Bible Readings and Devotion for June 2, 2020
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Devotion for June 2, 2020
By Pastor David Tinker
Paradoxes happen frequently in scripture and thinking about the things of God. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a paradox is, “a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.”
The way things are spoken of about our relationship with the Lord in Holy Scripture, along with Jewish and Christian Tradition, appears to be paradoxical. We can think of truths such as Jesus being the Servant King, that Jesus is both God and man, that God the Son is both creator of the universe and the humble baby in the manger.
Our reading today from Psalm 80 expresses something which, when compared with other predominant teachings of Holy Scripture, seems contradictory. There is a refrain noted in this psalm three times. This refrain is used, in similar forms, in verses 3, 7 and 19, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” The part which seems contradictory is that the people are praying that the Lord make his face shine on them. This is not the only place where this idea is noted in God’s Word. A prominent example is the blessing of Aaron (the brother of Moses) in Numbers 6:22-26, which reads, “22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, 24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
The more dominant understanding of scripture and tradition is that we cannot be with God face to face will lead to death. We hear about this from the Lord himself in Exodus 33:20, “But,” he (the Lord) said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.””
So, can the people of God look at the Lord, face to face, or not? Well, it is really up to God’s grace in the matter. In general, sinful humanity and the perfect and eternal Lord do not mix. People especially must avoid face to face contact with the Lord.
So, how is this permitted? It is permitted in a paradoxical way, when the Lord is bringing his goodness and mercy to his people. It is when the Lord is announcing his blessing to his people. The people praying in Psalm 80 are seeking the mercy which has already been offered, the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. They are seeking either the literal or figurative face of the Lord on their situation.
The face of the Lord in his context is the other side of the paradox. Instead of being a deadly contrast against the sin of humanity, this is the kindness and love of God transcending the barrier of human sin. It is, in a sense, the Lord smiling on us. It is the Lord making his approach to us to bring us forgiveness and life. It is the whole action of God the Son, Jesus Christ, entering human life and living out his ministry among us and for us. It is the bloody face of Jesus forgiving those who crucified him. It is face of the resurrected Jesus bringing faith and connection to St. Thomas on that Sunday a week after Jesus was raised from the dead.
It is the face of the risen Savior restoring St. Peter to the fellowship of the Apostles. It is the face of the Lord giving his Great Commission to the Apostles. It is the face of Jesus in each person who tells the world of his love. It is the face of Jesus as we bring peace to one another and to our neighbors, wherever they may be.
O God of all, with wonderful diversity of languages and cultures you created all people in your image. Free us from prejudice and fear, that we may see your face in the faces of people around the world; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen