Preached Sunday 15th September, 2019 at Turramurra Uniting Church
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Psalm 79:1-9
When I was in third grade, I was confronted with an issue and I still remember vividly. Our class were having the dreaded “nit check” where the teacher checked all the kids heads on the way into class and for those who had already been checked we were supposed to sit quietly at our desk.
As we sat there, one boy started teasing this other girl. She often got teased but this particularly day it was bad. It was mean, vicious bullying and as I sat there I remember getting angry at how wrong this was … so in my best year 3 logic, I got out of my chair and walked over to the boy and told him to stop … and then pushed him quite forcefully off his chair – where he landed on the ground and hurt himself.
I got in a lot of trouble that day, and I remember my parents asking me that night why I did it. I still remember my answer, “Because what he was doing was wrong”.
In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have pushed him off his chair, but I think it was good that I listened to that stirring inside of me that this was wrong and something needed to be done. I couldn’t just sit there. I had to act.
Today’s Psalm comes from the lectionary – and to be honest, it is not the easiest Psalm to read. It starts with the Psalmist looking around the world, and his community and being distressed because what he was seeing was wrong.
God’s people and the nation had been defeated by the enemy.
God’s temple had been defiled, Jerusalem is rubble,
People are dead and there is no one to bury them.
When faced with this injustice, this devastation, this horrific situation – the Psalmist lets out this cry for help, this cry for justice? “How Long, O Lord? How Long?”
How much longer to we have to suffer this wrong?
How much longer until these issues are addressed?
How long do we have to wait for you to intervene?
How long do we have to wait until the wrongs are made right again?
This cry for help or this cry for justice is not unique to Psalm 79. If you search for the phrase “how long” in the book of Psalms – it is listed multiple times.
Psalm 4 – How long will people be deluded
Psalm 6 – My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?
Psalm 13 – How long Lord? Will we be forgotten forever?
Psalm 35 – How long will we have sorrow in our hearts?
Psalm 62 – How long will people be assaulted?
Psalm 74 – How long will God be mocked?
Psalm 79/80/89 – How long will God be angry at us?
Psalm 82/94/119 – How long will the unjust continue to succeed in their wicked plans
Psalm 90 – How long will it be until we see some compassion?
Can you relate to this? Do you sometimes have this experience of being faced with an injustice or faced with something that is wrong … and you cry out … this is not right. How long do we have to put up with this? How long must we endure this until someone make this wrong right?
What is it for you? When you look around – what is it that you see that something inside of you just goes, “that is not right” or “that is not fair” or “that is not the way it is support to be”.
[120 seconds – turn to the people around you and share what stirs you up, what things do you see as not right and need to be changed]
I was talking to someone during the week who attended the recent rally in the city for the Biloela Tamil family deportation case. I asked them why did they go? (I was hoping for an answer such as “I wanted to see something that I felt was wrong addressed” but instead they gave me an even more interesting answer. They said, “If we don’t speak up when we think something is wrong, then the government assumes that we agree. I went because I needed to speak up”.
I think that this is what Psalm 79 is about. The nation was defeated in war, of course the city would be in ruins and really – the Israelites should have just accepted that this was the new normal. It is hopeless to think any different. This is the way that things were now.
But the Psalmist didn’t want to give up hope that things could change. This feeling of injustice and unfairness was welling up inside of them and … they needed to speak up. The cried out for justice. They cried out for help. They asked for a just God to make things right again.
They were not hopeless. They are fed up.
How long are we going to let this continue? No more.
And so, they spoke up – and they did something about it.
When it comes to issues like this, I often want to ask the question – what is a considered Christian response to this issue? What would Jesus do if he was seeing what I am seeing?
But maybe the Psalmist makes it even easier.
If you see something that is not right – speak up.
If you see something that is unjust – do something about it.
Look, I am not dismissing the complexity of some of these issues. For example, the immigration issue that our nation faces is difficult and there are so many sides to the debate. We need to consider our nations borders, the deception of people smugglers, the dangers people are facing in their own country etc. I know it is complex – but keeping people for over 5 years in indefinite detention on Manus in a place designed to be so harsh that people are deterred from coming, a place which is causing psychological harm to those who are there … even with the other complexities, I can still look at this part and say that this is wrong … and I need to speak up against this.
I don’t know about you, but it seems for me that we are living in an era where some people in power are seeing what they can get away with. Whether it is in politics or big business or the media … someone will try and will push the boundaries and see if anyone speaks up about it … and it if they don’t then they just keep doing it.
During the week there was this extraordinary example of this when a state legislate council in North Carolina in the USA. The speaker of the house announced that they would not be voting on anything on Sept 11 so people could go to Sept 11 commemorations. But then one political party all turned up and the speaker opened a session so they could pass a veto bill on a budget that they couldn’t have got passed if everyone was there.
We might say this is deceptive and morally wrong to do this on a solemn occasion – but in their words … well it worked, and we can’t see people protesting outside so the public must think it is ok. Besides it helped our side, so who cares if it is unfair.
It is not ok, but I think that sometimes we get overwhelmed with just how much of this is going on – and we in our tiredness we become apathetic. And we let people “get away” with things.
It might me frustrated that our society is set up to give advantages to those who have already got an advantage and make it harder for those who are disadvantaged. I might think it is wrong that the rich keep getting richer and the poor are suffering more and more … but really … what I can do about that. So, I just keep quiet. And these things continue.
But the Psalmist didn’t keep quiet. They called out “How Long must this continue”. And Jesus didn’t keep quiet. He was a huge advocate for changing a system that wasn’t right.
This temple market might be profitable, but it is not right.
Stoning a woman caught in adultery (but not the man) might be the way you do things, but it is not right.
So … what do we do? I have been really interested in reading the thoughts behind the Climate Change Strike that is happening this Friday. Do you know what I am talking about?
The “School Strike 4 Climate” was inspired by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg and her refusal to act like everything is normal.
At the heart of this idea was that the adults of the world have let the children down by not doing anything about Climate Change … so it was time for the children to speak up.
As Greta said, “For way too long, the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything to fight the climate crisis, but we will make sure that they will not get away with it any longer. We are striking because we have done our homework and they have not.”
Starting in 2015, these strikes are usually held around major world discussion on climate and have grown to being millions of young people striking all around the world.
Next Friday is the first “intergenerational strike” where we are all invited to allow our collective voices to be heard. When together we cry out for climate justice and say that this wrong must be made right.
My son asked me if I was going to the rally on Friday…
This is where it all becomes real.
Am I willing to add my voice to this cry for Justice?
Am I willing to go into the city on an already busy day so I can add my voice to the others as they ask, “How Long do we have to wait until this crisis is addressed?”
I have been praying the same prayer as the Psalmist in v8&9 … God please come quickly to us, for we are in desperate need.
Help us, God our Saviour…
I have been praying that prayer, but am I willing to allow my voice to be part of the answer? Am I willing to be part of the answers to my own prayers?
I know that this sermon is pushing right up against the line of being too political … and I want to be clear. I am not telling you how you need to react to the social issues that are around us. I am not telling you to support a particular political party’s position. Those are things that you need to work out yourself.
We as a church value the voices of all people and accept that we do not all think the same on issues of justice or theology or politics … and that means we encourage all voices to speak and all of us to listen to each other with open minds.
The challenge of this sermon is when you see something that is not right, when your spirit is stirred in response to something which is unjust or unfair, when you feel that need to cry out “How long will this continue …” then I encourage you to speak. To cry out. To let your voices be heard … to pray to God our saviour to come and help … and to be open that God might use you to be part of the answer.
So … does anyone else want to join me at the Climate Rally on Friday?