The Songs of Israel----Choosing God’s Heritage
Text: Psalm 33
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
July 3, 2011
One of my favorite parts of the Bible are the Psalms. The Psalms are usually called the Songs of Israel because they were, at their heart, songs or hymns about people’s relationship with God.
Psalms are not, like so much of the Bible, stories or things happening to people or explicit teachings about God. Psalms are more a reflection of where people were at in their journeys in their relationships with God. Years ago they were all attributed to David, but in reality they were songs that evolved over a period of time.
Last week I preached on a Psalm of lament, and this week is a Psalm of praise and petition. And the praise in this Psalm is really sort of unique because it speaks of the glory of God while asking for a blessing of a nation.
in many ways, about being a nation dedicated to God.
The Psalmist says, Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage and earlier states, simply how this happens by stating: For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. 5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
The Psalm says some other interesting things. Listen to these words: “The Lord brings counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the people.” In short, the opinion of people of God’s plans is of no significance; we most often interpret God’s plans according to our own will, not according to God’s. So God frustrates our plans.
I was thinking about this and I began, of course, thinking about the 4th of July.
July 4th, 1776 is the nation’s birthday and the marking of the reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. The 4th of July, however, in American history has an other interesting thing connected to it.
On July 4th, 1787 Philadelphia was again a gathering place and again, a place of crisis and change. The country was young and the guiding document of the nation, The Articles of Confederation, was, to be kind, a mess. So during a four month period of time a group of people, many of them leaders in the Revolution, were in Philadelphia and having clandestine and illegal meetings to overturn the Articles of Confederation and develop a new constitution. July 4th was a break day and they gathered for a prayer service at Race Street Church, now known as Old First Reformed Church, United Church of Christ, in Philadelphia. Many people from St. Marks have toured that historic church.
But what is telling is, that in 1787 the people in Philadelphia had come to a realization. In their yearning for independence and more rights, they found something out. They realized with freedom came responsibility. In many ways, when I read this Psalm and ponder what it reflects about asking for the blessing of a nation, it implies something very deep. It implies responsibility. And it implies, from a Biblical perspective, two kinds of responsibility.
The first is personal responsibility.
Sometimes it seems that we can be tempted to overdo faith. I say this very carefully, because it would probably be better to say that we often have a tendency to under do personal responsibility. There is really no way to have too much faith, assuming we understand faith the way God does. Often people view faith is doing nothing in order to let God do everything for them. For example, there is a story of an out-of-work man who believed that God was going to provide a new job for him.
An friend asked the man, "So, have you been looking for a job?"
The man said, "Nope."
"Well, do you have a resume?"
"Are you networking? Out trying to meet people?"
"Well, uh . . . what exactly are you doing?"
"I'm trying not to freak out while I'm hoping that God will bring me a job."
People do this all the time on so many different ways. It is so easy to pass off responsibility to another. Famous people say something really, really foolish or untrue and then claim they are victims of those who reported that they said something foolish or untrue. It is easier to blame others for our mistakes than it is to take responsibility for them.
But, one way we honor God and live as a nation that honors God is by taking personality responsibility.
The second part of responsibility is recognizing that we have responsibility for others.
One of the first stories of responsibility for others comes in the story of Cain and Abel. We all know that Cain killed Abel but that’s not where the story ends. God queries Cain as to the whereabouts of Abel and Cain asks one of the foundational questions in the Bible? “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The rest of the Bible is the answer to the question. It’s a very long answer, but it is an answer that can be summarized in one word. “Yes.”
We are keepers of our brothers and sisters. We are responsible for one another.
Some people have difficulties through their own actions or inactions. Some people have difficulties because of health, bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. Some people don’t take the responsibility they ought to. The reasons really do not matter. The Bible never speaks of helping the ‘deserving’ poor; just those in need and it calls us into account when we do not.
Often this responsibility for others morphs into a political issue but it is not. The political issue is HOW we care for those in need, HOW we live that responsibility out. That we do is a matter of faith.
Tomorrow is the 235th birthday of our nation and amid the patriotic songs, the fireworks, and the cook outs, we hear the words of the Psalms:
Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage
We choose God’s heritage when we take responsibility both for ourselves and our brothers and sisters. That is the way we do and live lives of justice.