Focus Text: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other…”
Scripture Commentary by Jason R. Jenkins
“This psalm is not concerned solely with a far-fetched, ephemeral time in the future that will only occur upon the complete advent of the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we believe that the advent of Christ has accomplished these promises: salvation for all, righteousness, faithfulness, abundance of life, and especially shalom….”
Pastoral Reflection by Steve Taylor, Director of Missions, North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church
“I retired after twenty years in the Air Force. This wouldn’t be of much consequence, except that I have been asked to reflect on this beautiful passage about God’s peace. As a warrior, as one whose job was once building and reading the message that would launch nuclear weapons meant to kill millions, initially I wanted to offer a different reflection….”
Personal Vignette by Cyrus King
“We all know that being a veteran does not translate into being a peacenik – and it certainly does not guarantee wisdom – but I think it pushes me in what I hope to be the right direction. And that direction is a belief that ‘War Is Not the Answer,’ that there has to be a better way to solve problems. In a sense I returned to my roots….”
Taxpayers in the State of North Carolina will pay $4.6 billion for Proposed total Iraq & Afghanistan war spending for FY2011.
LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin… Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for [the LORD] will speak peace to [the LORD’s] people, to the faithful, to those who turn to [the LORD] in their hearts. Surely [the LORD’s] salvation is at hand for those who fear [the LORD], that [the LORD’s] glory may dwell in our land. 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. The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before [the LORD], and will make a path for [the LORD’s] steps.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!
But I will have pity on the house of Judah , and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.
Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Other Lectionary Texts
With its poetic assurances of hope and its divine promises of abundance, righteousness, faithfulness, and shalom (peace), Psalm 85 has influenced many generations of Jews and Christians alike. Various Christian figures such as Thomas à Kempis and Oliver Cromwell have utilized this psalm in their reflections, writings, and movements. And why not? The Psalmist declares that God’s salvation “is at hand for those who fear [the LORD], that [the LORD’S] glory may dwell in the land.” Accompanying this comforting assurance is the ‘guarantee’ that God “will speak peace” to God’s people; that “faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.” The first verse, “you restored the fortunes of Jacob,” echoes other Old Testament verses (in Jeremiah and Ezekiel) that speak of Israel’s joyous return from exile.
This psalm is not, however, concerned solely with a far-fetched, ephemeral time in the future that will only occur upon the complete advent of the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we believe that the advent of Christ has accomplished these promises: salvation for all, righteousness, faithfulness, abundance of life, and especially shalom. According to the New Interpreter’s commentary, the repetition of “righteousness” in the psalm all but solidifies the fact that indeed God will be with God’s people and will set the world aright – promises fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Yet there is an eschatological aspect to Psalm 85, just as in the season of Advent Christians celebrate both the birth of Christ as well as the second coming of Christ. Until the complete realization of God’s Kingdom, the church is to work for peace, overcoming the violent tendencies of the world with the peace of Christ. As Stanley Hauerwas says, “You only know violence if you are already deeply embedded in peace. Peace is ontologically prior to violence.” Contrary to popular assertions, humans desire and dwell within peace more than violence. While violence may persist in the world through wars or other acts, human nature (as well as the animal kingdom) seeks to live in peace as much as possible. Apart from this natural yearning for peace, Christians bear the privilege of spreading the peace of Christ through the gospel – a gospel that seeks justice, peace, and righteousness for all people, especially for those whom the world considers “victims.” Being a lover of peace is part and parcel of being a Christian, for we worship a God who not only “speaks peace” to God’s people, but also is willing to endure a final violent act in the crucifixion to bring it about. Indeed, when God’s glory reigns in full splendor on earth, all will see that “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” Adveniat regnum tuum.
By Jason R. Jenkins
I retired after twenty years in the Air Force. This wouldn’t be of much consequence, except that I have been asked to reflect on this beautiful passage about God’s peace. As a warrior, as one whose job was once building and reading the message that would launch nuclear weapons meant to kill millions, initially I wanted to offer a different reflection. I wished to tell a story of transformation, a narrative about life in the presence of this God who says “I forgive your iniquity and I pardon your sin,” this God who calls us to do the same. I wanted to convey that through a continued connection with the covenant community who has no borders, I began questioning the systems I served, doubting the efficacy of my own nationalistic perspective, and for the first time, examined my identification with the standards of my culture over my embrace of the standards of God.
