Tuesday, October 28, 2008

God Bless This American

Psalm 1071-7
“Oh, thank God—he’s so good! His love never runs out. All of you set free by God, tell the world! Tell how he freed you from oppression, then rounded you up from all over the place, from the four winds, from the seven seas. Some of you wandered for years in the desert, looking but not finding a good place to live, Half-starved and parched with thirst, staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion. Then, in your desperate condition, you called out to God. He got you out in the nick of time; He put your feet on a wonderful road that took you straight to a good place to live.”

I almost never preach out of the Psalms. No doubt that is for many reasons. The reason standing at the front of that line is that King David drives me nuts because we are way too much alike. It seems to me that he is both manic-depressive (I hear we call it Bipolar now-a-days.) and just a bit ADD. We are kindred spirits. If he weren’t Jewish he would have made a great Irishman.

In this Psalm he manages to do his bipolar thing well. He begins by talking how much and how often God blesses us, frees us and rescues us. But the end of the psalm David is eloquently telling us how God can turn steams into deserts and fruitful land into salt flats. He is not complaining, just mentioning that God can bless and God can blast. And that is true. I get a kick out of North Americans. We go for years and pretty much ignore God. And then something goes wrong and suddenly it is okay to pray in public, “God Bless America” banners pop up in every conceivable place, it becomes common to question, “Where is God in all of this.” We are pretty good at practicing panic button religion.

King David of Psalms fame didn’t think twice about calling on God when he found himself in a bind. When times were tough, he had no problem hanging out the “God Bless Israel” banner. But he also learned to walk with God in the good times, too. He could shout out for help and he could shout out some praise and thanks. The reason that the Psalms resonate with most of us is that they speak for us when things are good and they speak for us when life pretty much sucks. And, if you are paying any attention at all, you have noticed that life can do both.

Perhaps you have heard the word that the stock market has crashed. People have panicked. The world economy is at risk. Banks are afraid to lend money to each other or anyone else. The sky is falling and the latest numbers on my retirement fund say I will be working until I am at least 75. Giving is down at the church and my job is in jeopardy. I have been practicing in case I have to change professions. “Hi. Welcome to Wal-Mart.” Quick, I think I will pray. Quick, I think I’ll put a sign in my yard, “God Bless America.” I am scared and God needs to show up. Perhaps it is a good time to read a Psalm or two.

A perfunctory reading of the New Testament makes it clear that God has a plan to set us free from the sickness of greed and consumerism. And many believers have practiced the plan. But many of us are more inclined to ignore God when it comes to the “realities” of life. But when those realities prove to be less than reliable, we turn back to God and beg for help. We begin to beg God to bless America in general and this American in particular. And God can. The question becomes, will He?

Max Lucado wrote and shared with his congregation a great prayer concerning our present financial crisis. I share it with you because it sounds, to me, like a prayer King David might pray.
“You have our attention, Lord. We’re listening.
Our friends are losing their house
A co-worker lost her job
Family members have lost their retirement
It seems that everyone is losing their footing.
This scares us. This bailout with billions; these rumblings of depression;
These headlines: ominous, thunderous-
“Going Broke!” “Going Down!” “Going Under!” “What’s Next?”
All this Dow dipping and finger pointing and market freezing and credit squeezing. People are asking, what’s next?
So, Father, we come to you and ask; “What is next?”
We’re listening.
And Heavenly father, we admit: You were right.
You told us this would happen.
You shot straight on the issue of loving money and worshipping stuff.
Greed will break your heart, you warned.
Money will love you and leave you.
Don’t put your hope in riches that are so uncertain.
You were right. Money is a fickle lover and we feel like we just got dumped.
We were wrong to spend money we didn’t have,
Wrong to forget the poor, wrong to forget you,
Wrong to think we ever earned a dime.
You are the one who owns it all and gives it all.
And now, Lord, we acknowledge you are the giver, the maker, the creator, the sustainer.
And only you can get us out of this mess.
We are wondering if you will. We know you can.
We know you can because you always have.
You led slaves out of slavery, you built temples out of ruins, and you turned stormy waves into a glassy pond and water into sweet wine.
This seems impossible for us. But what is impossible for us is always possible for you.
Lord we have heard enough council from the financial experts.
We come to you in behalf of our country.
We ask for your help.
This disorder awaits your order.
So do we.
Through Christ,
Amen”

As we look at this Psalm this week, perhaps we should remember that God is good and following His way is the best way. Remember that God is with us in the good times and the bad. And that knowledge can make the good times great and the bad times tolerable.

1 comment:

Dan Mayes said...

Thanks for joining us, Bill. And thanks for a thoughtful post on those hard-to-wrestle psalms.