Thanks to everyone who stayed to help decorate the church for the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season. The sanctuary looks beautiful. Afterwards we gathered in the Parlor to consume a pot of “Stone Soup,” using stock from the Thanksgiving turkey and the contributions of those who stayed, including some kale and a rutabaga! Twelve people gathered at the parsonage on Thanksgiving Day to share the feast. I think a good time was had by all. Certainly no one went away hungry. The event seemed to work well enough that we will most likely repeat it next year,
I don’t want to be a nag about the Time and Talent Surveys, but so far only 10 responses have been received. As I said last week, I’m no big fan of surveys but it would be really helpful to the church leadership in planning for the future to know what your interests are and something about your willingness and ability to serve our congregation. Even if you think we already know what you’re doing and willing to do, please take time (only a few minutes) to fill out the form and turn it in. You may discover something new or different that interests you. You may want to be liberated from something you’ve done for a while. You may come up with some creative ideas we hadn’t thought about. Take this opportunity to communicate with us. It will be much appreciated.
Advent continues this week with an emphasis on Peace. The text from Isaiah is his magnificent hymn to the “Peaceable Kingdom.” Both this text and the Psalm for the day invoke a style of leadership that is marked by justice, righteousness, wisdom, and shalom. Perhaps he will want to pray such prayers and sing such as songs as we consider a transition of leadership in our own land. In the gospel reading, John the Baptist excoriates the religious leaders of his day for the failure to grasp the need for such leadership among themselves. He predicts that One is coming who will sort this all out and make things right. Pastor Gregory will be preaching this Sunday and we will celebrate Communion.
In Adult Spiritual Formation we will continue our exploration of Jesus’ birth and the meaning of incarnation in his time and ours. Afterwards, the Lunch Bunch will gather at Mike’s on Middlefield. Let Melanie Ramirez or Alan Plessinger know if you’re planning to attend,
Plan to join in the joy of the day, beginning with worship at 10:00 AM and continuing through the education hour and lunch. Bring someone else along to share the day with you.
This is really a post-Pentecost sermon, so I apologize to all of you who came expecting to hear the familiar story of the rush of wind, tongues of flame, and speaking in strange languages. I am assuming that you are familiar enough with this story to move on today. Hopefully we have alluded to the mystery and power of Pentecost in sufficient measure throughout the service to evoke a sense of what it was all about.
My concern this season has been more toward what happens after all the furor has died down, after the excitement of that first Pentecost waned, after the crowds wandered away, after the great experiment in communal living had fallen prey to harsh reality. What then? In a way, it is a concern for today. What about us, 2000 years later? How do we encounter the Living Presence? What meaning does Pentecost have for us? Can we still live by the Spirit?
In focusing this month on peace and going off-lectionary, I looked at a number of biblical texts that refer to peace, suggested by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz, and chose the ones we are using in worship. One of my favorites is Psalm 85. In her paraphrase, Nan Merrill writes in hope of a time when “righteousness and peace will embrace one another.” In the language of more familiar versions, “righteousness and peace will kiss.” This is a really lovely image – righteousness and peace kissing. But what does this vision tell us of the things that make for peace?
It seems to me that it says that there is no peace without righteousness, that this is a relationship born of the Spirit and blessed by God. We’ve spent some time considering peace the past couple of weeks. Drawing on our definition of shalom, we have come to understand it as peace with connotations of harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, tranquility, welfare, and well-being. But what of righteousness? It’s kind of an old-fashioned word, not one we use very often. What do you think of when you hear the word righteousness?
Truthfully, I wrestle with the word’s implications of judgment. It is so strongly connected to notions of right and wrong. And then there is its unfortunate link to self. Who likes the self-righteous? Aren’t these the very folk with whom Jesus was in conflict? The people who were so certain that they knew what was right and had a corner on it? Maybe that’s why we don’t use the term much these days. It carries too much baggage.
But here’s the problem – scripture uses this word a lot. There must be more to it. When the Ancient Word speaks of peace and righteousness embracing and kissing, don’t we need to pay attention? Some of you may have noticed that from time to time I have tried to reframe righteousness as right living. I don’t know if this is helpful for you, but it lets me come at the concept from a more contemporary perspective. It helps me think about what scripture is trying to teach me. It allows me to think about how I live my life without getting bogged down with unhelpful rules and expectations.