Yet, in struggle and prayer with this scripture, I began to realize this question of peace is not about militarism or politics. These are simply the structures where our actions in the world are lived out. Our failure to live in peace seems instead to flow from our belief that we have a right to what we think of as “redemptive violence,” even when that violence is internalized as non-actualized hatred. It appears we believe that such violence is not only just, we believe it is restorative. Thus, it seems that the military is only a structure created out of the body-politic that gives form to institutionalized redemptive violence. And most American Christians readily embrace this structure rather than the radical notion that God really means we are to “love your enemy.”
For these reasons, rather than speaking of power and patriotism, I want to tell you about Sharon.
Her story began in college, a place of new life and new possibilities. She embraced this new life with a passion, seeking liberation from youthful limitations. With every new activity, Sharon felt the shackles of restraint loosen a bit more, bringing her the independence for which she had so deeply longed. But freedom ended suddenly when, at a party, she was viciously raped. No doubt, she had made some bad choices but she had done nothing to deserve this. And in her was birthed a hate that only such defilement can muster.
Somehow, she lived on. In time, she married and had children. If her early ideas of freedom were impossible, then perhaps a very normal life would do. Perhaps here was a place where the dreams of her past could not reach. Yet, the nightmare sometimes resides in the waking. One day, she found her husband gone. He told her he deserved to find love. He left her and he left his children. And he left with her best friend.
Deep wounds do not always bring immediate death, only the excruciating edict of continual suffering. Each day, the black void of her being was filled more completely, filled with a growing hatred toward these ones who had forced such violation upon her. She relished the hatred. It seemed to be her only emotion, the only feeling that proved she was alive. It utterly consumed her.
It was there, in this living hell, where she received a bit of life offered by another who also knew violation, a morsel of hope extended from a community who knew how to love. It was the voice of God, birthed into her existence by a people who had heard the word of peace. At first, she didn’t want to hear; yet, bit by bit she did listen. Slowly, she opened herself to the Voice. And in the place of enmity, a small seed was germinated – the seed of love, a seed that grew until finally she could respond – “let it go and love … and forgive … and live.”
In a town far from her own, a woman who had once been a friend, opened an envelope and read the words, “In the midst of it all, I still love you.” Then, on a normal business day, a man picked up the office phone to hear a familiar voice, “No matter what, I forgive you.” And one day, a woman who had once been dead, kneeled at the altar rail and placed upon it a note. It was a note to a man from her college past, a man whom she would never again meet. It was a note about pain, a note of life. It was a note which said, “Even in the violation, even after all these years, I forgive you. Please forgive me for my sin of hate.”
It was redemptive love, forgiveness flowing out of the deepest violation. “Holy One, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” Christ incarnate in her life, peace realized.
When we discover the truth of salvific love in the midst of utter defilement, when we allow our communal and individual lives to be indwelled by God’s Spirit and our life to live into the life of God’s Spirit, as with Sharon, we will truly learn this promise of God — Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss … and in such salvation, there is nothing left to protect. Paradise .
By Steve Taylor, Director of Missions, North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church
From the rising of the sun until its setting,
God of peace, God of justice, God of infinite mercy – remember Your people.
From the bleakness of war to the lavish warmth of peace,
God of peace, God of justice, God of infinite mercy – remember Your people.
From the peace of eternity to the pain of the present moment,
God of peace, God of justice, God of infinite mercy – remember Your people.
We turn to you God, asking that you enfold our planet in your justice, peace, and truth. Enlighten the minds of those making decisions. Melt the hearts of those inflicting cruelty upon your children. Strengthen the resolve of all who pray for peace. And may God bless us – and the peoples who share our planet. May God hold our world and all its peoples in the palm of God’s hand.
