The hands that put down one and lift up another 使人降卑及升高的手Sermon passage: (Psalm 75:1-10) Spoken on: May 21, 2017
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev Enoch Keong For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms
Title:The hands that put down one and lift up another
Date: 21th May & 28th May 2017
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong
Most of us must have heard of Nick Vujicic, Christian motivational speaker born without arms and legs. It’s a truly adverse circumstance for anyone to be born into. Congenital handicap, however, did not stop him from being a man of faith, living a life of blessedness and being a blessing to others – many others. People like Nick, no matter how tall he stands, make us look up to him.
Our task this morning is not to recount his story, although I have to say that his life is truly worth reflecting upon, repeatedly. The task this morning is also not to download or try capturing some of Nick’s positive attitude. Our task this morning is to see for ourselves that like Nick, we have a similar calling to live a life of faith and blessedness and be a blessing to others – many others.
The first congregation that sang psalm 75 appears to be people of this sort.
We say this firstly because they were people living under adverse circumstances. From the reading, we hear that much of the psalm is about God judging the boastful and wicked. This goes to suggest that the worshippers back then were victims of boastfulness and wickedness. Were their oppressors the Babylonians or the rich and powerful Jews? We don’t know. But it is clear that the wicked are people that talk with their power, and the psalmist uses the symbol of a horn to convey this point. Just think of a movie scene where a hunk in the college bulldozes the smaller size guys by displaying his built and muscles. Built and muscle conveys power, and with that the hunk controls the situation. Herein, the wicked lift their horns, and the worshippers are oppressed and under their control.
Not only so, the wicked lift up their horn on high. We may understand this line to be saying this, that the wicked has a total disregard for God. In other words, they have no worries being the perpetrators. They are not worried that the God of the worshippers would one day take them to task. In their frame of mind, it is either that the worshipper’s God doesn’t even exist or that the worshippers’ God is not the loving and powerful God that they claimed him to be.
“Are you sure that your God is even there?” “Do you think what you worship can have any effect on me or this situation?” These could have been the words that perpetrators were saying to the oppressed time and again.
Let’s put ourselves in the worshippers’ situation. They were a group of people struggling with 2 harsh realities. First, the physical and verbal abuses inflicted by the perpetrators. Second, the Good God whom they worship has not being in action for quite a while by now; they are devoted, yet helpless. What would be our response be to the Good God in such oppressive and difficult situation?
Talking about oppression, probably none of us experiences it the way the first worshippers did. But can I say that we too have been oppressed in other big and small ways? If we are born to loving parents and grandparents, then we were probably quite sheltered when young. But a life free of oppression probably ends there for many of us. Because what comes next in life may include sibling rivalries, having an unkind helpers at home, bullies in school and in our friend circles, and bullies at work. How many of us have never ever encountered any of these? And if we were not the ones who needed a confidant to offload our sorrows, haven’t we had others telling us about their unhappiness? Their unreasonable bosses, abusive boyfriends and girlfriends and family members?
Then there are oppressiveness that comes in the form of systems and trends. A brother in our church told me recently that the catchphrase ‘work life balance’ is soon to be replaced or, if not, already replaced with ‘work life integration’. In short, more work, less life. Some would welcome this shift, but I suspect many might find it suffocating. And there are oppressions that stem from ideologies, like the terrorist activities. The world saw 2 of it this very week. It is really painful especially to see faces of young victims in the Manchester attack. Singapore, our government wants us to know, may at any time be a victim of such oppressions.
Oppression can of course happen in much scarier ways. Psalm 75 wants us reminded that our world has seen oppression in a grand scale. “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants,” are words we read in verse 3. The phrase is not about major earthquakes or natural disasters, but evil that had devastated homelands and took lives in great number. The ancient Israelites experienced such evil when Assyria and Babylon rose to power; their homeland was destroyed and their people killed. Our modern world is equally, or in fact more familiar with large scale evil: the holocaust, the Japanese occupation, and the Cambodian genocide to name a few. Many died through such large scale oppression, and not a few human beings actually turned into beasts because of it.
The point I am trying to make it this, oppression is something experienced by many. Oppression shapes our personality, it shapes our outlook toward life, and it shapes the way we see and treat our God.
And it is here where I find this psalm somewhat surprising. The psalm is about people being oppressed. Much of the psalm in turn talks about God’s judgment on the oppressors. I would expect 2 kinds of responses from people who are oppressed: one respond would be to pray and cry to God for help, the other would be to doubt and denounce God. But what do we find in the verses that bracket the ones talking about the oppressors and God’s justice?
