A Place Called Reconciliation[i]
By Rev. Peter Soli
Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed. Psalm 85:10
As I read and watch the news from Baltimore and Ferguson, as the trials of the Boston marathon bombing and the Aurora Colorado movie theater shooting remind us of tragic, senseless killings, and even as Salem members look back at the damage done by past congregational conflict; I am reminded of our never ending need for reconciliation. The apostle Paul talks about how Christ has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Indeed this is a tall order but it is an order that brings with it great reward.
Jesus said that “the truth will set you free.” Salem Lutheran, the people of Aurora and Boston, and those in Ferguson and Baltimore are focused on unearthing the truth. Around all of these conflicts people choose sides and there are characters who in their eagerness for the truth brandish a bright light, aiming it into the shadows and pointing it at possible myths. But notice that characters on both sides of the issues arm themselves with what they see. Each point of view will claim that truth is on their side. We only need to tune into the news to watch particular versions of the truth paraded before others like winning arguments before a judge.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to a lawyer who had challenged him. At the end of the story he admonished the lawyer (and by extension all of his followers) to show mercy. Our Bible is filled with stories of forgiveness and mercy. In our society, and particularly in our churches, there are characters who, in their eagerness for mercy put forth a call for acceptance, compassion, and understanding. They tenderly remind us of our imperfections and weaknesses and in the face of what some claim as truth, implore the judge to act with leniency.
Jesus made enemies when he decried the injustices of his day. I have seen in churches where I have served those who insist upon justice. These people in their desire for justice make a pageant of penalties and policies designed to repair the damage done by the greed, wrongdoing, and inequality. Those seeking justice demand accountability and action and refuse to let things rest until satisfied.
Jesus also said, “Peace be with you.” It only makes sense that in churches where I have served, there are characters who are eager for peace. They seek to hold the community together with the glue of safety, respect, and well-being. These proponents of peace set the stage for reconciliation and when reconciliation has been achieved they host the party. However, those who most value truth, mercy, and justice are uneasy with the peacemakers unless each is truly heard and valued.
Psalm 85 provides a guiding vision for our life together in community, be it our church community or the community of citizens. The verse is about reconciliation and the folly of our fighting. Neither mercy, truth, justice, nor peace can stand alone, each needs the others. How easy it is for us to lose sight of the fact that we need each other…especially at times of conflict and disagreement.
Truth needs mercy to contend with the fact that each of us is weak, imperfect, and in need of support. Mercy needs truth in order to slow down and remember the truth sets us free. Justice is needed in order that we have accountability and action but it is of little value without compassion and peace. Reconciliation comes when, as the psalmist declares: “Mercy and truth have met together; Justice and peace have kissed.” This is where community grows and is nourished.
It is my hope and prayer that we might keep meeting and talking, keep making room for those calling for getting the truth out, those calling for mercy, and those demanding justice. Peace is needed at the beginning and is the prize when all can met together.
[i] I wish to credit author and peacemaker John Paul Lederach who writes about Psalm 85 and these four characters in his book “The Journey Toward Reconciliation.”
Pr. Joel Guttormson
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