Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Exploding Psalms

I do the PCUSA Lectionary most every morning.
This morning's first reading: Psalm 12 ... and it snuck up on me, as Psalms often do.
The writer laments the absence of truth from the land ... a land drowning in lies, boasting, flattery and bloated self-confidence.
At the Psalm's end, a plea for God's protection, because the wicked are on the prowl (looking for prey) and "vileness is exalted among humankind" - values turned upside down.
Just about anyone might read this and nod their head in agreement, clucking their tongues and lamenting the sad state of affairs. This is great stuff for preaching, as the "righteous" note their righteousness amidst the moral decay of the day.
The Psalmist knows how we work, how we're likely to pat ourselves on the back and smile knowingly at one another, as the preacher condemns the immoral and all who sully the land with their improper ways - those who break the laws of God, those who fail to love their families, those who steal and are lazy and no-good rotten, who deserve jail-time, who smoke dope and do drugs and lay around with another in unnatural liaisons.
The kind of preaching that sends the righteous home feeling mighty darn good about themselves, even as they remind God how lucky God is to have such fine people on God's side.
In the middle of the Psalm, a ripple upon the calm waters of the righteous soul, an unexpected wind, a cloud casting a chilling shadow.
The Psalmist offers some painful analysis. Rather than the usual list of "sins" from which the righteous are exempt and others not, the Psalmist goes to the heart of the story, God's litmus test of righteousness, the barometer that tells of a coming storm:
"Because the poor are despoiled,
Because the needy groan,
I will now rise up, says the LORD;
I will place them in the safety for which they long."
Suddenly the ease of the righteous is disturbed. Not simply that the poor are suffering (because of their laziness, their poor judgment, their immorality); no, the poor are "despoiled" - they are robbed, ransacked and pillaged. The little they have is taken, and taken violently.
And they groan in the face of the crime; they have no voice, no recourse, the poor are powerless against the wicked who are on the prowl for gain, who tell lies and flatter themselves with their own boasts of invincibility.
The LORD will rise up, says the Psalmist and give to the poor the safety for which they long.
The pathos of these few words are overpowering ... safety, the longing of the poor for safety - for their families, for their future, for their friends and neighbors.
Is not justice safety?
Is not safety justice?
The Psalmist sends the reader home with questions: How are the poor faring in our land these days? Who are the prowlers pouncing on helpless prey? Who are the wicked who exalt vileness? What are the lies they tell and the empty boasts they celebrate with flattering lips?
A small 8-verse Psalm explodes in my mind and heart.

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