Ancient Answers

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Bless, do not curse!

The two verses highlighted today come from Psalm 67 – a short psalm. But verses 3-4 have to be read with the first two verses of this psalm. So let me quote the first four verses of Psalm 67.

May God be gracious to us and bless us 
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah 
that your way may be known on earth, 
your saving power among all nations. 
Let the peoples praise you, O God; 
let all the peoples praise you! 
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, 
for you judge the peoples with equity 
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah 

The psalm begins with a paraphrase of the famous blessing in the Book of Numbers (6:24-26):

The LORD bless you and keep you; 
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

So Psalm 67 takes the blessing of Numbers and turns it into a prayer for the whole people of Israel. But for what purpose? So they will be healthy and wealthy? It doesn’t appear that the prayer is so self-serving as that. Quite the contrary, the psalm asks for God’s blessing and grace; the psalm asks for God’s face to shine upon the people – so that God’s ways can be made known to all the earth and so the nations may praise God and sing with joy. It is a vision of global joy, peace and knowledge of God. But it starts with the people, God’s people. Only God’s people can ask such a prayer. And only God’s people can spread the blessing to all the nations.

But the psalm is a prayer, it is not a vision of a reality that exists. It is a vision of what our mission in the world should be. God will judge the nations with equity, the psalm says. God will judge all the nations and all the people of the earth equally and fairly. We are not the judges, God is the judge. But we are here to bring God’s blessing to all the earth. Instead of the hatred that is rapidly spreading throughout the world, we are to be a counterweight. If hateful people dominate the social media we should flood those same social media with messages of love, acceptance and blessing. Bless, do not curse, the Bible tells us (Romans 12:14). This is our purpose. If we are people of God we are here to bless the people of the world, the nations, the earth. As a matter of fact, let me quote that whole paragraph in Romans 12; it is the exact opposite of the hatred that drove the shooter in Pittsburgh last Saturday:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Does someone you know speak hate toward anyone or any group of people? Stand up to that person and speak up for love and acceptance. Do not allow any racist or hateful talk to to be spoken or written without challenging it. Whether in speech or in email or in social media, stand up to hate speech with words of blessing. And leave the judgment to God. Speech matters, words matter.

Did you notice the word Selah in the verses of Psalm 67? The same word is found in many of the psalms, but no one is sure what it meant. Perhaps it indicated a musical interlude. Perhaps it indicated a place to stop and meditate on the words, perhaps a sign to be silent for a bit before continuing. The psalms are prayers. We do well to read them slowly and allow their message to sink in so we can be inspired to do what they are gently telling us to do. And as I’ve said many other times, the psalms also often contain words of hate and revenge – because many times those are our honest reactions. Many of us I’m sure felt hate for the Pittsburgh shooter. But it’s not the same hate that drove him. Nevertheless, this is the cathartic aspect of the psalms that allows us to bring our own gut reactions before God and allow God’s healing to act on us. Perhaps if the shooter had paused and allowed his hatred to be healed by the psalms he would not have carried out such a heinous act. So listen to that word Selah, and take a break from what you’re doing and what you’re feeling, to enter the world of God’s shining presence. And may the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you.

P.S. After writing the above I came upon this extraordinary commentary in today’s New York Times.

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Life is the Politics of Jesus

It’s now a week since the Paris attacks and it has been a tense week, with hateful rhetoric flaring up in France and Europe, and the US. I continue to have reservations about Islam and its compatibility with our western values, but I am dismayed by the level of hate speech that has contaminated our ability to look at the world situation with some semblance of rational understanding. What concerns me most is that some of the most hateful and divisive speech has been coming from people who claim to be Christians and have Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They forget Jesus’ warnings that he will drive away from himself many who call him Lord; and he will say to them those bitter words, “I do not know you.”

ISIS wants hateful acts against Muslims to spread in Europe and North America. The hate-mongers in this country and in Europe are playing right into the hand of the jihadists and will lead us into disastrous consequences. Why can’t we co-exist? The only way we can decisively defeat ISIS is by making them irrelevant. And we make them irrelevant by rejecting hate speech and actions that divide people. Paris is slowly recovering its joie de vivre. The cafés are busy again, the Eiffel Tower is lit again, all the museums have re-opened. The dead are not forgotten, but life has returned to that city of life and lights. It reminds me of the words we announce at the Easter midnight Liturgy:

Ανέστη Χριστός και ζωή πολιτεύεται!

Christ is Risen and life reigns!

The Greek word πολιτεύεται actually means much more than ‘reigns’; it’s impossible to translate concisely into English. The word comes from the same Greek root that gave us our word ‘politics’. So yes, the resurrection of Christ brought life to the throne that governs human existence. At Easter midnight we proclaim that life and life only is the politics of Jesus! The resurrection of Christ showed the emptiness and vanity of all human attempts at power and control. The resurrection is the negation of the politics of hate and fear. So why do so many Christians prefer to follow the politics that reject the power of Christ’s resurrection?

If only Christians could be people of the resurrection again – not the resurrection of the ‘second coming’ that many Christians wait for with baited breath (the ‘Rapture’ nonsense), but the resurrection of Jesus and the power that it unleashed. The power to live as agents of new creation, to be peacemakers, to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry, to tear down boundaries and the walls that separate instead of building more walls. Where in the reactions to the Paris attacks do we hear anything that elevates life? Where is the teaching and vision of Christ in the hate talk of many ‘Christian’ politicians and citizens of this and other countries`?

I have concerns about Islam, just as I have concerns about much that passes as Christianity today. But when I allow my concerns to dominate my thought and estrange me from the spirit of Christ then I’m just a step away from becoming like the hate-mongers. I don’t have a solution to what is going on in the world. I have no answer to the challenge of separating dangerous extremists from ordinary Muslims and Syrian refugees who simply want to live in peace and productivity. I have no answers, no solutions. I only have my faith in Jesus Christ. Sorry if that sounds naive and inadequate, but the message remains:

Ανέστη Χριστός και ζωή πολιτεύεται!