We have been looking
at the Psalms that have been selected in the lectionary for the Sundays
of Advent. This morning we come to Psalm 146 for this 3rd Sunday
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
5Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
9The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10The Lord will reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
This has to be one of my favorite
seasons. All of the hoopla, the special events. People
waiting and watching all across the country, people eagerly anticipating
that day when the chosen one will truly bring peace and a new direction
for our nation and world. This really is the season of joy.
The season of presidential campaigns
You thought I was talking about something else?
What I especially love about this
particular campaign is when you take a look at the 4 top candidates
(according to the polls), what do you find? A woman, an
African-American, a Mormon, and an ordained Preacher. I mean,
where else in the world would you see such a collection as this, who
each have a chance to become President of the country.
I'm particularly fascinated by the
sudden rise of that preacher, the Reverend/Governor Huckabee, who of
course is an ordained Baptist preacher. He served as a minister
before he became Governor of Arkansas. Did you know that he was
born the same year I was? Huh. Do you suppose?
Even more fascinating, at the opposite
end of the political spectrum (from Governor Huckabee) is Barack Obama,
who is equally as rooted in the Christian faith and speaks quite
passionately about the importance of values that come out of his faith.
And then you add to that Governor Romney, who is trying hard to woo over
the Christian Right (a group traditionally that has viewed his Mormon
faith with great suspicion), and I've never seen a presidential campaign
where religion in politics has played such a key role, and have been
discussed so much.
And so I have to point out, as did
Charles Krauthammer in his opinion piece on Friday in the Register Guard
(an editorialist that normally I don't find my self agreeing a lot with)
-- he was right on, as he pointed out that the constitution specifically
says that there shall be no religious test for any candidate in public
That means that the issue for us as
voters is not -- and should never be -- 'is this candidate more
Christian, or more godly than the other candidate'? But rather,
which candidate (regardless of their religious beliefs) is the best
person to lead our nation? That is the issue.
But here's the thing, the reason why I
bring this topic up on this 3rd Sunday of Advent -- it is precisely out
of their religious values that candidates Obama and Huckabee (as well as
several of the others) believe that we as a society have a greater
responsibility to assist the poor and vulnerable than we are currently
doing. To execute justice for the oppressed, to give food to the
hungry (as the Psalmist says in our Psalm for this morning).
(this week) reports that Huckabee "do unto others" world-view comes out
of his faith, and led him to push for more money for schools and a
healthcare program for poor children that became a model for other
states (while he was Governor of Arkansas). "Tax cuts for the
rich", he writes in his book "From Hope to Higher Ground" (it seems if
you're going to be a presidential candidate you have to write a book
these days), "makes a false and callous assumption that the poorest
people in our nation, with inadequate salaries, lack of nutritious food,
substandard housing and non-existent or under-funded healthcare, can
somehow afford to patiently wait while someone else's wealth eventually
splashes onto them".
Sounds like something Barack Obama or
perhaps Jon Edwards might say. And that's not to endorse any
of these candidates, but simply to cite an example of how religious
values impact the policies of such candidates. And that's
precisely the kind of talk I want to hear in this campaign season, as I
hope you do as well.
As I argued
last Sunday from Psalm 72,
the biblical vision of the role of government is to defend the cause of
the poor and to give deliverance to the needy. It's very clear,
read that Psalm, it's there in the text, laid out for us.
Well, this morning's Psalm offers a
wise word of caution to taking that particular perspective too far.
It warns us against putting too much trust in the 'princes', that is,
the leaders of government. Mortals, who are bound sooner or later
to disappoint us. The only one we can truly trust, says the
Psalmist, is of course God. As the motto on our currency states:
"In God We Trust".
Well, what exactly does that mean, to
trust in God? We think of Mary and Joseph, traveling to Bethlehem,
with no idea where they're going to stay when they get there. So
what happens? They end up in a stable, that makes a nice scene for
a Christmas card, but is hardly a sanitary place to give birth to a
baby. What were they thinking? Or what was God thinking?
I cannot tell you how many would-be
Mary's and Joseph's we see in our office, that come to the church or
call us because they're stranded. They've come to Eugene and have
no place to go. No means to support themselves. Or, they're
traveling through and their car breaks down, and they have no way to get
home. And it happens over and over again.
I got a call this week from a college
student on her way home for the holidays. And she had her ticket,
but she lost her ATM card, and had no means to get any cash, was
completely broke, and had a long trip ahead of her -- 2 days. No
way to buy any food or to come up with anything should there be some
kind of traveling emergency.
And I said: "Why are you calling
me?" And she said: "Dad! . . . "
Well, she made it home, she arrived
last night. The funnier part of that story was that I tried to
send her a check by priority mail, she had called several days in
advance -- but she never got it. She called a second time --
"Dad!". Well, lo and behold, we have a couple who have become part
of our church who live in Orange, California, so I called up Jerri and
Bill and said "Help!", and so they lent her the money. Maybe it
was the work of God, I don't know.
