1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”
8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
We’re currently in our third week now in a series on the Book of Psalms, and in many ways, the Psalms function not only as a prayer book of sorts, but also as a songbook for the people of God – songs that they would sing during their worship together, songs that would teach them and comfort them and strengthen them in times both good and bad.
And so, if the Psalms are a songbook, in a way you can think of the Psalms like you would a favorite record or album, filled with not just a dozen or so songs from your favorite musicians, but rather, 150 of them written by a handful of authors over a significant period of time.
And so to carry on the comparison here, you and I both know that there are some songs that quickly become our favorites, that we play on repeat, that we come back to over and over and over again. They’re the reason why we purchased the record or album in the first place. And then there are other songs, where, not so much.
Well, the same is true of the Psalms. We have our favorites, or our greatest hits, if you will. The ones we have heard countless times and may even be able to recite. And yet there are other psalms that live in relative obscurity.
These first couple weeks we’ve looked at two of the Psalms greatest hits, first Psalm 46, then Psalm 100. But not this week. Today we come to one that’s probably for most everyone a bit more unknown, a bit more obscure, Psalm 82.
And yet Psalm 82 highlight a theme that characterizes a good number of the Psalms, a theme that runs consistently throughout scripture, and one that captures something central to the very heart and character of God himself, and that is an emphasis on justice and mercy, on caring for the poor, and needy, and vulnerable.
The Psalm begins by describing this scene where our God takes his place in midst of gods, gods spelled here with a lower case G, and while there’s some disagreement on exactly what is being referred to here, the most likely scenario is that God has gathered together unjust human rulers, those who had used their authority and influence in corrupt ways.
And in this, God essentially reminds them their job description. Here’s what it says,
3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
This is what it looks like to use power and authority and influence for good and in life-giving ways – justice for the weak, the orphan, lowly and needy. It looks like giving a voice to those who don’t have one and advocating for those around us who are neglected and often forgotten.
And while there’s never a bad time to highlight this theme in scripture, now seems like as good of a time as any given this COVID-19 moment we’re in.
One of the narratives that we heard early on in light of the coronavirus was how this virus would affect everyone equally – and how everyone, no matter race, gender, or socioeconomic status was susceptible to it. I know I myself thought this to some extent early on – that this was a great equalizer of sorts.
But yet, it could not be further from the truth. What may have appeared as a crisis that would level the playing field in some ways, has instead shined light on just how uneven the playing field actually is.
Now to be clear, everyone and anyone is susceptible to this virus. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, black or white. None of us are fully immune from getting it. But yet, that’s not to say that we’re all experiencing this, and its many ripple effects in the same way.
On one hand we know that this virus predominately impacts the elderly and even more, we know that minority populations have accounted for a disproportionate number of total infections and deaths, whether due to living situations that make social distancing more difficult, if not impossible, or jobs or financial situations that essentially force people to choose between providing for their family or staying healthy.
Even our solutions and responses to this COVID-19 crisis in some ways expose some of the inequalities in our world.
For example, with schools closed, teachers are having to improvise and adjust to distance learning. But yet to be able to make distant learning happen is contingent upon families having access to a computer and an internet connection – and many do not.
Or consider the very nature of a ‘stay at home’ order – it presumes that everyone has a home to stay in the first place, and many do not.
Now, I by no means mean to tell you all this to make you all depressed or feel guilty in any way. Rather, I share all this to say, out of all times and seasons for God’s people to show justice for the weak, the orphan, lowly and needy, well, now is the time.
So friends, how might we corporately as a church, and individually as members seek justice and show mercy to those in need?
For what it’s worth, I realize that in many ways, some of the injustices and inequalities within our town and wider world are the product of events and systems deeply woven into the fabric of our society that would take years to undo.
But yet, of course, there are smaller actions – helpful and attainable things we can do and that many of you already are doing –
I know some of you have been sewing cloth masks for days on end till your hands cramp up, trying to meet the demand and keep all people safe, which not only protects the elderly who go to the grocery store but also the people who work there who don’t have the option to stay home.
I know others of you have prioritized ordering takeout from restaurants, not simply because you’re in need of a good steak, but more so knowing that the dishwasher who works there making minimum wage is dependent on your business.
As we mentioned before, in our Psalm, God is addressing the rulers of the nations. And while we may not be rulers in the same they were, we too, with the roles and positions that we have, have a God given sphere of authority and influence in a variety of ways.
Parents have authority and influence within their homes. Teachers with their classrooms. Coaches with their athletes. Employers with their employees. Elders with their churches.
Whatever your sphere of authority or influence may be, how might we use it for the good of those around us, for those who have the deck stacked against them, for the weak, the orphan, the lowly and needy?
Or how might we as a church?
I heard of one church who hosted a job fair. They simply opened their building and offered coffee and pastries and provided a space for businesses to meet prospective employees. So simple yes, but so valuable too. Helping people to find jobs, giving people their dignity and sparking the local economy.
Or what if we were the church where people who needed groceries could get them? If there was a sign up list and we had people at the ready, ready to meet the need for the single parents, the immunocompromised, for migrant workers, and the like?
Or maybe we as a church can radically increase our benevolence fund. I’ll have to talk to our session and get back to you on that one.
Or maybe it looks like serving on a local board or council that advocates for those in need.
The possibilities are endless here and the time is now.
And while there are many reasons that you and I are called to show justice and mercy to those in need, one of the reasons we know is this, and that is,
From the beginning of time, as people made in the image of God, you and I have been called and sent to be God’s representatives, ruling the world on God’s behalf.
That is, you and I through our very lives, are called to show the world what God is like. What his character is like, what He cares about, and what breaks his heart most. We in essence, show the world what it looks like to live and love and serve like Jesus.
The Psalm finished by saying,
8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
It’s a look ahead to a future Messiah, Jesus himself, who brought all nations under his sway, who demonstrated true justice. Jesus himself, who lived among us, fully God, yet fully man, with all the authority and power and influence the world has ever seen. Yet he used it all in a radically different way – healing the sick, freeing the demon possessed, caring for widows, blessing the little children, dining with the outcasts, serving the poor.
That’s how he lived and loved and served. That’s how we’re called to too.
Micah 6.8 -
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.