These continue to be challenging anxious days. From pandemic to political unrest, we’re a people ill-at-ease with our neighbors and within our own skins. All around us, even within the body of Christ, cracks are turning into fissures. It seems that almost every conversation we have has the chance to devolve, if not into a full-blown argument, then into another moment when we feel compelled to take a side and be against someone or something else.
As a pastor, I feel constantly tense and knotted up, and at the same time frayed and dis-integrated. What I most want is to bear witness to and to participate in God’s power to heal and make whole, at the same time I feel an urgency to claim the prophetic Christ-voice within me and speak truth to power—or maybe more specifically, into our culture’s addiction to violent power.
In Luke 12, Jesus seems to have the same struggle going on. Early in the chapter, he tells his disciples not to worry about anything because if God takes care of “the birds of the air” and “the lilies of the field,” God will certainly take care of them. (Lk. 12:22-34) Then, a few verses later, he says that he has come not to bring peace but “division.” On his account, households will be divided against themselves. (Lk. 12:49-53)
How do we make sense of such conflicting passages? Indeed, how do we make sense of such conflict? And how do we get through it intact? I wish I had an answer that would suit everyone, but not even Jesus had an answer like that. One path forward may be to look at our individual selves and our corporate self like we look at the gospel itself, as living stories, as metaphors, as works of art in which both shadow and light must be present for the beauty to be real and for it to fill us, move us, and transform us. That means we must acknowledge and engage both the shadow and the light.
A qualification becomes necessary: You have heard me say repeatedly that the Church, as the body of Christ, is a place in which all people are, and must be, welcome. And I do believe that. As I said to someone earlier this week, though, there is no room in the body of Christ for hate or for hate groups. To me, that is an absolute truth. As followers of Jesus, as people who claim to inhabit and reveal the kingdom of God, we are called to shine his light into the darkness of hate and fear, and to do so with confidence because, in the end, the darkness cannot overcome light of Christ. (John 1:5)
To begin shining light into darkness, we begin with ourselves. Through confession, we bathe our own souls and spirits with Christ’s light. We purge our own darkness before we can faithfully and effectively exercise a prophetic voice that calls others to the light of holiness, wholeness, and hope.
To that end, I offer a challenge to us all. In the coming week (or months if it helps), let’s begin and end our days with two psalms. Let’s awaken with the confession of Psalm 51, and close the day with the unsentimental affirmation of Psalm 27. In praying these two psalms, we recognize that there is darkness lurking within us, and we remember that God is our “light and [our] salvation.”
Where the darknesses of hate and fear threaten to consume us, let us remember that it cannot overcome God’s light. So, let us pray for one another. Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And of Washington. And of Jonesborough. And of your community, wherever you are.
1Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you, you alone,
have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering,
you would not be pleased.
17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.
18Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
(Psalm 51 – NRSV)
1The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
3Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
4One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
5For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
6Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
7Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
8“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
9Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
10If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
11Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
12Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
13I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14Wait for the Lord; be strong,
and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
(Psalm 27 – NRSV)