Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Give thanks because God is good! Let us also give thanks because God’s “steadfast love endures forever.” When it comes to the love of God, we’re not just talking about feelings. When Scripture speaks of God’s steadfast love, that love is rooted in the covenant that God first made with Abraham and then reaffirmed at Sinai and in Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper. While we might not always be faithful to that covenant, God’s commitment to this covenant is permanent.
While God remains faithful to the covenant, the Psalmist speaks for all of us when he confesses that “we and our ancestors have sinned.” Yes, we’ve been known to exhibit quite a bit of faithlessness. While the Psalmist begins by giving thanks for God’s steadfast love, the Psalm also provides a lengthy accounting of Israel’s many failures after God delivered them from Egypt. One of those moments of faithlessness came at Mount Horeb while Moses was up on the mountain, meeting with God, and receiving the tablets of the law. Down below impatience began to set in. The people got anxious because Moses was delayed. So they decided to take things into their own hands and create their own god in the form of a golden calf (Ps. 106:19-23; Ex. 32:1-14). Therefore, as the Psalmist put it: “they exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” In doing so, “they forgot God, their savior.” Here is where we see one of those moments when God seems to regret making the covenant, because if not for Moses’ intervention, God would have destroyed Israel. Fortunately Moses “stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.” Later the Psalmist writes: “For their sake, he remembered his covenant, and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” (Ps. 106:45).
There are different ways that we can read this Psalm and the Exodus story that stands behind it. As I read it I’m reminded that God is gracious and that God will do everything to restore the brokenness of human life. I’m also reminded that God takes seriously our behavior. As the Psalmist declares “Happy are those who observe justice” (vs. 3). Sometimes the writers of Scripture describe God’s relationship to us in very human terms, including frustration.
As we read the biblical story, we quickly discover that the biblical heroes, including Abraham, are not perfect examples of faithfulness to God. So, consider the story of Abraham, with whom God made a covenant. In one moment Abraham is the paragon of faithfulness, who took up God’s call to head off to an unknown land so that he and his descendants might be a blessing to the nations. Then in the next moment, when he and Sarah travel to Egypt, he pawned off Sarah as his sister instead of his wife because he was afraid that Pharaoh might kill him because of Sarah’s beauty (Gen. 12). He did it again with Abimelech (Gen. 20), even though God had just reaffirmed the covenant, promising that Sarah would be the mother of the promised child (Gen. 18). In other words, Abraham, like us, could be fickle. Despite that fickleness, God remained faithful to the promise.
We hear this word about God’s steadfast love that endures forever during challenging times. This pandemic has been going on far too long. Like me, you’re probably ready to move beyond the pandemic to whatever the new normal will be. I want to get back to singing hymns as a congregation led by the choir. I want to go to a restaurant without wondering if it’s safe. I want to go out in public without wearing a mask. Even if we’ve not dealt personally with illness or the loss of a job, it feels as if we’re hitting a wall. Like the people of Israel sitting at the base of the mountain, we may even be ready to make a golden calf to worship. But, despite the temptation to turn to an idol, as we struggle with this moment in history, may we hold fast to the promise that God’s steadfast love endures forever.
While God’s covenant love is eternal that doesn’t mean God doesn’t have expectations of us. Again, the Psalmist declared “Happy are those who act justly, who do right at all times” (JPS). And as Miguel De La Torre comments: “Justice can never be practiced in isolation; by its very nature, it needs others to whom justice can be administered and with whom justice is practiced. In short, no community, no justice.” [Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, p. 432].
There is a saying that may go back to an ancient Greek philosopher that you can find on the internet but predates the internet by a century at least. The philosopher answers the question “When will there be justice in Athens?” by saying “There will only be justice in Athens when those who are not injured are as outraged as those who are.”
So, when will there be justice in America? Probably not until those of us who are White are as outraged by unjust acts committed against people of color as are the people who are injured. It’s why we have put up the Pride and Black Lives Matter flags out by the sign. While justice requires solidarity, which is what the flags signal, it asks more of us than that. The late Brazilian Cardinal, Dom Helder Camara, once said: “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, have no food, they call me a communist.”
To experience God’s steadfast love is to act justly. So, let us give thanks with grateful hearts that God’s love enables us to do just that, even in moments like this.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
October 11, 2020
Hofheinz-Döring, Margret. Worship of the Golden Calf, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55987 [retrieved October 10, 2020]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tanz_ums_goldene_Kalb,_Margret_Hofheinz-D%C3%B6ring,_%C3%96l,_1962_(WV-Nr.2756).JPG.