Sunday, May 26, 2013

Waging Peace

(A sermon baseed on Matthew 5:9 for the Sunday before Memorial Day)

Neil Young’s recent biography is entitled Waging Heavy Peace. Young has been trying to develop a digital music delivery system that is of superior quality to that which is presently available. Someone asked him if he was going to wage war against iTunes to which he replied, “No, I’m waging heavy peace.”

Waging heavy peace would be a good thing for the Church to do.

Famed World War II leader Gen. George Patton said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. God help me, I do love it so.” With all due respect to the General, if he really did love it so, he needed God’s help. When you think, though, of the kind of focused energy, commitment, and sacrifice that a nation can muster during a time of war, you can see his point.

What if a nation were to mobilize to wage peace with the same kind of commitment with which we wage war? What if we counted as heroes those who give themselves up for peace as much as we do those who give themselves up in war?

We can’t count on nations—even our great nation—ever to do that, though. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and our nation’s 34th president Dwight Eisenhower once said, “I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

What if the Church led the way? What if the Church mobilized to wage peace?

“But,” you are thinking, “sometimes war is necessary and sometimes we have to fight.” Yes, in a fallen world sometimes wars do and will—maybe even must—happen. Can we work, though, to try to stop war from being a perpetual reality? Can we work so that war will lead to peace?

At our brother Alvie Dorminy’s funeral in 2009, his son Mark said, "Dad didn't want for me to be a soldier, because he had hoped that his service would make it unnecessary for me to have to do so." Mark went on to say that "he, like John Adams, believed that 'I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.'"

The full quote from our second President, a vital leader of the American Revolution, is, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

In other words, those who fight and those who die fight and die so that those who come after them might have a more peaceful world in which to live.

I guess that “fighting for peace” is an oxymoron but still, when we must fight, peace is the proper goal, and we who have lived in relative peace are grateful to those service men and women who have enabled it to happen.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Really, in Christ peace has already been made. In speaking about the breaching of the wall between Gentiles and Jews, Paul said, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:13-14).

We are to live out the peace that Jesus has established. So let’s know peace, let’s live peace, and let’s share peace—let’s wage peace!

How do we do that? Well, we can start right where we are and we can start by letting these words from Paul be our guide:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).

As we honor those who gave their lives waging war so that we might know peace, let’s commit our lives to waging peace …

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Inherit the Wind

(A sermon based on Acts 2:1-21 for Pentecost 2013)

What happened on Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus who had assembled in Jerusalem following his ascension. He had told them to wait there until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and, ten days after he ascended, they were still waiting.

And then, suddenly, the Spirit came; all at once the followers of Jesus received their inheritance from their Lord.

The coming of the Holy Spirit to those first believers was, to understate it terribly, a major event. And the Holy Spirit has remained in and with the Church ever since which is also, to understate it terribly, a big deal.

There is no point in seeking a scientific explanation for events like this one; what happened was an act of divine grace and God, being God, can offer God’s gifts in any way that God pleases. I could not resist, though, delving into a little science as I thought about the events of Pentecost, particularly as I tried to imagine being in that room when “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind” (NRSV).

I got to thinking about why wind makes a sound.

Before there is the sound, though, there is the wind. So why is there wind? Put too simply, wind occurs as air moves from an area of high atmospheric pressure to an area of low pressure. The closer the two pressure areas are to one another, the stronger the wind will be. So why does wind make a sound? Again put too simply, it doesn’t; but, when air speed changes the resulting vibration in the air molecules can be picked up by our ears as “sound.” The more drastic the change is, then, the louder the sound will be.

Now, let’s go back to the “sound like the rush of a violent wind” that filled the house where the believers were sitting. Perhaps we can imagine that those disciples heard that sound because the atmosphere of heaven had drawn right up against the atmosphere of Earth and that close proximity created a strong disturbance that brought about tremendous changes in the atmosphere. Therefore, the disciples heard a “sound like the rush of a violent wind.”

