The Reverend Phillip Blackburn
January 15, 2017
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Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody did something about this mess? I mean it’s not like we are blind. Look around at the world. Does anybody really think things are going that well around here on Planet Earth? It sure doesn’t seem like it to me. Most of us, when asked about the state of affairs these days, just shake our heads. “What is the world coming to?” we wonder. Yes, we look around at the problems which exist and we think to ourselves: surely somebody is going to do something about this sooner or later. I mean, won’t they? Crime. War. Poverty. Racism. Climate Change. These are all big problems. So, who is going to tackle them?
Well, if the author of Psalm 146 is to be believed, we know who it won’t be. It won’t be the princes. Don’t trust the princes, he writes. And justly so. Any of us who have been paying attention for any amount of time on this earth know that the princes of this world are likely to create more problems than they solve; yet we instinctively, almost as a force of habit, turn our eyes to them. We look to them and we end up disappointed. And here is an important point. Their failure is not entirely their fault. Of course they can be selfish, arrogant, even corrupt, but their main problem is that they are human. The psalmist says, “when their breath departs…their plans perish.” No, we fail to recognize the humanity of our leaders. Even the best will not be around forever to fulfill their plans. They will inevitably leave things unfinished, in addition to giving in to the very human temptations of leadership and power. The princes will always disappoint, so don’t trust them.
Thus we recognize that when we look past our leaders to God, we are looking for something very specific. We are looking for God to change things around here in ways that we cannot. We want God to bring peace, prosperity, health and ease to this world. And when we look for those things, we also end up disappointed. God doesn’t promise to bring those things, at least not on a regular basis. No. God is an agent of change, but not in that way. The change God brings, as envisioned in Psalm 146, is different. The psalmist no doubt expects that there will be change, but look at the type of change he envisions. God executes justice for the oppressed. God gives food to the hungry. God brings sight to the blind. God frees the prisoner. That is a different type of change than what we might imagine.
There are two things to note about this change. First, it is radical. The type of change the psalmist writes of in this praise song is change at the most fundamental levels of society. God recognizes that there is unfairness and inequality in the world. God sees the way human society naturally becomes stratified between the haves and the have nots, and God puts his creative power into that inequality. Second, and most important, is that God starts with who Calvin describes as being in the “lowest circumstances.” The widow and the orphan. The stranger. The prisoner. The bowed down. The blind. These are not your top-of-the-heap folks in any given society. These are the people who have been forced to the margins. These are the people who experience the most oppression. It is in the lives of these people that God seeks to do his work of change.
When we look to the princes for change, we often look for something very specific. We want the world to be recreated as we believe it should be, and all of us have different ideas about that. Most often, our ideas are shaped by the political debates of the day, and are no more permanent or meaningful than the ideas of those who came a decade or a century before us. We see change in this world, often, through the lenses of our own partisan and politicized views. Rarely do we look at the change in this world and wonder, what is God calling us to do? I am always skeptical when it is claimed that God aligns with a specific set of princes, and you should be as well.
No, for us who are Christians change is something different. Change is a fundamental transformation. Change starts in an individual human heart and radiates outward into the world. Change happens when the ways in which people see other people are fundamentally transformed. Is this not what the psalmist is going for here? Does he not want us to see the world differently? Think about it for a minute, by locating God’s changing actions in the lives of these specific people, should we not see them differently? Take the prisoner, for example. Prisoners live at the bottom rung of our society. Stripped of their rights and housed in sometimes horrendous conditions, prisoners are the easiest for us to dismiss. Yet, the psalmist writes: “God sets the prisoners free”. Why would God do that? This is not just a source of praise for God, it is a challenge to us to look at things differently. If the Word of God holds up God’s radical view of freedom in this way, should we not look at this issue, along with the rest, differently? Was the psalmist not calling his contemporaries to look differently at the blind? A blind person in those days would have been seen as someone who had wronged God and deserved their affliction, but God’s action in their lives tells a different story. Do you see? God’s change isn’t political, it is transformational. It creates different people.
The princes, you see, will always fail us. Even the best of them will fall short. So we need to do something. We need to stop waiting for them to fix the world. It will not happen. Instead, we need to be open to the work of God in this world at this time. Scripture tells us where to look. This is hardly the only passage which orients us toward those in the lowest circumstances. It is one of many. Today, let these words challenge and change you. Let them challenge how you look at the hungry, the prisoner, the sick, the stranger, the widow. Let the presence and Spirit of God change you, and in so doing, change the world in a very small and meaningful way.
You and I can’t fix the world any more than the princes can, but we can allow God to use us to transform it. We can open ourselves to participating in the work of God right here, right now, with those who are in the greatest need. There is a reason that such strong words of praise bracket these promises of God. The psalmist reminds us that God, unlike the princes, does not fade away; God “keeps faith forever.” None of what is written in Psalm 146 has changed. The world, in fact, hasn’t changed. We still live amidst the hungry, the prisoner, the stranger, the blind. God is still working powerfully to change their lives, and ours too. So join God. Join God in this work. And don’t make any excuses. You are here. You still draw breath. You are not too old, too poor, too dim. No! You are here right now, ready to serve God in transforming this world one life, one heart, one moment at a time. Now is the time. This is the moment. God is working, and God keeps faith forever. Amen.