Rev. Timothy B. Tutt, Senior Minister
Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ
Sunday, December 7, 2014
The 2nd Sunday of Advent
“Kissing in Church”
Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah
You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful,
to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
Evidently, kissing has become a big problem for our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers.
In August, the National Catholic Reporter ran a story with this headline, “Vatican says, ‘Don’t enjoy kissing.’”
The Daily Mail, a UK newspaper, reporting the same story, said, “…the Vatican wants to stamp out the boisterous practice” of exuberant kisses.
Honestly, the story was not that exciting. When you read down past the headline, you would see that the story was really about liturgical practices.
In most Christian traditions—in Methodist churches and Greek Orthodox churches, for us here at Westmoreland UCC, and for Catholics—there is a time in the service for passing the peace. Evidently, in some Catholic churches, the passing of the peace has gotten a little out of hand. In some churches, I guess, not only are they shaking hands, but they are hugging one another and – wait for it! – kissing each other. Now, none of the articles I read said whether these kisses are pecks on the check or full-on lip smooches. But it seems that some people are enjoying this kissy-kissy stuff too much. They are laughing and smiling as they do it. All of this kissing in church bothers some people. So a department in the Vatican sent around a letter to all Catholic churches saying they need to tone down the happy kissing in worship.
Some of you may be pondering about kissing in church and thinking, “Ew,” but I would point out that these kissing Catholics are on good solid, Biblical ground here. In two different places, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Greet each other with a holy kiss.” In both, 2 Corinthians 3:12 and Romans 16:16, Paul says that: “Greet each other with a holy kiss.” Now, there’s a lot about old Paul’s writings that seem pretty grumpy, but that’s downright amorous. (Parenthetically, I wonder if attendance in church would increase if we took that sentence literally.)
We Protestants don’t have to worry about Roman Catholic guidelines. And nobody at the Vatican cares two wits about what I think. But I think we need to encourage more kissing in church.
Now before any of you get your lipstick out to put that into practice, let me clarify a bit. The kind of kissing I think we should encourage is the kind that we read about in Psalm 85. Verses 8 and 9 speak of God’s vision for the world. Verse 10 says, “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
That’s the kind of kissing I’m talking about: righteousness kissing peace. Peace kissing righteousness. The psalmist says that’s the kind of world God wants for us—where peace and righteousness kiss.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. The traditional theme of this day is Peace. We read the newspapers and watch TV, and our world groans for peace: Gaza, Syria, the Central African Republic, the streets of our cities all cry out for peace.
But this psalm points us to something more. Peace alone is not enough in God’s dream for the world. Peace and righteousness together is what God imagines for the world.
This may sound silly, but peace is easy. An example: If you and I are neighbors, and every morning I walk over to your house and hit you on the head with a frying pan until you give me a loaf of bread, then one day I stop hitting you, that is peace. You may have terrible lumps on your head and horrible resentment, but we will be living in peace. Same thing with countries: If two nations are at war and they simply stop fighting, that brings peace in its simplest form. As strange as that sounds, Peace is easy, because it is most simply the absence of war. Peace is mostly achieved by doing nothing, by not fighting, by not hitting you on the head with a frying pan.
Righteousness, however, is something different. The Hebrew word for righteousness is tsedeq. Sometimes the word is translated as justice. In the Bible, tsedeq, righteousness or justice is almost always a verb, it is an action. Righteousness, justice, is about doing something. Psalm 23 says God leads us into righteousness. In other places where the Bible uses the word tsedeq, it talks about weighing measures equally in a scale. Tsedeq is about judging fairly, as in a judge carefully considering a case (Isaiah et al). The Bible’s idea of justice, righteousness, almost always involves being active. Righteousness means doing something.
And righteousness always means doing something that is good for everybody. Righteousness, tzedeq, God’s justice, is about a system, a world, a way of living, where everybody has enough, where everybody gets what she or he needs. Each week, we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That is a prayer for righteousness, for justice. Righteousness, justice, tsedeq means that I have enough bread for today and you have enough bread for today. It does not mean that I save up ten loaves of bread for next week, while you get by on only two pieces of bread.
Let me be clear about two things.
First, God’s view of justice or righteousness does not necessarily compute with American economic expectations.
Second, in most cases, righteousness, or justice, in the Bible means the “haves,” who often have more than enough, must give up some of what they have so that the “have nots” have enough.
So this psalm tells us that God expects us, not only to live in peace – that is, God’s call to us is to quit killing one another, which is well and good and needed – God’s justice also calls us to give up some of what we have, so that others may live.
I have learned so much from Ramzi Aburedwan this this past week. In talking with him this week and in the past few months as we prepared the concert for last night, one of the things he said is that he is not interested in peace. That surprised me, until I listened further to what he was saying. Peace means that Israelis and Palestinians stop shooting each other. Important steps. But what I heard Ramzi say is that peace alone will not solve the problems. In 1948, his grandparents were forced off their land. He was born in a refugee camp. He was wants his land back. And he wants Israeli settlers to move off the land they have expropriated. He also wants to be recognized as a refugee, as a person, a citizen with rights. He wants Palestine to be recognized as a nation. And he wants Jerusalem to be the capital. To him, that would bring justice – tsidqah in Arabic. And that kind of justice, he says, would be the partner of peace.
You see, righteousness, or justice, tsedeq, is much more difficult than peace.
In this country, in Ferguson, Missouri – also in Cleveland and in New York – the cry for justice has been heard in the past few weeks. Different people have different ideas about what that means, about what they want to see take place. In all of the news about Ferguson, I was struck by one writer who pointed out that over 60% of the population of Ferguson is black, but only one of their five city council members is black, and only one of their seven school board members is black. The mayor is white, the police chief is white. There are 53 police offices in Ferguson, only four of them are black. In 2103, 35 white people were arrested for various crimes in Ferguson, 483 black people were arrested.
Part of the call of righteousness and justice in that town seems to be a need to have elected officials and leaders that reflect the racial makeup of the town. How does that happen? Is it a matter of education or economics? Are the voting lines gerrymandered? Is it voter apathy, voter suppression, campaign financing? I don’t know. But it seems to me that the first step is going to be the difficult righteous work of asking very challenging questions and listening with very open ears. Righteousness for Ferguson – and for the entire country – will require some systemic change.
And those same questions have to be asked and answered in every town, every county, every state, in every neighborhood and school and church in this country – including here at Westmoreland.
What do we need to do to be more just, to be more righteous?
It is never enough to preach about justice.
It is never enough to talk about righteousness.
Justice involves hard work.
What changes do we make as a congregation?
On a more personal level, what might you and I give up so that others have enough?
Wouldn’t it be lovely if kissing in church would solve the world’s problems? Some of you may still respond, “Ew,” to that. But kissing in church is certainly better than killing in Gaza and police shootings on the streets of Ferguson.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if passing the peace made the world more peaceful?
A far more enticing and necessary question: Wouldn’t it be life-changing, world-changing, if peace and righteousness kissed, if the simplicity of peace joined with the challenge of justice to create a world of fairness, equity, compassion, enough-ness for all God’s children.
We’re not there yet. Not yet.
Advent calls us on a journey.
Let us be on our way.