“We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds (v.1).” Thanksgiving!
“But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. (v.9)” Worship and praise!
I find these responses somewhat surprising. How about us? For a group of people to respond in such a manner when things around look bad, these worshippers must have had the confidence that God is who he claims to be – the Almighty God. In other words, these people have full faith in whatever God declares concerning himself and the world. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we worship God with songs based on the bible. The bible says it, and we sing God is good, God is love, God is just, God is holy. Do we take what we sing as reality?
The answer can only be a ‘yes’ if the same question is asked concerning the first worshippers of this psalm. In other words, we have here a people of faith. Question then, what is the underpinning or basis of this faith?
The psalm says 2 things.
The first reason we find in verse 3, “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.” We mentioned the grand scale evil that resulted in many deaths and turned not a few human into beasts. What this verse says is that those evil days could actually have lasted much longer. A real possibility, isn’t it? But God put an end to the evil days and makes the world a livable place again.
With inspiration from above, the biblical authors tell us that it had been so time and again. To name a few: God calls the 400 years of slavery in Egypt to an end, God ended the days of captivity and led his people back to the promised land. And to make life truly livable, the New Testament declares that God defeated man’s greatest enemy – death.
So the first basis of the worshippers’ faith is this, God is able to make life truly livable, and they have seen him doing so in the peoples’ history. They therefore give thanks and worship this God.
Second, from verses 6 and 7, “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.” In other word, God can turn the tables. And when that happens, the oppressors will be ashamed and the oppressed shall once again hold their heads up high. Is this some feel good rhetoric? No, because – and again – they have seen God doing such a thing.
Remember Hannah? She was barren, and barrenness carried a stigma in those days. But she prayed to God and she had Samuel, whose prophecies ushered in the kingdom era. The tables were turned. Hannah stopped being downcast and lifted high her heads. And knowing that it is God who lifted her up, she sang these words, “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and on them he has set the world. (1 Sam 2:7-8)”
And so we see from these verses the kind of faith that the worshippers possess. A faith not crafted through theological reflections, but one that is based on the things that God has done in the peoples’ history.
For us, brothers and sisters in Christ, we have only even more to base on. Can we help identify which lady in the bible sang these words that sound kinda like what Hannah sings? “For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48)?” Of course it’s Mary who sings them when she magnified the Lord for making her the mother of God Emmanuel; or to use plain English, God with us.
The worshippers sang God’s name is near, but we can sing Emmanuel, God with us, God in us. Will such a biblical truth help us to live by faith and trust in God even more? If our answer is a ‘yes’, how then are we to do it in light of the psalm?
Let’s take a look at verses 8 and 10. Verse 8 affirms that God the Judge will certainly put down the wicked. But then verse 10 goes this way, “All the horns of the wicked I will cut off”. “I” in this phrase refers not to God the judge but instead the psalmist.
I think the psalmist is saying this: God will in the end wipe out all evil, but for now, God has also placed his faithful ones in the world to join him in putting down oppressions and wrongs.
Most of us in Singapore are not that much oppressed most of the time, yet every sort of oppression is happening all around, all the time. So, if we have reasons to see ourselves as one of the oppressed, the psalm urges us to hang on to God and still give him our whole hearted worship. It is reasonable thing to do so because God had stretched out his helping hand in the past and God claims that he is our helper.
And no matter if we see ourselves as an oppressed; the psalmist says, we all are called to be a blessing to others through joining God in the work of eradicating wickedness. Before suggesting a direction that we may adopt in doing it, let me first say this. We need to make a healthy distinction between the wicked and the enemies. Enemies are people against us, but they may not be wicked, they just have a different purpose to achieve.
The wicked are people that cause harm to others at will or the systemic oppressions. How are we to deal with them if we are in the position where we can do something?
Let’s see if a story might help. I read this story somewhere sometime back, and I hope I got the details correct here. A few decades back when the segregation between the whites and the blacks was something very big in the US, a black man, a Christian, went into a restaurant and order a roast chicken. When the dish was served, and when he had given thanks, and opened his eyes, he saw 3 white men standing in front of him saying to him that he, a black, shouldn’t be in that restaurant. And if he dared to touch that dish, they will do to him what he does to the chicken. How do we think the person oppressed by the 3 racists responded? He took the chicken up and kissed it all over from head to tail.
What I am trying to say, is that as Christian we confront evil. But it doesn’t mean we go around seeking confrontations in the name of faith. Be creative, as the little story suggests, and may God grant us courage and creativity as we put faith in him to put down evil and be a blessing to others – many others.