Which brings us to today’s text, another of those gifts from the BPFNA resource. Although Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message doesn’t mention it specifically, more familiar translations affirm that peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit. In studying this passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it seemed to me that there is an explication here of the relationship between right living and peace. Here we see the kiss of righteousness and peace on the big screen, in high definition.
“For freedom,” Paul writes, “Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Now there’s a gift for you. Who of us has not longed for freedom at some time or another – freedom from rules and regulations, freedom from expectations and obligations, freedom from relationships, family, work, freedom to go where I please and do what I when I please. Who is Peterson trying to kid when he writes, “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life.” Is it clear to you? It’s not to me. Freedom comes tagged with responsibility and rubs up against all sorts of limitations. And, sure enough, in the very next line he writes, “Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.” Well, what sort of freedom is that? You mean to say that freedom is tied up with righteousness, that true freedom has some relationship to right living.
Well, here’s the real rub, “…use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.” Maybe it didn’t really connect when I said that freedom is a gift. Gift implies a giver and here’s the reminder that all we have is gift from God, that true freedom is rooted and grounded in love, that real freedom grows as we serve one another and all creation. Yes, we’re free to throw it all away but we destroy ourselves and others and maybe the whole creation in the process.
On the other hand, we are free to live by Spirit and, challenging as that may be, experience the abundance of what God holds for us in the Beloved Community. Now I imagine some of you are wondering about these lists that Paul has produced. They sound a lot like those old judgmental rules and regulations. Again, in traditional translations, you get the old Pauline battle between “Spirit and the flesh.” We talked about this some in Bible study on Tuesday. We’ve tended to personalize and sexualize these challenges because that word “flesh” reeks of bodily decay. So here, I think The Message is helpful in avoiding that loaded term in favor of “selfishness” or “self-interest,” or, as the New Revised Standard Version puts it, “self-indulgence.” Sometimes I think of it in term of “self-absorption.” The mantras are: “It’s all about me” and “I want what I want when I want it.”
As people of faith, as followers of the Jesus’ Way, it’s pretty difficult to adopt this as our life-style. Steadfast love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace, are the mantras of those who choose to live by the Spirit. Yes, we are free to turn our backs on this that we are called to and promised. Yes, we can walk a different direction, but there is no way it will lead to the Beloved Community. “…repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” Ouch, does any of this make sense? If not, “I could go on.”
The point is not to use these to shore up threats of hell. The point is to bring a loving and compassionate, if you will, a grace-filled word that none of these leads to true freedom, none bring real peace in our lives or in the world, none will usher in God’s Beloved Community laid out from the very foundation of the world. You can’t really live by the Spirit and practice such self-indulgence. Real freedom is to be let loose from any of these burdens and, in the end, they are burdens.
“But what happens when we live God’s way?” Here’s the good news. The fruit of the Spirit, which, by the way, is gift as much as it is anything we accomplish on our own, lives in “things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity…a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” Or, put more simply, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Maybe it’s my aging body and spirit that draws me to these qualities. I want to say yes to them, not just for my benefit, but for yours and that of the whole creation.
“For freedom Christ has set us free.” As people of faith, we have freely chosen to follow the Jesus’ Way. So, “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” Sounds a little like right living. Live by the Spirit. It can only bring us closer to shalom, to the peace and well-being of God’s Beloved Community – home. Amen.
Today we transition from a month-long emphasis on love of the earth and creation care to things that make for peace. The theme for May is “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” In part, this new emphasis is shaped by this month’s special offering for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz. We have been a supporting congregation of this organization for many years.
What I am wondering, as we consider peace today, is what does the word mean to you? Off the top of your head, what do you imagine or think or feel when you hear the word peace?
Today’s gospel reading comes from the book of John. We used it as our Words of Assurance after Reflecting on our Need for God. It is interesting that this text and the Ancient Word from Revelation are actually lectionary readings for this sixth Sunday of Easter. Is it coincidence that the lectionary would give us such peace laden texts on the first Sunday of “Peace Month”? or is it the work of that Advocate, the Holy Spirit, trying to teach us something about peace and peace-making?