Most folks that we see, who come to us
in those kinds of situations, either don't have the common sense, or
don't have the means, or don't have the family and friends to assist
them. To plan ahead. To prepare for emergencies. And
so they head out without any means, without any backup plan.
Trusting that God will provide, or at least something like that.
Sometimes I think trusting God is just
a phrase we use that means 'someone else will bail us out when we get
into trouble'. And when no one else does, well, there's always the
church. And somehow I just don't think that that's what 'trusting
God' means. Surely it must mean more than that. It's not
just about making arrangements and planning for contingencies, or
setting something aside for emergencies.
The Psalmist says that we can place our
trust in God -- why? Because God keeps faith. God executes
justice for the oppressed. God gives food to the hungry. God
sets the prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. The Lord watches over
strangers and upholds the orphans and the widows. And as we heard
in the text from Matthew, Jesus says to go and tell John what you've
seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the
poor have good news proclaimed to them.
The only question is, how does God do
that? How does it help me if I'm not someone on that list?
And we have all those wonderful stories
from when Moses liberated the captives out of Egypt, Jesus healing the
blind and feeding the crowds. But what about today?
In our Tuesday evening class, we have
been talking about the Christmas stories and taking a close look at the
stories in Matthew and Luke and comparing them. Stories that are
quite different. And while those details vary differently, both of
them say Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit while Mary was still a
virgin. And the authors of the text we are using --
Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan -- point out, however, that the
emphasis on both of those stories is not on virgin birth but
virgin conception. That it's not about the biology of Mary,
but the destiny of Jesus. That this child can not only claim
divine origins (as did Augustus Caesar, under who's reign he was born),
but that he would soon -- in a very real way -- compete with Herod for
the title "King of the Jews" (that's the point Matthew makes), and with
Caesar for the titles "Lord" and "Savior" (the emphasis that Luke
And the point of the Christmas stories
is not that we should wonder about how he was born, but that we should
marvel on who he would become.
That prompted someone to E-mail me
later, concerned, do we still believe in miracles? And I said "of
course". I see miracles as the wonders and the mysteries of life,
not necessarily as supernatural events. If miracles are always and
only the supernatural, then we have robbed ourselves of some of
the greatest miracles of life.
And in regard to the Christmas story, I
considered the fact that Christ came at all, to be the miracle.
How that happened biologically, for me, is not important, though I
realize it may be for some. But you see, the greater miracle is
who he is. To which my questioner replied: "Amen".
Couldn't agree more.
And that brings me back to presidential
hopeful Mike Huckabee, who compares his miraculous rise in the polls to
the feeding of the 5,000 by Jesus, and says that both are due to the
same miraculous power. That causes me to raise this question:
If God engineers election results, wouldn't that constitute election
I just don't think that's the way God
works in our world. I think politicians, like athletes, would be
unwise to attribute their success to God, as if God chose them for that
role above all others. Otherwise, we would have to conclude that
God didn't just help to elect President Bush, God also helped elect
President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. If you're following the news
at all, you realize those two are not exactly good buddies. Or
also President Clinton and President Vladimir Putin in Russia, or Prime
Minister Abbas in Palestine and Prime Minister Ohmert in Israel.
If there is any miracle wrought by God
it's not that any of these were elected but that they haven't killed
each other yet.
The Christmas story, you see, isn't
about a collection of miraculous events -- stars guiding Magi, angels
appearing to shepherds, a pregnant virgin, and a spare stable -- it's
about one single world-changing miracle: Immanuel. God with
us, in a tiny little baby. To look at that scene with wonder and
awe. What an incredible thing that God has wrought.
And when that baby grew up, he
demonstrated to us not only how God works in our world, but how God
wants us to work -- by trusting the way of God as he did.
You see, in a very real, measurable
way, God does give food to the hungry, as Jesus did, when we have enough
trust in God that we share our food with others.
In a very real, concrete way, God frees
the prisoners when we have enough trust in the way of God that we call
for an end to torture such as water boarding (which by any means is
cruel and unusual punishment) and we call for the adherence to the
Geneva Conventions and habeas corpus rights for those in Guantanamo Bay.
In a very real and visible sense, God
opens the eyes of the blind when we have enough trust in the way of God
that we will follow the truth wherever it leads, and we rely on science
(not on politics) to determine our environmental policies and our school
In a very real and tangible way, God
watches over the alien strangers when we have enough trust in the way of
God that we welcome the immigrants in our midst and we work for true
immigration reform that treats them as honored and valuable workers, not
That is the way of God. The way
that values every human being as a child of God regardless of where they
are born, regardless of their race, their gender, their language, their
sexual orientation, their religion, their occupation, or age. That
is the way of God. The way we can trust.
The way that will change the world, the
way that will bring God's reign to earth.
Peace on earth, and goodwill to all.
The way of God.