PSALM 40 (NIV) AND 1 CORINTHIANS 1:10F
Sunday, January 16th
Rev. Dr. Anta Farber-Robertson
Scriptures: Psalm 40 (NIV) & 1 Corinthians 1:10f
Psalm 40 (NIV)
I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.
Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. …
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened— burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Then I said, “Here I am I have come — …
I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”
I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; …
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly.
Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD; may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
1 Corinthians 1:10f
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. ...For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe….were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
I write this meditation with a heavy heart. A few days ago a gunman opened fire in front of a supermarket where people were gathered to speak with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who represents them in our nation’s capital. Se will survive, but so many others did not. District court Judge John Roll, Giffords’ aide and a nine year old girl were among those who perished at the scene.
The United States is the standard bearer for democratic governance. It holds itself as the symbol of what freedom looks like and can accomplish in today’s ever changing world. And it finds itself pinioned on the crux of difficult questions.
- Is there a time when free speech itself becomes an enemy to democracy?
- Is the freedom to live and work without fear appropriate to sacrifice to the right to bear arms?
- When core values conflict, which ones hold the moral and ethical edge? This is not a new question.
Paul is disturbed by the arguing and the vitriolic language engaged in by the people in the church in Corinth.
He says: My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?
In other words. He asks them to rise above the differences that have gotten them polarized and remember the higher goals their opinions were intending to serve. It is not about who is right, but about whom it is we are intending to serve. If together we are serving a good, loving, forgiving, and merciful God, our differences should diminish.
When we begin to become our opinions, we personalize the differences, caricature and dehumanize the other and create polarization rather than conversation. When we take our experience as the standard we then perceive the experience or testimony of all others as deviant and untrue. Not a basis for meaningful relationship or conversation. Not a foundation upon which ground can be established, upon which all parties can stand with safety, dignity and respect. Certainly, without an understood and shared commitment to a higher good, a supreme value that transcends the disputes, differences become not only divisive, they become destructive.
There is the temptation to demonize those whose opinions or perceptions are different, particularly if they are vulnerable, marginalized, or “different.” We create scapegoats rather than looking inward, at ourselves and our ways of being with one another. The outcome - sacrificial victims.
But ours is a story that is repelled by the creation of sacrificial victims. The Psalmist says: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened— burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”
And our Lord Jesus Christ made the final and definitive statement about the unacceptability of scapegoats and of violent sacrifice as a way to preserve the community. Jesus was sacrificed, but he knew, and they knew and we know that he was innocent. He did not do anything to deserve it. It as a set-up. The crowds who agitated for a victim may have felt relief for a moment, but Jesus was one sacrificial victim who would not go away. He remains with us, a witness to the wrongfulness of scape-goating, of using sacrifice as a way to adhere a fractured community.
As I write this, I feel a judgment coming upon myself. I was angry at the Tea Party movement for their polarizing behavior, for their vitriolic demonizing of their opponents. I was angry with Sarah Palin for using her position of influence to “target” public servants as though they were the enemy, rather than sisters and brothers who shared a love of country and the values it professes. In my heart I was a witch hunter. I wanted to blame this tragedy on her and her Tea Party followers, and nail them for it.
But the perpetrator was not an ideologue. The perpetrator was a confused mentally ill young man. Sarah Palin did not make him do it and I find myself accountable under Paul’s admonitions.
I do not think I am alone in finding myself sometimes a victim of bullying or even scapegoat, and sometimes a participant, a bully, a seeker of a scapegoat onto whom I can project the ills of my community.
I do not like to think of it, or admit it, but the scripture calls me to account, and I need to confess and repent.
With the Psalmist I want to praise God, who “lifted me out of the mud and mire; … set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
(Who) put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. “
And so, in honor to that God, who has put me on a firm place, and given me a song of love and praise, I relinquish the satisfaction of projecting my anger onto others, of placing in them responsibility for the health or hurt of my community, and take up once again the path of service and of love. It is up to me to be the beloved community, in my life, in my practice. It is the path God has placed before us. Uneven, rough, and yet incredibly joyful. It is so good to be singing God’s song.
Can you identify a time when you were bullied, held responsible for another’s failure, paid the price for things that went awry through no fault of your own? What was that like? Can you go back to that time with the knowledge that God loved you through it, God knew your innocence, God held you close?
Can you identify a time when you were a bully, when you held others, or another responsible for situations that were truly not of their making, even punished them for it - emotionally or otherwise? Can you go back and hold yourself accountable, accept your responsibility for abusive behaviors or attitudes, and know that all the while God is loving you, walking with you, never letting you go?
In the arenas in your life that know the tension of divisiveness, can you become a God-grounded presence, speaking for the higher values to which people are called, embodying them in your ways and words?
Can you carry on the work of the Prince of Peace each day?
Gracious God, loving God, who understand the weaknesses of the human heart, who knows the nobility of the aspirations that lift us and the folly of our pride, be with us in this time of fear and sorrow, confusion and despair.
Help us trust in your presence as we live through these days.
May we be given the trust in your mercy that empowers us to claim our own faults rather than focusing on the faults of others.
May we be given the forgiving heart that allows us to forgive ourselves as well as others.
May we be given the eyes to see and the ears to hear the myriad ways you show up in our lives, guiding and sustaining us, loving us through each day.