Psalm 146 – “Underdog”

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Praise the Lord!
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.

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

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
     who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

I admit that I am a classic cartoon connoisseur.  I was told when I was a kid that I would outgrow watching them – I’m still waiting for that day.  One of the cartoons I enjoyed (and still do!) watching is “Underdog.”  There is something deep within the human psyche that cheers for the underdog.  Wally Cox was the perfect voice for the mild-mannered shoe-shine boy to take his underdog super energy pill and fly through the sky to rescue Sweet Polly Purebread.

That “something” within us which identifies with the underdog is the justice of God.  It is important to understand that when the term “justice” is used, it isn’t meant primarily in punitive terms, as we might typically think of it.  Justice is providing people with what they need to survive, thrive, and flourish in life.  Withholding things from individuals or groups of people, or folks not possessing the things they need to function as humans in this world is an “injustice.”

Today’s psalm from the Revised Common Lectionary lets us know that God cares about the underdog – the one for whom may be lacking in basic material and spiritual provisions for living.  There ought to be no doubt that God is deeply concerned for those who are powerless, defenseless, and on the margins of society.  The psalmist identifies such persons: those who are hungry; the prisoners; the blind; those bowed down; the orphan; and, the widow.  All these people represent individuals without the ability to be movers and shakers in their society.  In short, they need God; they deserve justice.

And God delights to use his power to champion them and lift them up.  What is more, truth be told, it turns out that all of us are underdogs.  We all need God.  We all are meant to both receive and provide justice.  Every altruistic decision we make and just action we take is really God’s gracious empowerment to do it.  We owe it all to God.  Thus, the logical and reasonable response to such a God is praise – to declare our hallelujahs to the One who reigns forever and always sees humanity’s great need.  How will you praise God today for who he is and for what he has done?  Let such praise shape your soul and lift your spirit as you intentionally connect with the merciful God who gives the underdog what they need.

Eternal God, you reign forever and ever.  I praise you for as long as I live.  I put my trust in you, and not in those in who wield their apparent power and influence for personal gain.  Let them wallow in their delusions while I declare the mighty Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Isaiah 59:9-19

            Living in America, one would never know that the U.S. presidential election comes a year from now.  The debates, candidate commercials and endorsements have already been in full swing.  Needless to say, it is going to be a long year in 2016.  Isaiah the prophet may have spoken over two millennia ago, but his words smack just as relevant today when he said “truth has stumbled in the public square.”
 
            Politics, today as in Isaiah’s day, has become less about the concern for the common good and promoting the welfare of citizens and more about winning elections and possessing power.  A party spirit rules the day, where Republicans and Democrats are more polarized than ever with less and less ability to truly listen to one another in order to advance genuine justice, ethical righteousness, and social peace among the nation and the world.
 
            We, as citizens, must all eschew getting sucked into the vortex of acrimonious speech and hate-filled rhetoric.  Christians, especially those who desire to live and love like Jesus, need to be at the forefront of forsaking the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another; of envying power in order to satisfy personal agendas; and, of believing that malicious talk is justified if it accomplishes my wants and needs.  In other words we are not to keep looking for everyone else to repent and change, but are to practice repentance ourselves.  If what we speak in the public square is selfish and deceitful, we have no further to look than within when it comes to turning from evil.  A slow, careful, and serious reading of the prophet Isaiah is quite necessary.  If it does not lead to repentance, we only have God’s displeasure to anticipate.
 

 

            Just God, you have every right to judge the world.  Yet, instead of destroying the earth, you sent your Son to redeem lost humanity back to yourself.  May I, along with every creature you have made, come to our senses and speak truth with grace so that there is again righteousness throughout the land.  Amen.

Psalm 101

            King David was one serious dude when it came to dealing with wickedness and injustice.  He had a zero tolerance policy toward people who were deceitful and proud.  “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy.  Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.”  Those are some strong words.  But they arise from David’s own personal integrity and practice of being a king who seeks after what is right and just.
 
