To build upon a Jewish Midrash (an art form that Jesus regularly used through parables) there is a story that tries to make sense of the verse saying, “Mercy and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:10). In the story, the angels of heaven are debating about whether or not humans should ever have been created. This debate quickly broke into two general camps. Those on the side of righteousness, justice, and faithfulness to the law argued that humans should never have been created because all they do is pervert God’s law, engaged in self-justification, and turn God’s truth into lies. In contrast, those on the side of mercy and peace said, “But they are so beautiful. They sing lullabies to their children; they care for one another with such compassion. We are glad they were created because we want to see how the stories they tell are going to end.” Both sides were adamant, so God got involved. God tells them that one of the reasons for the creation of humans was to bring them together. Since both sides truly loved God and wanted to do God’s will, they met in the middle, embraced, and kissed.
Maybe that’s a parable for us today. God’s desire is for righteousness and peace to kiss, and mercy and faithfulness to embrace, but nobody – especially God – discounts the tension that comes with this uniting. Israel was born in this struggle. The name Israel means to wrestle and struggle and this carries over to the church as well. It is only in the struggle, and in the commitment to work together, that we are able to find a faithful way forward. These two sides, joined together, provide the energy needed to light the way. And if this is true then withdrawing into like-minded camps only produces spiritual darkness.
In our church today, leaders from multiple perspectives are looking for a solution. The options are not really new. One option is schism – to leave and form a new denomination. In my opinion, this option will not make the issues go away but will only multiply the pain. This is not a viable option in the 21st century. Another option from the past is to “play nice” at church, to stay together but keep our interactions (and maybe our faith) at a nominal and surface level. There is evidence of this old option going back to Constantine. Another option, perhaps, is found in this verse. In the midst of our struggle, could God be calling us to meet in the middle and embraced, to work together to forge a higher sense of unity, to cultivate a community where we can truly learn how to love one another and practice the virtues of patience, kindness, and humility (virtues not really needed in likeminded camps), where righteousness and peace kiss one another, or in Wesleyan language where grace and holiness meet, where we honor knowledge and vital piety, head and heart, evangelism and social justice, traditional and progressive perspectives…where unity is not rooted in uniformity of opinions but in the call to love in the midst of diversity of opinions, in discerning core doctrines together rather than dividing over things that do not “strike at the root of Christianity.” Who is up for this kind of embrace, this wholeness? What if this were our witness to the world?