Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Truth Springs Up

“Truth Springs Up”
Psalm 85[1]
  When we observe the prevailing views expressed by the people of our nation, it’s hard not to join the lament from Isaiah that “Justice is driven away, and right cannot come near. Truth stumbles in the public square, and honesty finds no place there” (Isa. 59:14, TEV). If you’re tempted to read this as an endorsement of one segment or party of our society over another, don’t. In my view, the disintegration of the norms of civility, justice, and truth runs across the board. It’s hard to even listen to the news because this failure of justice, rightness, truth, and honesty is so pervasive. We’re confronted with it almost everywhere we turn. It can be deeply discouraging.
  But this sermon is not about despair. It’s about the hope that the Scriptures hold out to us: that God is a God of mercy, mercy that extends to all, regardless of whether they are rich or poor; white, black, brown, or golden; tall or short; thin or overweight; nearsighted and losing one’s hair, or young and fit. God’s mercy does not discriminate based on gender, age, disability, or political affiliation. Our great hope is not that somehow we will finally have a leader who will set us back on the right path, but rather that God in his mercy will set things right. It might not happen quickly, or even in our lifetimes; but the promise is that ultimately God’s truth will prevail, and right all the wrongs.
  That is the message of our lesson from the Psalms for today. At the outset, it might seem a bit confusing. The Psalmist praises the “God of our salvation” for “restoring their fortunes.” But then he goes on to ask God to “restore us again,” to let go his anger, and to “revive” his people. It would seem that the Psalm comes out of a situation in which the people have experienced God’s salvation, but it has not fully transformed their lives the way they may have expected that. There’s a sense of discouragement in the questions, “Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?” (Ps. 85:5). There is a longing for God’s truth to prevail.
  It’s hard to know for sure the exact setting of many of the Psalms, but it would seem that Psalm 85 describes the situation of the people of Israel immediately following their years of exile in Babylon. After decades of anticipation, their release from exile failed to live up to their hopes. The temple lay in ruins. The city of Jerusalem had no walls to protect them. Instead of returning to a “land flowing with milk and honey,” they returned to a land that had been devastated by war and left a wasteland. They were weak, poor, and disorganized. That their commitment to God was failing can be seen from the prophets of that day. Their lives were harder than ever, and it seemed that God’s truth was nowhere to be found.
  And yet, in the midst of that discouragement, the Psalmist held out to his people the hope that God would speak “peace” to them, and that his salvation would be fulfilled. However, that salvation may have been different from what they were looking for. They were looking for God to “restore their fortunes” by allowing them to prosper again. Instead, the salvation promised by the Psalmist was that “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky” (Ps. 85:10-11). The promise was that justice and rightness would be restored, that truth and honesty would once again prevail.
  This sounds very different from what most of us envision as “salvation.” It is concrete; it concerns what happens in this world, not the next. In this text, “salvation” is what happens when God’s “unfailing love,” when God’s faithfulness, when God’s righteousness, and God’s peace define the way his people live. Each of these words is loaded with meaning, but I think you get the idea: salvation happens when God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.” It is a way of life that is spelled out quite specifically in the Psalms. God’s salvation means that the hungry are fed, the prisoners are set free, those who are bowed down are lifted up, the “strangers” or resident immigrants have someone to watch over them, and the widows and orphans are supported. God’s truth prevails when the last and the least and the left out are able to thrive along with everyone else.
  Unfortunately, we still live in a situation like that of those Israelites returning from exile. We have experienced a taste of what salvation means through our faith in Jesus Christ, but we live in a world where God’s justice, peace, and freedom are not fully realized. We experience God’s salvation in the midst of the brokenness of our world and the injustices perpetrated continually against those who live on the margins of society. It can be discouraging to us to see this as well, but the promise of the Scriptures is that God will one day right all the wrongs.
  The hard truth is that our society has never been as just or as upright or as civil as we’d like to believe. Beneath the veneer of morality, there’s always been a dark side to our culture. The church in our culture has always had to deal with the specific ways in which our nation has failed to practice God’s will. At the same time, we in the church have failed to stand with those who are in need and against those who selfishly seek their own interests. Our hope in this situation is not that we will pull ourselves up from this morass. Rather, it is that God will come to right all the wrongs, to establish the justice that enables all people to thrive, and to bring the peace that makes us all whole together. And yet, if this truly is our hope, then it will define the way we live our lives today. As we look forward to the day when God’s Kingdom prevails and God’s truth springs up and restores us all, let us renew our commitment to put into practice God’s justice, peace, and freedom.

[1] © Alan Brehm 2019. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 7/28/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

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