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Love of God, Love of Justice

January 11, 2018

Banner reflection from the Rev. Rita Powell for Trinity Community Update, January 11, 2018


Psalm 139 is appointed for this coming Sunday--well, a portion of it. The primary energy of this poem comes from describing a sense of unutterable intimacy with the vastness of the presence of God. “Oh Lord, you have searched me out and known me.” God so fully holds our entire beings that God is the One who knows us better than anyone else ever can. “You trace my journeys and my resting places, and are acquainted with all my ways,” the poet goes on. No place in our lives, our behaviors, or even our geography lies beyond the deep presence of God. “If I take the wings of the morning  and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me.”  

This promise of God’s presence is spoken by one who knows and feels it. There is a kind of ecstasy in these lines. “You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.” The vastness of God is tactile, felt in the poet’s very skin. The images of God as awe-some, majestic, spanning heaven all the way down to the grave, juxtaposed with a God who is listening to “every word on my lips,” creates an intoxicating vision of God as cosmic king and lover.

But then, uh-oh! Here comes verse 18, which we conveniently omit from our Sunday lectionary: “Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God!... I hate them with a perfect hatred!” The lovers’ reverie is shattered with this hot fury from the psalmist. Why the sudden pivot? 

The pattern in Psalm 139 is the pattern of religious love: ecstasy and delight translate to fury with injustice. The sudden intake of breath that comes with the awareness of the God who is both Source and soul-mate seems to animate us with a searing hunger for righteousness. It happens in more than this one place; often the prophets end up with this same juxtaposition. It seems that the more intimately you love and desire God, the more your fire is stoked for what God loves: that is, justice. Put even more simply, to be in love with God necessarily means to be in love with God's desire for us, which is described over and over and over by the prophets: God desires for us to be a people who are just, who take care of our poor, our sick, our homeless and our refugees.  

 Finally, we get one further movement: the psalmist ends with the realization that the injustice I hate is in me, not out there. So the voice quiets again, and she asks God to search out her own unrighteousness. “My restless thoughts” can be too much to handle. “Lead me,” is the final desire, “in the way of everlasting life.” 

How fitting that we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend. Here, if anywhere, was an example of how a deep love of God begets deep love of equity, and, with the grace of God, the path to begin walking.


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