Sermon for Weoley Castle Community Church, 10th December 2017
LECTIONARY READING: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
85:1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah
85:8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
85:9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
85:10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
85:11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
85:12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
85:13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
Sadly, we all got snowed in and I couldn’t deliver this sermon in person! Here it is anyway! – Ruth Wilde
Thank you to Mike and Cheryl for giving me the opportunity to preach today. I know Mike and Cheryl well because I work for a Mennonite / Anabaptist charity called Christian Peacemaker Teams, which began in the 1980s in Chicago and which now has teams all over the world seeking justice and peace with and alongside those on the margins. Today, I want to talk about the first lectionary reading– the Psalm- and how it relates to the work of justice and peace which Christian Peacemaker Teams is so engaged in.
As we are in Advent, there are many readings which relate to Jesus’ arrival- like the second reading for today from Mark about John the Baptist preparing the way. The first reading- the Psalm- has also been chosen in the Lectionary for today as it speaks of someone or something righteous who will ‘go before him’ and ‘make a path for his steps’. This passage relates well to the idea of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.
The Lectionary passage from the Psalm does not include the whole Psalm, but when it’s read as a whole, it’s interesting to note the shape and the themes which the writer might be trying to emphasise. The passage picks out verses 1, 2 and 8 to 13, so that’s the very beginning and then from the middle to the end. Even with verses 3 to 7 cut out, it’s easy to see thematic patterns. The Psalm begins by talking about God’s favour and forgiveness, mentioning the land and the people on the land; and it ends with a promise that the land ‘will yield its increase’ as righteousness goes ‘before him’. It’s not clear who he is, but it’s clear that the Lectionary is trying to make us think of Jesus by placing this Psalm with the Mark reading.
Between verse 8 and verse 11, faithfulness is mentioned three times, and right in the centre of the Psalm- often a position denoting importance in biblical literature- is this sentence: ‘Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.’ Peace is mentioned again in verse 10: ‘Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other’, says the Psalmist.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Isn’t that a beautiful phrase? It’s clear to me that, for the Psalmist, there is no peace without righteousness, no faithfulness without love. All of these are inextricably linked.
There is a biblical word which you may be familiar with, and which is often translated as ‘peace’ in English: Shalom. This type of peace does not mean the type of peace which you might find in the expressions ‘keeping the peace’ or ‘breeching the peace’. It does not come without justice and so sometimes it can shake things up a lot! It is also not the kind of peace which we sometimes slip into thinking about around Christmas: it is not a twee Christmas card peace- a kind of vague and complacent wish for world peace coupled with a nice, cozy feeling inside us. There’s nothing wrong with either wishing for world peace or wishing for internal calm: both of these things are good things to wish for. But they are not Shalom.
Shalom is about healing, wholeness, righteousness and justice, as well as peace. It is about looking at a situation or person and working to make them whole, even if that means challenging the status quo and the powers that be. To seek justice and peace together is to be faithful- in the words of the Psalmist. It is our calling and it is one which Christian Peacemaker Teams takes seriously. CPT works across the world alongside people who have been marginalised and treated differently because of their ethnicity or identity. In Colombia and North America, we work with Indigenous peoples who have had their rights to the land and therefore their way of life taken away from them by governments and corporations working hand in hand. You may remember that land was an important theme in the Psalm- in the Old Testament, the land is very much linked up with justice and peace. If God’s people are not allowed to live peacefully and productively on the land, the ‘very rocks cry out’ for justice (in the words of Jesus) and God intervenes to restore balance.
As well as working with indigenous peoples in North and South America, we work alongside Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Palestinians in the occupied territories. In both of these cases, a minority people without access to the same rights and opportunities as the people who rule the land have been forced into a small space and made to live under the daily threat of violence. In Palestine, CPT’s work involves observing the situation and reporting on it, resisting the regular displacement of people from their land and homes, as well as guiding children safely through checkpoints, past loaded guns and the threat of rubber bullets. In Kurdistan, we work with grassroots peacemakers to resist further displacement of the Kurdish people and we advocate for an end to bombardments from both Iraq and Iran.
Everything we do with our partners on the ground is done in the Spirit of faithfulness to the Gospel. We seek justice but we never use violence as a means to an end. We live out a nonviolent Gospel, but we also believe that there is more to violence than bombs and guns; we believe that persecution, injustice and discrimination are all methods of violence too. Taking someone’s home or land from them, or polluting their river systems with mercury (as has happened to indigenous people in Canada) – all of these things are violent. This is why we believe that we cannot work for peace without justice. To work for peace without working for justice too is the same as believing that being faithful and righteous does not involve ‘steadfast love’, as the Psalmist rightly says.
CPT’s work comes out of a call to put our very lives on the line in the work of justice, peace and steadfast love. If you’re interested in finding out more about this work, I would be delighted to chat to you more about our projects and the faith that leads us to do the work that we do. Please just come and speak to me after the service. And please pray for both peace and justice for the world’s most marginalised people this Advent and Christmas time.