According to our UCC friends, “God is still speaking.” While I would agree, what is God saying to us? So, as the Psalmist declares: let us “hear what God the Lord will speak.” And, let us not only listen to the Lord, but following the Hebrew, which might be in the footnotes, let us not return to folly.
It’s believed that this Psalm was written after the end of the Babylonian exile. Therefore, the Psalmist, asks the people how they will live in this new post-exilic reality. Will they follow God’s lead or turn back to the folly that led to the exile?
I don’t know about you, but it feels like we’re in a season of exile. Life is anything but normal. We can’t go to the movies or gather together in large groups. While outdoors is better than indoors, nothing is completely safe. Professional baseball and basketball have returned but without fans. The NFL and the NCAA authorities are trying to figure out how to play football this fall. I will admit that I’m a bit skeptical. What about the opening of schools? It does feel like we’re in a season of exile!
When Judah finally exited the exile, they discovered that life was very different from what life looked like before the exile. Their monarchy was dissolved and the new temple, once they built it, apparently wasn’t as grand as the earlier one. No, things didn’t go back to normal. But, something new emerged. Their sense of who God is and how they related to God had changed. Much of what we know as the Old Testament was written during or soon after the exile. In fact, what we know as Judaism began to emerge after the exile ended. My hope is that once we exit from this exile, we won’t return to normalcy, but enter a new season of life in the presence of God.
While I’m hesitant to speak about divine judgment when it comes to pandemics and other disasters, is it possible that God is trying to say something to us as we live through this pandemic? The Psalmist writes that “surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” We might not be overly fond of using the word fear in relation to God, but perhaps right now it’s appropriate. If God is still speaking, are we hearing a warning from God about the consequences of the paths our world has been taking? Are we ready to give head to God’s voice so we can experience God’s salvation, God’s healing, God’s shalom?
When it comes to hearing God’s voice, we need to remember that God doesn’t usually speak directly to us. We have Scripture, which needs to be interpreted. There is tradition, the teachings and practices of the church that have been passed down to us. Then there is reason, including science, that can guide us. Finally, there is our experience in life. So, perhaps pandemics like COVID-19, join with other challenges, like invasive species, hurricanes, floods, and drought, which seem to be saying something important. Yesterday, at the Regional Assembly, we heard presentations about the Green Chalice Ministry that is calling our congregations to be good stewards of the environment. During this period of exile, we’ve also heard the call for justice for people of color by addressing the continuing presence of racism in our land. Yesterday, we also heard a word about the Poor Peoples Campaign. So, what is God saying to us about climate change, poverty, and racism?
The Psalmist tells us that God is speaking to us a word of peace. This peace comes to us, according to what we read in verse ten, as steadfast love and faithfulness meet, and as righteousness and peace kiss each other. In her sermon yesterday, Carol Devine reminded us that God’s own being is relational. In fact, the entire universe is connected. Yes, righteousness or justice, will kiss peace, or shalom, so that we can experience God’s salvation.
The Psalmist reminded the people that God is faithful to the covenant, even when the people fail to abide by it. There are consequences to turning back to folly, but God is always there, ready to welcome us back. Here is this good news in the words of Arthur Van Setters: “The future for this people and their land is bound up with the character of YHWH, Lord of the covenant. Even the event of the exile cannot dislodge the determination of God to establish shalom.” [Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, p. 350]. This is our hope; that God’s shalom will be experienced by all of creation.
If this is God’s good news, what will life look like once our exile comes to an end? Will it be the same as before or will we, like Judah, experience something new? I expect we will experience grief at our losses. We will have some rebuilding to do. But hopefully, we will come out of the exile closer to God and to one another. When that day comes, we can gather together and lift our voices in praise, as we join in singing before the Lord with unfettered voices. And, together, as we hear God’s word of salvation, we can join with God as God’s justice “march[es] before him, and make[s] a way for his footsteps?” (Vs. 13 NAB).