Psalm 67

The Reverend Phillip Blackburn

May 1, 2016

When I discuss a wedding with a bride and groom these days, I always ask them if they would like a sermon.  I immediately follow this with the disclaimer that, for this pastor, a wedding sermon lasts anywhere from 3-5 minutes.  I say this to them because of the wedding of my friends Toby and Marcie.  Toby and I were good friends in seminary and when he got married to Marcie during our senior year, I was excited for him.  Marcie was known for her big smile and the mass of brown curls that bobbed up and down on her head; and she was the perfect fit for Toby, who could be, shall we say, gloomy from time to time.  So, anyway, I was a groomsman in that wedding and so I stood next to my friend as Marcie walked down the aisle, and I stood next to him when the preacher began his sermon, and I stood  next to him when the preacher ended his sermon about 20 minutes longer.  It remains, to this day, the longest wedding sermon I’ve ever heard. So I warn my brides and grooms that no sermon of mine will ever be that length.

But still, it was a good wedding and Toby and Marcie are a good couple, and I bring it up to you, not just because I will be officiating three weddings in the next few weeks, but also because I am upset and sad.  This week I learned, quite to my shock and surprise, that Marcie, she of the big smile and the brown curls, is lying in hospice in Texas today.  That she is losing her battle with cancer.  I think of my friend Toby.  I think of that wedding day, which I remember every time I consult with a couple.  And I think of their two kids.  I think of these things and for the one millionth time in my life, I think that’s not fair.  It’s not fair that Marcie should die in her early 40s.  It’s not fair that Toby’s Yin loses its Yang.  It’s not fair that those kids won’t have their mom anymore.  It’s not fair.

You can’t tell me you haven’t had the same thought this week.  I know that you have.  It’s a big problem for us, this issue of fairness, of equity.  One of the first phrases we utter to our children as we raise them, when they first taste the bitter injustice of life, even though it is often delivered with gentle sorrows, is that life is not fair.  It’s not fair.  Life is not fair.  It’s not fair that Marcie is sick. It’s not fair that children in Syria are dying today because they are Syrian and not Turkish or Iranian or American.  It’s not fair that some of us are born rich and some of us are born poor.  It’s just not fair that things happen to people for no good reason other than the world isn’t fair.

Yet in the midst of all of this, in the midst of all this inequity, unfairness, many of us still look to God.  Have you ever wondered how that is possible?  I do.  I wonder it all the time.  We see all this stuff.  We know the world can be bitterly unfair, and yet we turn up here and we drink coffee and eat doughnuts and sing songs and pray and hug each other and worship our God.  We, and we aren’t the first to have this problem, mind you; we write things like Psalm 67.  The psalmist must’ve been having a good day back then.  It must’ve been a real humdinger, because if you know the Psalms you know the writers can get pretty dark.  They are intimately acquainted with unfairness.  They know its bitter taste. And yet they can produce something like this:  “Let the peoples praise you, O God.  Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.”

God has blessed us.  These are not just happy words, these are joyful words, offered, it would seem, from the depth of the psalmist’s soul.  How does he write them?  How, in the midst of a world he knew to be bitterly unfair, in a world where cities could only exist with giant walls around them, where holy places could be ravaged, where all people died so young, how could he write these words?  How can we read them?  For some it is easy, but when the bitter taste of unfairness is on our tongues, these words can seem like parody.  Praise God.  Sing to God.  God has blessed us.  But the world is unfair.

The answer, I believe, to how we move along with all this in the midst of sorrow, suffering and catastrophe is embedded in the midst of this Psalm.  Long before I knew about Marcie’s illness the words had leapt out at me.  “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity.”  It’s practically the only line in the Psalm that isn’t just about praise but instead speaks to the root of that praise.  Why do we praise God?  Why do we sing to God?  Why do we believe God has blessed us?  Because God is fair.  And I can prove it.

We often complain about not getting what we deserve.  We complain when breaks don’t go our way or bad things happen, and surely we sometimes have good cause to lodge complaints.  But in theological terms, the last thing we should want is for God to be “fair.”  If God were “fair,” then God would look at our lives, make a list of good work and bad work and then make a decision.  And for pretty much all of us, we would not like the results of that decision.  God knows us.  God knows that we aren’t very good at being good.  Most of the time, we are indifferent at best, bad at worst.  So God, in God’s love and judgment, is not fair.  God chooses salvation.  God chooses to come into this world as a simple guy from the middle of nowhere.  God chooses to teach us again how to live, and then God lets this world, in all its hate, anger and bigotry, kill the Messiah he has sent.  And through this lens, through the lens of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, we are then judged.  That isn’t fair either.  But that is what the psalmist means when he writes about equity.  You, God, judge the people with equity.  When it comes to God’s judgment, we don’t get what we deserve.

Now, these words can seem cold, or distant. I recognize that. I recognize that we suffer in this world.  But God suffered in this world too.  Jesus suffered in this world too. It’s not that the world isn’t fair.  We are wrong when we say that. The world is broken.  We are broken.  We don’t do it right; if we did,  kids in Syria would be as safe as kids in America, no one would go to bed hungry, and Marcie would, in all likelihood, not be sick.  But we don’t do it right.  The world is broken and we praise God and love God and hail God’s blessings because we have hope that it won’t stay this way.  You won’t always have to worry about your kids.  You won’t always feel like crying when you watch the news.  God judges the people with equity, a fairness which is rooted in grace, and love, and peace.  That is what our hope is.

I am sad today because for all the prayers and all the words Marcie is not going to live.  She is going to die.  And for the rest of my life my first pre-marital conversations will be bittersweet because the wedding I am silently referencing was her wedding.  But I want to believe that no matter how broken our world is, no matter what happens to us or those whom we love, we will always have hope in God’s equity, that we will always be able to praise God.  When Toby and I exchanged messages this week he said, “We have been well provided for by God and our church family.”  His world is broken, as is ours, but it is, after all God’s world.  And God judges it with equity.  Amen.