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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 16

22 July, 2012

There is a beautiful chant, based on Psalm 85:10, that I learnt at theological college in Auckland in the early nineties: "Let us hear! Let us hear what God the Lord has said: Justice and peace embrace one another. Justice and peace embrace one another." This week Nelson Mandela celebrated his 94th birthday. At 8am on the 18th July some 12 million children in schools around South Africa sang "happy birthday to you" and millions of others are reported to have joined in. It was a day that united a country with such a divided history. Mandela is very much a man of justice and peace, but the embodiment of these two virtues has not come easily. His earlier years were far from peaceful as he took up arms against the injustices of apartheid and was then imprisoned for 27 years. It was during those years of confinement in particular that he also became known as a man of peace and three years after his release was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At the awards ceremony he said: "We devote what remains of our lives to the use of our country's unique and painful experience to demonstrate, in practice, that the normal condition for human existence is democracy, justice, peace, non-racism, non-sexism, prosperity for everybody, a healthy environment and equality and solidarity among the peoples." Sadly as we read the headlines each day it would seem that Mandela's "normal condition" of justice and peace is all too elusive in this world of ours, but it remains as an ideal to which we all should strive.

In Jonathan Sacks' wonderful book, The Dignity of Difference (2003) he cites a fifteen hundred year old Rabbinic text that suggests God was in two minds when he created humankind (p. 63): "Rabbi Shimon said: When God was about to create Adam, the ministering angels split into contending groups. Some said, 'Let him be created.' Others said, 'Let him not be created.' That is why it is written: 'Mercy and truth collided, righteousness and peace clashed' (Ps 85:11). Mercy said, 'Let him be created, because he will do merciful deeds.' Truth said, 'Let him not be created, for he will be full of falsehood.' Righteousness said, 'Let him be created, for he will do righteous deeds.' Peace said, 'Let him not be created, for he will never cease quarrelling.' What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He took truth and threw it to the ground. The angels said, 'Sovereign of the universe, why do You do thus to you own seal, truth? Let truth arise from the ground.' Thus it is written, 'Let truth spring up from the earth' (Psalm 85:12)." This is such an insightful summation of the human condition. We are capable of great acts of altruism, but we are also constantly at war. As human beings we are a mixed bag. This is as true personally as it is globally. We often clash swords with one another, at home, at school, in the workplace, even with our friends and here at church. Our relationships continually require from us mercy and truth, righteousness and peace. We need to make hard decisions in life; that is unavoidable. It will feel at times like we are taking up a sword and going into battle. At those times it is particularly crucial to recall the other side of the equation; God's indecision; God's call to be peacemakers and healers as well as truth-tellers and fighters for justice. "Let us hear! Let us hear what God the Lord has said: Justice and peace embrace one another. Justice and peace embrace one another."

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

Illustration for Ordinary Sunday 16 Musings

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