, Disciple of Christ.  Whether you are celebrating Tuesday’s results, or lamenting them, or a little bit of both, there is a greater loyalty to which we are called, a greater purpose for which we are made.  As the Psalmist puts it, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

For though political fortunes ebb and flow, God is faithful.  Though human institutions rise and fall, God is eternal.  Though facts be redefined and truth be hard to find, God is trustworthy.  God’s mercies are as wide as the ocean.  God’s justice is like the great deep.  God’s love is the most powerful force in heaven and on earth.  And the work of the church in every age, our call as Christians in every season, is always to be about the embodiment of that love, that mercy, that justice, in our lives and in the lives of our neighbors, near and far.

 

The Psalmist reminds us of how we are to recognize the unfolding of God’s realm in our midst.  Did you catch it as Tom read?  Listen again:  God executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  God sets prisoners free and opens the eyes of the blind.  God lifts up those who are bowed down and loves the righteous.  God watches over the strangers and upholds the orphan and the widow.  But the way of the wicked, God brings to ruin.

This is what we are to be about—regardless of electoral results, regardless of political machinations, regardless of who won or lost according to your pundits of choice.  This is the work of the church, the thing for which we unify:  the work of building up the realm of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

It is the work of unmasking, dismantling, and eradicating all forms of injustice from our land, whether based on race or class, age or family status, gender or sexuality, language or citizenship.  The work of searching our own hearts for the places where prejudice lurks and washing them clean, over and over again.  The work of interrogating the systems that govern our common life for the places where disproportionate impact is created and reforming them, over and over again.

It is the work of feeding our neighbors who are hungry—for food, for companionship, for dignity, for solace, for comfort, for opportunity, for challenge, for love.  The work of sharing the resources we hold in trust that they might serve the common good.

It is the work of setting free those who are imprisoned—by addiction, by depression, by poverty, by loneliness, by domestic violence, by unemployment or underemployment, by the absence of any good alternative to their current situation—and the work of attending to those who are literally in prison, that they might return to productive participation in society.

It is the work of opening blind eyes—both literally, by providing healing and health care to all who need it, and figuratively, by continually educating ourselves and striving toward greater understanding, and by offering such opportunities to others, too.

It is the work of lifting up those who are bent double by heavy burdens—by sharing the load when it can be shared, by setting it down when it can be set down, by providing companionship and encouragement when it must be borne alone.

It is the work of watching over strangers, upholding orphans and widows—focusing our attention and our care on the ones who are most vulnerable in our society.  The work of receiving with open arms people in need of help, even when they are unknown to us, even when it is scary or risky or just plain inconvenient, because we know what it is to be in need, and because they are God’s children, too.

It is the work of love—an active, boots-on-the-ground kind of love, the kind that meets people where they are and journeys together toward the place where God promises we can be.

 

And there’s another thing, another gift in our reading today.  Psalm 146 begins and ends with declarations of praise.  Praise the Lord, O my soul!  I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.  Praise the Lord!

In season and out of season, when we feel like it and when we don’t, our call as Christians is not only to devote ourselves to the work of love, but also to praise the One who is the very reason for our existence, the one who gives us life and gives our lives meaning.

Sometimes praise feels as natural as breathing.  Life is good and beauty is everywhere and all we can do is say Thank you! and Alleluia!  Other times, praise is not so close at hand.  In those moments, praise can be an act of will—a defiance of the powers that be, a rebuttal of the narratives of scarcity and fear.  In spite of everything, I will praise God.  Even when everything seems to be crumbling around me, I will hold fast.  In the face of all evidence to the contrary, I will believe that we are made for abundant life, that there is goodness in this world, that all shall be well.

At such a moment as this, in times marked by violence and vitriol, praise can feel difficult to access.  But the truth is that there has never been a time free of hurt or hate—and the times in which the Psalmist wrote were certainly no exception.  The history of our ancestors in faith is a history of conquest after conquest, of devastations and persecutions and famines and forced migrations and all manner of struggle and suffering.  And yet, we inherit not only this psalm of praise, but many others, for praise is part of our call, too.

And praise is not just about words in our mouths.  The psalmist writes, “Praise the Lord, O my soul,” but that is better translated as something like, “I will praise God with my whole self.”  Praise, fully understood, is not only what we say but also what we do; not only our words but also our deeds; not only our emotions but also our actions.

So regardless of political persuasions, let us praise God with our whole selves.  Regardless of electoral emotions, let us lift our eyes to the hills and be reminded that God is our refuge and strength.  Let us fix our hearts on the promises of God—offered by pure grace to us, to our loved ones, to our families, to our communities, to our world—promises of justice and mercy, of liberation and healing.  And let us devote our lives to living them out.

 


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