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.

Jeremiah 23:9-22

            Martin Luther King, Jr. was much like a modern-day prophet.  In all he said and did he kept asking people to close the distance between the values they espoused and their actual behavior.  The terrible treatment King and his allies received during the civil rights movement in marches and demonstrations brought-out the awful gap between our American values of freedom, fairness, and tolerance and the reality that African-Americans really did not possess these in any manner close to the white population.  King’s prophetic ministry forced many people to come face-to-face with the disparity between beliefs and behaviors.
 
            The prophet Jeremiah knew all about such a gulf between expressed values and actual conduct.  And it was a very large chasm.  Like King, Jeremiah was imprisoned, had rocks thrown at him, and was jeered for his message of calling people to live up to God’s agenda for humanity.  White supremacy, or at least white privilege, was taken for granted in much of America before King.  In the same way, Israelite privilege was taken for granted in Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day.  False prophets kept proclaiming Jewish supremacy and insisted that the Lord would be on their side of things.  “But, I, the LORD, tell you that these prophets have never attended a meeting of my council in heaven or heard me speak.”
 
            The spirit of the age simply accepted power, privilege, and pedigree as the norm that ought to always endure.  But God thinks different.  And he sends his prophets to call us back to true justice, righteousness, and peace for all persons – not just for some privileged people who take their freedom for granted.  An exercise in healthy introspection would be to consider what our most cherished values are, and ask whether they are God’s values.  If so, then are those values truly being expressed in our everyday actions and behaviors?
 

 

            All-Seeing God, you know the true state of every heart and every people group.  Do your work of making me holy in all I do and say so that the treasure of Christ’s salvation might be expressed through me in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Psalm 5


             The God whom Christians serve is not a god who delights in evil.  In fact, God hates evil with a passion.  This is a good thing.  The Lord is most certainly the God of grace.  But mercy has no meaning unless there is sin.  God’s justice is an extension of his mercy.  In today’s psalm, the psalmist laments the evil of the world and finds solace in the righteousness of God.  In a world where rapists get a slap on the wrist, terrorists are found all around the globe, and politicians run amok with people’s approval, I am more than glad that God does not contend with evil and that I can find refuge in him from all the massive crud of the world.
             Notice the pervasiveness of evil:  “For there is no sincerity in their mouth; their heart is corrupt.  Their throat is an open grave; on their tongue are subtle lies.”  It is not a stretch to say that we have an egregious situation in the two leading political candidates in America; they could well be characterized by this description from the psalmist.  It is even more lamentable that far too many church members have mouth, heart, throat, and tongue issues that damage the Body of Christ.
             What to do about it?  Rely on the justice and mercy of God.  “Declare them guilty, God; make them fall by their own devices.  Drive them out for their many sins; for they have rebelled against you.”  Trust in not just a nice idea; committed belief in God is absolutely necessary for life, spiritual health, and peace in this fallen world.  We can all do our part by living a humble penitent life, attuned to the holy God who will not put up with evil forever.
             Just God, you know the hearts and tongues of every person on planet earth.  Holy God, either save them by grace or take them away so that righteousness might dwell in every corner of your creation.  Amen.

Psalm 146


              I am something of an old cartoon buff.  I was told when I was eleven years old that I would outgrow watching them – I’m still waiting for that day.  I, of course, enjoyed watching 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” that is within us that identifies with the underdog is the justice of God.  Today’s psalm lets us know that God cares about the underdog.  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 ability to be movers and shakers in their culture.  In short, they need God.
             And God delights to use his power to lift them up.  What is more, truth be told, it turns out that all of us are underdogs.  We all need God.  Every action and decision we take and make is really God’s grace and enablement to do it.  We owe it all to him.  Thus, the logical and reasonable response to such a God is praise – to declare our hallelujahs to the one who reigns forever and will always see humanity’s great need.  How will you praise him 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 gracious God who gives the underdog what he needs.
             Eternal God, you reign forever and ever.  I praise you as long as I live.  I put my trust in you, and not in those in society who wield their apparent power and influence.  Let them wallow in their delusions while I declare the mighty Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Amos 6:1-8

            There are few books in the Bible as kick-in-the-pants as Amos.  It is filled with God’s displeasure over Israel’s social and economic sins.  Few Americans nowadays realize that the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century’s rise of the Social Gospel did not result from liberal theology, but taking the Old Testament prophets, particularly Amos, quite serious.  Post-Civil War United States’ industrialization expanded at an incredible rate, swelling the cities.  This was the era of the great robber barons, and the wildly wealthy capitalists.  Although some of them were careful to be generous, most built their economic empires on the backs of poor immigrants and struggling families.  Poverty, inequality, and poor labor conditions were rife.  It was an era of tremendous social upheaval and change.
 
