Dr. Rev. Fritz Ritsch
June 21, 2020
Psalm 85 has always been one of my favorite psalms. What stands out about it the most is its passionate imagery:
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Kissing is a metaphor for something often talked about in the Hebrew Bible. There will come a time when humanity will “know” God. This term know is a term that is also used for sex, as in “a man knowing a woman.” There will come a day when the relationship between humanity and God will be as intimate as the relationship between lovers. On that day, that glorious day when the Kingdom of God is fully realized, says this psalm, the four key attributes of God will “kiss each other.” Love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace—the highest values of God’s kingdom—will be realized and humanity will live at one with each other and with God. This is the promise.
We in the religion profession call this our “eschatological hope”—our hope that though it seems like we can’t seem to get things right here during this time, there will come a day when God will make it right and that even though we ourselves are flawed, we’ll get to be a part of that and to rejoice on that day when:
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
It’s always nice to know the promise. It’s nice to know that lies in the future. But a good question to ask eschatology is: So what?
Are you saying that while we’re on this earth, living in this time before the return of Jesus, there’s just nothing we can do about making the world a better place? That it’s all up to God? There are certainly people who’d say that—who’d say it doesn’t matter what we do here on earth because only God can fix it. In fact, in our reading from Romans today, Paul is addressing precisely those people. There were people in his day who said, “Let us sin, that grace may abound!” In other words, since we can’t stop being sinners, and are always in need of God’s grace to save us, then why bother to stop sinning? What’s the point? If we believe in Jesus, we’re saved no matter what, so the more we sin, we’re actually doing God a favor by proving how much God saves us over and over again–so let’s just sin away!
You could think some version of the same thing today. Look at the state of the world. Confusion, coronavirus, racial tension, protesting, selfishness, injustice, abuse of power, tension between nations, the list goes on and on. If only God can fix it, then why do we bother to try? Let’s just look forward to the day of the Lord, when God will straighten everything else, and in the meantime let’s crawl into our little hole and hope for the best.
So let’s talk about eschatology by talking about our present situation.
I think most everybody out there in Internet-land is really looking forward to the day when we don’t have to abide by all these Covid-19 precautions. And one day that day will come, the day when all this is done. One day there will be a cure and the world can be open for business again. We don’t have to wear masks and social distance when we’re in public, and we can actually be in public, rather than having to relate to everybody via Zoom. For us church people, the day will come when one day not only can we worship in the sanctuary again, but we’ll actually be able to sing as loud as we want without fear of spreading a virus. We’ll be able to come forward and take communion from the hands of a server and dip it in the common cup of wine. And like the psalmist says, we’ll be able to kiss. Oh, it’ll be a “holy kiss” as the Apostle Paul advises, but it’ll be a kiss; it’ll be hugs for friends we’ve missed and the comfort of physical expression of our love and longing for each other.
I think more than anything this virus has taught us that there is nothing more inimical to being human than the lack of physical touch, that lack of human physical interaction. No wonder the psalmist describes the Day of the Lord with such visceral, almost erotic language. We humans must have human contact. We have to have touch. No wonder countless biblical passages describe the day of the Lord variously as a wedding party or a great feast. These deeply physical, tactile sensate experiences are part and parcel of what it means to be fully in relationship, to each other, to God, to ourselves. That day will happen. That day will come. We can’t wait for that day.
So what do we do in the meantime about church? There is a perfect day coming when we’ll have everything just the way we want it again. So why bother with anything less? Obviously video worship isn’t as good as real worship. Zoom meetings—well, arguably they could be better than real meetings—but anyway, a Zoom Bible study or Zoom Sunday school or Zoom Thursday morning breakfast or Zoom Women’s Circles, they clearly don’t give us so much of what we need and crave, that community, that deeply physical, sensual connection to the people we love. These things are so much less than the perfect. Why do we do them?
