Do not fret because of the wicked…
This is how Psalm 37, one of our texts for this morning begins. And we are in a season where we might want to start each day with this mantra. Do not fret because of the wicked.
These words are similar to the words found at the end of a piece in Proverbs 24, which says, “Do not fret because of evildoers.”
Both of them go on to contend that, with time, the righteous will prosper…
The Psalm says, Do not fret because of the wicked, do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the green herb. And Proverbs adds, do not envy the wicked; for the evil have no future; the lamp of the wicked will go out….
But we know that there are lamps burning bright among evildoers even now. And we know that the harm being caused all around us does not in fact seem to be fading. And we know that the righteous aren’t always seen as right…at least not until they are dead.
And yet, the Psalmist says: Do not fret…because of the wicked.
I confess that fretting has become something like a pastime for me over the last few years. And I am guessing I am not the only one.
I have fretted over the starving Orca whales and the dying coral reefs. I have fretted over the separated sons and daughters at our southern border, fretted over the fear and fragility of my fellow white people, fretting over so-called progressives telling kids demanding climate action to let them carry on as they have for decades.
But fretting ultimately falls short. It leads to a dead end.
Into this moment, the Psalmist says, wait patiently, refrain from anger, trust and do good.
Because even when what is right does not prevail before our eyes, even when evildoers find policy and power, we can still choose what occupies our mind. We can put our energy toward more of what we want.
Instead of fretting, we find ways to forge the future and present with goodness. Even when it seems impossible, do it anyway.
I have often wondered if this is what Jesus was after with what is perhaps his most challenging teaching in all of Christian tradition.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
In writing about this speech, Vaughn Crowe-Tipton says, “This clarion call is to swim upstream. It ask the disciples to break conventions, to stand out in a crowd, to find fulfillment in going a second, third, and seventy-seventh mile…It runs against our thinking, our inclinations, our desires and our will.”
Of course you know these words have also been used as a weapon, used to keep some as a doormat, used to harm and to oppress, used to condone domestic violence and subjugation, this is not what these words are about.
Rather I think that Jesus is speaking of our call to do what is right, even when it’s hard, to break conventions for the sake of mercy and love.
G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
Jesus is casting a vision for what it looks like to let a wide love, to let the greatest commandment come to life in the world, for what moments and movements can be made when we risk making them. Even when it seems impossible, as if there is no choice, we can creatively and bravely add love and grace into the atmosphere, right now, right here.
Jesus says, even when it’s inconvenient, do good. If you have it, give it, expecting nothing in return, but something marvelous might still happen. Be merciful and mercy will find more people, even you. Judge less and feel more peace. Do not condemn, and condemnation won’t harden more hearts. Forgive and free yourself.
And I wonder if he is extending and invitation to do these things, in part because there is power in them. They can literally change our lives, our cities, our world. We each have the power to stop painful patterns and form healing ones.
With our loving thoughts, words, intentions, actions, we are participating in a world with more compassion. We can choose to add mercy into a moment. We can choose to infuse joy or generosity. We can choose to refrain from anger, to trust and do good. Not because of some future return but for the sake of goodness and mercy right now, right here.
But often the forces around us seem far more powerful than we are.
And yet, the Psalmist says: Do not fret…because of the wicked.
Maybe you have heard this story from 1970’s Europe. It was a summer night in Barcelona Spain. At that time, things were still uncertain and while democratic movements were on the rise, Spain was still under the last of the dictators from the World War II era, Francisco Franco.
In order to prove that Spain was becoming more open and more democratic, America’s most famous freedom singer received an invitation to put on a concert at a huge sports stadium in Barcelona. Pete Seeger said yes.
Right before he was to go on stage that evening, a government official approached him with a piece of paper. Pete had been handed a list of songs that were now declared prohibited. He looked it over and it didn’t take him long to realize that basically his entire concert as planned was being forbidden. I am not sure how much time went by, but the first thing he did was to go out on the stage in front of thousands and thousands and thousands was to explain what had transpired. And then he said this, “I have been told that I am not allowed to sing these songs.”
“I have been told that I am not allowed to sing these songs.”
“So I’ll just play the chords, maybe you know the words. They didn’t say anything about you singing them.”
Often the forces around us seem far more powerful than we are…
And yet… Do not fret because of the wicked…
Sometimes we have to get creative, but still, do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.
Even when it seems impossible, make a way for mercy and for music! Even when it seems as if there is no choice, be inventive with goodness, be brave with grace.
We each have the power… In the face of all that is wrong, do what is right. Even when it seems impossible, do what is good. Do it anyway.
May it be so. Amen.