            It was a time not unlike conditions in ancient Israel.  Amos pulled no punches in communicating God’s message that the extreme wealth of some, while ignoring their fellow Israelites trapped in cycles of poverty, was leading them directly to their downfall.  “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory… who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”  Because of base callousness and not providing justice for the poor, Israel would be taken over and their wealth redistributed.
 
            There is not enough money in the world to immunize a person, group, or nation from the watchful eye of the God who has solidarity with needy and oppressed peoples.  If others do not take up the mantle of justice by providing them with help, God himself will act.  People everywhere need to be treated with basic respect, dignity, and the freedom to work hard and make a decent living.  Poverty is not always personal, existing because of laziness.  No, it is usually the result of some systemic sin in society that keeps people trapped.  One of the things that every one of us can do is build a relationship with someone who is treated more like a nuisance or a project, and interact with them on a regular basis as if they were a fellow human being.  Perhaps then we will find a greater connection with the prophets of old and the God who cares for all.
 

 

            Watchful God, you care about all your creatures and all people everywhere.  Lead me to those for whom you desire to provide justice and newfound dignity so that your name is made famous among both rich and poor for the sake of Jesus.  Amen.

Longing for Justice and Righteousness

 
 
Some words make us squeamish.  Justice often gets a bad rap by some in the church, as if it were some code word for “liberal.”  Righteousness seems more like the “right” word, but gets thrown around like an old familiar blanket, as if we already know all that stuff.  So, what’s the big deal about justice and righteousness?  Other than being very biblical terms which get used a lot in Scripture, being just and right is what the Messiah is all about (Jeremiah 33:14-16).
 
            Justice and righteousness are most often paired together in the Old Testament.  They are really two sides of the same coin.  We often think of justice in punitive terms of giving lawbreakers what they deserve.  But biblical justice has much more to do with giving someone what they need and deserve in order to live and thrive as human beings.  To act justly means to provide things like clean drinking water, a safe environment, fair and equitable business practices, food to eat, a place to sleep, etc.  Righteousness is the relational element to justice.  To be righteous means to have right relationships, to connect with people, to move toward them and provide them with all the relational things that people need like respect, dignity, friendship, hospitality, fellowship, etc.
 
            Justice and righteousness are always to go together.  Justice without righteousness is at best, impersonal, and, at worst, condescending.  Righteousness without justice is only a dead faith that wishes well but never delivers.  But together, justice and righteousness brings love, peace, harmony, well-being, and human flourishing because all the basic necessities of life, physical and relational, are met in abundance.  This is what is meant in the Old Testament when Israel is referred to as “a land of milk and honey.”
 
            The time of abundance is here for us in the person of Jesus Christ.  Yet, it is not here in its fullness.  We anticipate, wait, and hope for the Second Coming of our Savior and King.  While we exercise patience, we long for better days.  A true Advent spirit is a deep longing for justice and righteousness because King Jesus is just and right!
 
            What do you long for today?  I long for things which are broken to be made right.  I long for biblical justice.  I long for the day when my grandson will have no more seizures.  I long for the day when individuals and families will not have to fight cancer anymore.  I long for the day when there will be no more depression, mental illness, or dementia.  I long for the day when people will be completely free of addictions.  I long for the day when there will be no more sex trafficking, death from malnutrition, grinding poverty, corrupt governments, whole families and communities torn by the ravages of HIV and AIDS, refugees with no place to call home, and devastating natural disasters.
 
I long for righteousness.  I long for the day when women and girls all across the world will not be abused and become the victims of disordered power.  I long for the day when Israelis and Palestinians, Iranians and Iraqis, Japanese and Koreans, Russians and everybody else will no more hate each other.  I long for all believers everywhere to experience the exhilaration of new life in Christ.  I long for my community to repent and believe the gospel.  I long for men and women of God to embrace Jesus and forsake all other gods.
 
            I long for the kingdom of God to come in all its fullness, in all its freedom, joy, prosperity, peace, and happiness.  God’s kingdom will not be ushered in through continued worship of things and the constant practice of accumulating more and more.  God’s kingdom will not come through worshiping a particular nation or country.  God’s kingdom will not be ushered in because of self-effort, savvy marketing, and full schedules.  God’s kingdom is not the same as our personal agendas for life. 
 

 

The kingdom of God will come when God decides it is going to come because Jesus is Lord and no one or nothing else is king!  I want to be doing justice and righteousness when he arrives.  The church of Jesus is a gathering of people who are to be just and right in their thinking and practice.  Holding those two important words together is vital to every congregation.

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.