I have worked with local and state and even higher office public figures over the years, and one thing they will say a lot is “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.” Don’t let the fact that the solutions you come up with may not be perfect stop you from doing something that is at least a step in the right direction. Yes, all these various solutions we’ve come up with to provide worship and study and fellowship and service are not ideal. But we all know we need them. We know that even if our worship is imperfect, we still have to worship God. Even if our discipleship is imperfect, we still need to try to follow Jesus. Even if our fellowship is truncated, viewed through a two-dimensional screen, we still have to have fellowship. And even if our service to those in need loses its personal touch, even if we can’t sit down to the feast of the Kingdom with our homeless guests, they still need our services, and we still need to serve them.
One day all of that will return to what we want and need, and we look forward to that day. But in the meantime, this day, this moment, still needs all those things. This day still needs our worship, our discipleship, our fellowship, our service, even though it is imperfect and far from what our vision is. That perfect day is coming, and in the meantime we do our best to provide some semblance, some shadow of that perfect ideal.
That is the point of eschatology. It defines our hope. And it also defines our work.
Take for instance our psalm today. The psalmist raises up four characteristics of God’s wholeness, of God’s holy day, that are the most important priorities of the Kingdom of God, but which are also apparently missing in what he’s seeing happening in Judah at that time. Those missing, all-important qualities are steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace. Apparently, at the time it’s most needed, those who shout out how much they love everybody, red or yellow black or white they are precious in my sight, suddenly turn out NOT to love everybody, after all. Apparently, those who parade their faithfulness to God loudly and proudly at the public megaphone are those who are most blatantly and shamelessly hypocritical. Apparently, those who are supposed to be righteous are actually moral and spiritual disappointments. Apparently, because of all this, peace has gone out the window and people are shouting at each other about politics and values and social status and race and who gets what.
Steadfast love and faithfulness and righteousness and peace are what God desires for God’s people, and they are what’s missing.
But we wouldn’t know that’s what God desires if we didn’t have the vision of the Kingdom. We wouldn’t know God desires steadfast love and faithfulness and righteousness and peace. Without the vision of the Kingdom of God, we might think that we should love our friends and hate our enemies. After all, that’s the way the world works, right? Without the vision of the Kingdom of God, we might take it for granted that religious leaders and political leaders and those who have a lot could be corrupt, and in fact that to live a corrupt life is a great way to succeed in life. Without the vision of the kingdom of God, we might say “Peace is fine—for me. But if that means we have to treat other people like dirt so I can have my peace, then I guess that’s okay.”
But we have the vision of the Kingdom of God before us, and it shows us that what we really want—what we really need—what we were made for and what most truly defines what is divine within us—are steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace. The vision of the Kingdom shows us what we most want, what we most need to be most fully human, what we were created to be. What makes us live most into our divine potential are steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace.
Steadfast love means steadfast—we love even when it’s hard to love.
Faithfulness means we do the hard work even when the odds are stacked against us and we do not give up.
Righteousness means that we have to take care of those who suffering, those who are crushed down by life, those who don’t get the equal share in life we all deserve.
And peace means that we have to be peacemakers, and we never stop being peacemakers, because as soon as you solve one problem another erupts and the only way to have peace is never to fully be at peace, but just keeping working on it and working on it.
But steadfast love also means the amazing, indefatigable, always forgiving, always gracious love of God. Faithfulness also means that God is faithful and will never desert us. Righteousness means that God applies God’s perfect righteousness to us and builds a bridge of relationship between us flawed humans and God. And peace means God’s perfect peace, God’s shalom, when at last all of creation, all of humanity, all of nature, will live in perfect harmony with one another and with God.
We know what God wants, and the vision of the Kingdom of God shows us how it should look. And we know that as humans, made in the image of God, we can’t do without those things. So we keep pursuing them, even though the result is imperfect, because they get us closer to who we are and whose we are and who we have been made to be. We keep at it, even though it’s sometimes difficult and often unsatisfying and we are unlikely to fully achieve it in this life, but that’s okay.
Because the day is surely coming when steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; and righteousness and peace will kiss. And when it happens, we’ll be there. And so will everyone whose lives were touched by the witness that by God’s grace we were able to convey. We will kiss and we will dance and we will hug and we will rejoice on that great and glorious day.