O God, my faithful God, true fountain ever flowing, without whom nothing is, all perfect gifts bestowing: give me a healthy frame, and may I have within a conscience free from blame, a soul unstained by sin.
2 Give me the strength to do with ready heart and willing, whatever you command, my calling here fulfilling– to do it when I ought, with all my strength; and bless whatever I have wrought, for you must give success.
3 Keep me from saying words that later need recalling; guard me, lest idle speech may from my lips be falling: but when, within my place, I must and ought to speak, then to my words give grace, lest I offend the weak.
4 When dangers gather round, oh, keep me calm and fearless; help me to bear the cross when life seems dark and cheerless; help me, as you have taught, to love both great and small, and, by your Spirit’s might, to live at peace with all.
from James 3: 9-10 and Psalm 35 Johann Heermann (1630); Translator: Catherine Winkworth (1858) Public Domain You can hear the tune here hymnary.org/media/fetch/205841
Psalm 35 is a national lament using the voice of the king to call for God’s aid against deceitful enemies. The military imagery is unmistakable asking God to take up shield, buckler, spear, and javelin. There are no shades of grey: the nation is blameless, the enemies are contemptible and are to be obliterated, and, if victorious, the nation and king will praise God.
Read the Psalm and imagine it being delivered to a mass gathering on the eve of war. There is mention of rejoicing in God for delivering the weak and needy, and praising God’s righteousness, but how would the crowd hearing it respond? How would the mood of the assembly shift as the enemy’s crimes are outlined, their punishment described, over and over again? Would the natural reaction be shouts of ‘Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!’ or something much more brutal and life-denying?
At times of crisis subtly, nuance, and comprehensiveness are left behind, and binary arguments come to the fore. This pattern has been shaken in recent decades, but it remains the predominant one.
But a situation is named a crisis for a reason. A crisis demands a swift and definite response and we rely on the judgement of our leaders to see us through. You can’t deal with a crisis in any other way, and our selection and retention of leaders needs to be based on their judgement.
Of course there is also the tendency to either amplify a situation to make a crisis, diminish an actual one, or ignore a potential one until it strikes. But yet again, this is all based on our leaders’ judgements.
We all have a part to play in participating in debate, campaigns and elections. We need to be involved or else we end up with the leaders we deserve.
Living God, when being involved can feel a relentless slog, light a spark of thankfulness. When possibilities are being explored, may openness, respect, and tolerance fill the air. When decisions need to be made, may equity, justice, and virtue burn. When hindsight makes things crystal clear, may compassion, honesty and humility glow. When forks in the road are before us, may tempers, grudges and disappointments cool. Amen
The Rev’d David Coaker serves with Grays URC in Essex.