Sunday, 22 July 2018


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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

Recent Sermons

A Prayer We Dare Not Forsake

January 7, 2018


New Millennium Church/Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church

January 7, 2018 


Psalm 72

Of Solomon.

1 Give the king your justice, O God,
   and your righteousness to a king’s son. 
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
   and your poor with justice. 
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
   and the hills, in righteousness. 
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
   give deliverance to the needy,
   and crush the oppressor. 

5 May he live* while the sun endures,
   and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. 
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
   like showers that water the earth. 
7 In his days may righteousness flourish
   and peace abound, until the moon is no more. 

10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
   render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
   bring gifts. 
11 May all kings fall down before him,
   all nations give him service. 

12 For he delivers the needy when they call,
   the poor and those who have no helper. 
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
   and saves the lives of the needy. 
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
   and precious is their blood in his sight. 


Permit me to share some information to put this sermon and our worship today in better context.  January 7, 2018 is the day in the Christian liturgical calendar set aside for recognizing the baptism of Jesus.  Yesterday, January 6, was the 12th day after Christmas, the official end of the Christmas season, and the start of the season known as Epiphany.  Most businesses and individuals have removed their Christmas decorations by now – before the 12th day of Christmas.  Some traditions hold the superstitious view that unless Christmas decorations are removed before Epiphany they must remain in place all year to avoid misfortune. 


Epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation,” and the season of epiphany focuses on the manifestation of Jesus as God Incarnate to the Gentiles.  January 6, yesterday, was the actual day followers of Jesus observe Epiphany.  


Epiphany is also known as Three Kings Day, and is celebrated by many followers of Jesus to commemorate the visit of the Magi.  We will continue in the season of Epiphany until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and the Sunday before Ash Wednesday will be observed as Transfiguration Day.


So we focus today on Epiphany, not Christmas.  The sanctuary vestments have been changed from white to green.  The green vestments will remain until Lent, when they will be changed to purple.   


Now pivot with me to ponder Psalm 72, the last psalm in what is called the Davidic Psalter (Psalms 51-72).  One commentator has observed that this psalm “presents a compelling, culminating description of the kingship God and the people of Israel expected and hoped for from the person who occupied the throne.”  According to the inscription, this psalm was inspired by the transfer of rule from King David to his son Solomon.  This psalm reminds us of Solomon’s prayer to be able to rule and judge Israel with wisdom and justice.


Reflect on what Solomon prayed in Psalm 72.  Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s on.  May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.  May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.  May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor (Ps. 72:1-4).  This is a prayer people everywhere hope their leaders pray. Every nation should hope their leaders would make justice, mercy for the poor, needy, and marginalized, and defense against oppression the driving priorities for their societies.  


Although Solomon prayed for wisdom to rule Israel with justice, prosperity (shalom/peace), and mercy, Solomon is remembered as the king of Israel whose devotion to justice and mercy was compromised by addiction to the trappings of majesty, power, fame, and wealth.  Solomon’s practice as a ruler fell far short of his prayer.  


Solomon does not stand alone among rulers whose actions fail to live up to their aspirations.  Leaders may have lofty aims for justice, mercy, and prosperity.  But doing justice requires that we resist temptations of wealth, power, and privilege so that people who are poor, powerless, and vulnerable will be protected.  Solomon, like other rulers across human history, prayed to become a ruler his people deserved.  However, his reign as king of Israel was defined by decadence, oppression of the poor, and inequality.  


And in this sense, Solomon’s prayer challenges not only rulers, but each of us.  No matter where we live or who we are, each person should want to live with justice.  We should each show compassion and mercy towards others who are poor and needy.   We should desire wisdom and strength to protect people from being oppressed.  Moreover, our actions should be consistent with those aspirations for justice, mercy, and compassion.  


Solomon’s prayer challenges us, now and always, because every person is tempted to misuse or abuse power to obtain a personal advantage, benefit, or favorable result over others.  Every person is tempted by greed to want, seek, scheme, and work to get and hold onto more than we need, and to lust for more even after getting it while disregarding those who are weak, frail, and vulnerable.  


The title given this sermon, A Prayer We Dare Not Forget, forces us to admit the gap between what we say we want concerning justice, compassion, and peace, and what we actually do.  Walter Brueggemann, perhaps the leading living authority on the theology of the Hebrew Bible [Old Testament], has written that for kings “it is predictable that one’s inclination would be toward the matter of majesty, because majesty generates authority, power, prestige, and security.  On the other hand, to be a creature, child, and heir who is to submit and be shaped by the liturgy is to be pulled toward the matter of mercy…”  


I agree with Brueggemann.  However, kings, presidents, and other political rulers are not the only people lured by notions of majesty (authority, power, prestige, and security) rather than justice and mercy.  


