Love–Oppressive and Liberating Spiritualities: a Reflection on Psalm 43, Micah 3:5-12, 1 Thess
When was the last time you saw a man, woman, or child holding a placard saying, “Need help?” The faces and hands of the poor are numerous. The personal, social, and political systems that create and enable the poor are at work 24/7. God’s heart reaches and voice cry out for action. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the nineteenth century English Baptist preacher, writes, “The greatest works are done by the ones. The hundreds do not often do much–the companies never. It is the units, the single individuals, that are the power and the might.” Others are not means to our particular ends. Barbara Brown Taylor writes,
Micah blasts those “who cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths.” False prophets are not the only offenders on his list; he includes rulers who trade favorable judgments for bribes and priests who teach what people want to hear for a price. Follow the money, Micah says, and sooner or later you will find yourself standing in front of some well-fed leader telling satisfied customers, “Surely the Lord is with us.”
Psalm 43, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, and Matthew 23:1-12 confirm the point made in Micah 3:5-12: religion is about power, and power can be used for good or misused. First, religion is the source of life. Where is God? God is at work in and through you, not simply for your good, but for the good of others. Let’s affirm the divine “yes” and resist the human “yes.” And second, religion can be misused. Don’t pretend it’s God when it’s really you attempting to get your way or accomplish what you want. When we trust God not “human” to be at work, then the power religion is about is used for good. Jesus shapes us in his image. Do not pretend. Go to Jesus and relax in his embrace. Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins, relates the following story:
I went to the hospital to visit a man who had survived a terrible accident at work. He’d been repairing the ceiling of a massive warehouse, high up off the floor on a lift that had tipped, pinning him against one of the support beams. He was…crushed between the lift and the beam, with his feet dangling, a hundred or so feet off the ground. He told me that as he blacked out he saw a white light…He said that he knew instantly that the white light was powerfully good and right, but it produced in him a profound sense that he wasn’t that good and right. That were things in him that the light revealed, things he didn’t want revealed, and so he kept repeating, as fast as he could get the words out, as if he couldn’t help it, “Please forgive me, please forgive me, please forgive me, please forgive me,” and then he came to in the hospital…And what does any of this have to do with Jesus? Jesus wasn’t something God cooked up at the last minute to try to rescue us from what happened when we were given the freedom to truly make a mess of things. Jesus was the ultimate exposing of what God has been up to all along.
Micah did the right thing. He obeyed God, used power for the good of others, and told the story of liberation. Telling the story of obedience to God and God’s way has as much effect on the teller as it does the hearers. Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, recalls: “My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher, and he related how his master used to hop and dance while he prayed. My Grandfather rose as he spoke and was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that hour, he was cured of his lameness.” When we tell the story of how God has worked in our lives, we too experience God’s power and have a story to tell. Religion is about power. And its power, when used for good, liberates. Ken Medema has written an incredible song, Kingdom in the Streets, which illustrates how the power of religion is to be used for good. It goes like this:
“Come walk with me in darkness as we walk along And tell you quite a story sing you quite a song I’ll sing of light and darkness of victory and defeat Corruption on the mountains and compassion in the streets For its a long night and weary grow the feet That walk the long road, but the morning will come sweet Yes, it’s a long night and the prince is in the streets tonight
We’ll walk into the city chaos is its name and in its streets and alleys abide the blind, the sick, the maimed And the children cry for water and relief seems out of sight And they dream about tomorrow in the darkness of the night For it’s a long night and weary grow the feet That walk the long road, but the morning will come sweet Yes, it’s a long night and the prince is in the streets tonight
Well just outside the city far from the blight and pain There is a holy mountain fortress where life seems calm and sane Feasting there and singing where tranquil water falls But street folks never come there because they cannot climb the walls
At the gateway to the fortress the man of sorrows cries A prince in beggars clothing with compassion in his eyes And the mountain folks won’t hear him so, he’ll turn his feet around And the ruler of the mountains becomes a servant in the town For it’s a long night and weary grow the feet That walk the long road, but the morning will come sweet Yes, it’s a long night And the prince is in the streets tonight”
Walking the long road is a series of actions loving God and others. Are you willing to walk the road telling the liberating story of God’s love?
Leadership, Vol. 11, no. 4.
Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 243.
I am grateful for insights gleaned from Leah McKell Horton, Susan Marie Smith, and Allen Hilton in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, 248, 250, 252, 255, 257, 259, 261, 263, and 265.
Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York, New York: HarperOne, 2011), 140-142, 148.
Timothy K. Jones in Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 4.