This morning our psalmist tells us to “sing a new song unto the Lord.” I have to confess, I find this statement a bit daunting especially after having lived in a house with people who are far more musically inclined. . . Who have, on occasion, asked me to help out by not singing.
And yet, here before us, the psalmist commands us to “sing,” to, “sing a new song unto the Lord.” If my command of Psalm 149 is correct, it was most likely written as a coronation piece for one of the Davidic kings of Israel. It reflects the celebration and the hope of a new era and a new ruler.
But, we aren’t celebrating a new king today. Liturgically, we are not celebrating the birth and/or the resurrection of Christ, and yet we are called to “sing a new song” to hope for something new once again.
As I hear the command of the Psalmist, I also hear the voice of Isaiah after God commands him to “cry out.” “But what shall I cry?” asks Isaiah. And so, I ask this question, what is this new song we are being called to sing?
St. Paul answers this question best when he instructs the Romans to love one another. After all, isn’t that what the Christian message is about. Love! And most particularly, the love of God. During Lent we sing, “What wondrous love is this?” As we reflect on the cross and the sacrifice of God the Son on our behalf. As a youth it was drummed into me that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was proof of how great God’s love for us truly is. The concept, even in its simplicity, made sense. Especially as I reflect on the whole of Christ’s ministry . . . A ministry that was more about inclusion than condemnation; a ministry that was more about forgiveness than retribution; a ministry that was about loving your neighbor, your enemy and the stranger; a ministry that was about raising up the lowly from their deceit.
As we begin to talk about love, I have to ask, do we even know where to start? I am not talking about the love we share between family and close friends, I am talking about the love Paul would have referred to as agape, or King James would have referred to as charity, that deep and abiding concern for another.
As a country, and possibly even as a global society, we have become so polarized, so determined to win at all costs, that we have lost the ability to listen, to believe where truth lies is somewhere in the middle. As a society, we have become so concerned with being right and justified we have lost the ability to feel compassion for others. In fact, as a people, we have become so locked into our own ideologies that a new term has emerged into our lexicon. It is “epistemological closure.” Epistemological closure happens when we become so tied to our own world view, we cannot, or are unwilling to hear or be open to either facts or experiences that would challenge that view. Epistemological closure happens when we become so rigid in maintaining our own world view we can no longer hear or accept the differing realities of another. This is when our ability to love becomes impaired and a new song needs to come into our lives.
Last week, I stated picking up our cross begins with being honest, being honest with who we are, and to live honest lives. This week the journey continues with learning to love our neighbor as ourselves. I believe Native Americans understood what it means to love another best, because it begins with being able to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. We cannot have understanding or compassion unless we are willing to understand the world from the other’s perspective.
I experienced this first hand while at Pine Grove on Friday morning. Friday morning was one of those few mornings where my mouth got the greater work out. The better part of my morning was spent checking in with people I had not seen in a while, we talked about the life of Joan Rivers and the Facebook hoax surrounding Betty White. But the conversation I spent the most time on was with a guy I have worked out next to for several years. For all the years I have known him our brief conversations have been quick observations and comments about the obvious. But for some reason, on Friday morning, I asked him about his life and learned he was a retired police officer which led to a conversation about Ferguson, Missouri. He shared what he knew of the situation, and we agreed that we won’t know what really happened until all the facts of the investigation are laid out before the grand jury. As we ended our conversation on this subject after many twists and turns, he opened my eyes to the officer’s perspective that I had never thought of or imagined. What he said was simple and yet so enlightening. “No cop, at least I hope not, wakes up in the morning intent on killing someone.”
In the news,as sides have been drawn, as the media has drawn us into the grief of Michael Brown’s family and we have heard their frustrations over the systemic racism that they have been victims of throughout their lives, nobody has talked about the grief of the police officer who made the split second decision to use lethal force and now must pay the price, whether justified or not, for taking the life of a young man.
Yes, I have compassion for the family who grieves a son, who has endured the racism that is endemic in this country, and I now have compassion for the officer, who,no matter what a grand jury decides, must live the remainder of his life knowing he has killed another human being.
This conversation is not that different from the conversation I had with our bishop just a few weeks ago after I attended a meeting with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Minor and heard both sides of the discussion in regards to refugee children being processed here in Syracuse. As much as I believe in the children coming here, that night I was able to feel compassion for the residents of the North Side who were vehemently opposed to their potential arrival. Yes, many were outspoken, and many were cruel in how they said their peace, but what I was also able to hear was their fear and frustration as property owners whose homes continue to lose value, whose police force appears to be unresponsive, and whose neighborhoods are becoming overrun with violence. As one person asked, “how can we consider bringing these children into our neighborhood when we can’t even deal with the problems we have?” Sadly no one was interested in exploring how one set of challenges could possibly offset the other.
This morning the Psalmist calls us to sing a new song, a song of hope and love. A new song that speaks to the unconditional love God. A new song that speaks of compassion and charity. A new song of openness and inclusion. A song that reminds us that Truth is rarely found at either end, but somewhere in the middle. And it is here, in the middle, where God has called us to meet each other with love.