“Credit Where Credit is Due”
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
January 8, 2017
University Baptist Church
It’s Epiphany Sunday. We take in the last gasps of the Christmas season. Lights are already turned off and ornaments stowed away for next year. Some of those lights will remain up but off until it gets to be a decent temperature outside.
I don’t know about you, but I am glad to put 2016 behind me. I’m looking forward to the increasing of light and the relatively clean slate that the New Year grants us, at least in our imaginations.
The Lectionary gives us Psalm 72 to accompany the familiar story of the magi visiting Jesus and his family. It’s the prelude to the Holy Family fleeing for their lives across the Nile in Egypt. We don’t think there was a wall built back then.
Psalm 72 is a psalm that describes an ideal king—a standard that we need to remember in a time such as this.
The psalm asks God to instill in the king a sense of justice and caring for the poor and outcast—in a word, Mercy. We wish the same of our rulers.
“Give the king your justice, of God, and your righteousness to a King’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness and your poor with justice…May he defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppressor.”(vv.1-4)
Sounds like the kind of thing we would want in a leader, don’t you think?
There are 4 or 5 kings in the Epiphany story, depending on how you count them. You have the Magi, foreign kings or at least scholars or noblemen. They are seeking after wisdom and offer gifts to the holy child. Psalm 72 says “May the kings of Tarshish, Sheba and Seba bring him gifts.”(v.10) Of course the magi bring gifts to the baby Jesus, the child king who would grow up to always looks out for the poor and the outcast. He’s the fourth king.
The Fifth king is of course, Herod—the only one in local control of the government. And he does not resemble the godly king of the Psalm—quite the opposite. The eastern kings go home a different way after giving credit where credit is due: to Jesus, not Herod.
The psalm describes an ideal king in contrast to Herod.
Chief among the qualities of a good and just and Godly king is the treatment of the poor and afflicted. A measure of how justice is being done is by how the poor are treated.
Compassion, mercy and justice are the building blocks for peace and prosperity, says the Psalmist.
One of the country’s largest Christian groups has issued a sternly worded condemnation of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet selections and policy agenda, warning that Trump will put America’s most vulnerable citizens at “greater risk” if he does not change.
The National Council of Churches (NCC)—which represents 38 denominations and faith communities, or roughly 45 million people—unveiled the statement last Friday afternoon. Co-signed by the Conference of National Black Churches, the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, the letter implores the former businessman not to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or slash funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — better known as food stamps — saying such programs protect the poor.
“We have grave concerns about a proposed policy agenda that, if enacted, would put the most vulnerable among us in jeopardy,” the statement reads. “Throughout Christian scriptures we are instructed to care for the poor and the most vulnerable… While working to improve the ACA will benefit all Americans, repealing it without simultaneously offering a replacement is reckless and unnecessarily endangers the health of millions of people. This is certainly no way to make America great.” In fact, it would make America sick again.
The statement also calls into question several cabinet appointments saying they “epitomize extremist, racist and fringe world views that we believe are morally inconsistent with Christian principles of loving neighbor and antithetical to American values of “liberty and justice for all.” These objectionable nominees represent a bygone era of hatred that we have denounced and worked tirelessly to eradicate. Their corrupted credentials, which include condoning and supporting racist, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, xenophobic, and anti-Muslim ideologies, are not only unacceptable but they should disqualify them for service as public officials. We urge the President-Elect to protect the integrity of our nation by replacing these nominees with candidates who represent shared American values for the common good.”
They end the statement saying, “Before he takes the oath of office, we call on President-Elect Trump to preserve, protect and defend our nation by enacting a policy agenda that will improve the lives of the most vulnerable, not put them at greater risk…to preserve, protect and defend our nation by doing the hard work it will take to unify our country and move us toward a just, sustainable and equitable future that lives up to the ideals and promise of America.”
King Herod, back in the day, did not recognize the royalty of anyone else. In his mind, other rulers were not his equal. Herod discredited them and fought against them. No one opposed Herod and lived to tell the tale. That’s why the Magi went home a different way. They didn’t do as Herod ordered. They gave credit where credit was due. To God and the miracle in the barn.