Spirit of God, forgive us. Instead of sharing with our sisters and brothers, we have stored up treasures and sent the vulnerable, sick, hungry, and homeless from our door. Instead of forgiving, we as a nation have sought vengeance, retribution, harsh punishment, and death. Instead of loving our enemies, we have demonized them. Instead of peace, nonviolence and reconciliation, we Christians have sat silent while a war is waged in your name. We confess that we have neglected our prayer life and community building. We have lost our way and are not the people you have called us to be. Accept our prayer and restore us. In your mercy, forgive us. Forgive us.
Christ, no one on earth really wants the pain and horror of war. We do not want to kill or be killed, to hurt or be hurt. But we all see injustice, and sometimes it makes us angry and we see no other way to right the wrong except by war. Christ, teach us the ways of peace! Calm our angry hearts and grant to all peoples and their leaders patience in the search for peace and justice. Help us to be ready to give up some of our comforts and power and pride, so that war will leave the face of the earth and we may work for you in peace.
O God, who called the peacemakers your children, we beseech you that as you did send Your Son with the heavenly voice of peace on earth to be the Prince of Peace, so you will keep our hearts and minds in his peace, and make us both to love and defend the same. Guide the counsels of the President and of all leaders, in equity and steadfastness, to establish unity and concord among the nations, that all humankind may render you the fruits of peace and righteousness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
Hosanna in the highest!
We rejoice with the angels in the coming of the King,
The King that speaks for peace.
Glory to God in the highest,
The Prince of Peace has come.
Behold a Broken World
United Methodist Hymnal 426
Moravian Book of Worship 691
Master, the Tempest is Raging
African Methodist Episcopal Hymnal 462
Christian Methodist Episcopal Hymnal 516
O God of Love, O King of Peace
Lutheran Worship 498
Oh Day of Peace
Presbyterian Hymnal 450
The People Who in Darkness Walked
The Hymnal (1982) 126
Moravian Book of Worship 320
We Utter Our Cry
Baptist Hymnal 631
One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have got to face the fact that war is not merely the product of blind political forces, but of human choices, and if we are moving closer and closer to war, this is because that is what men are freely choosing to do. The brutal reality is that we seem to prefer destructive measures: not that we love war for its own sake, but because we are blindly and hopelessly involved in needs and attitudes that make war inevitable.
The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war.
To reach peace, teach peace.
Pope John Paul II
Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.
How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read.
On Being a Veteran of World War II and a Veteran of the Peace Movement
I have been lucky in love and lucky in the parents I had. My dear wife of fifty-seven years has supported me, pushed me and inspired me to attempt to do justice, to work for peace and to walk humbly with others. My father was a Quaker, and he and my mother epitomized the slogan, “If you want peace, work for justice,” long before it became a bumper-sticker favorite. Those who know me know that I have never been a great leader in the peace movement, but I have had the wisdom or good luck to fall under the influence of some wonderful leaders in the peace and justice movements. In my ‘growing-up’ years, thanks to my father, I heard folks like Kirby Page, Sherwood Eddy, Buck Kester, and others. In my college years there was Charlie Jones and Scotty Cowan, among others who spoke at YMCA and Student Christian Movement conferences.
Then came WWII and the struggle of conscience: conscientious objector or go to war. Whether it was cowardice or conviction I’m not sure, but I allowed myself to be drafted and eventually ended up in Europe in the 26th Infantry Division, part of General Patton’s Third Army. A person who served in the military, who experienced some of the horrors of war, should have something to say about peace. We all know that being a veteran does not translate into being a peacenik – and it certainly does not guarantee wisdom – but I think it pushes me in what I hope to be the right direction. And that direction is a belief that “War Is Not the Answer,” that there has to be a better way to solve problems. In a sense I returned to my roots. I became active in a church that was a leader in the civil rights movement and that had some wonderful Quaker folks as members. I tried to follow their lead and joined them; I continue to support groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Veterans for Peace, etc.
Then came Vietnam and protests of that tragic war became entwined with the civil rights movement and various student causes. I was working on the North Carolina State University campus at that time, so in addition to church and family support I had support from the like-minded faculty and students – which was very important to me. In went to Washington with colleagues to march and protest the war, and to call for “jobs, peace, and freedom.”