Most often I use these words from the fourteenth chapter of John for funerals and memorial services. That seems to be an appropriate time to call forth peace, especially peace that offers comfort and soothes the grieving heart. Jesus begins his teaching, recorded in this chapter, by assuring his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In God’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Many a grieving soul has found peaceful comfort in these words through the centuries. And surely this one way to look at peace.
But this time, reading this text, the sentence “I do not give to you as the world gives” stood out for me. What exactly does Jesus mean when he makes that claim or what was the writer of John trying to say when he wrote down these words? “Not as the world gives” – the peace that Jesus promises is something different than what we usually think of as peace. It is other than the absence of violence or freedom from struggle. It is more than comfort and assurance. The ancient Hebrew word used here is shalom. Shalom is something like the Hawaiian word aloha. It carries multiple meanings. It can be used to hello or good-bye. In addition to peace, it carries connotations of harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, tranquility, welfare, and well-being. When Jesus gifts his followers with is peace, it is something more than what the world has to offer.
Robert Kysar writes that “…the peace that you and I most commonly seek – is best described as the absence of things. The absence of war, the absence of crime and strife and violence, the absence of pain, conflicts, struggles, unfulfilled desires.” In fact, he says, “It almost sounds as if the peace we seek is something like a vacuum…What we strive for is the absence of all struggle which sounds like the absence of life itself” (Robert Kysar, Preaching John, p. 108). And Geoffrey Hoare observes that “Many people yearn for peace in the world’s terms: cessation of conflict, whether psychological tension or warfare; a sense of calm or a serenity of spirit” (Geoffrey M. St. J. Hoare in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide, p.494).
“No, not this,” Jesus says, “not as the world gives.” Both Kysar and Hoare insist that what Jesus offer is not cessation or absence but rather it is presence, the presence of God though the Holy Spirit. The Jesus Way will continue to be available to those who embrace it and follow it. He is not going away; he is going on ahead, and where he goes, we, too, may go, in the power of the Spirit.
In Earth Month we tried to emphasize the spiritual and theological grounding for love of the earth and creation care. God made it; God delights in it; God loves it; God cares for it and, as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, we are invited to approach creation in similar ways. Love it, care for it, delight in it, even join in the ongoing process of creation. God is present with us in the world all around us; we are encouraged to embrace that presence, to live into all the possibilities it offers to us.
Part of living with God’s ongoing presence in our lives is, then, to live in peace, in shalom – in harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, tranquility, welfare, and well-being – with God, with ourselves, with our neighbor, with our enemy, with all creation. Again, this is not nothing, absence, cessation; it is something, something to give our lives to as we walk the Jesus Way. Remember how Genesis gave us a vision of the goodness, the well-being, the peace, if you will, of creation when God first laid it out and breathed life into it? Now the writer of Revelation offers another vision of something similar.
Beyond the pain and struggle of life as the world knows it, there is a promised land, a new creation, a heavenly city. Yes, it’s always risky to talk about heaven. Too many of us have been indoctrinated to believe that it is somewhere out there beyond this life. “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” But what if it just isn’t so? What if heaven is right here in our midst if we’d look more closely. “Your Beloved Community come on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus teaches us to pray. Not “just hang on; it will be over soon and you’ll get your robe and crown over there.” Nor does Jesus offer peace somewhere down the road and beyond the sunset. He offers it in the here and now.
This vision of the new Jerusalem is a poetic description of the Beloved Community, not unlike Isaiah’s dream of God’s Holy Mountain where they neither hurt or destroy because they recognize that God’s presence covers the earth as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). Jesus gifts his followers – and us – with that same presence, and he offers it now, not later.
In the vision of Revelation, ”…the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” In the middle of the vision we find the river of the water of life and the tree of life spread out on either side, offering all the nourishment we could ever need or want. Even the leaves are for the healing of the nations. The difference between the peace that Jesus offers and that which the world chases is in its great “Yes” to life. Faced with his own imminent death, Jesus says “Yes” to life. The powers and principalities have no ultimate say in his life. He is at peace in God’s embracing presence. It’s a different kind of peace – not as the world gives – and he offers it to us. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Amen.
