From Pastor Kenny's Desk
July 15, 2018
YHWH, favor your land once again
and restore the fortunes of Israel;
forgive the guilt of your people
and cover all their sins.
Set aside all your anger,
and calm the heat of your rage.
Return to us, O God of our Deliverance!
Put and end to your displeasure with us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will your wrath continue from one generation
to the next?
Won’t you revive us again
so that your people can rejoice in you?
Let us see your mercy, YHWH,
and grant us your deliverance.
I will listen to what you have to say, YHWH –
a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for your people and your friends
so long as they don’t return to their folly.
Your salvation is near for those who revere you
and your glory will dwell in our land.
Love and faithfulness have met;
justice and peace have embraced.
Fidelity will sprout from the earth
and justice will lean down from heaven.
YHWH will give us what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Justice will march before you, YHWH,
and peace will prepare the way for your steps. ~ Psalm 85
Participating in MCC Richmond’s Tuesday night Line Dancing lessons and open dancing has taught me many things. While I enjoy the separate line dances over time I’ve come to love the dances we do with a partner. When you are dancing with a partner, there is almost always a balance between pulling apart and coming together. It’s a matter of tension, in which you use the weight of your partner as something you can use to anchor you as you lean out, and pull you in as you return; to lift you up and to throw you out.
So too, is the poetry of many of the Psalms. There are these parallel structures: stories set beside each other, phrases set next to each other … and while they might appear to be set as either comparisons or contrasts, synonyms or antonyms, they are rarely one or the other. Instead, they interact ... they are both … they are meant to expand our imagination and our understanding of things, using each other as contrast and counterbalance.
So is the case with this Sunday’s Sacred Text … in which love and faithfulness have met together, and justice and peace have embraced. Which is a beautiful set of verses … the images at first seem simply harmonious and natural to us. But if we take a moment, and look deeper, we realize that they come in the center of a psalm that describes surprising outcomes, that describes a reversal of fortunes, looking toward a future that was not necessarily a unavoidable conclusion. The land had seen misfortune, the people had known iniquity. But now, love and faithfulness have met. Justice and peace have embraced one another … in other words they have kissed each other.
What a beautiful scene ... which speaks of redemption ... because these things are not always so. Love and faithfulness are not opposites; but they are not synonyms either. The same goes for justice and peace. They live in tension, they create counterbalance … leaning out, and drawing in, like jitterbug partners.
Think about it. The truth of a story does not always suggest love as the reasonable outcome. Maybe not even as the correct result. People do terrible things to each other. People are selfish and careless. People are malicious and hurtful. People are murderous and hateful. So why on earth would love be there? The facts are the facts, and truth is the truth, and there is no room or need for something like love.
Perhaps not. Love must always make room for the facts … for the full awareness of what has actually happened, for the damage that has been done. Love cannot be willfully blind or dismissive without being cruel. Otherwise it lacks the true power and depth that can only come when you make an honest interaction with the truth, and yet still have something to say … something to add.
Because love has something to say to truth. Love can transform the cold hard facts of the matter which only seem to lead in one direction. Love can open up doors and perspectives that the truth had not originally seen. Context, perhaps, to give a different understanding to the story and why it unfolded as it did. Redemption, as well, to suggest that even a tragic story might lead into life somehow. Love can expand the truth of the situation, because no truth starts out whole. No set of facts explains everything. There is room for a dance, in which love and faithfulness can meet together … in which the faithlessness of Israel, perhaps, can meet the love and faithfulness of their God, and a new start is possible.
It is my experience that often times love and faithfulness eventually meet ... they will dance their dance of pulling apart and coming together, and redemption will come to pass. Especially once justice and peace eventually embrace and kiss. Justice, which so often draws us into conflict. Justice which demands that we take a stand and speak up against unrighteousness, against injustice, against the powers and attitudes which run counter to the dream of God and desire for the world. Justice, which dances a wild tango with peace, never letting peace forget that peace doesn’t just mean calm and niceness and going along. Peace, which reminds justice that the shalom … the Hebrew word for peace … of God never promised a conflict-free life. But also, that shalom always requires everyone to examine their own conscience and motives, to be willing to come together, to give up the zero-sum game we often try to make of justice.
Justice and peace will embrace … which usually means some intense and really hard, complicated work for all of us. Because they aren’t synonyms, and they aren’t antonyms, and none of this is as cut and dried as we want it to be. It requires that we enter the confusion and uncomfortableness of the situation at hand. For many of us this can be a scary place, but nonetheless one in which there is something to be gained. Because we are there to wrestle with things. We are there to gain greater understanding of an issue, greater acceptance of another person or perspective; greater appreciation for how little we can ever truly grasp.
And there is wisdom in that … wisdom in being able to recognize the things we don’t fully know or understand … which often leaves us open. Open to see and experience God at work not in spiritual upheaval but instead bringing reassurance to a community in crisis … wisdom brings calm and reminders of living a spiritual life in the midst of all the current and coming brokenness and drama.
Wisdom too, in accepting and realizing the need for healing, repentance and forgiveness is actually good news. Good news which was so often used to describe the victories of the Kin-dom of God. Which begin in the hearts and lives of individual citizens of that Kin-dom. In your heart, and in mine: when we seek and are willing to receive forgiveness … when we turn ourselves toward God and enter the dance of love and faithfulness, of justice and peace.
And, so we do all the while trusting these are gifts of God … the source of life and growth ... bringing the counterbalance: pulling away and coming together and dancing us into the good news of the kin-dom of God.