In the 1980s there was the Nuclear Freeze Movement; my church, Community United Church of Christ, became a leader in working for a freeze on the development, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons. Out of that movement came a local and a State chapter of SANE, later to become SANE/FREEZE, and still later Peace Action. Then came the Gulf Wars and the “Coalition for Peace in the Middle East,” a new understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and of course there was (and is) Central America and CITCA (Carolina Interfaith Task Force on Central America).
What does it all mean? I think it means that we have to “keep on keepin’ on.” We need to vote; we need to write and visit our Congresspersons; we need to march and vigil, picket and pray, sign petitions; we need to write checks to the many wonderful organizations involved in the peace movement. We will get tired doing this, but we cannot stay tired. We must “keep hope alive!”
By Cyrus King
The North Carolina Council of Churches offers numerous resources on peace, including events, articles, policy statements and contacts.
Pax Christi USA is the national Catholic peace movement, striving to create a world that reflects the Peace of Christ by exploring, articulating, and witnessing to the call of Christian nonviolence. This work begins in personal life and extends to communities of reflection and action to transform structures of society. Pax Christi USA rejects war, preparations for war, and every form of violence and domination. It advocates primacy of conscience, economic and social justice, and respect for creation.
The North Carolina affiliate of Peace Action is part of the nation’s largest grassroots peace network, with chapters and affiliates in 30 states. Peace Action organizes a grassroots network to place pressure on Congress and the Administration through write-in campaigns, internet actions, citizen lobbying and direct action.
Since 1915, The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) has carried on programs and educational projects concerned with domestic and international peace and justice, nonviolent alternatives to conflict, and the rights of conscience. A nonviolent, interfaith, tax exempt organization, the FOR promotes nonviolence and has members from many religious and ethnic traditions. It is a part of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), which has affiliates in over 40 countries.
American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization which carries out service, development, social justice, and peace programs throughout the world.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America gathers, equips and mobilizes Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice.
Friends Committee on National Legislation is a public interest lobby founded in 1943 by members of the Religious Society of Friends. FCNL works with a nationwide network of tens of thousands of people from many different races, religions, and cultures to advocate social and economic justice, peace, and good government. FCNL is nonpartisan and it represents the oldest registered ecumenical lobby in Washington, DC.
Veterans for Peace represents veterans working together for peace & justice through non-violence. As a national organization founded in 1985, it is structured around a national office in Saint Louis, MO and comprised of members across the country organized in chapters or as at-large members.
The Center for Defense Information is an organization comprised of retired military officers, former U.S. government officials, and civilians (completely independent from the government) that acts as a ‘watchdog’ on defense spending and decisions. CDI provides expert analysis on various components of U.S. national security, international security and defense policy. CDI promotes wide-ranging discussion and debate on security issues such as nuclear weapons, space security, missile defense, small arms and military transformation.
The War Resisters League was organized in 1923 by men and women who opposed WWI. The League self-professes “not to support any kind of war, international or civil, and to strive nonviolently for the removal of all causes of war.”
1. Taxpayers in State of North Carolina will pay $4.6 billion for Proposed total Iraq & Afghanistan war spending for FY2011. For the same amount of money, the following could be provided:
2. Taxpayers in The United States have paid over $1.2 trillion for Total War Spending (Iraq + Afghanistan) since 2001.
3. At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the North Carolina share of total war spending ($34 billion) would fund all in-state expenses of a four-year education for each incoming freshman class for the next 135 years. Source: http://costofwar.com/en/publications/2011/whats-at-stake
4. Estimated number of U.S. troops in Iraq at the end of 2010: 47,000
Number of casualties for 2010:
Total U.S. fatalities since 2003: U.S. deaths (as of Dec. 31): 4,439
Estimated number of casualties for U.S. Troops in Afghanistan: 1640
5. There have been between 101,426-110,810 civilian deaths in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War. In Afghanistan, an estimated 8,832 civilians have been killed.