As we wrap up Earth Month, it is important for us to keep in mind that this is not the end. Rather it is the beginning of an ongoing emphasis we will continue throughout the life of our congregation. So, stay tuned for further reflections on and suggestions for loving the earth and caring for creation. Special thanks to Pastor Gregory for taking the lead on this kick off and for everyone who contributed.
Our focus for the month of May will be peace. This is the month we take our special offering for the Baptist Peace Fellowship pf North America. Our theme will be, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” In the Sermon on the Mount, one of the Beatitudes or blessings that Jesus lifts up is this, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Sunday’s lectionary readings offer two relevant texts. In John, the writer has Jesus say to his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give you as the world gives” (John 14:27). What does it mean that Jesus promises peace but not in the way we are most likely to expect it? And what is our role as peacemakers. Then at the end of the great apocalyptic book of Revelation comes a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, complete with the New Jerusalem, God’s Holy City. In the center of the city is the tree of life, planted by the river of of the water of life. Its leaves are for the “healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-5). Must we wait for the end of time to gather by that river, beneath that tree, to collect and apply its healing powers?
It is Communion Sunday with Worship for the Whole Family. Afterward we will hold our second Quarterly Business Meeting of the year. I also want to alert you that we are planning a church work day for sprucing up our facilities on Saturday, May 14. Please plan to participate. We will go from 9:00 am until 2:00 PM. It will include lunch.
Come Sunday morning at 10:00 AM for worship, study and shared community. Invite your family and friends, neighbors and colleagues, acquaintances and strangers to join us as we begin to explore the things that make for peace.
Together, let us strive…to know God’s love! Pastor Rick
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
The ancient hymn echoes the word of the more ancient priest and prophet as he exults over the miracle child of his old-age – John, the Baptizer, who is born to prepare the way for Emmanuel, “God with us.” With quavering voice, he sings, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” What a beautiful song, a profound testimony to his deep-seated belief that the God of his ancestors will redeem his people according to the even more ancient covenant and not only his people but all who “sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”
The first light of day creeps across the horizon. The daily promise of enlivening light is renewed. And as the light glows faintly in the east, the wind begins to blow, caressing the earth with a gentle breath. It is a phenomenon of nature that light and wind work together in this way. Day dawns and peace blows in, freely given to each and all.
The new day presents a clean slate. It is full of promise and it is met with great hope. The day is ours, a precious gift from God. What will we make of it? As the sun brightens, the wind picks up. How will it move us along through the day that lies before us? “I feel the winds of God today; today my sail I lift…if hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use, I’ll seek the seas at his behest, and brave another cruise.” Will this be our song as we awake to greet the new morn and rise to walk with the wind on our wing?
So often our days begin like this. We start off with the best of intentions but the promise of the day is not fulfilled. Sometimes it seems that our lot in life is to find trouble in or bring ruin to each perfectly formed day given to us. The light may shine but we find ourselves wrestling with fear of darkness and death. The wind may caress and try to lead us along, but we resist, refusing to dance with her. We insist on going on our own way, whatever the cost. The fullness of life is promised by the light and lifted by the wind. Hope, love, joy, peace, are revealed in the light and blow in with the wind. We welcome them at first but then anxieties rise up and fear creeps in. The light becomes too bright and we no longer trust the wind. We close our eyes and turn our backs as despair, apathy, hatred, sorrow, violence and war grow all around us and we long for a new day to come.
It is frustrating to talk about peace on days like this when it seems so far away and unattainable. The angel urges, “Fear not.” But that is much easier said than practiced. As our anxieties rise, we build walls and take up arms against stranger and neighbor alike. We invest obscene amounts of our God-given resource into maintaining massive military machines. We use and abuse the earth, caring little for the intricately woven beauty of creation. The world becomes dark and chaotic, in desperate need of redemption. This is the world of our Advent. Into such a world Christ comes – then and now. We want to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or some word of good cheer in what should be a mystical, magical season of the year, but the words ring a little hollow and they stick in our throats.
