Blessings of the Righteous
1 Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments. 2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. 3 Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever. 4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous. 5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice. 6 For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever. 7 They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. 8 Their hearts are steady; they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes. 9 They have distributed freely; they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor. 10 The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.
Pastor Barbara Bundick tells this story of growing up:
Back when I was in elementary school, we ate lunch in the school cafeteria. Lunch was what you'd imagine -- mystery meat accompanied by overcooked vegetables, a small salad, a starch and a desert. It was a good day when we got chocolate milk. We'd pick up our meal from the lunch line, go to our assigned table, and begin to eat. After 10 to 15 minutes, the lunch room monitor, Mrs. Forgenstein, would walk up the main aisle of the cafeteria, ringing her bell. "It's quiet time! There's no more talking! If anyone talks, I will put your name in the book!" We all grew silent. The book hung over us like a sword of Damocles, a harbinger of doom. You see, if your name was put in the book more than three times, you would have to eat at the bad table.
Yes, we had a bad table at our cafeteria. It was where the bad children ate lunch, the children who's names were in the book, the children who wouldn't be quiet for Mrs. Forgenstein. Nobody wanted to eat lunch at the bad table with the bad children. Then one day the worst happened. I'd just started sixth grade. There wasn't enough room for all of us to fit at the assigned sixth grade table. Some of us were going to have to sit at the bad table. I was one of the ones chosen to sit at the bad table. I objected, of course. I've never done anything bad in my life! Well, I'd gotten my name in the book once, but only once and never again! But no luck. I was up a creek without a paddle. I was stuck at the bad table with the bad children, whether I liked it or not, whether I was bad or not. I was doomed.
It was then I discovered something extraordinary. The bad table was the best table in the cafeteria. For years I'd lived in fear of Mrs. Forgenstein and her book and her ringing bell. When she clanged, "It's quiet time! There's no more talking," my lips were sealed. But the kids at the bad table ignored Mrs. Forgenstein. What was she going to do, put our names in the book? If our names got put in the book one time too many, we'd have to go sit at the bad table. Wait! We were already sitting at the bad table! Forgenstein couldn't touch us! The bad table wasn't shame. The bad table was freedom!
While all the other kids at all the other tables sat in cowed silence, we bad kids at the bad table chatted happily away, ignoring Mrs. Forgenstein's scowls. We'd found grace and salvation, we'd found freedom from law, by claiming our sacred space as sinners. The God who clocks our every sin with a radar gun is not the God of Jesus Christ. The God who clocks our sins with a radar gun is the great Mrs. Forgenstein in the sky, ringing her bell and proclaiming our doom if we ever even think of stepping out of line. The apostle Paul is right. The God of Jesus Christ is a god of grace, not law. Worshipping the great Mrs. Forgenstein is not faith. Her variety of cowed niceness is not worth a warm bucket of spit in God's book. When we worship the great Mrs. Forgenstein, we end up like the kid in the Hyundai commercial, who dies and goes to hell. "I was good!" the kid says. "You weren't good," answers Satan. "You were dull." The kid's punishment is to spend eternity driving a mini-van. Jesus ate with sinners. Jesus chose to sit at the bad table, never mind that the Mrs. Forgensteins of his day and age complained about his lousy taste in dinner companions. Jesus answered, "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." The righteous are too busy trying to keep their names out of the book to listen to Jesus. But the sinners need Jesus, and know it, and cherish his company. It is only when we realize that we have been saved, that we sit at the bad table with Jesus and all the other sinners and that the bad table is the best table in the whole cafeteria, because that's the only table where Mrs. Forgenstein can't touch you and the only thing left is love. That's also what Barbara Brown Taylor found, when she and her fellow bad driver finally faced the traffic judge. "Whatever I had feared for the past six weeks, this judge was not it. He was immune to high emotions, but quick to set the frightened at ease. He let everyone have his or her say, even when the lies were obvious, and he did not blame people for trying to justify themselves. He simply asked the right questions, and when he did the situation generally became clear. If it did not, then he dismissed the case.
If it did, then he delivered a judgment that sounded less like punishment than a return to reality. ... Where had I gotten the idea that judgment was a blind fist coming down? On earth as in heaven, the quality of the judgment depends on the judge." (Barbara Brown Taylor, "My Day in Court," Christian Century, May 22-29, 2002) Our judge is Jesus, who eats with sinners. And that's why, on Sunday mornings, we confess our sins. We're seated at the bad table. We're saying grace. Let us pray: O God, your grace is amazing to save us who were lost, but now are found, were blind but now we see. Thank you for sending your Son to sit with us at the bad table. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen