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God Speaks Justice

Psalm 82
Len Scales
November 22, 2020


As we conclude our series in the Psalms this week, Psalm 82 does so with imagery that can be surprising alongside the laments and songs of praise from the community that are familiar in the Psalter.

In this Psalm, we encounter a courtroom scene where God is bearing judgment on a mythical realm of gods. The weak, the orphan, the lowly, the destitute, and the needy have not been cared for, and so God delivers them. The mythical realm is cast down as mere mortals, and the Living God reigns to bring justice.

One of you asked Brent Strawn, the professor leading adult ed throughout the Psalm series, about incoming messages from God.

You noted that up until this point in the series, we have focused on “outgoing messages”—songs that are sung from the community to God. Where is the divine voice to the community in the Psalms? As Brent mentioned, Psalm 82 is one of the few places where we hear directly from God’s perspective.

Even as Psalm 82 stands apart from the prayers surrounding it, the main themes from the entire Psalter are present still. The laments of injustice that run throughout the majority of the 150 Psalms are taken up here as God’s judgment is made on behalf of the poor and needy.[1]

Throughout the rest of the Psalms, we hear and join the cries of lament:

For we sing down to the dust, our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love (Psalm 44);

Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! (Psalm 90)

And in Psalm 82, God joins those cries and responds to them with deliverance. God is now the one acting out the pattern from lament of injustice to praise that appears in majority of the Psalter.

We see an example this turn to praise in Psalm 86:

“In the day of trouble I call on you, for you will answer me. There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.”

As we pray the Psalms “we find ourselves talking to the living God,” notes Ellen Davis.[2] But in Psalm 82 God clearly joins the prayers of the Psalmist, showing that God’s very self prays and acts for those in need. This Psalm summarizes God’s practice of justice.

Psalm 82 with its unique voice and repeated attention to the weak, lowly, orphan, destitute, and needy joins God’s voice with the resounding prayers of lament by the gathered community.

So too the laments we carry today are not ours to carry alone, God joins us in our anger and sadness.

We cry out as deaths in the United States due to Covid surpass 250,000. We hold health care workers in prayer as burnout rates increase, and we know the pandemic weighs on their bodies, minds, and souls, and that it is a heavy burden for their families too. The grief is palpable and lament is an appropriate response. God joins in crying against the injustice of misinformation and discrimination in safety measures and treatment.

As we approach Thanksgiving, for many of us our celebrations will look so different—transitioning to virtual gatherings for the sake of everyone’s safety. Too many will also be experiencing Thanksgiving with a loved one’s seat vacant at the table. God shares in our tears of grief, and promises a future of wholeness.

We are concerned for the economic impact of the pandemic, especially for workers in the service sector and for those who were financially precarious prior to Covid. The long-term unemployment rate has almost tripled since March and is continuing to grow.[3] We pray for a way where there seems to be no way. We pray for opportunities and care that break with expectations of the negative impact long-term unemployment has on individuals and families. We pray for housing and food and health. God groans with us and promises to toss down the idols of systems that have separated people into rich and poor.

As we move past the election and look toward a transition of those in political power, we pray for peace and cooperation that benefits the people especially as we continue to face the pandemic. God joins in our desire for justice.

Psalm 82 shows that God laments with us. God cares for the orphan, the poor, and those in need. AND it is God’s promise to bring forth judgment, tearing down the unjust and building up deliverance.

We follow in the very footsteps of God, when we lament injustice and work toward justice.

So may we be blessed today as we pray. For we know lamentation over injustice is echoed in God’s voice. Your grief does not stand alone, but is held and expressed by the God of creation and redemption.

We offer our laments for health care workers and students and those who are alone, families struggling to juggle the complications of work and school in this season, the loss of loved ones, and the lack of care for the poor, and callousness and cruelty against those on the margins. God prays with us.

As the children’s choir reminded us earlier in worship, singing and signing “God’s Hands”—God’s hands are your hands, my hands, our hands working together for love, peace, and hope.

Just as God has joined us in praying the Psalms, we lean back into the chorus, lamenting injustice and praising the promises of God. We join with God’s plan for justice, and pick it up in our mutual care for one another, the work we do that supports those who dream dreams and have visions of love, wholeness, and freedom.

 

[1] Miller, Patrick D. The Lord of the Psalms (Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), Chapter 2, specifically p. 25-27.

[2] Davis, Ellen, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Rowman & LIttlefield), p.12.

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/podcasts/the-daily/coronavirus-pandemic-us-economy-unemployment.html