How do we fix the massive problems in our world? Spoiler alert: wars, wealth, and power are not the solution. But there is hope, and it’s simpler than we might think. Today we’re focusing on the second half of Psalm 46, with the war-God who destroys weapons and ends all wars. Following is a transcript of S5E3: “Lay It Down” with yours truly.
Welcome to Season 5, Episode 3. Today we are picking up where we left off last week. We’ve been dwelling in the Psalm that’s numbered 46. We’ve been wrestling with what faith looks like in the midst of chaos and loss. And last week we considered what it might look like to be still and know that God is God, and we are not.
Here’s that Psalm again:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in our distresses.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, and the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make joyful the city of God—the holy tabernacle of the Most High. God is in her midst, she will not be shaken. God will help her before morning breaks.
Nations rage, kingdoms shake; He utters his voice, the earth melts.
YHWH of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of YHWH, what horrors he has set on the earth.
He causes wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and cuts off the spear. He burns the chariots with fire.
Be still and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted among the earth. YHWH of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.
The word of the Lord.
There’s this weird part where the Psalmist urges us to “Come! Behold the works of the Lord—see what horrors or devastations or desolations God has brought on the earth.” Kinda weird, right? Maybe shocking and confusing? For those of us who don’t believe that God causes bad things to happen, we have to dig a little deeper and trust God’s Spirit to reveal what this is about. In what ways is God bringing horrors on the earth?
The psalmist depicts YHWH as the ultimate ‘war-God.’ You might know this, but for those that don’t, the word ‘hosts’ means ‘armies.’ I think in American culture, when we hear the word “host,” we picture someone ‘hosting’ a dinner party or a ‘host’ at a restaurant (back when we used to go to those)—so the term ‘Lord of Hosts’ doesn’t make much sense. But if we use the word ‘armies’ instead, we get a clearer picture of what image this name for God is trying to convey.
When Israel called on God as ‘Lord of Hosts’ or ‘YHWH of hosts,’ it was using battle language—Israel was calling upon their ‘war-God.’ It’s sort of like calling God the divine general. And when you call on YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of Armies, you can expect for the ground to be shaking and seas to be raging. What you might not expect is that it will be the very ground beneath your feet that shakes, or the waters under your boat that rage and threaten to consume. Because YHWH of Hosts destroys the weapons – and that can be horrifying.
We give lip service to the Lord of Hosts being with us and being our refuge, but we’re taking up arms and fighting for power. We’re not all in the military, and we don’t all own guns. Most of us don’t have the bows and spears mentioned in this Psalm. But we’ve geared up with some unique weapons to secure the safety and comfort of life as we know it, and to wield power over others.
We’ve learned that to navigate this world there are two things that we must have, and they are intimately connected: money and power. Neither money nor power is inherently bad or evil, but they have certainly been used in destructive ways. And we have weaponized money and power against others. We keep a white-knuckled grip on them to survive in this world. We pursue them, at times ruthlessly and by stepping on others.
For hundreds of years in America, our leaders have devised and refined and perfected an intricate web of systems to ensure that the vast majority of money and power remain in the hands of white people. From voter registration rules to redlining, to separate-but-equal to inadequate access to services and education, to denial of loans and housing, to lynching and bombing and violently responding to nonviolent demonstrations.
The whole thing is rigged in favor of the white. And I have benefited from it my entire life. And I have believed that I got to where I am today through hard work and divine guidance and maybe a little luck. But the truth is, I’ve had disproportionate access to money and power. I’ve had access to money and power that not everyone in this country has. And sometimes, it still doesn’t feel like enough.
YHWH of Hosts destroys the weapons of power and domination. God is not coming in to wipe out all of our enemies. The psalmist says God is coming in to destroy weapons. God destroys those things that we all use to wield power over others.
Could it be, I mean, just imagine with me for a moment… Could it be that YHWH of Hosts has shown up to destroy the weapons of white supremacy? Could it be that God has heard the cries of the oppressed and helped to elevate their voices that they might usher in the dismantling of these evil, oppressive systems? Could it be that God has seen enough, heard enough, and is now moving? Is now moving in quite mysterious, but quite direct and observable ways to release those in our country who have been suffering under the burden of white supremacy for more than 400 years? Could that be possible? We have a pile of weapons of mass destruction built right into every corner of our economy that target nonwhite people. Could it be that God is breaking our bows and shattering our spears?
The great war-God ends all wars, but it’s not pretty. It’s not quite what we expected. When we think about God destroying weapons and ending wars, our imaginations might conjure images from Isaiah 11, where the lion lies down with the lamb, and the carnivores stop devouring each other. We might envision peaceful coexistence, the kind of true shalom that only God provides…We might imagine a world where nations do not rise up against nations, and where one person does not seek to dominate another. We might envision a world in which the striving for power has ceased.
