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Psalms

Psalms

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 — Week of Proper 8, Year One

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, c. 202

To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 972)

Psalms [120], 121, 122, 123 (morning) 124, 125, 126, [127] (evening)

1 Samuel 11:1-15

Acts 8:1-13

Luke 22:63-71

We begin today’s readings in Psalm 120, with the cry for deliverance “from lying lips and from the deceitful tongue. [From] the sharpened arrows of a warrior, along with hot glowing coals.” (One wonders if this last is a reference to a form of torture.) The psalmist feels surrounded by enemies, Meshech (in the north) and Kedar (in the south). “Too long have I had to live among the enemies of peace. I am on the side of peace, but when I speak of it, they are for war.”

We’ve passed the $1 trillion mark in direct financial costs for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. How can we put a number on the human toll? I’ve seen it here in our town among veterans returning with deep psychic wounds. Ask anyone who works with the homeless how many combat vets they encounter.

Not one dollar of special revenue has been appropriated for these wars. It’s all been put on the federal credit card. Now we live with the strain of deficits, from war and from a financial meltdown.

I remember the 2008 PBS “Frontline” documentary “Bush’s War,” a factual inquiry into the story of how our nation was led into war against Iraq. Using exaggerated fear as a weapon of persuasion, lying lips and deceitful tongues drowned out every word of peace. Our leaders sharpened their arrows and heated their hot glowing coals, aimed toward a pitiful nation that was thoroughly contained and deterred. Our leaders could speak only of war.

Then we bent so far away from our moral compass that our own White House orchestrated a calculated process to ignore Geneva Conventions as well as the advice of our military in order to attempt legal rationalization for torture. Some are say we perpetrated war crimes.

I recall those crucial early days following the attacks of 9-11. So many voices called for restraint. We could have used the moral credit we had earned and the international outpouring of sympathy to forge a world-wide cooperative response of compassion and healing. We could have called the world together for a global plan to reach out to heal the suffering of the marginalized and poor. We could have given power and voice to the moderate expressions of religions and governments in the wake of the world’s horror at the spectacle of what militant extremism can lead to. We might have encouraged an earlier expression of the deep longings that have only now emerged as the “Arab Spring.” Instead, we became militant to the extreme.

So when virtually every national and international religious body spoke out in opposition to the Bush plans for war (with the notable exception of the Southern Baptists), when so many prophet-sentinels warned of dire consequences, this proud group ignored all words but their own. And what suffering and catastrophe they have wrought.

Since that time we have suffered another arrogant attack, this one from within our own financial sector. Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about the 2010 Academy Award winning documentary “Inside Job.” The film traces how deregulation of the financial industries removed the boundaries that protected us from certain forms of systemic risk. Deregulation and greed fueled systemic corruption in the financial services industries and provoked the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. Although the stock market has rebounded and many companies are now flush with cash, unemployment remains painfully high and there is little economic energy in the middle class. Money and power is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. We have become a plutocracy. Some say we still have failed to restore regulation that would prevent similar financial abuses in the future.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from God, the maker of heaven and earth.” How beautifully Psalm 121 gives hope to the anguish of Psalm 120.

Then we read Psalm 122, and a new vision of harmony comes to us from the center of the conflict. “Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity with itself.” Can we imagine Washington as a city that is at unity with itself? Grounded. Centered. “Peace be within your walls and quietness within your towers.”

Psalm 123 completes the hopeful prayer. Again we redirect our gaze: “To you I lift up my eyes… as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the Holy One our God, until God shows us mercy.

“Have mercy upon us, O God, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt, Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, and of the derision of the proud.”

Amen.

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