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Give the king your justice, O God…
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
Psalm 72: 1, 4

What a prayer. Maybe I should wake up and pray that every morning.

I don’t know about you, but watching the news the past few years has felt like an emotional roller coaster with significantly more gut-wrenching drops than scenic climbs.

Psalm 72 is a prayer I have uttered in my own words many times: “Bring justice, God! Give us leaders who act with justice! May they defend the cause of the poor, the vulnerable, and the powerless. May oppression and injustice be crushed to smithereens!”

As a fairly new pastor, I have felt this tension in my one-year tenure: Do I preach about the happenings in the world: immigration, refugees, black lives matter, #metoo? In other words, how do politics fit into our weekly worship, if at all?

Where I serve as a pastor, we often address these concerns in our congregational prayers. We pray for children separated from their families at the border, for victims of floods and hurricanes, for people in war-torn places.

Psalm 72 exclaims that prayers for our political leaders and justice for the poor and needy should be central in our prayers and worship.

The Psalms aren’t the only place. The book of Amos takes it a step further: not only should we be praying for our leaders and for justice to come, we should be participating in justice as an act of worship. God says through the prophet Amos:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies… Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos 5:21-24

In other words, the worship that God desires is the living out of justice and righteousness. Worship is an act that is a continuous movement between prayer and action. Our prayers for justice and our participation in justice it is part of what marks us as the church.

Oscar Romero 1917-1980

Archbishop Oscar Romero wrote:

The church cannot be deaf or mute before the entreaty of millions of persons who cry for liberation…But the church tells them what is the true liberty they must seek: the freedom that Christ began on earth when he rose and burst the chains of sin, of death, and of hell. It is to be like Christ, free of sin, to be truly free, with true liberation. Those who put their faith in the Risen One and work for a world more just, who protest against the injustices of the present system, against the abuses of unjust authorities, against the wrongfulness of humans exploiting humans, all those who begin their struggle with the resurrection of the great Liberator- they alone are authentic Christians (The Violence of Love, 1988.)

Psalm 72 is a prayer for justice and righteousness for the king, specifically the ruler of Israel. It models for us that we should pray justice in our time and justice for our leaders.

I love that that the Psalm ends with blessing and praise for God.  I see this as an acknowledgement that at the end of the day, the ruler with the ultimate power is God.  Kings, rulers, presidents, congresswomen and men will rise and fall. They have and always have. We cannot put our hope in one leader or political party.  We pray for them, and for justice, fervently.  Our hope is in the God of Justice.  As the Psalmist writes:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. 
Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

May our prayers for justice join the Psalmist and the saints who have prayed for the same throughout the ages.   Blessed be the Lord.

Stacey Duensing

Stacey is one of the pastors at Lynnwood Reformed Church in Guilderland, New York.  A native of Nebraska, she still loves to visit there (specifically to play hide-and-seek with her adorable 5-year-old twin nephews). When she’s not pastoring, you can find her kayaking, hiking, learning to play the cello, or enjoying time with the friends.

8 Comments

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    My advice to a young pastor?

    Preach Christ. And don’t get caught up in media-driven hype of the injustice du jour. After you reflect on sin and salvation, your congregants will know what their service should be.

    And Oscar Romero? He really was in a culture of severe injustice. Unfortunately, he cast his lot with an ideology that abhors Christ and kills people by the millions. There are better examples out there.

  • RLG says:

    I wish you well, Stacey, in your new venture. Preaching? There are variables. Urban or rural, education levels, needs of the congregation, etc.

    As to prayers and politics. Keep in mind the totally different historical contexts. The Old Testament economy for Israel was theocracy, politics governed by religion. In our culture we separate church and state. So prayer and action today would take a different path than it would for Israel. Our religion (or any religion) cannot dictate policy to our government. So perhaps our prayers (wishes) will be different than what we see in the Old Testament.

  • David Stravers says:

    Thanks Stacey. Amen to your prayer. In regard to other comments, we can surely pray for justice for the poor and oppressed without succumbing to “media driven hype” so let’s be courageous and do that. As for Romero, at least he professed the deity and physical resurrection of Christ, an increasingly rare profession these days. I liked the quote, and it can be used against those who have added Christ-less beliefs to their liberation ideology. The O.T. context of Psalm 72 was different, but an overwhelming message of the entire OT is that Yahweh is the God of the widow, the orphan, and the alien, (three groups that suffered most unjustly in OT contexts) and that has not changed. If anything, the life and teachings of Jesus underlined that attribute of God.

  • George E says:

    Since many — too many — Christians, certainly in the US, rank politics above Christianity, it might be more profitable to preach Christ and His Kingdom and how we are to be citizens of the that now-and-not-yet Kingdom. You might well give thanks for a president who does “defend the cause of the poor, the vulnerable, and the powerless,” who works to pass First Step, who promotes racial harmony, and who seeks to prevent child endangerment by reckless parents. But if you do, you may well alienate some of the more exuberant anti-Trumpers. Perhaps it would be better to pray your thanks in private.

  • Jessica A Groen says:

    Wow, these commenters really seem to have interpreted this essay as a request for guidance and advice! (This young pastor is a she, and she’s in first years of profession, so she needs all the mentorship I can throw at her on how to preach the gospel and who to cite or not.)

    Thanks for your essay and your efforts to grapple with the tensions of holding the Good News in one hand and the Daily News in the other as you announce the Jesus who has chosen a priority of solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Stacey,
    Thank you for your blog post. I appreciate your honest wrestling with worship and politics, and I encourage you to continue to call people to live lives of justice. MLK Jr. proclaimed that justice is love lived in the public sphere, that seems about right to me, and if our God is love, and Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is the ultimate act of love, then responding with justice feels like a great way to follow Christ.
    As for the commenters who suggest setting all this political stuff on the side I’m challenged by these words from Bryan Stephenson (paraphrasing) … Those who refuse to address politics in a meaningful way in their life reveal their privilege of living a life where politics does not effect them in a significant way.

    Obviously, we preach Christ crucified, and we should leave partisanship out of sanctuary, but praying for justice for the poor, for the sanctity of life for all people, for equity, for goodness, truth, and beauty in our lives and our culture, etc. seems an excellent witness to the Kingdom of God.

  • Susan Grefe says:

    Thank you for reminding us of the powerful words of the Bible. These words belong in prayers and sermons in church. Preachers who help us live those words exhibit moral courage. We do not need vanilla on Sunday morning. We need a call to action.

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