What the magi did was audacious. It was brave. It was political theater. It had implications. The government responded by trying to scare the people into submission. It might have worked for a while, but the power of God was unleashed and there was a new way of looking at the world. There was another altar toward which we bow as Christian citizens. And the King ought to resemble the one in Psalm 72. We give credit where credit is due. We hold our rulers to a Gospel standard of just mercy.
If the kings of Tarshish, Sheba and Seba recognize the ethics of God and come to worship the King who lives up to those ideals, how apt is it that the Magi don’t come to Herod, but come to the boy king, the forgotten refugee in a barn. They both worship this king and snub their noses at “King” Herod. They go home by another way.
Our work is about caring for the poor, the needy and the outcast, and to call our leaders to do the same. Imagine if that light lived in our nation? I actually think it does, perhaps more than we usually see. We need to celebrate and affirm that light, going forward.
What light do you see this year? I saw several positive things:
The people coming together and finding their voices and community to organize against the exclusion promised by the Trump administration.
On Sunday two creative people hung a banner at U.S. Bank stadium, or as some have called it, the death star, calling U.S. Bank to divest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The music that we sing and play in defiance of the gloom and doom.
The way our people care for children—especially the teachers among us that teach in inner-city settings with less than adequate resources, but a depth of compassion and creativity that values these students.
The work to address the prison industrial complex and the fact that the incarceration rate has actually gone down in the past year.
The opening up of Great River Landing offering affordable and supportive housing for formerly incarcerated men.
The fact that UBC donated over $1400 on Christmas Eve for the Fellowship fund that helps families and individuals in need.
Last year we started serving weekend meals at Marcy Open School and we have now expanded that outreach to Pratt School.
The fact that we bring good music to the neighborhood on Sunday mornings, but also with Sacred Harp singers on Tuesday nights and Roots Cellar concerts at least once a month.
The fact that the U of M is taking sexual assault seriously, even when it means challenging the sacred cows of football and entitled players and their supporters.
The way you have surrounded me and my family in the aftermath of my nephew Lewis’ death.
The fact that thousands are marching on Washington in a week or two to make their voices known on behalf of women and all those excluded.
There are five churches in our neighborhood that are considering being Sanctuary churches. What that means for each church is a little bit different. We also believe that there is safety in numbers and that we offer protection and support for each other in such a time as this. We need to stand up to the threats of Herod and his minions because the Holy Family received sanctuary in a barn and then in Egypt. Here’s a statement that we are calling on the neighborhood churches to consider:
Southeast Minneapolis Sanctuary Coalition
We are members of the faith community that surrounds the University of Minnesota and we believe that diversity enhances our lives. We say NO! to bigotry and hate in all its forms. When people are threatened because of who they are, the color of their skin, their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or nationality, it is our faithful obligation to stand with them and offer them sanctuary. We say YES! to sanctuary.
All faith traditions believe in justice but often faith communities can be a silent reflection of the dominant culture. We encourage people of faith to be reflections of a culture of diversity and inclusion. We also encourage vigorous debate about public policy but we oppose unjust laws and will work towards their reform or elimination. Sanctuary is rooted in scripture. Leviticus 19:34 says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” There are similar passages in other sacred texts.
We will welcome the stranger
We will honor all people as children of God
We will offer our buildings as safe spaces
We will resist efforts to deport people
We will educate ourselves to be advocates for justice
We will support each other
We will join with others who share our values
We will spread this message because it is the core of our faith
We will act on the moral imperatives of justice, mercy, compassion and love
We invite you to join us.
My friends, the Psalmist calls us to embrace Justice, mercy, and compassion. This and only this will lead to peace and prosperity.
In this new year, let us embrace the Gospel of mercy. It’s where we find God. Let’s bow to that Gospel before we bow down to earthly leaders. Let us give credit where credit is due. And may we be reflections of God’s mercy as we seek to live Gospel lifestyles.