By Elizabeth Baumann
Reading from Psalm 55
1Hear my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my petition.
2Listen to me and answer me;
I have no peace, because of my cares.
3I am shaken by the noise of the enemy
and by the pressure of the wicked;
4For they have cast an evil spell upon me
and are set against me in fury.
5My heart quakes within me,
and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
6Fear and trembling have come over me,
and horror overwhelms me.
7And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
8I would flee to a far-off place
and make my lodging in the wilderness.
9I would hasten to escape
from the stormy wind and tempest.”
10Swallow them up, O Lord;
confound their speech;
for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
11Day and night the watchmen make their rounds
upon her walls,
but trouble and misery are in the midst of her.
12There is corruption at her heart;
her streets are never free of oppression and deceit.
13For had it been an adversary who taunted me,
then I could have borne it;
or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me,
then I could have hidden from him.
14But it was you, a man after my own heart,
my companion, my own familiar friend.
15We took sweet counsel together,
and walked with the throng in the house of God.
16Let death come upon them suddenly;
let them go down alive to the grave;
for wickedness is in their dwellings, in their very midst.
17But I will call upon God,
and the LORD will deliver me.
18In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday,
I will complain and lament,
and he will hear my voice.
19He will bring me safely back from the battle
waged against me;
for there are many who fight me.
20God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me and
bring them down;
they never change; they do not fear God.
21My companion stretched forth his hand against his comrade;
he has broken his covenant.
22His speech is softer than butter,
but war is in his heart.
23His words are smoother than oil,
but they are drawn swords.
24Cast your burden upon the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous stumble.
25For you will bring the bloodthirsty and deceitful
down to the pit of destruction, O God.
26They shall not live out half their days,
but I will put my trust in you.
This morning’s psalm suggests a definite progression: there are enemies outside the city walls, strong enough to destroy everything; there is chaos and strife in the city itself; our close friends themselves are the enemies. If you follow the progression, the next step is clear: the enemy is me.
It’s another timely lesson this week as we wade through an election cycle and the general chaos that has been 2020. I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling to keep up with all the issues and information. But if we’re ever tempted to ask “Why?” about all that’s wrong, there is at least one obvious answer: sin. When we set out to track down the heart of the matter, it tends to follow the same progression as the psalm: we seek security from sinful enemies without, deliverance and protection from sin in our own societies; then, if we aren’t blind, we notice sin from those “on our side” and close to us. And finally, we too are sinners.
This should give us cause for hope. First, because there is something we can do. We can cry out for God’s mercy and strive to become saints, repenting of our own sins. Second, it means that if we are forgivable and redeemable and beloved by God, then so is everyone else — even the politicians.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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