Sermon preached May 9, 2010
Text: John 14:23-29
Bulletin bloopers are often a good source for a chuckle. So, too, the innocent remarks of children. A three-year-old attending church for the first time gazed in delight at the beautiful stained-glass windows. “Look, cartoons.” (Faith Hope and Hilarity, 98) Sorry, we have no cartoons here. Here are a few bulletin bloopers. 7:30 LENTEN SERVICE: The final Lenten service theme is: “Why Doesn’t God Do Something” with Pastor Meidinger. The correspondence committee will assist with the mailing of the newsletter and stapling of the Annual Report to the congregational members. And we give you thanks, O God, for people of many cultures and nations; for the young and old and muddle-aged. On March 16th, the prayer group met at the home of Margaret Ressler, who is no longer able to attend church. What a blessing! On a Mother’s Day one church wanted to change the traditional hymn, “Faith of Our Fathers” to “Faith of Our Mothers,” but it ended up in the bulletin as “Faith of Our Moths.” (More Holy Humor).
All of those bloopers and comments remind me of what many of us may picture when we think about what it means to be a Christian: going to church, giving, volunteering – sometimes on a committee, doing good things, being a good person (which often meant “respectable” though I would argue those are different), reading the Bible, praying – which usually meant asking God for something for our families, world, or ourselves.
There is nothing wrong with this picture of the Christian life, except that it is incomplete. It is a little like the directory picture of Julie and my family in the last directory. When pictures were available, Sarah, our only child living at home at the time, could not be with us – but our daughter Beth, then in college and not living with us, could be. So that was our picture – Julie, Beth and me. Nice picture, but incomplete. By the way, we are considering working on a new directory next fall.
To have a more complete picture of the meaning of being a Christian, of living a Christian life, we need to have some sense that Christian faith is meant to form a life. It is meant to be a way of life, and not simply a set of discrete activities. And if we were to sum up what the core of that way of life we might choose the word “peace.” Jesus, in John 14, right after he tells his disciples that they will receive God’s Spirit, says this: 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. Peace. To be a Christian is to seek a life formed around peace. There is something worth exploring here.
One important aspect of being a Christian formed by peace is the cultivation of inner peace. As Christians we trust that peace ultimately comes from God through our relationship to Jesus. It is the peace of Jesus as the Christ that is ours. Yet we have a part to play. We seek to cultivate that inner peace that is a gift. Inner peace, peacefulness is both gift and task. It is also a crying need in our hectic, loud, connected world. It is a crying need if we are to let our best selves unfold. Theologian and writer Patricia Farmer writes about her meditative practice: There is a stuffy place inside us where worries, self-doubts, cynicism, and misspoken words linger. In this place we guard so protectively, heaviness slows down our stride and makes harsh lines between our brows. What we need, I think, is a practice like walking meditation so that we might unfold in warmth, a place to let morning dew clean out our lurking doubts, hurts, and fears – a place to find Beauty lavishly spilling over everything in sight. (Embracing a Beautiful God, 28).
Inner peace is connected with other kinds of peacemaking, which we will say more about shortly. That connection is expressed wonderfully by the Dalai Lama. Peace must first be developed within an individual. And I believe that love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace. Once these qualities are developed within an individual, he or she is then able to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony. This atmosphere can be expanded to his family, from the family to the community and eventually to the whole world. (Forward to Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step).
Cultivating the gift of peace is perhaps the thing most missing from a traditional picture of Christian faith and life. Many of us grew up with the notion of prayer as asking, talking, little silence or listening. But the Christian tradition is rich with practices of silent prayer, meditative prayer, and these are important to build of life of peace. Bells can be used as calls to silent prayer (demonstrate). Scriptures can be used for meditative prayer – Psalm 46:10a: Be still and know that I am God (demonstrate prayer using one word at a time forward and backward).
Inner peace is an important part of the picture of Christian faith and life, but it is not the whole picture. Relational peace is essential, too. There is a lot of speculation about the decline of the church, but I think an under-considered factor is that people look at the church and see people who don’t get along any better than they do any place else. A couple of weeks ago, the Duluth News Tribune published an editorial written by a pastor from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. In his editorial he wrote about another Lutheran denomination, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest of the Lutheran denominations, and said of them that they had drifted so far that they were no longer legitimate Lutherans. They did not hold to the “inerrant, infallible, word of God.” They ordained women, and more recently opened the door to the possibility of ordaining gay and lesbian persons. The letter ended with a litany of places the author considered the ELCA to have gone wrong and after each in capital letters is said “REPENT.”
After reading the letter I could not help but wonder what someone outside of church might think of this. Christians can and will disagree. That is not the issue. We can and will disagree about very fundamental issues. That’s not my concern. My concern is that we don’t seem better able to disagree than the world around us. The Missouri Synod writer did not say he disagreed with the ELCA, that they had a different interpretation of Scripture and he felt his was better - - - he said the ELCA was no longer Lutheran, that the option wasn’t continued conversation but only repentance. Relational peace requires respect, listening, care. This peace, too, is both a gift and a task – a gift from the Christ, a task for us to take seriously. As Christians, filled with the Spirit of Christ we seek to foster relational peace in all our one-to-one relationships.
But the topic of peace is incomplete without conversation about peace on a larger scale. Today is Mother’s Day – a day when we celebrate our mothers and give thanks for all they have given to us in our lives. The roots of Mother’s Day run deeper than Hallmark and flowers, though. The first efforts to establish a Mother’s Day holiday were initiated by women’s peace groups who had seen the death and injury of the Civil War. Julia Ward Howe, writer of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, attempted to establish a Mother’s Peace Day in 1872, at which time she issued a famous proclamation which reads in part: Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!... Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those on another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. Earlier, in 1868, a woman named Ann Jarvis sought to establish a Mother’s Friendship Day the purpose of which was to reunite families divided by the Civil War. Ann died in 1905 before seeing the firm establishment of this as an annual celebration, but her daughter carried on the work and our modern Mother’s Day is traced to a 1907 worship service at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, organized by Anna Marie Jarvis.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, and “peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Mother’s Day is a wonderful day to think about the Christian task of peacemaking in the world. This week I saw a picture of a craftsperson in Afghanistan turning Russian-made bombs into flower pots. What an image for the work of the church – swords into plowshares, bombs into flower pots. The shell casings were gathered by village women, and a woman commenting on the Afghanistan picture wrote: “the strong hands of women are needed to turn weapons of death into instruments of peace, fierce imagination” (Heather Muarry Elkins). Christians should all exercise such fierce imagination. I don’t have time to get into all the complexities of war and just war theory here. I often tell people I am a just war theorist haunted by pacifism – and by that I mean I would not argue that every use of force is illegitimate, but I would say the human community needs to learn to rely much less heavily on it. We need to create the conditions in the world that mitigate the circumstance that might justify the use of force. The task is neither simple nor easy, but it is ours as followers of Jesus.
Being Christian is about forming a life. Most often we would say that if we were to use a single word to describe the center of that life, we would use the word “love.” I would not disagree. Yet in an image from Psalm 85, I think love and peace are intertwined. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; justice and peace will kiss each other. Love for oneself invites cultivation of inner peace. Love for others encourages respect. Love for the world encourages our best efforts in peacemaking.
A complete picture of Christian faith and life can be painted around peace. As Christians we are all invited on the peace train (play a bit of the song).
Cat Stevens, Peace Train