God will speak peace to his people – to give us peace, to give us rest in our restlessness with our own shortcomings and sins. God speaks peace to his people so that we can become peacemakers. So that we can bring the word of peace, even to make the peace others are longing for. God will speak peace to his people. Can you hear God’s word?
That’s quite a promise in the 85th Psalm. God will speak peace to his people. I find the notion of peace being spoken as a different way to think of peace. The tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches had a theme entitled: “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.” That’s a bit easier for me to understand. Peace is condition following the resolution of conflict, a future end to a conflict. We pray for peace in the middle east. We pray for peace to come to that part of the world where open hostilities make it dangerous to go to the store. But I’m reminded that by one report there has been 355 mass shootings in the United States, incidents were four or more individuals were shot, in 2015 alone. Of course there were many more violent attacks where guns weren’t involved and then you can parse that number into drug, alcohol, sex and of course, accidents. We are talking hardware here, we are talking about the value of life and that’s a spiritual matter regardless of your politics.
Did you see the article in the newspaper of the local girl firing two shots toward her boyfriend when he returned to their home unexpectedly. It should have come as an important warning to those who believe that a convenient weapon keeps them and their loved ones safe. It also accurately describes just how hard it is to hit a target with a short barreled weapon like a hand gun. What they thought spoke peace to them became home grown terror. That story, too often with a tragic ending, is repeated over and over in our nation.
The world has all kinds of ways of saying peace speak but the reality is that what masquerades as peace is simply more violence. Arm sales, ostensibly made to bring peace to war torn places, simply add fuel to the fires. I know and you know that there is nothing we would like more than for someone to tell us that the struggle is over, to hear at last that somebody can speak peace to them: Peace in its fullness; Peace with freedom; Peace without fear; Peace without hunger. Peace without violence. Peace with friendship, peace with justice, peace with faithfulness. Peace in our family. Peace in the city. Peace in the church and among religions. Peace in our world. Peace.
We want peace in our hearts. And when God speaks peace to his people it will be spoken as heart language. Many in dire circumstances have been blessed with a sense of God’s presence and peace. Jesus told us that he will never leave us or forsake us. That may be all we need to endure terrific challenges and overcome obstacles. And that is surely good news but is not all the news. We live with a bit of heresy. Peace is radical, something that has to be spoken. But then it must be acted out.
The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches shared a story told him by his mother. As a young woman she was told that the occupation of Norway and World War II had come. The rumors had been going around for some hours, but people didn’t dare to believe it. There was nobody to speak peace to them with authority. What finally made her believe was what she could see. She saw fires in the streets of Oslo, not bombs. People were burning the blinds, the curtains they were obliged to use during the evenings to be isolated from one another, to avoid light in the streets, to avoid bombers’ identifying the streets in the city. What made her hear and feel the peace she was longing for was that people dared to believe in it and they, themselves, took action accordingly.
There is a deep connection between the promise that God will speak peace to his people and that the people dare to act accordingly, to live in steadfast love, in faithfulness, in righteousness, in justice. The beginning of the 85th Psalm is a restless, honest reflection about iniquity, about shortcomings, about sin. It is blended with the hope that God is forgiving, restoring and reviving again – even though this forgiveness is undeserved. But isn’t that the case that it is through acts of undeserved love from others; signs that help us to believe that God is forgiving us, creating new opportunities through a real embrace. This is also the image of God’s love in the psalm: Righteousness and peace shall kiss each other. Prior to that, we experience the gift of life being renewed, restored – even though this outcome is undeserved. The Spirit is working in us and among us, the Spirit of God, who makes alive, and is Lord.
Yes, we need to hear the word spoken: to believe, to grasp it, to take it to our hearts – sometimes despite what we experience. We need the living Word of God. God will speak peace to his people. This experience and the word of peace from our God of life to those who are called “God’s people” cannot be seen as something exclusively for some. If it is undeserved how could it be only for us? How could it be only for us if it is about peace that brings life in its fullness, in righteousness and love? How could it be only for those who think or act or believe like us, if it is the word of peace is from the God of all life?
Still, we live in a time when life is threatened, when injustices in the world are a reality. Globally the distance between rich and poor grows. Unemployment among young people grows. The consequences of ignoring or denying climate change are disturbing and dangerous. God will speak peace to his people – to give us peace, to give us rest in our restlessness with our own shortcomings and sins. God speaks peace to his people so that we can become peacemakers. So that we can bring the word of peace, even to make the peace others are longing for. God will speak peace to his people. Can you hear God’s word?