Each of us lives in the tension caused by the lure of majesty and the demands of justice and mercy.  That tension is not only a personal drama for each of us.  It may very well be the defining drama in all interpersonal, social, civic, commercial, religious, and global relationships.  


There is another aspect of that tension exposed by the prayer we read at Psalm 72 that we do not often discuss, namely the tension surrounding the word prosperity.  In Psalm 72 and throughout the Bible generally, prosperity is correctly understood as an ideal condition for society as a whole, including people who are poor, needy, weak, vulnerable, and threatened/oppressed.  In that sense, a society is prosperous that provides, protects, defends, and respects persons who are poor, needy, weak, vulnerable, and threatened/oppressed.  


Biblically speaking, prosperity includes – and is judged by – the security, safety, and situation of persons who are not wealthy, not powerful, and not privileged.   Prosperity is never confused with affluence!  


In this sense, prosperity is always understood as a result of justice and mercy.  Righteous leadership – meaning leadership that is just and merciful – leads to prosperity.  The Biblical word used to describe that condition is “peace.”  The Hebrew word is “shalom.”


Psalm 72 clearly emphasizes the Biblical view that prosperity/peace/shalom involves justice and mercy and that prosperity includes the safety, security, and situation of persons who are not wealthy, not powerful, and not privileged.  Verses 3 and 4 read:  May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.  May he [the king] defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.  Verse 7 reads:  In his days may righteousness [justice] flourish and peace [prosperity/shalom] abound, until the moon is no more.  Verses 12 thru 14 read:  For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.  From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.  At no point does Psalm 72 relate prosperity to affluence, wealth, power, and privilege.  

There is a huge and obvious gap between the Biblical notion of prosperity and the prevailing understanding of prosperity held by rulers of all stripes and the people they rule.  The popular notion of prosperity focuses on persons who are affluent, and therefore, powerful, privileged, and protected from the dangers of oppressive situations and people.  Yet, the Biblical notion of a prosperous society is one that provides a net of safety, security, and sustenance for every person, not one that provides luxury, privilege, security from deprivation, and safety for an elite few.  


So the title of this sermon is A Prayer We Dare Not Forsake.  While rulers from Solomon to Donald Trump have unwisely equated affluence for a few with prosperity, followers of Jesus must not forget Solomon’s prayer, especially when we meditate on Jesus and Epiphany.  For Jesus is the embodiment of Solomon’s prayer.  In Jesus, we see the majesty of God in a human wrapper that did not forsake justice and mercy, but showed us how a life committed to justice and mercy looks and works.  Despite Solomon and every other ruler in history, we dare not forsake the prayer in Psalm 72 because of Jesus!  


In Jesus, we have witnessed majesty and prosperity that embraces justice and mercy.  In Jesus, God appeared – was manifested – in the world.  In Jesus, God embraced the poor, powerless, weak, frail, unprivileged, threatened, and vulnerable.  In Jesus, God has answered Solomon’s prayer!  We dare not forsake the prayer because doing so means forsaking Jesus.  


And when we ponder the life and ministry of Jesus from the perspective of Solomon’s prayer and the lure of majesty, wealth, power, fame, and privilege that ensnared Solomon, the temptation Jesus overcame in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry gives us reason for hope, not despair.  Recall that after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, the Spirit led him into a period of fasting and prayer in a deserted place.  According to Matthew 4, the Tempter showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9).   


Across history, injustice and oppression takes on their worst forms whenever religious people have succumbed to the lure of majesty, wealth, power, and privilege and put lust for those things ahead of devotion to God and justice and mercy.  The religion of Jesus was infected with lust for empire when followers of Jesus became sycophants for the Roman Emperor Constantine.  Because the religion of Jesus was infected by lust for wealth, conquest, and white supremacy, the word Christian is not associated with justice and mercy, but with manifest destiny, imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, greed, oppression, and violence.  


As we enter the season of Epiphany, followers of Jesus should not forsake the prayer we find at Psalm 72.  Despite Solomon’s failure to live up to the aspiration of his prayer, let us not lose hope by despairing Solomon’s failure, but claim hope from what God has manifested to us in Jesus.  


Let us claim hope from the Epiphany!  In Jesus, God has answered Solomon’s prayer for us and before us.  In Jesus, God has given humanity a righteous ruler!  Jesus was offered majesty, wealth, and privilege without justice and mercy, but rejected that temptation!  


In Jesus, majesty and prosperity mean justice and mercy for everyone, including the persons considered least among us because they are poor, weak, unprivileged, unprotected, and oppressed.  We will not forsake the prayer because we will not forsake what God has shown us, given us, and promised we can be in Jesus!  Hallelujah!



©Wendell Griffen, 2018