Even Pope Francis, that gentle lover of life and purveyor of compassion, is wrestling with the season. In a recent sermon he said, “Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes…” but he proclaimed, “it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path.” We have not let peace blow in on the crest of the morning. At this time, instead of singing “Joy to the World,” he suggests, “We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it.” He concludes, “God weeps, Jesus weeps’” (Jen Hayden, Daily Kos, Reported in Ken Sehested’s Prayer and Politiks,
When I thought about the theme, “Peace Blows In,” I thought immediately of Bob Dylan’s great gospel anthem, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The young prophet/poet asks:
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man ?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand ?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea ?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free ?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky ?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry ?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
This mysterious wind. Does it come from and lead to a meaningless apathy or does it blow us toward the path of peace and righteousness? Dylan, himself, says of the song: “There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind – and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some…But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know…and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old and I know that there’s been too many…You people over 21, you’re older and smarter” (Michael Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, pp. 63-64).
Too many who ought to know better have turned their backs on what comes blowing on the wind. Peace blows in and we can’t be bothered. It looks like an old newspaper being whipped around and we kick it aside or throw it in the trash. It’s old news, an ancient word not relevant for today’s reality. How can we make peace and maintain our security at the same time? How can we love our neighbor, let alone the stranger, when we have to look after ourselves? How can we care for creation without altering our self-serving lifestyles? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. The question is whether or not we welcome it.
Remember how Jesus schools old Nicodemus about the wind of the Spirit that “blows where it chooses…you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes”? He insists, “You must be born again, Nicodemus.” But Nicodemus can’t let go, isn’t ready to dance with the wind. See the day spring, feel the wind blow. Don’t you know God loves creation, loves you, so much that God is willing to take on human form to illuminate the path peace, to show the way to God’s Beloved Community, ordained from the beginning of time (John 3:7ff).
Quite a variety among the clueless density of Nicodemus, the heart-felt anguish of Pope Francis and the hopeful exultation of Zechariah. But the Advent message remains the same for them and for us: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The joy of Zechariah is wisdom for Nicodemus, healing for Pope Francis and hope for us, that we may know such wisdom, healing and joy in our own lives and in the world we inhabit.
How many roads? How many seas? How many times? How many ears? How many deaths? How many years? How long, O Lord, how long? In our frustration and our crying out, something stirs. The first light of day begins to creep across the horizon. The daily promise of enlivening light is renewed. And as the light glows faintly in the east, the wind begins to blow, caressing the earth with a gentle breath. Peace blows in. If we greet it with open arms, it may yet lead us to redemption for ourselves and all creation. May it be so. Amen.
Shared by LeDayne McLeese Polaski, ED of BPFNA/Bautistas por la Paz
“When the violence erupts, as it so often does, I struggle for words. These speak to me today.” — LeDayne
My Blood is a War Zone
By Danny Bring (age 16)
Genetically I am flanked by
Einstein and Alhazen
Ben Gurion and Arafat
David and Salaheddin
A dash of William Wallace
A line drawn in the sand
Between two brothers as old as time
Like the rose red city
In an endless state
They’ve always been at war
Maps and treaties tear at their bonds of blood
Two hate-fueled groups with differing values and customs
Falafel tastes the same in Tel Aviv and in Beirut
Sand in the Negev feels the same as in the Rub al Khali
The word for charity is the same in Hebrew and in Arabic
Tzedakah and sadaqah
God is the same in Jerusalem and in Mecca
Covered heads and scholarly traditions
Don’t cease with lines on a map
The blood of Khalil Gibran gushes through my veins
The blood of Sholem Aleichem through my arteries
With each heartbeat a rush of contention
Airstrikes and iron domes cut those family ties
Uprisings and bombings are as caustic as acid
Two leaves on the same branch of the olive tree of life
Bleed the blood of brothers because of constant strife
Each platelet a settlement or a terrorist cell
Yearning to burst at the first imbalance
Like a hypotonic transfusion of an incursion or an intifada
An orphan in Haifa weeps the same as an orphan in Ramallah
There’s total destruction when two types are mixed
A city holy to both can be torn apart so quickly
Like the quest for peace across the whole region
Not peace with an enemy so very different
Peace with ourselves, our own vital fluid
We’re all the sons of Abraham
And when I pray
In a mosque, a church, or a synagogue
God is always there
My blood is a warzone
At the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we look at the questions of values transformation that saw life, hope, and new questions arise from the ashes.