            David said, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Psalm 101:3 ESV).  When I was a kid, I watched hours of television every day.  Even today I still remember names of actors and all the theme songs of the shows.  Early in my Christian life, I wrote out this verse in large print and put it just below my TV set so that I would always see it.  Maybe we all need to think about putting up Scripture verses in appropriate places around our house, workplace, and car.  Maybe we would think twice about visiting certain websites if we prominently place beside our computer:  “I refuse to take a second look at corrupting people and degrading things” (The Message).
 
            Good intentions are just that.  Instead, we all need an unequivocal commitment to a zero tolerance policy toward evil.  It is simply unacceptable to flirt with it.  Whatever we must do to remind ourselves of righteousness and whatever boundaries we need to set in order to curb our wagging tongues and put spiritual blinders on our wandering eyes is most necessary because “no one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.”
            Holy God of justice, I will make a covenant with my eyes to set before my eys no vile thing.  Help me to be strong in your mighty power so that my daily walk of faith in Jesus is righteous, free of guilt, and simply enjoyable.  Amen.

Psalm 57

            One thing we all share about the human experience is that, sooner or later, someone or a group of people will let us down.  On top of that, many have experienced, or will experience, some sort of abuse and victimization from another person or group.  What is more, there are those who have even had their very lives at risk because someone sought them out to actually kill them.  That is the company that David found himself in when King Saul sought to do away with his life.
 
            To David’s credit, he never retaliated and did not try and turn the tables on Saul by putting a hit out on him.  Instead, David cried out to God.  And we get to listen in on the prayer.  Psalm 57 is David’s incredible praying reliance upon the God whom he put all his trust and praise. 
 
            One of the best things about the psalms is that they are a wonderful collection of prayers that we can adopt for our own.  Not only can we use them for ourselves, but we are obliged to do so.  If anyone has been in an adverse situation so deep that it feels like having ambled into a pride of lions, it is quite likely that the experience leaves one with no adequate words to say.  It’s as if you are paralyzed with fear.  So, let the psalm say for you what you cannot even begin to utter yourself.  The Word of God is not meant to sit on a coffee table or rest on a shelf; it is meant to be opened and used for prayer.  Allow it to do its intended purpose.
            Be merciful to me, O God, for in you my soul takes refuge.  Even though I feel the slash of people with tongues as swords, my heart is steadfast and will exalt your name above the heavens.  Let your glory be over all the earth!  Amen.

Isaiah 42:1-9

            As we journey with Jesus through the last days of his life in Holy Week, there is the reminder and the remembrance that God is concerned with justice.  “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”  Indeed, in the person of Jesus and through his redemptive events there is the ultimate work of justice.
 
            It is possible that when we think of the word “justice” we might immediately imagine something punitive.  Justice in this sense is the doling out of judgment to one who has hurt another or transgressed the law.  The biblical concept of justice certainly has this connotation, but only secondarily.  The primary usage and understanding of justice in the Old Testament is justly providing a victim with a need they have.  In other words, it is furnishing the hungry with food, shelter for the homeless, freedom for the enslaved, and the poor with basic necessities.  It is to indefatigably work on behalf of another who cannot gain what they need on their own.
 
            So, when God talks of his servant bringing justice he means that he sees the vast needs of humanity across the earth and vows to do something about it.  This is why God the Father sent God the Son, in order to establish the basis for justice for all nations and all people.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus our primary and most basic needs for life are met:   especially, the grace of forgiveness.  And through this great love, God’s forgiven people are to spread both their spiritual and material wealth to those locked in circumstances of injustice.  The implications for this are immense and reach across to every area of life, whether it is political, economic, relational, emotional, or spiritual to everyone despite differences of race, ethnicity, gender, even religion.  This is why Christians ought to be at the forefront of concern and action for ministries of justice and reconciliation.  We are to stand up for the oppressed and those in need because Jesus made it possible for us to do so.
            Just God, I praise you for your grace and power working together to bring justice to people.  Fill me with your Spirit so that I might point others to the singular work of Jesus on the cross.  Open my eyes to see the immense need around me, and lead me to understand how I might help.  Thank you for acting justly on my behalf in so many ways.  Amen.