There are those who say the Bible contradicts itself. That is like saying the library contradicts itself. Of course the Bible, written by many different people over the span of thousands and thousands of years reflects a variety of experiences and understandings of God.
God lured and encouraged many to share their faith experiences. Those whose writings became our Bible do not all perceive or understand God in the same way.
But if you read the Bible cover to cover you will find many common themes. God speaks through our sacred texts. Those common themes that thread their way through the Bible give us a glimpse at who this entity, this energy, this divine force is that we call God.
The Bible gives us a sense in whom we place our trust. It gives us a sense of what God expects of God’s people. It does this through the inspired theologies and other writings by and about people who lived thousands of years before us.
The Psalms are a liturgical collection of hymns and poetry to be used in worship. When they were collected into one whole, care seems to have been taken to reflect the arc of the story told in our elder testament.
As one of the final hymns in the collection, Psalm 146 is a hallelujah or praise hymn. These last liturgical elements play a summarizing role. Psalm 146 has a particular emphasis on the nature of God. The psalmist begins in praise and commitment to God.
Praise the LORD! Let my whole being praise the LORD!
I will praise the LORD with all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.
Psalm 146:1-2 CEB
This hymn implies the question, in whom should we trust? Setting up a contrast of what it is like to trust those who are mortal, the psalmist sings,
Don’t trust leaders; don’t trust any human beings—there’s no saving help with them!
Psalm 146:3 CEB
Notice “there’s no saving help with them!” This is about ultimate salvation. Our earthly leaders cannot bring us home.
The psalmist is drawing an important distinction here between the earthly and the eternal. The ultimate salvation of humanity comes not from human but from divine forces. It is the divine within our world — God — who properly leads us.
Their breath leaves them, then they go back to the ground. On that very same day, their plans die too.
The person whose help is the God of Jacob— the person whose hope rests on the LORD their God—is truly happy!
Psalm 146:4-5 CEB
Our happiness comes from trusting in God not in humanity.
There was an election in which the results did not go my way. I was distraught and upset by what might happen in light of those who were to take office. For awhile I made myself miserable.
Then in prayer, I was reminded that my trust must be in God rather than earthly leaders. A great weight of angst and distress was lifted from me when that truth came over me. The Holy Spirit reminded me that though I must not give up on doing that which God requires of us — to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) — my trust must remain with God.
When I worried too much about the person elected, I placed trust in human leaders rather than God. When I worked myself up over a “bad” election, I failed to walk humbly with our God.
Having argued in song that it must be God in whom we trust, the psalmist turns to the nature of God. Who is this divine One in whom we place our trust? Listen again to whom the psalmist sings we must place our trust,
God: the maker of heaven and earth, the sea,
and all that is in them,
God: who is faithful forever,
who gives justice to people who are oppressed,
who gives bread to people who are starving!
The Lord: who frees prisoners.
The Lord: who makes the blind see.
The Lord: who straightens up those who are bent low.
The Lord: who loves the righteous.
The Lord: who protects immigrants, who helps orphans and widows,
but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!
Keeping in mind that this is a summary of our elder testament and that Jesus picks up these very themes in his teachings, this is what we know about the one in whom we trust: God creates. God gives justice to the oppressed, feeds the hungry, and frees prisoners. God heals, straightens those bent low, loves the righteous, protects immigrants, and helps the orphan & widow.
In other words, God of the Bible — and Jesus — focused on the orphan, widow, immigrant, oppressed, the imprisoned, the sick, & those who are poor. And God loves the righteous who seek to follow God’s ways and Jesus’ teachings.
If the Bible is our sacred text, if these themes of care for “the least of these” are core characteristics of the one in whom we trust, shouldn’t these also be OUR priorities?
Unfortunately it is so much easier to say we follow God’s priorities than to do so. It is also important for each of us to recognize we can’t do it all. That’s true for us as individuals and as a church.
What gets in the way of our being true to the God we claim as our own? What keeps us from the same priorities as Jesus taught his disciples?
The most obvious is, of course, we are human. I am human. You are human. That means we’re imperfect and it is easy to be tempted away from the path of righteousness. We often make wrong turns and end up on pathways that lead us to doing anything but justice or embracing faithful love or walking humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)
One of the reasons we make wrong turns is that all the signs are in another language. It is easy to get lost when the language of our culture characterizes poverty as a moral failure, It is easy to get lost when the language of our culture tolerates justice in which black teens are twenty-one times more likely to be killed by police than white teens, and it is easy to get lost when the language of our culture makes a super-wealthy man who spreads lies about immigrants the frontrunner in a major political party.
God doesn’t speak the same language as our culture. God’s values are grace-filled and emphasize compassion and justice for those we have been raised to dismiss.
Even when we’re able to resist our culture’s counter-to-God values, it can be hard to know what to do and even if we know what to do, we struggle with limited resources. We are just one small church in eastern Oregon, we can’t do it all. We are mostly older individuals on fixed or limited incomes. We don’t have huge sums of money nor do we have the physical ability that we once did.
But there are things we can do.
First, we can learn our own faith. We can attend Bible study on Sundays when it returns next month or attend it on Facebook, which will also begin next month. To become the righteous God calls us to become, we must never stop learning and growing. How are we to resist evil if we don’t know the good?
Second, when we make budgetary decisions for ourselves or families, we can prioritize making regular gifts to the church or social justice organizations. In the old church language, we called that giving away our first fruits. As the story of the widow who gave two mites tells us, we all have something to share. The same goes for us as a church family. Our budget reflects our values. How much goes out to help the world and how much maintains the internal? How much goes toward God’s priorities?
Third, we can be advocates for God’s priorities. When politicians or the media try to pit us against our poor neighbors or our Muslim neighbors, or our neighbors of color, or any others prioritized by God and Jesus, we can refuse to be pulled into it.
Not only that, we can register protest. We can turn off the TV and write a letter to the media outlet or the politician. In that letter we can emphasize that the values they are espousing are not the same as those of Jesus and God.
Three things we can do today: 1) learn our faith, 2) make budgetary decisions in line with God’s priorities, and 3) advocate for God’s priorities with politicians and the media.
On a good day, the sermon would now be over but we have a pressing issue that I feel needs to be addressed. Yes, it relates to God’s priorities.
The Thrift Store.
The Women’s Fellowship made a hard decision recently. With the departure of Deena, they can no longer manage the Thrift Store. I affirm that decision.
But let me be clear: It would be contrary to God’s priorities, if we allowed the temporary closure of this ministry to become permanent. I don’t care if the church never makes another dime from the Thrift Store, this ministry must not end. Our community needs this ministry. Those who struggle financially need this ministry.
Though I affirm the women’s decision, I am convinced that a solution is within our grasp. We just have not identified it yet. If you have a positive idea, I want to hear it by Sunday the sixteenth. I will outline possibilities, issues, and ideas for the Council on the twentieth.
The newspaper will announce a temporary closing of the store this week. Our word to anyone who asks is this: God is about to do a new thing. This ministry will thrive!
So, in addition to the three things I asked of you before: 1) grow in our faith; 2) make budgetary decisions in line with God’s priorities; and 3) advocate for God’s priorities with politicians and the media…
In addition to those three I ask one more thing of you today. Please advocate for and pray for the Thrift Store ministry.
In whom do we trust? We trust in the God of Israel! We trust in the God of Jesus!
The Lord will rule forever!
Zion, your God will rule from one generation to the next!
Praise the Lord! Psalm 146:10 CEB