George Zabelka was a Catholic chaplain in the U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II. Toward the end of the war he was stationed on Tinian Island with the 509th Composite Group. That was the Atomic Bomb Group that included the crews of the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the B-29s that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was a zealous military chaplain at the time.
Then Chaplain Zabelka visited Nagasaki as part of the occupation forces after the war. He was struck especially by the suffering of the children from the atomic bombing. In a separate story about the 70th anniversary, historians point out that most Americans never saw the extent of the suffering until the 1950s because of strict U.S. censorship of photos, films and reporting on the devastation.
… Zabelka dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the nonviolent teachings of Jesus and working for peace between people. On the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima he undertook a “Pilgrimage of Forgiveness” to meet with victims and ask forgiveness for his and his Church’s silence. He asked forgiveness “for bringing you death instead of the fullness of life, misery instead of mercy.” (Read the text of a talk he gave on the40th anniversary; or read more about his life on Wikipedia.)Find the rest of the article on Read the Spirit
We are delighted to announce that on Sunday, October 19, 2014, 10:00 AM, our guest preacher will be Dan Buttry, Global Consultant for Peace and Justice through American Baptist International Ministries. Dan, who has worked tirelessly for peace and justice all over the globe, will be with us through the adult education hour (11:30-12:30) to talk about his work. Please plan to be here and invite others to come with you to hear the good news from this amazing servant of God.
One of the goals of American Baptist International Ministries is to help people to pursue peace, justice and reconciliation through ministries of conflict transformation and education, as well as by standing with and serving the victims of conflict. This goal is led by Dan Buttry, who serves as an International Ministries global consultant for peace and justice. Dan works with International Ministries missionaries and national church partners around the world to deal constructively with conflict situations. These conflicts may be social and political conflicts within a country, or they may be conflicts within the national church bodies that negatively impact Christian witness.
If you find yourselves wondering about this morning’s text, I will say that I have similar thoughts. What is going on here and how is it relevant for us? I must confess that I chose this text and title in a scramble to provide overdue worship themes for the Spire. As I quickly read through the texts, the phrase “prophets of peace” stood out to me. I thought I ought to be able to pull together a serviceable sermon on this topic. The problem is, I was taken in by the prophecy of Hananiah in much the same way those who first heard his words must have been.
I can’t put all the blame on the creators of the lectionary, but this does seem like one of those times when they have taken a passage out of its context and set it out in a confusing way. What’s going on here? Do you know? Neither did I until did some further research. Today’s text comes in the middle of what one commentator calls a “prophetic throw down” between Jeremiah and Hananiah. There is a setting and an outcome to this confrontation.
To begin with, we need to understand that Jeremiah is a gloomy prophet. His word from God is about destruction and exile. He is not a popular preacher. No one wants to hear what he has to say, and even those who accept his word wince at the language and tone of his proclamation. Remember that the people to whom he brought his prophetic word were covenant people. That is, they had a strong faith claim that God would be their God and they would be God’s people. But what Jeremiah and other prophets insisted on saying to them was that this covenant was conditional. They would be God’s people as long as they kept the covenant. And though God was characterized as being faithful and merciful, gracious in loving kindness, there were also limits to God’s patience.
I think we struggle with this notion whenever we are confronted with these texts from Hebrew scriptures. We want to believe in a God of infinite grace and unconditional love. What are we to do with a God who also judges and punishes? One way to look at the phenomena that is helpful to me is to say that we are either in relationship or we are not. The more we are centered in God, the more likely we are to know infinite grace and unconditional love. The further we wander from the relationship, the less likely we are to know those qualities. There are consequences to being out of relationship, not punishment as much as the absence of grace and love in our lives.
Anyway Jeremiah is carrying a word from God that at least spells out the consequences for the people of Judah whom he insists have broken the covenant and fallen out of relationship with God. Who knows for certain if Yahweh could have saved them from the workings of the Babylonian superpower? But it does seem that the destruction of the land and the exile are a direct result of their engagement in entangling political alliances in an effort to control their destiny.