The text does not say that there was an actual wind, just that there was the sound of a powerful wind; still, once the Spirit fell on the gathered believers things started to move as if they were compelled by a mighty wind. It was if the believers were sitting in a sailboat on a calm day with the sails unfurled but slack when all of a sudden a powerful wind began to blow that filled the sails and propelled the boat forward.

But what if a sailboat is anchored when the wind begins to blow? If it’s strong enough, what the wind can’t find a way through or can’t move it will push over or destroy. A good wind will propel a sailboat forward but that same wind, if the sailboat is anchored with its flags unfurled, will tip the boat over.
The boat needs to be untethered and to have its sail unfurled so the wind can propel it forward and it can carry its passengers on their journey.

The Church needs to have our anchor up and our sail unfurled so the Spirit can propel us forward on our mission.

On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came and when it came it sounded like a mighty wind. Heaven had come right up next to Earth and caused a powerful movement in the atmosphere. The disturbance was violent enough to be perceived as a loud noise by the believers gathered in that room.

And when that Spirit came into those disciples they began to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ in languages that all the immigrants and pilgrims in Jerusalem could understand. The Spirit came to those Christians so that it could be passed along to others through the ministry of the Word and so that the disciples could be empowered and equipped to carry out their mission.

We are the inheritors of that same wind, of that same Spirit. The Spirit moves in us and through us, driving us forward and empowering us to share the life of God with others.

Who will the Spirit lead us to be? What will the Spirit lead us to do? Where will the Spirit lead us to go?

Is our anchor up? Is our sail unfurled? Will we be who the Spirit is leading us to be? Will we do what the Spirit is empowering us to do? Will we go where the Spirit is calling us to go?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Jesus Lives—In Our Unity!

(A sermon based on John 17:20-26 for the Seventh Sunday of Easter)

When a family manages, through all the turmoil and calm, through all the bad and good, through all the change and the sameness, to hang in there and still be a family, what is it that holds that family together? On Mother’s Day, we naturally expect the answer to be “Mother” or “Mom” or “Mama”—or whatever your family’s preferred title is. And that would be an accurate answer for many of our families, although for some it would be “Father” or “Grandparent” or “Big Sister or Brother” or “Foster Parent” or someone else. There often is a person who functions as the family’s “glue.”

The real answer to the question, though—and it’s an answer for which those other answers can and do stand—is “love.” The glue that holds a family together is love, and such love is selfless love, self-giving love, and self-sacrificing love. And such love leads the one who has it to offer a lot of prayer for the family.

The Church is a family, too. We are a big, spread out all over the world kind of family; we have millions of sisters and brothers that we have never seen and that we will never meet. We love each other and show that love by praying for each other.

But the Church is also a local, right here with each other kind of family; we have dozens of sisters and brothers that we see all the time both in the church building and out in the community. It’s remarkable that the universal Church has held together for two thousand years and that this particular church has held together for over a hundred years. The church universal and the church local have many problems and struggles and even divisions but nonetheless we can still affirm that there is indeed “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

Jesus loves us, this we know. Because loves us he prayed for us. Our staying together is an answer to our Savior’s prayer.

Today’s text is the last part of a prayer prayed by Jesus on the night that he was betrayed and arrested. In the first part of that prayer he prayed for those who had followed him during his life while in the second part he prayed for all of those who would believe in him through the words of his apostles—and that includes us. So here we have a prayer that Jesus prayed for us! And in that prayer he prayed that we would be together—that we would be one.

When we are a unity we are an answer to Jesus’ prayer; when we are a unity we are experiencing and expressing the life of Jesus—indeed, the very life of God—in our life as a community, in our life as a church.

Unity is not the same thing as uniformity, though. We are united but we are not alike. We walk together but we do not walk in lockstep. Jesus prayed that we would be one as the Father and he are one. Now, while the relationships between the persons of the Trinity are complex, this much is clear: for the Father and the Son to be one does not mean that they are the same; if they were, it would make no sense for Jesus to pray to the Father, which he did regularly.

And yet the Father and Son are one and Jesus prayed that we would be one in the same way; indeed, he also prayed that we would be one with them!

There is something powerful and mysterious about all of this. It is awe-inspiring and challenging.

