Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Our Prayer from Ancient Times

Barack Obama's election has me soaring inside this morning, and, lo and behold, I come to Morning Prayer today and the psalm appointed is one of ancient Israel's great prayers for their ruler (Psalm 72):

Give the King your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the King's Son; that he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice; that the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, and the little hills bring righteousness.

We have not, of course, elected a "king," but this prayer belongs to us this day nevertheless. And there is a wonderful sense in which this prayer has some of its own fulfillment in this election, for surely what has happened, among other things, is a step toward justice. A step, mind you, with many more needing to follow, but a decisive step to be sure.

This prayer from our ancestors, of course, had to be prayed (and does still) because rulers have other options than righteousness and justice. Our ancestors knew this well, and we should never forget it. The kings of Israel always needed the prophets to remind them of this. Perhaps we have no singular prophets in our time, people like Amos or Jeremiah or Isaiah, or even, for that matter, Martin Luther King, Jr. All the more reason for us to live into our common vocation to be a prophetic people, holding the feet of our leaders to the fire of God's justice. Yes, we will even have to do this for President-elect Obama.

There is another line of the psalm that is poignant for me today, because the news is not all good.

For [the king] shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper.

Gay and lesbian citizens appear to have taken it on the chin yesterday in California, Arizona, Florida and Arkansas. It is all the more bitter because it was, by and large, portions of the church that delivered the blow. If we took a big step yesterday toward what the opening line of the Constitution calls a "more perfect union," there was a stutter in the step. All are not free in this land of freedom. This, too, must be addressed, and I, for one, don't have any illusions of how difficult this will be. It is almost always expedient for rulers to look the other way when it comes to the oppressed, in particular those deemed "unclean" by the prevailing religious view.

But despite this painful side of yesterday's result, this remains a day to be savored and celebrated. Martin Luther King, Jr. once quoted a nineteenth century Unitarian minister: "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." Most times that is a matter of faith. Occasionally you actually get to see the bending, and it is a marvelous sight.

Psalm 72 ends where all good prayer ends:

Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous deeds! And blessed be his glorious Name for ever, and may all the earth be filled with his glory. Amen. Amen.

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