And here’s how we get to participate in this. When we deny ourselves and give up privilege for the sake of others, we’re partnering with God to end wars and destroy weapons. And there are a lot of privileges we could talk about, but the one that’s front and center on a lot of our minds is white privilege. For those of us who are white, we need to recognize the ways in which our whiteness has privileged us, the ways in which we’ve benefited from white supremacy. And then we need to figure out how and when and where we might start to give up that privilege. Because that’s such a Gospel call, isn’t it?
In the Christ Hymn recorded in Philippians chapter 2, verses 6 through 11 we hear about Jesus denying himself and giving up his privilege. As a Jewish male, Jesus could have had a comfy life of privilege. He was the very embodiment of God on Earth, and in a sense he had more inborn “privilege” than anyone ever has. But he didn’t use it selfishly or exploit it. He gave it away and gave it up. He used his male privilege to elevate women and children. He used his religious privilege to challenge unjust systems.
For those of us who are white, as we think about the ways in which our whiteness privileges us, how might we give it away in service of others like Jesus did? Are there others who need to be elevated? Are there unjust systems that we are uniquely positioned to challenge?
How might the world around us look different if we really try to see our fellow humans through the eyes of Jesus? Through eyes that do not see the myth of “race.” Eyes that celebrate the purposeful diversity of humanity. Eyes that delight in the beautiful spectrum of gender and skin color and sexuality and body shape and size. The eyes of Christ see us ALL as beloved children of God who are valuable and gifted and created on purpose.
It’s pretty clear from the stories in the Gospels that Jesus wasn’t a big fan of the rich, the powerful, or the prominent. Although he was actually the physical manifestation of God on earth, and therefore a pretty important guy, he didn’t just hang out with the beautiful, smart people. He actually preferred to spend his time with the ones society had already dismissed. The ones who weren’t “worthy” or “pure” or “good enough” in the eyes of the religious elite. Jesus spent time with people in all of those different circles, and he preached a consistent message about God’s love and the abundant life that’s available to us in the here and now. He didn’t even talk that much about a future post-death heaven. He talked more about what life could look like in the here and now, and how we could partner with him to usher in the New Jerusalem. He came to give us hope for what our world *could* be.
Jesus was offered numerous opportunities to seize power, but he turned them all down. Because life in the New Jerusalem, life in God’s community is about giving up power, control, and privilege. If there’s anyone who ever walked the earth who ‘deserves’ power, it’s Jesus…But he showed us by his example that we should not concern ourselves with trying to get power. In fact, whatever power we have should be used for good or given to others. And the message Jesus had for the rich was essentially the same – use your wealth for good, or give it away.
So, money, power, privilege – all things we should use for good or give away. Because these things have become weapons for us. And we get to participate in the coming of the New Jerusalem, God’s beautiful community, by laying down our weapons. By saying yes, God, we want you to put an end to our wars and destroy our weapons. We don’t need them anymore because we have you.
And this is especially hard when the earth is trembling. When everything feels so uncertain, or we’re not sure how the bills are going to get paid. When our country is polarized and we need to deal with the root of the problem but God help us we are just exhausted and don’t even know where to start. When the diagnosis is bleak and we don’t know when, or if we’ll get to hug our friends and loved ones again.
But this is exactly the moment when we need to lay it all down. When we need to recognize that we can’t fix the problems of the world through weapons and wars, or even by having enough privilege, money, or power. Only the God of peace can bring true peace.
If we are going to live lives that proclaim that God is God and is the only one who is exalted, we’re going to have to put down our weapons – the ways in which we are abusing our power and oppressing God’s creation. The ways in which our privilege benefits us and harms others. The ways in which we fight for what we want instead of having faith in God. Not faith that God will grant our every wish. But faith that God is love. Faith that God created us and loves us and promises to always be with us. Faith that God sees what we cannot. Faith that God is working to restore all of creation, and that we too can be part of that.
Be still and know that God is God. And may we actively seek ways to give up our power, wealth, and privilege for the sake of others. May it be so.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
PreacHer: Dr. Jen Hale Christy
Summary: How do we fix the massive problems in our world? Spoiler alert: wars, wealth, and power are not the solution. But there is hope, and it’s simpler than we might think. Today we’re focusing on the second half of Psalm 46, with the war-God who destroys weapons and ends all wars.
Resources + Social Media Handles:
- All of Jen Hale Christy’s Links
What to do next:
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