Scripture: Psalm 146
Key verses: (3-4) “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.”
Reflection: In a previous congregation I served it was the practice of the city to invite clergy to offer the invocation that began the city council meetings. The first time they invited me, I’ll confess I was excited about the opportunity. John Calvin said that the highest calling was civil service, and the chance to offer prayers for the council before they began their business was a privilege. Then they told me the rules. It was to be a non-sectarian prayer (couldn’t mention Jesus.) It was to be brief, though I’m not sure they set a timer on it. I needed to arrive well before the start of the city council meeting to go through security, etc. It didn’t take long for the “opportunity” to participate in polite civil religion to lose its luster.
So I adopted a practice of praying Psalm 146 every time I was invited to offer the invocation. When I got to the third verse, if anyone was listening, there were usually a couple of chuckles. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals in whom there is no help,” writes the Psalmist. “Happy are those who help is the God of Jacob, who hope is in the Lord their God.” The Psalm goes on to describe the work of God, who made the heavens and the earth, who keeps faith forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry, who sets the prisoners free, who opens the eyes of the blind, who lifts up the lowly, who loves the righteous, who watches over the alien, who upholds the orphan and the widow, who brings the way of the wicked to ruin.” It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a “drop the mic” prayer. This practice got me out of doing the invocation very often. I wouldn’t get invited back until the scheduler changed. Then I’d offer Psalm 146 again and get a break for another couple of years.
Often we invoke God’s name to bless what we already are planning to do. God cannot be reduced to pleasantries and platitudes to bless agendas that have nothing to do with God. Abraham Lincoln was once asked if he believed the God was on the side of the North in the Civil War. He responded, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Psalm 146 offers a detailed agenda of what God’s business looks like, what it looks like to be on God’s side. If our agenda is not in sync with God’s, perhaps we should refrain from asking God to bless it.
Prayer: Help me to be on your side today, O God. To offer myself in joining your work in this world, doing justice, feeding the hungry, releasing the captives, opening the eyes of the blind, lifting up the lowly, watching over the alien, upholding the orphan and the widow, loving righteousness, and shunning wickedness. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].