I recently heard the choral piece “Mercy and Truth,” written by composer Philip Lawson, commissioned for the Salisbury Cathedral in England. Based on Psalm 85:10, it overlays the words of the text in unique ways for moving effects.
The text is: “Mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Take a listen:
The song resonates because it reminds me that the mercy of God is always in line with ultimate truth. We can never hide the truth from God, but the truth does not take away the mercy of God. He always loves us and forgives us, even when he knows the truth of our sin and knows that we have failed him time and again. He is faithful and will always return to find us when we have strayed to bring us back to him.
The first couplet in this verse (mercy and truth) is tied with the second paring of righteousness and peace, which kiss each other. I find this connection interesting as well because it acknowledges that when we are found righteous in the sight of God through Jesus, we find peace. And this connection is not cold or indifferent. It elicits an outpouring of love and compassion. There is a bond of love that happens through a kiss, and knowing that righteousness and peace kiss each other means that those who find righteousness and peace together have a loving and holy bond. We and God are reconnected through his love found in Christ.
What I like most about this song is how the words are sung on top of each other by different sections of the choir. One part starts immediately when one is done with the couplets and some parts come in while others are halfway through. Isn’t that just like life and how things get jumbled up and mixed together and we are not sure when one thing begins and one thing ends? While it sometimes may seem confusing, the reality is that God is in control and his mercy and his truth, his righteousness and peace will always be a part of our lives as his followers.
My pastor recently called the book of Romans the Magna Carta of Christianity, because it states what makes our faith unique and includes the details of our faith that are non-negotiable.
A perusal of Romans reveals the following non-negotiables:
The righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:17)
No one can be declared righteous in God’s sight by works of the law (Romans 3:20)
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:22)
Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, it is important for us to remember some of the key statements of Martin Luther. One of those statements is on the concept of freedom. Luther said in his most famous treatise On the Freedom of the Christian, in 1520: “The Christian individual is a completely free lord of all, subject to none. The Christian individual is a completely dutiful servant of all, subject to all.“
These two statements may seem to contradict one another, but, in fact, they encapsulate the complete picture of what we as Christians call freedom.
We as Christians often struggle with the concept of “works” and “living in the Spirit.” We know that our works do not win us righteousness, but at the same time we are called to live in the Spirit in word and deed in response to God’s love for us in Jesus. It is often tough in our limited humanness to differentiate between the two. Isn’t living in the Spirit “work” too?
Thankfully, Michael Kelley, in his book Holy Vocabulary: Rescuing the Language of Faith, gives us a picture of how this works by comparing our lives to different types of boats.
Our lives are not to be like rowboats, he says, “where the result depends exclusively on our muscles” (Holy Vocabulary, p. 93). Neither should our lives be like a bass boat, where “no effort is required on your part; all you do is hold onto the steering wheel for dear life” (p. 93).