Psalm 146 begins with an instruction to the writer’s soul: “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul” (1-2). The life of faith is a life of praising God with all that we are and all that we have and all that we do. The whole self – the heart of which is the soul – is to praise God all life long.
This instruction is followed by another: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save” (3). Princes, mortal men, even ourselves, are finite and corruptible. Eventually, we will die. But, even before we mortals die, we will be corrupted, we will sin, we will fall short of what is required of us, we will commit evil; in short, we will be human, which, by its very nature, is finite and corruptible. Regardless of what we do with our lives, we will fall short of the ideal and we will, eventually, die. “On that very day [our] plans come to nothing” (4).
To put our trust in humans, in mere mortals, is folly and foolishness! And, yet, we do it all the time! We trust the authorities in our lives all the time: the doctors, the teachers, the lawyers, the pastors, the priests, the professors, the counselors, the social workers, the police, the firemen and women, the real estate agents, the politicians, and so on. We trust the authorities in our lives all the time because, on some level, we have to. We, ourselves, cannot be authorities in all areas, so we have to trust the authority of others in those areas in which we are not authorities!
The psalmist reminds us, however, that we cannot trust completely the authority of others. We must trust them with a grain of salt, so to speak. We must reserve some doubt about them. We must question their authority and integrity. They are human, and are thus finite and corruptible. Trust authorities to the extent that humans can be trusted; but reserve your complete trust for the Lord.
Why can we trust the Lord completely? The Lord is the Maker of the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, loves the righteous, watches over the alien, sustains the fatherless and the widow, and frustrates the ways of the wicked (6-9). God is not corrupted by power, money, greed, self-interest, jealousy, or any of those others things by which humans are corrupted, so God takes care of those who are powerless and thus at the mercy of the corrupt.
As I have shared with you, I’ve been reading a book about the history of the East and the West and how they have interacted with each other since 4000 BC. The common thread in the history – regardless of which culture, country, or people are involved – is domination through any means necessary (most often violent) for political and economic gain. Victors include ancient Hebrews, the Roman Empire, Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire, Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Empire, Persia (now Iran), Russia, Spain, the British Empire, the United States of America, and others I can’t recall at the moment because the book is hundreds of pages long! Whichever culture is in power at whichever time thrives due to the riches over which it has control, and whichever culture is oppressed at whichever time declines due to being robbed of its riches by the culture that is in power.
We are in the midst of a presidential election year, which means that we hear and learn about political corruption every day. Not only do we hear about political corruption every day, we hear about how horrible our country and the world is at this time in history. During presidential election years, we wallow in the mud that is being slung all over the place! We become anxious and worried. We think we know the answers to problems. We think we know which candidate will fix our country and our world. Or, we despair that anything will ever be fixed. We wallow – in certitude, or arrogance, or despair, or apathy, or cynicism, or sarcasm, or whatever.
Because I have been reading this history book, however, I have been able to realize that our time in history is no different than every other time in history. Human beings are corruptible. They will be corrupted and, even, become depraved. They will behave horribly due to the sins of self-interest and greed. They will be caught in the webs of social and structural evil. They will die, and on that very day their plans will come to nothing!
So, what are we to do in the midst of all this human messiness? What are we to do as we slog through the mud and filth of the world? We are to hope and trust in the Lord. Now, this doesn’t mean that we do nothing but sit around and wait for God to do God’s thing. No; we must, of course, engage with our world to the best of our ability. We must listen, read, study, and become educated. We must pray for guidance. We must behave as God would have us behave. And, after all of that, we must vote our conscience. Ultimately, however, we do not have control over the results of our efforts. We do our part, and then we let go and let God do God’s part.
And, while we do all of this, while we live in the messiness and muddiness of the world, we put our hope and trust in the Lord. The constant in all that goes on is the Lord. He is the rock on which we stand. Psalm 146 ends with, “The Lord reigns forever; your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord” (10). When all else is said and done, we are to praise God, which means that we should live with integrity as Christians. More important than any outcome is our integrity as Christians. If we must become corrupt to get what we want, then we have lost already. Stand firm on the rock of the Lord. Be a faithful disciple of Jesus. In the muddiness and messiness of the world, let the light of Christ shine in and out of you. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson at the Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, June 5, 2016, the Third Sunday After Pentecost.