This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
1 Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2 They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say, ‘With our tongues we will prevail;
our lips are our own—who is our master?’
5 ‘Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
I will now rise up,’ says the Lord;
‘I will place them in the safety for which they long.’
6 The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,
silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
7 You, O Lord, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation for ever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind.
The psalm strikes a familiar note of disgust at the way of the world. It targets a culture of lies, where nobody’s words can be trusted. The psalmist could not have envisaged the communication overload of our society in which everyone is at the mercy of words and images all day every day. Much of what we see and hear is lies, and much of it based on the basic lie, that life means looking after number one.
The psalmist is able to hear another voice, that of the Lord, who acknowledges the pain of the poor and promises the protection. As we now read the psalm we can identify with the imagery of the wicked prowling and the vile being exalted, but can we find any fulfilment of the Lord’s promise of a place of safety? Only a just community could provide it. This week’s publication in Scotland by the Poverty Truth Commission report on the exclusion of poor people from the making of public policy shows how far away we are from justice in community life. Churches should be models of just community where the promise of God is still trusted.
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
As John sees it, the fact that “gentiles are coming to the light” is a sign that God’s strategy of pouring out of life in Jesus, even to the point of death, is bearing fruit: the old division of Jew and Gentile is being broken down and a new community of love and justice will take its place. But it will still be an embattled community in which God’s loving strategy must be continued by those who are prepared to lose their lives for others. Those who do so know that they are already in “a place of safety”-they are united with the very life of God. That the seed can’t be fruitful unless it “dies” is a hard and necessary truth as William Penn knew: “No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.” His words used to hang on my vestry wall and their realism is always with me.