The Plush Silence of Heaven (Psalm 82)

This is the message I gave this past Sunday based on Psalm 82.

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!

(Psalms 82:1–8 NRSV)

When God Woke Up This Morning

(a fictional retelling of a day in the life of God)

It’s morning already? God rolls over and hits the alarm. Another few minutes to snooze when you are the Almighty is certainly justifiable. But finally, God cannot ignore the day’s work and so with a woolen bathrobe from Pendleton – not that God’s all about brands but this is fantastic – and a favorite pair of fuzzy slippers hand-knitted by the Holy Spirit, God strolls downstairs to fix coffee and to take in the morning news.

Events this morning are as bleak as ever.

Scanning the news, God’s eyes rest on updates from the US. There are endless divisions on Capitol Hill, the vehement attatcks and blaming that perpetuates a nasty cycle and allows for no one to take responsibility.

There are heated protests over injustices like the excessive use of force, racial profiling, econimic injustice, international pipelines, and deflated footballs (…?).

There are those who live lives constantly under threat of hunger, lack of clean water, decent education, healthcare, clothing and shelter.

Trees are being clear cut all around to make room for 10,000 square foot homes. While blocks away there are low-income families struggling to maintain their housing in a good school district so their children might have a better hope for a future.

And there’s the usual one about high-profile politicians who skim millions into off-shore accounts, money taken from tax-paying citizens they swore to serve.

And if things couldn’t get any worse, Woody Allen was just given a TV show on Amazon.

Looking up at the clock, God realizes the time is getting lack and can’t miss the daily 9:00 board meeting.

Commuting for God consists of eyes-closed and thinking about where God wants to appear next. It’s more like a Jedi mind-trick than it is like flew-powder.

Walking into the board room meeting on the 777th floor of heaven, God greets the divine council, though the noise level feels more like a middle-school lunch room than it does a room filled with the powers of the universe.

God sighs, and wonders what’s so divine about the members of this board and who elected them?

The meeting is adjourned. As always, they begin with a word of prayer. God thanks himself for the joys that have been shared around the room, and asks himself to consider the concerns that weigh. Then they get down to business.

This is how God starts the meeting.

Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough, you’ve let the wicked get away with murder.

How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?

“You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them.” (Psalms 82:3–4 MESSAGE)

And that’s how God end the meeting too. Disappointed, God leaves the meeting and heads home.

The divine council, shake their head, think God has become overly grouchy this millenia, and head out for business as usual.

The Plush Silence of Heaven

This Psalm, gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what it must be like at a divine council meeting with God.

What must it be like for God?

To have a “divine council” that not only has failed to bring about the basic tasks God asks of them: justice to the weak and the orphan, maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute, rescue the weak and the needy, and deliver them from the hand of those who exploit them.

But has actually allowed for something quite the oppostite to happen on earth. It’s almost like someone got a hold of the “master plans” and used it for a blueprint of what to break.

Justice for the weak and the orphan.

Great, let’s extract water, oil, and other essential minerals from their land for our own benefit.

Maintain the right of the lowly and destitute.

Perfect, let’s make sure these are exactly the folks who remain on the margins, who we refuse basic rights to and let’s keep them handy just in case we ever need scapegoats for any problems that may arise.

Rescue the weak and the needy.

I have a better idea. Why not make it almost impossible for them to even help themselves, and if they do, let’s make up stories about how they’re really just abusing the system and not following the rules.

This council, whoever it is today, is completely out of control.

Q: So as I have wondered about this Psalm this week I have had to ask where do we fall when it comes to God and the divine council? Are we likely to be chastized? Or are we more likely to be praised for our faithfulness to the task God has set out for us?

I can’t help but wonder if we, especially those of us in middle-class, well-adjusted America, are far too comfortable and disconnected from those needs to really care?

Haven’t we manufactured and sold a lifestyle that allows us to live almost completely insulated from the problems that God brings before this council?

Does it mean that if we can’t see it than it isn’t real or it’s not happening?

If we don’t see panhandling in Camas does it mean that there aren’t children going hungry within our city limits? If we don’t see people pushing carts filled with their last treasures on earth, does it mean that we have finally achieved ending homelessness?

This council, whoever it is today, has worked hard to keep these problems from our eyes and keep us comfortable.

I think this may be part of why we don’t like or even want to hear about the injustices in the world. It makes us feel guilty of our own comfort.

We don’t want to hear the poor talk about being malnourished and going hungry for days on end in a country that throws 133 billion pounds of food away. We think, “There must be something wrong with them, that’s why they’re hungry.”

Otherwise we feel the despair of hopelessness set in, and begin to question why there are real injustices that come from real evil that was created by real people and real money and real violence.

That sounds already like way too much reality for me.

This council, whoever it is today, is not much for reality. Fantasy is far more exciting. That’s the religion of today. Give’em fantasy. Give them delight. So we can ignore the deeper roots of sin and evil that is happening just on the other side of the screen.

This is a religion of “the gods” that we read about in Psalm 82 this morning. The “gods” in our Psalm represent, as Bruggemann says, those who

“are preoccupied with their rule, their majesty, their well-being in the plush silence of heaven” – (Covenant as Subversive Paradigm – by Walter Brueggemann).

This council, whoever it is today, is one that is preoccupied by maintaining their power, their majority status, and their plush silence of heaven.

We have long wanted to create our own plush heaven. It might be plush living arrangements. It might be a plush job. It might be the bliss that comes from zoning out in front of a plush TV. It might be the plush silence of ignoring the rest of the world. It might be the substances we consume to give us fake plush experiences.

This council, whoever it is today, peddles in plush.

And yet, all of these gods have fallen asleep on the job. They were given a task and they have failed miserably. Their ignorance is blissfully aparrent to the one true God. This is what this Psalm of lament is about. It is a lament our failure to live just lives. Instead, we are guilty of keeping our eyes covered when bad things happen.

Uncovering Our Eyes

the door is locked

Anthony de Mello tells this story:

There was once a woman who was religious and devout and filled with the love of god. Each morning she would go to church. And on her way children would call out to her, beggars would accost her, but so immersed was she in her devotions that she did not even see them.

Now one day she walked down the street in her customary manner and arrived at the church just in time for service. She pushed the door, but it would not open. She pushed it again harder, and found the door was locked.

Distressed at the thought that she would miss service for the first time in years, and not knowing what to do, she looked up. And there, right before her face, she found a note pinned to the door.

It said, ‘I’m out there!’

She is comfortable. She is plush. Her eyes are covered to neighbor, stranger and enemy alike. Her religion has helped her to stay asleep.

Instead of this, we have said that we as Camas Friends want transformation this year.

We as a church community know that the “plush silence of heaven” is a wicked temptation to us all, and we want to resist that temptation the way we resist any evil in our lives.

In fact, that may be one of the single-best reasons to be a part of this faith community. We are and ought to be desperately trying to remain awake to the temptation to ignore reality, to give into the plush silence of heaven, and to become like these irresponsible members of the divine council is to fail to become fully human. The siren song of fantasy is all too strong.

What we need instead of a plush heaven is to allow the Holy Spirit of Love to uncover our eyes.

Douglas John Hall once wrote that the church,

“…Needs prophecy rather than preservation.”

Quaker William Penn once said:

True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it. -William Penn (ht @diygreg)

Friend Richard Foster put:

There is a need today for what I call prophetic simplicity. We need voices of dissent that point to another way…” –Richard Foster

However we want to put it, we need the balm of healing and the jarring of truth from Jesus to remove the scales from our eyes.

We must refuse to be like the woman walking to church igorning the needs of those she passes and ask God to forgive us for the times in which we have indeed done just that.

Like A Car Crash

Toni B. (a woman in our meeting) shared an image this week that has stuck with me and I think it fits. When it comes to injustices going on around us, she said it’s kind of like:

…A bad car crash, you don’t want to look but you don’t want to look away.

There are times when there car crashes and we turn away, we keep our eyes covered.

“Rescue the weak and needy.”

The person walking to church, who is a good, friendly, church-going person passes those excluded, shamed and pushed out with hands over their eyes.

“Maintain the right of the lovely and destitute.”

The divine council, whoever that is today, passed down policy to ensure there will be no dissent and that the prophet is outlawed.

“Give justice to the weak and the orphand.”

And then as we pass by, as we sneak a peak through our fingers, or we dare to open our hearts and uncover our eyes we see that Jesus is there feeding, Jesus is there mending, Jesus is there already, on the scene, inviting us to to come and be transformed.

Knowing most of you in this room, I would vernture a guess that if you saw a car crash, while you may cringe for a moment, you go from being shocked by the accident to asking, “Is there some way I can respond in this moment?”

That is the prayer of transformation:

“Is there some way in which I am being called to respond in this moment?”

On Earth as it is In Heaven

Friends, If we want to be transformed, and we want to participate in transformation of our community, we must keep our eyes uncovered. We must look at the wreck and we must ask the question of response.

Because the divine council, whoever it was, has now been replaced with now you and me.

Now I’m not saying we’re gods, we’re not. But what I am saying is that heavenly assembly, whatever it was that the Psalmist was referring to in this text, has now been brought to earth and put in the hands of the body of Christ. The life and death of Jesus teaches us that from then until now the world doesn’t need preservation but a prophetic word to “wake up,” snap out of the “plush silence of heaven” and uncover our eyes. The gods running the previous council have failed and continue to fail.

It is the resurrection of Jesus that brings about the possibility of a new assembly, a new council, which is really what the word “church” means – assembly, gathering.

So that council, that beloved community, is you and you and you and you…and it is right here. We are the ones being called to turn lament into justice. We are those challenged to uncover our eyes. We ask, how shall we respond to this person, to this moment, to these people?

And God shows up and meets with us and leads us. What does God say to us?

“You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them.” (Psalms 82:3–4 MESSAGE)


 

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Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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