A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.
June 16, 2019
We will be spending a few weeks in the psalms. And today’s psalm seems pretty straightforward.
It’s a psalm of praise. Praise the Lord!
It’s right there in the first sentence.
As servants of the Lord, our praise is eternal. Our voices join the voices of the faithful from the past, and while we live, our voices carry the chorus. Other voices will take up the refrain after our voices fall silent. From this time on and evermore, we praise God.
The act of coming to worship is an act of praise. It’s why we gather each week, to lift our voices in prayer and song.
And some days, during times of trial, praise can seem hard to voice. And as we gather together in times of trial and struggle, we may need to let the voices of the people near us carry our part in the song. When our voices our silent, our very presence can be the act of praise, faithfully joining with God’s people to worship.
This psalm helps us remember why we praise God, in the good time and in the bad. And our praise is not to a god who is disconnected from us, or one who doesn’t care about us.
The psalmist asks, “Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?”
And the answer, of course, is no one. There was no other god in the world of the psalmist who looked far down on the heavens and earth.
When they translated this psalm out of Hebrew, they hid some of the word connections that go throughout it, connections which make clear just what kind of God we gather to praise.
We serve God who is enthroned in heaven and who bends down to earth to care for a poor man, giving him a seat at tables of power. God also comes down to earth to care for a barren woman, giving her a home. The throne God has is the same root word in Hebrew for the seat the poor man gets and the dwelling the barren woman gets.
Often the language of the psalms seems unfamiliar to us. But in this psalm, I think the imagery carries through pretty well. How it looks for each of us may be different, but we want to have seats at the tables where decisions are made, whether we call leaders princes or not. We want a seat, a throne, where we have some sort of agency over our lives. We want a dwelling, a home, as the woman is given, a place of safety and shelter against the cares of the world.
Today we recognize that it isn’t only men who want to have a seat with the princes who make decisions. And it isn’t only women who want to have a home. Even if the psalmist defined the roles in ways we wouldn’t today, don’t lose sight of the fact that the psalmist indicates clearly that God is at work for all genders, and not just for men.
God shares the divine status of being enthroned with humanity. God raises us out of our proverbial dust heaps and barrenness and gives us a home.
And we praise God for sharing the very thing that makes God God—the divine enthronedness—with us.
And as people who praise God for giving us a home, a seat, a dwelling place—I invite you to think about what home means to you, and where you have found it throughout your lives. And as we think about the people and places we’ve called home, we remember people still seeking literal home.
It is hard to track homelessness, but in our state, it is on the rise:
The data from this year’s state report show more than 5,500 people across Idaho experienced homelessness in 2018, an increase of about 700 people from the year before.
Of those 5,500, about one-third were minors.
The report also shows 8,080 students experienced some form of homelessness in 2018. Breaking the statistics down even more, there were 719 veterans, 883 families and 865 survivors of domestic violence included in those numbers.
Data found here.
And if anyone has looked to buy a home here lately, you know that home values have increased 20% in the past year, and that figure is expected to rise this year too. We have a housing shortage here, let alone an affordable housing shortage.
As we think about where we’ve found our metaphorical home, we need to continue to work for actual homes. Because psalms are instructive. They show us the way God wants the world to be ordered. Psalms can be aspirational, pointing us toward a world where everyone has a home, where the poor people are given seats at the tables of power, where people are no longer defined by horrid words like ‘barren’. Homes shouldn’t be the place where people face violence, hunger, or danger.
Because I’m adopted, I think of home perhaps a little differently than some. I was brought home when I was a month old, and my parents will tell you that I didn’t want to leave home. I cried at night, when we went other places, including when we went to the cabin. When I was old enough to give voice to my cries, I’d cry through the night that I wanted to go home to my home on Manito Blvd.
The home where I grew up, where my parents still live, was a literal place of safety and shelter for me. People who know my travel schedule now might not believe it, but I’m still a homebody, I still prefer the shelter of familiar walls. I want my home to be a place of welcome, and shelter, and safety, because those same things have been such a gift for me throughout my life.
Yesterday, our congregation joined thousands of other Idahoans at PRIDE. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, where the PRIDE movement began, a reminder that PRIDE began not as a parade, but as a riot, when police arrested people for dancing with people of their same gender in a bar in Greenwich Village in June 1969.
Boise’s PRIDE began 30 years ago, but in the first parades, some people walked with bags over their heads so they wouldn’t be identified and lose their jobs, their homes, their families.
PRIDE today, where families bring their kids in rainbow clothes, has come a long way from it’s beginning 50 years ago, but friends of mine were threatened and accosted at this weekend’s PRIDE celebration, of course by people claiming to be Christian and defending family values as they threatened to hurt my friend. The difference today is that my friend could call the Boise police, and be confident that they would help her.
While we were at PRIDE yesterday, I was thinking about this psalm, and about what it means to have a home, a safe place to dwell. I’m proud to serve a denomination that welcomes people, of all gender identities and sexual orientations, to have a home with us.
I’m grateful to know many parents of young gay, lesbian, transgender kids, who loudly and proudly support their children, letting them know they will always have a place to call home.
Lives are saved when people know they have a safe place to call home, whether that’s family, church, friends, school. Suicide rates double among LGBTQ youth who face discrimination and exclusion. We must be loud and clear in our welcome and acceptance. Lives are in the balance. (Data on the suicide risks for LGBTQ youth and adults is here at the Trevor Project).
God brings the throne to us. To all of us, intending us to live lives where we have a voice, and where we have a home. To praise God is an act of rebellion in a world that tries to tell people they don’t belong, and that their voice doesn’t matter, and that they don’t have a home.
People throughout Central America have been fleeing their homes in recent years because of violence in their home countries. Think what it would take for you to flee your home, taking what you can carry on your back. I can’t quite picture that level of fear and desperation.
And while people of faith can hold different views about immigration policy, we can also be upset that children are being separated from their parents at our border, a year after a judge ruled that children could not be separated from their families. We must work through an immigration and asylum plan that doesn’t involve putting children in detention centers, away from their parents.
How do those families hear these words of this psalm?
The Lord raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.
This psalm speaks to the great reversal that we often see in scripture. In Luke, Mary sings her magnificat when she is pregnant with Jesus, and she rejoices in God, who “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
The magnificat even has the throne language. The powerful are brought down from their thrones. God lifts up the poor to thrones. Mary’s song is a continuation of Psalm 113.
And we also know of God coming down from the divine throne to lift us up because of Jesus. In John 1, we hear, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth….From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
God has given us a dwelling, a home, a seat at the Table. God has shown us by God’s own actions, how to welcome, to create safe shelter, and to give other people a voice.
I am grateful for the many ways you offer home, safe dwelling place. For me and my family. For people in this community. For all who need to find shelter. May our welcome continue to widen. May our work for shelter continue to expand. As God has given us a dwelling, may our praise rise in words and action. Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord.