Allow me to begin this morning with a brief Bible study of the three verses I read a moment ago. I acknowledge the risk of pulling three verses out of context and setting them side by side to make a point. Such proof texting, as it is sometimes called, often is done in a way which misuses and misinterprets what are often nuanced and complicated Biblical texts. But, with that said, I will do it anyway and let you decide about my interpretation and, then, about the meaning of these three verses for your life and mine.
Let me begin with the affirmation from Psalm 100.
For the LORD is good and God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Here, in this Psalm, and as in other places in scripture, goodness is identified as a key attribute of God. Intuitively, I think, we all have a sense of what basic goodness is.
Kindness. Genuine concern. Compassion.
Like someone said about pornography: We know it when we see it.
The witness of the Psalmist is that fundamental goodness stands at the very heart of that which we know and name as God.
Now to Genesis 1.
Scholarship tells us these verses were written long after Psalm 100 was written.
And written not to describe how the world was created or when the world was created, but written to describe God’s intent and the fundamental nature of creation. And so these words from verse 31 which sum up the consistent refrain we find in this opening prologue to the Bible: And God saw all that had been made and, indeed, it was very good.
Putting this verse alongside the Psalm 100, I would argue that the goodness of God described by the Psalmist is the same goodness that now stands at the center of creation and at the center of your life and mine.
And now, Matthew 5.
Be perfect as God is perfect.
If the meaning of the word perfect is only about always getting it right or never doing anything wrong, I am lost. Within an hour of getting up each day I am sure I have fallen off the perfection bandwagon. But this verse is more nuanced than that. Douglas Hare, Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, writes this about this verse and the word perfect. Just as background, Matthew and Luke were written about the same time, but in two different places for two different communities, but what they have in common is Mark’s gospel, which was written much earlier, and a series of sayings of Jesus. So their Gospels often parallel each other, but with some differences. Dr. Hare writes:
“Luke has interpreted this difficult verse by employing a different adjective. ‘Be merciful as [God] is merciful.’ (Luke 6: 36) A similar statement appears in the Jewish Talmud: ‘Be compassionate and merciful as [God] is compassionate and merciful.’ (Shabbath 133b). In view of the context in Matthew’s Gospel, it seems likely that “perfect” is intended specifically with reference to love. Matthew’s understanding seems to be: You are to be all embracing in your love, in imitation of God, whose love embraces all.” (Interpretation: Matthew p. 48)
So, where is all this leading?
Following the shooting and the deaths of 9 people at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC a month ago, President Obama delivered the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinkney who was the pastor of that congregation and also a state senator in South Carolina. After seeing a number of posts about the eulogy on my Facebook feed, I decided to listened to it. I am glad I did. Along with being moved and challenged by the President’s words, several things the President said caught my attention. One of them is a phrase he used in describing the Rev. Pickney. The President said he was/his life was a reservoir of goodness.
I liked that. I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget.
I wrote it down because I wanted to remind you that whatever else you do…
Whatever your politics.
Whatever your position.
Along with everything else, if the Bible is correct, that is who you and I are called to be. Who you are I were made and meant to be.
A reservoir of goodness.
Goodness which, if Matthew’s Gospel is correct, has something to do with mercy and compassion and love and kindness and forgiveness and grace. All those attributes which we use to describe God, we are to be.
Maybe it is that goodness…
That simple, everyday goodness…
Which, when it brushes up against the hurt and the sadness and the sense of being overwhelmed or the feeling of being ignored or taken for granted or not understood or pushed aside or forgotten which so many around us feel…
Maybe it is that goodness which we show which makes all the difference in the world.
At least to that person in that moment.
And that, I would argue, matters.
I wrote it down so I would not forget.
A reservoir of goodness.
I like that. Maybe that is something you and I can do and be.