The Readings: Psalm 146, Mark 12:38-44
I. moving the pulpit
II. The Psalm
A. "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help..."
A psalm is a prayer. It is a prayer meant for public worship and devotion. A great priest, perhaps the High Priest, or even the king of Israel himself would have led the congregation gathered in the Temple in Jerusalem in such a prayer as this one. Imagine a leader today standing before Congress or the UN or a town council meeting and uttering these words..."Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help..."
Now that would be a remarkable political innovation.
For me, this is the beauty of the liturgy. A psalm such as this one becomes a divine or holy "Don't look at me!" The psalmist tries to help us, the liturgy tries to help us remember our place - even the greatest among us are to bow down, to recognise where leadership resides.
This is why liturgy matters so much - civil or religious, it has the potentialto literally change the way we see it. This is the kind of notion that calls to my heart - that thrills me.
B. So what then of princes?
Who are the princes in this world? We don't have too many actual princes these days...a few in England and in Saudi Arabia...but by and large we don't have them. The joy of the psalms, however, is they way they employ metaphor. We are encouraged to take an idea and run with it. So who are our princes?
Pastors and other clergyThe psalm tells us that we are not to gaze upon our leaders with some kind of false reverence. They are mortal, as fallible as we are. Yes, Paul reminds us that God will work through them as God works through us, but they are no less mortal. We cannot get caught up in their status - real or imagined - perhaps in the hopes that some of it may rub off on us somehow.
Businessmen and women
corporations are people too
Are there others? (Here I asked the congregstion. They expanded the list to include lawyers and a variety of celebrities.)
So, where does the psalmist tell us to look? Who does the psalmist ask us to see?
II. The Poor
A. This is not a reversal of what the Psalm says. Listen again...
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,We are to look toward God. Yes. But there is a particular beauty in the composition o fthis psalm. We are to look to God. Absolutely. But the very structure of the psalm has us in turn looking where God looks.
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
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 blindB. The Gospel
- the bowed down
- the righteous
- the stranger
- the orphan
- the widow
God would have us look to the poor.
1. Jesus has us look to the poor
2. Jesus' ministry is coming to a close and he goes to worship. Jesus liked church, but he kept things in order.
3. Look to the poor. God does.
C. The wicked..."but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin."
So, who are the wicked? The wicked is the one unwilling to avert their gaze - to look to God and to look where God is looking. This is a willful blindness...(The worship leader at Community Church read from a different translation. This time the dissonance proved fruitful. The New King James says that the way of the wicked he will turn upside down. So, I vamped on the redemption of the wicked and how we should all hope that our world gets turned upside down from time to time. God may be trying to redeem us.)
Many things can serve this willful blindness.
We have our list of princes - politicians, corporations and their leaders, celebrity, even religion itself...
In the Gospel, Jesus wants us to know that even Religion can blind us, can become wicked.
But before we escape into ouf "I told you so!" or our confusion or our guilt...see again where Jesus would have us look.
To the poor.
To the example, the religious example that the old woman provides. She becomes our example. She becomes the righteous and the blessed.
Look to the poor.
Are we willing to look where God looks? Are we able to see what God sees? And as we begin to see, are we able to help others to see?
Poverty is growing in this country and the state of Illinois may be chief among sinners. This is a serious issue...and it needs serious people to respond. We must respond.
We who are willing to see...we who are able.
We cannot allow ourselves to escape into guilt or self righteousness. Perhaps we can help to sanctify a system...a political system, a religious system.
III. Back to the Psalm (and the Gospel?)
The Temple fell in seventy AD.
Synagogue centered worship moved to the fore...household worship moved to the fore.
The psalm would eventually find its place in the daily devotional practices of Jusdaism as a morning prayer.
How then might this liturgical shift shape the devoted?
- perhaps a prince prays this alone
- perhaps a poor mother prays this with her children
- perhaps religious teachers gather and pray this word
As these words are folded into our lives, our daily prayer, we may find our own gaze turning to those in need. We may find ourselves in this turning as well.
IV. Gaze Exercise
- look to the cross
- look at the stained glass
- look to one another...realize that someone is looking at you as well.
daily prayer...the psalms...gathering for worship are to teach us to see as God sees. As much as I am a fan of individual and even communal navel gazing - the purpose of all seeing (even the mundane) is to see what God sees.
as God looks upon the orphan, the stranger, the widow, even the princes.
God gives grace.
God sees our mortality and God gives mercy. We too receive such grace. We are to look to the poor.
In the end we are called to look to the poor and underserved for guidance, for leadership in times such as these when, perhaps, our footing is unsure and there is no consensus on where righteousness resides in society.
We look to the poor, not because they are virtuous or because they posess a particular wisdom. We look to th epoor because it forces us to look away from ourselves and in the direction of God's own gazing.
In this way we look to God for guidance.
Where God's gaze goes, so too does our own.
Where God's heart leaps, so too does our own.
And in turn, we may find ourselves setting prisoners free, feeding the hungry, upholding the widow and the orphan.