Psalm 113 | The Music of My Mind Sermon Series | Third Sunday After Pentecost | June 7, 2015
I’ve shared before about the current state of my hometown of Flint, Michigan. Flint has been a boomtown based on the auto industry. In the 1970s, 80,000 people worked for the many auto plants that dotted Flint and surrounding communities. Today, about 8,000 people work for General Motors and that has had big consequences. I’ve shared this before, but Flint has a population of almost 200,000 in 1970, the year after I was born. Today it hovers around 100,000. Whole neighborhoods are abandoned with homes in various states of disrepair. Crime is up. Large swaths of lands where factories once stood are now empty.
One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is the changing nature of religion in Flint. There are still churches in the city, but it is interesting how many churches have either left or closed; especially among the mainline churches. A number of Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians have closed their urban congregations in changing neighborhoods with the former members going to churches in the suburbs. Even among Catholics, churches have been shut down. This isn’t just a thing in Flint, drive down Woodward Avenue in Detroit and you will find church buildings that once housed a church that now sit empty and slowly decaying.
Recent studies have shown that poor Americans tend to go to church less than other Americans. Among African Americans and Latinos who are poor, still go to church, but not so much for the white poor. The more educated you are, the more likely you will go to church. Maybe that’s why we tend to see churches planted among the middle class. You expect to see new churches in hip urban areas; you don’t usually see new churches in poor areas. For much as the Mainline church talks about care for the poor, I don’t see churches in places like Flint or North Minneapolis. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat noted, the church in America has failed to reach out to the poor, let alone keep them in the pews. And that’s a sad thing because as Douthat notes, there are benefits to church-going for the poor; a sense of community, a pattern of practicing the faith and the assurance of belonging.
This is the second Sunday in our sermon series on the Psalms. Last week, we had an introduction of the Psalms from Psalm 1. Today we get to see what a psalm of praise looks like in Psalm 113. You can imagine that the writer is incredibly joyous here. “Praise the Lord! You who serve the Lord — praise! Praise the Lord’s name! Let the Lord’s name be blessed from now until forever from now!” the psalmist writes. This guy is happy.
Now I will admit that preaching from this Psalm is a challenge. I understand praying for thanks or the psalms of lament. Praise has always been hard to understand. There was a reason to give thanks or cry in anguish. But there didn’t seem to be any reason to give praise. It reminds me of some praise songs I sang in church as a youngster. I don’t want to speak ill of that kind of singing, but there never seemed to be a reason to be happy about God.
But Psalm 113 gives a reason that the psalmist is so excited about God. The psalmist notes that this is the good that lifts the poor up and raises the needy. God seats them among the powerful. The woman who can’t have children is given kids to care for. The psalmist is praising the God that cares for the world, especailly the poor and forgotten. That is good news, because we all need to know that God cares about us, that God stoops down from heaven to care for us, something that was expressed fully in Jesus Christ.
Back to the churches and the poor for a moment. As was said earlier, faith can bring community, practice and belonging. Imagine living in a poor community where there are few opportunities for work. Imagine living in a place where it was normal for 16 year-old girls to quit school and have children. Or a place where you know a number of family and friends that have been lost due to gun violence. If the poor are not in the pews on Sunday morning, then they might not know of a God that will lift them up. They will not know of the God of hope.
Praise is not simply flattery. It is an acknowledgement that God is with us. We are thankful for what God has done, and that can give us the hope to carry on even in the most dark times of our lives.
We are continuing to pair a song with a psalm and the song for today is “More Love” which was a 1967 hit for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. A cover of the song was also a hit in 1980 for Kim Carnes. The genesis of this song is pretty interesting: Robinson wrote this song for his wife Claudette. To say that Claudette was going through a rough spell is an understatment. Smokey’s wife went through 8 miscarriages in the their attempt to have a child and this includes losing twins. This is what he had to say about writing the song:
“After she had a miscarriage [Claudette] would always tell me she was sorry she had let me down. I would explain that she had not let me down because she was there, she was alive; I wanted the babies, but I didn’t know them. I wrote ‘More Love’ to let her know how I felt about her.”
Indeed, the chrous of the song talks about an unbreakable bond:
More love and more joy
Than age or time could ever destroy
Oh honey, now
My love will be so sound
It’ll take a hundred life times
To live it down
Wear it down
And tear it down
This psalm reminds us that we are called to let people know that they are not alone or forgotten. They need to know of a God that bends down to lift up the poor and the brokenhearted.
That’s what praise is all about. It is a reminder of God’s goodness, especially when life is difficult for us. This is the God people need to know. Are we willing to tell the good news of hope to the poor and forgotten people as well as the middle class?
Thanks be to God. Amen.