Still, our text points us toward an answer to this important question: What kind of unity can we share with God and with each other? The answer is that we can share the unity of love that leads to the glory of sacrifice and giving.

The love that the Father has for the Son caused the Son to give his life away; that same love will cause us to give our lives away. Love leads to glory but the way to glory leads through the cross.

This is the miracle of being the Church; this is the miracle of being Christian; this is the miracle of being united with God and with each other.

We are a unity with God and with each other when God’s love leads us to give ourselves away. The Christian life is not about saving ourselves; it is about giving ourselves away. That is the key to being a Christian family and it is the key to being a Christian Church.

This week I saw a poem that said very well what I’m stumbling around trying to say. It’s called “Are You Saved?”

All this talk of saving souls,
Souls weren’t meant to save,
Like Sunday clothes that
give out at the seams.

They’re made for wear;
they come with a lifetime guarantee.
Don’t save your soul.
Pour it out like rain
on cracked, parched earth.

Give your soul away,
or pass it like a candle flame.
Sing it out,
or laugh it up the wind.

Souls were meant for hearing
breaking hearts, for puzzling dreams,
remembering August flowers,
forgetting hurts.

These folk who talk of saving souls!
They have the look of bullies
who blow out candles before you
sing happy birthday,
and want the world to be in alphabetical order.

I will spend my soul,
Playing it out like sticky string
Into the world…
So I can catch every last thing I touch.

Next time someone asks, “Is your soul saved?”
Say, “No, it’s spent, spent, spent!”

---Linder Unders

Mothers are mothers because they don’t try to save themselves; they give themselves away.

Christians are Christians because they don’t try to save themselves; they give themselves away.

The Church is the Church because it doesn’t try to save itself; it gives itself away.

And when the Church does that, we are sharing with God and with each other in the love and glory of God. We are united with God and with each other in love, in service, and in sacrifice …

Friday, May 10, 2013

Above, Beyond, and Beside

(A sermon based on Luke 24:44-53 & Ephesians 1:15-23 for Ascension Day 2013)

Following his resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples and then, on that fortieth day, he ascended to take his place at the right hand of his Father. From there he rules over all that is and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

This, then, is an awe-inspiring day. It is a day to celebrate the power of God and the lordship of Christ.

It is a day to celebrate the fact that Jesus is beyond us. After his resurrection he came back to his disciples but then forty days later he left them. Jesus Christ is the Son of God who left his place with the Father to come here as a human being who lived, died, and rose again. Then he ascended—he went back to be with his Father and in so doing he went somewhere that they could not go, at least not yet. So this is a good day to remember and to celebrate that Jesus Christ is beyond us. He is God and he is to be worshiped.

When Jesus left his followers he left them for good—not in the sense that he would never come back because he will but in the sense that it was for their (and our) good. He said so himself when he said that it was good for his followers if he went away because then the Father would send the Holy Spirit who would be with them.

It is an ironic truth: Jesus Christ is beyond us and because he is beyond us he is always with us. That is because in God’s gracious plan the ascension of Jesus led to the Father’s sending of the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ; that Spirit will never leave us.

It is a day to celebrate the fact that Jesus is above all things. When he ascended, Jesus took his place as Lord of everything that is in the universe. Through his resurrection and subsequent ascension, Jesus became greater than every other power or influence in the universe. Absolutely everything is under his feet. There is nothing that is not under him and that will not finally bow down before him and submit to him. Jesus is Lord!

It is an amazing truth: the same power of God that caused Jesus to be raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places is available to us right here and right now! That great power of God is working in and through us.

It is a day to celebrate the fact that Jesus is beside the Father. To say that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father is to say that he is in the position of honor and power. From his place of honor and power Jesus rules all of creation. From that position he is our Lord and so he rules our lives and the life of the Church.

It is an awe-inspiring truth: the life of the resurrected and ascended Christ fills the Church. We are filled with the life of Jesus Christ our Lord!

As you can see, Ascension Day is a day to celebrate God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Now, can we get a glimpse of the difference the Ascension makes for us?