Psalm 136:1-3, 10-15
If asked the question, “How would you describe God’s character?” how would you respond? Of course, none of us can really answer that question in its fullness. Even with a careful apophasis—that is, an approach to speaking of God in terms of what God is not—we nonetheless remain confronted with the reality that our language about God can only ever attempt to point toward God’s character. It would be a bit like asking the character in a novel to describe the author of that novel. Anything the character might say is limited to the very materials the author has disposed for that character—none of which is actually the author.
Yet today’s readings remind us that there is indeed one way of describing God that very nearly rises beyond our usual linguistic limitations. From God’s “night of vigil” to bring Israel out of Egypt in Exodus, to the incessant refrain of Psalm 136 (“for his mercy endures forever”), to Jesus’ work of blessing even in the midst of his rejection in the sight of the Pharisees, the biblical authors never fail to describe God’s character and self-understanding in terms of love.
Love. Not a feeling. But an act of the will for the good of the other as other. A posture toward the other that is not dependent on what the other can do for us or how the other makes us feel. And, as the tender refrain of Psalm 136 declares over and over, this is not just any love, but a very particular kind of love; for which the authors of the Hebrew Bible use the word hesed. Although I am usually very fond of the translation of the psalter used by our Book of Common Prayer, this is one instance where the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) does a better job. “For his steadfast love (hesed) endures forever.”
The authors of the Hebrew Bible use this word, hesed, to describe God’s character and self-understanding more than any other, appearing some 248 times. At the core of the divine character is an immovable love for us, God’s creatures. It is a description of God’s active engagement with us. We behold this divine hesed expressed most fully in Jesus Christ, who (as we heard this morning) continues his work of blessing and healing despite our own human failures of comprehension. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them.
While we can be sure our human words about God can only point toward the heart of who God actually is, we can also rest in the knowledge of God’s ever-enduring hesed toward us. A love steadfast beyond our own knowing. Steadfast not because of what we can do or who we are. But because of who God continually reveals God’s self to be. God loves and blesses us because that is who God is. Not because we ask or merit it.
And that, brothers, is good news indeed.
 Psalm 136:1 NRSV
 Exodus 12:42 NRSV
 Psalm 136, trans. The Book of Common Prayer (NY, NY: Church Publishing)
 Matthew 12:14, “But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”
 Matthew 12:14—15 NRSV
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