This past week was Martin Luther King Day. I think it is important that we remember him, not just as a leader of a minority group in our society, but as an example of how to respond to oppression. Sometimes oppression is systemic, like the racism is that still infects America. Sometimes oppression is personal, as when we are passed over at work because of our gender or age, or when a family member uses cruel manipulation to keep us in our place.The Gospel teaches us to love our neighbor and that no one truly loves God who isn’t in a right relationship with others. Yet Psalm 27 talks about the other side of our religion. There are times when you go it alone. I think of a family member who is struggling with a messy divorce and has a broken relationship with one of his teenage daughters. Perhaps distance, illness, or death has separated you from a loved one. Perhaps you are feeling oppressed. What does this Psalm 27 say to you now?
For in the day of trouble
[The Lord] will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5)
Many Psalms speak to the individual’s need to seek God for themselves. We go it alone into the wilderness, knowing that the God we find there is sufficient to make our lives whole. Religion is its own reward. Seeking God, purely in order to know him, is enough.
The common book of prayer does an apt thing in the responsive reading of Psalm 27:5, instead of speaking about God’s tabernacle, it says, “He shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling...” How important are the secrets of God to us? It is easy to get the wrong idea about our reason for practicing religion. It’s not like we go to church to buy an insurance policy. Instead, we go to church to learn skills for navigating the wilderness. Then, counter to our intuition or commonly held wisdom, we go to the God-forsaken places, or we are thrust into wilderness by trauma, and there we discover the reality of God.