Reading Psalm 146 on Remembrance Day, a sermon extract
. . . Remembering is a complicated business. We think today of the horror of WWI. We think of the cruelty of defunct regimes around the world and we remember the courage of those who opposed them. Today our hearts are heavy with the unmitigated tragedy of war. We grieve with families whose losses will never be repaid. We acknowledge that the effects of war reach far beyond those who participate directly. We think of families who feel the repercussions for years with fathers (and now mothers) that never fully recover. The physical wounds are enough to lament by themselves, but we also know that emotional wounds can be passed through generations. As we remember, we long—we pray for peace and for God’s justice.
The sort of remembering we’re contemplating today isn’t just the recitation of facts and figures. It’s not like recalling our multiplication tables. The sort of remembering we practice today is a moral task. It’s one we can engage in appropriately or not. That’s the sort of thing I’d want to guide our reflection on Ps. 146.
. . . We can notice two things in these first three verses. The first is the identification of God as LORD. This is a stand-in for the tetragrammaton but it also points to the NT where Christ is referred to as ‘the Lord’. This is an exclusive claim: if God in Christ is Lord no one else can claim our ultimate allegiance. Every other duty and commitment comes underneath God’s rule. Our commitment to God and country, for instance, cannot be an equal one. Even our memories must be formed by our allegiance to God above all else. The second thing we should notice is that the poet rejects the notion that human beings can save us. Whatever service the militaries of the world offers, it is not salvation. At its best the force of arms restrains evil and pursues justice. And for that we are thankful, but humans cannot save each other from the wreckage of sin and death. Our memory of the valor of our nation’s forces of defense is not the memory of our salvation.
Consider verses 5-6 . . . . The hope of Christians lies not in princes or politics. It is in the LORD. We remembering well when we hold God as our hope. Now this is not to say that this is purely an abstract, heavenly, sweet-by-n-by sort of hope. No, Christians believe that because God loved the world he sent his son. We have hope because the maker of heaven, earth and sea—the maker of angels, otters and whales—remains faithful to his good creation.
Consider what sort of faithfulness this is; it’s described more fully in verses 7-9 . . . . There is no doubt that God’s governance of the world makes use of the things we human creatures do. It makes use of kings and presidents, civilians and members of the military. And it’s here that we find the temptation to say that this or that is the work of God. Too often of course this is based on our own interests. The Bible-college student who tells another that it is God’s will that she should marry him. The national leader that says it is God’s intention that his country prosper at the expense of another. The obvious question is how then can we know when the workings of the political realm are in accord with God’s designs.
Well, Christians believe it can be seen in the sort of stuff outlined in these verses: When it upholds the cause of the oppressed, not the oppressor; when it gives food to the hungry, not the glutinous; when it sets the prisoner free, not when it imprisons the just; when it gives sight to the blind, not when it hides and corrupts; when it elevates those who have been used, not when it uses others for its own advancement; when it attends to the foreigner, not when it rejects them; when it cares for those who can’t care for themselves, not when it forces them to fend on their own. When political power does these sorts of things it is a tool of God’s just will. When this register shapes our reflection on history we remember rightly.
And, yet all nations are passing arrangements. Their permanence is only pretension and their stone memorials will one day be relics: “The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.”