In the 27th chapter, Jeremiah has instructed the king of Judah and his co-conspirators to give in to Babylon. He claims that it is God’s will that they live under the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar and to dramatize his point he has created a yoke to wear around his own neck. For people who have believed that they were God’s chosen it is inconceivable that the Babylonian king could be God’s servant. Jeremiah is uttering blasphemy.
“In the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord…Make yourself a yoke of straps and bars, and put them on your neck. Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the Ammonites, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to King Zedekiah of Judah…Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel…It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the people and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomsoever I please. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him even the wild animals of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him…
But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this king, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, then I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says the Lord, until I have completed its destruction by his hand.”
For Jeremiah, God’s word, God’s intention is clear – as a religious perspective on what is surely a political reality.
But here is the crux of the conflict with Hananiah. Jeremiah continues his witness,
“You, therefore, must not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For they are prophesying a lie to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land; I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, says the Lord, to till it and live there” (From Jeremiah 27).
Now you can imagine this was not a popular word. It did not fit the political or theological mindset of his hearers. This group of kings, perhaps with the aid of Egypt, the other great superpower of the time, believed they could rebel against Nebuchadnezzar and drive him out of their lands. And, of course, each nation believed they had their own god or gods on their side. “Not so,” cries Jeremiah. “Get real or get ready for destruction and exile.”
So in the beginning of chapter 28, the prophet Hananiah calls Jeremiah out, in the temple courtyard, in front of all the people. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 4I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” Take that, Jeremiah. The gauntlet is thrown.
Hananiah sounds like a prophet, carries himself like a prophet, uses all the right language. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck… To Jeremiah’s credit, he does not jump to conclusions. When he says, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied…” there may be a note of sarcasm but there also seems to be a note of longing for peace and prosperity. If only what Hananiah is saying could be true.
After Hananiah has dramatically broken the symbolic yoke around Jeremiah’s neck, Jeremiah leaves the scene, not so much in defeat as to wait for the word of God. The work of discernment is essential to knowing if a word comes from God. Jeremiah goes away to pray, to contemplate, to listen for God. I think there is wise instruction here for us in terms of how we evaluate the words, the prophecies, the promises that come to us from all angles. Will we step aside before rushing to judgment, to listen for God’s word, to look for God’s way, to center ourselves in the One whom we live and move and have our being?
The story concludes with a word from God, reiterating the desire for Nebuchadnezzar to rule and showing Hananiah’s prophecy to be false. There is no place for proclaiming peace where it is not possible. Hananiah may cry “peace” and the people and the leaders may break into thunderous applause but that will make it so.
Prophets of peace must also ensure they unveil the way of peace. It is a hard and challenging road and it may very well lead through destruction and exile. It seems Hananiah is proclaiming peace because it’s what people want to hear. It is reminiscent of a certain US president standing on the deck of a war ship proclaiming, “Mission accomplished,” or any public figure of any political persuasion referring to weapons and armies as instruments of peace and war as a a peacekeeping mission.
In the end, the way to peace is through compassion, love and justice. Peace is born of right relationship. It requires that we forgo our enmities and lay our weapons down. In the Choral Project concerts this week, we are singing Erik Johns’s words for Aaron Copeland’s great chorus from his opera, The Tender Land. The words say this, “The promise of living with hope and thanksgiving is born of our loving our friends and our labor. The promise of growing with faith and with knowing is born of our sharing our love with our neighbor.” The promise of peace is always and only in right relationship, with God and neighbor – next door, nationally and globally.
As Oscar Romero writes in today’s words of preparation, “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. It is right and duty.” Or as peace activist, John Dear, proclaims, “Being part of a community of peace is what it means to be human.” Shall we then embrace our humanity in communities of peace?
Jeremiah longed for peace but he also knew it would not come just because Hananiah said so. True prophets of peace act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Let’s give the last word to Jeremiah, a true prophet of peace, who, in the end, viewed God’s future eventually unfolding full of hope and promise. “Thus says the Lord…I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built…Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.’
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (From Jeremiah 31).