Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Psalm 70: Do We Need God?

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!”
    turn back because of their shame.
Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, “God is great!”
But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!

Psalm 70

As we look toward Sunday, we see that our psalm is psalm 70.  When I read this, personally, I am drawn to the last few verses.  Last week was Reformation Sunday/Day (10/31) and this past Sunday was All Saints' Sunday.  Because Reformation is the day that we generally remember Martin Luther's legendary "nailing of the 95 Theses" to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, I felt it appropriate to read these 95 Theses.

Without doing an exposition on the 95 Theses, I am struck by how many times Luther refers to the need to be penitent.  Being penitent is more that remembering our sins and wishing to repent.  Being penitent is more than thinking of ourselves as poor and lowly (which, by the way, if we begin to think of ourselves as "lowly" our lowliness vanishes very quickly).  Being penitent, more than anything, is having a deep, ongoing understanding of our need for God.

As I read Psalm 70 this morning, I can't help but think of how we just don't need God today in American Christianity.  For some, the government is savior.  For others, some vague understanding of self-reliance is key.  There is light for darkness, warmth for cold, and knowledge can be gained more easily than ever.  Little stands in the way of us getting exactly what we want in our culture.  If I want a career that makes money, there are steps that I can take, but I must be committed to those steps.  If I want coffee with a certain flavor, there are abundant places to get said coffee.  I don't have to worry about what I eat at night; more often, I worry about what to have that's not repeating what I already had that day or that week.

In a "treat yourself" world, of which I partake far too often, feasting is replaced with gorging, joy is replaced with mania, comfort is replaced with hoarding, faith is replaced with security.

I wrote yesterday on Facebook about how I wish that it wasn't such a dilemma for Christians to vote.  People say to vote your conscience, but what if your conscience isn't on the ballot?  If the Lord executes righteousness and judgement and we are agents of these, how do we vote accordingly if greed and self-promotion serve as cornerstones of a platform?

The same is the case with this psalm.  How do I write about God calling us to a life of poverty and thus blessing it through Jesus ("Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven") when everything in our culture, in our social and political catechesis stands in sharp contrast?  But, nevertheless, God calls us to be poor, to be penitent, and to deny ourselves.  God calls us not to be self-empowered, but to be empowered by the Spirit.  God calls us to deny things and to need him.  God calls us to deny security and embrace uncertainty, through faith.

When the world says more, we say, "But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God."  If we are followers of this God, through Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we have to reorient what is so ingrained in our thinking -- to become poor, to recognize our need for God alone.  This is a little easier when we do this together.  None of us are needy in a vacuum.  God is calling all of us to need him, together.  And, over and over in scripture, this is confirmed and the proud American imagination is scattered and dashed down (to borrow from Mary's Magnificat in Luke 1:46ff).

Because we always read scripture for and against other scripture, this kind of need for God is so clearly confirmed in the words of Jesus in the beatitudes (Matt. 5) and in a verse from Isaiah 66 that I wish to conclude our ruminations on the subject:

Thus says the Lord:
Heaven is my throne
    and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
    and what is my resting place?
All these things my hand has made,
    and so all these things are mine,
says the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look,
    to the humble and contrite in spirit,
    who trembles at my word.

Dorothy Day wished to be remembered as one who stood in solidarity with the poor; denying security and making herself poor that she could serve others.

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