SCRIPTURE: Psalm 146:1-10
1Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
5Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God,
6who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
9The LORD watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD!
SERMON: Five Thoughts for November 6, Psalm 146, Nov. 4, 2012
In two days, the nation goes to the polls. The country has been badgered and battered by attack ads, polls and policy-mongering for almost two years. Tuesday, it comes to an end, until the next go round.
Talk -show host Conan O'Brien reports, "President Obama says his campaign for a second term is still about hope and change."… "The president's exact words were, 'I hope I won't have to change my address.'"
O'Brien also said: "Political analysts are saying that Mitt Romney is having trouble generating enthusiasm among Iowa voters. Now, folks, you know you have a problem when people in Iowa find you dull."
After a long and brutal race for the White House, we need a few laughs. Presidential campaigns have become slugfests. Most of us are not feeling lighthearted as we prepare to enter the voting booth.
But regardless of what happens on Election Day, the earth will keep turning, the seasons will change, babies will be born and God will remain in control of his complex and often contentious creation.
Because it is so important that we maintain a proper perspective as Christians, here are five thoughts for November 6:
1. Only God deserves praise. Psalm 146 begins with the command, "Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long" (vv. 1-2).
In our society today, we often praise people for taking political stands that we agree with or making speeches that move us. But do such leaders deserve our praise? Praise is traditionally reserved for a god, a ruler or a hero. Most politicians in our American democracy do not fit these categories.
Certainly, we should support our candidates and work with them to advance the causes that are important to us. But praise them? No. Lavish admiration should be reserved for God alone.
Consider the roots of the word "politics," according to author Larry Hardiman. If you break it down, "poly" means "many," while "ticks" means "blood-sucking parasites."
For the most part, politics is not worthy of praise.
Psalm 146 is a celebration of the eternal sovereignty of God -- a leadership position / that has no term limits. This psalm has long been part of daily morning prayer in the Jewish tradition.
It is for Christians as well, as we join the psalm-writer in singing "praises to my God all my life long" (v. 2).
To praise God is to give credit where credit is due: to the Lord who is our creator, redeemer and sustainer.
When we offer praise we are saying that God is God, and we are not. Neither is Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama.
2. Put your trust in something eternal. The psalm warns us, "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish" (vv. 3-4).
We take a chance when we rely on political leaders to help us because they are as flawed, weak, biased, transitory and limited as any human beings on Earth.
Humorist Dave Barry says Democrats are "the kind of people who'd stop to help you change a flat, but would somehow manage to set your car on fire. I would be reluctant to entrust them with a Cuisinart, let alone the economy.”
"The Republicans, on the other hand, would know how to fix your tire, but they wouldn't bother to stop because they'd want to be on time for Ugly Pants Night at the country club."
Barry offers sharp words about the members of our two major political parties. The point, of course, is that everyone has weaknesses and limitations, from far left to radical right, across the political spectrum.
The psalm warns us against putting our trust in mortals, because every one of us is made of dust and to dust we shall return. Our complete faith should be directed toward the one eternal God, maker of heaven and earth.
3. Don't expect a candidate to make you happy.
Whether the victor is a Republican or a Democrat, he is going to let down large numbers of his supporters. Over the past decade, we have seen this with George W. Bush and Barack Obama as constituents lost confidence as initial campaign promises were not kept.
But there is another path to take: Unreserved confidence in God. "Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob," says Psalm 146, "whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever" (vv. 5-6).
Better for us to look for happiness in a relationship with the Lord God, the one who made heaven and Earth, and who is eternally faithful. God is the source of every good and perfect gift and is a Lord who always keeps promises.
With God, we have a leader who can be trusted to provide for us, and who never flip-flops.
Even more importantly, when we focus on our relationships with God, we find happiness within ourselves. We ground ourselves in the great commandment of Jesus to "love the Lord your God with all your heart ... and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27).
When we do this, we are finding joy deep within our souls by our relationship with God and with the people around us.
4. Vote the Lord's values. In the 2004 presidential election, a group of people called "Values Voters" were seen as playing an important role in the reelection of George W. Bush. But what are the values that should shape a Christian voter today?
Psalm 146 says that God is the one "who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind" (vv. 7-8).
These are God's values, according to the psalm. And while good Christians will certainly debate the ways that our society can address these concerns, there should be no disagreement about their priority to God. When you enter the voting booth, vote for the candidate who is best aligned with God's priorities.
"The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin" (vv. 8-9).
In every time and place, God lifts up the burdened and loves those who are in a right relationship with him. God has special concern for the strangers in our midst and wants to take care of orphans and widows -- those who have no way to provide for themselves.
There will always be honest disagreements about how best to meet these needs, but the needs themselves are indisputable.
5. Take the long view. If you are joyful on election night, don't get overly elated. And if you are disappointed when the election is over, don't get too depressed.
The next presidential campaign will begin before you know it, and the political pendulum will begin to swing in the other direction.
As Christians, the most important leader in our lives is Almighty God, and Psalm 146 reminds us that "the LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!" (v. 10). When we give praise to God, we are joining a community of faithful people who are linked together across the generations, centuries and millenia.
Election days may be divisive and difficult, but they do not prevent us from looking up to God together and taking the long view of human history.
If your candidate wins, praise the Lord! If your candidate loses, praise the Lord! If you are excited about the next four years, praise the Lord! If you are worried about what will happen next, praise the Lord!
There is nothing that can happen on Election Day that should shift your focus away from giving praise to the God who has created you, redeemed you and sustained you throughout the course of your life.
The apostle Paul knew what it was like to live by faith in the middle of political changes, joys, sorrows, triumphs and setbacks. He described himself and his colleagues as "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Paul felt this way because he took the long view and praised God in good times and bad.
And so can we.