Sunday, December 5, 2021

Peace

 

Hebrew Testament           Malachi 3:1-4

Epistle Reading            Philippians 1:3-11

Gospel Reading                      Luke 3:1-6

Sermon:  ”A New Kind of Peace”

We have an interesting collection of scriptures to unpack today. First Malachi tells us a prophecy

that God will scrub us clean and make us good as new.

The Hebrew testament and Epistle readings

both use the word “righteous”

and our Gospel lesson implies it

what with making all the valleys and mountains

equal to each other and paths straight and smooth.

Today we are going to talk about making everything right. 

But first, before we can do that,

we’re going to have to find some peace.

An interesting project in this day and time.   

**************************

I had a memorable encounter with this scripture

on one of my first visits to Guatemala.

Over the 15 plus years I made regular visits to the country

I watched the country’s infrastructure improve gradually. 

When I started going in 1999

the roads going up the mountains were one lane dirt roads. 

If it rained, the roads were muddy and slippery. 

If you met another vehicle coming towards you,

one of you—the smaller one—would have to back up

until there was room for someone to pass. 

These roads going up and down and around the mountains

were steep and narrow and dangerous. 

It was what you could legitimately call a spiritual experience because there was a lot of prayer involved.

 

But the last time I was there around 2018,

I started seeing two lane concrete roads with guardrails. 

To achieve this progress in the last 20 years

there has been constant chipping away at the mountains

and every time I am reminded

of the John scripture we read just now. 

20 years of chipping away at these mountains…….

and still they stand tall as ever. 

And every time I think to myself,

“Does God really intend for them all to be smoothed over—

like the earth was some kind of a giant brown and green blob?

Does God really intend for

 “Every valley exalted and every mountain and hill made low?”

Or is this a metaphor for something else? If so, then what?

 

Does God intend for everything to be equal?

Smooth? Fair?  

The bible uses the word Righteous, and that word fascinates me.  What is righteous? 

The dictionary defines it as “what is morally right” 

Is this the reason John gives for Jesus to be on his way?

So…Will Jesus make things Right? 

What happens if what is right for you isn’t what is right for me? But if it’s “morally right”

there can only be one “morally right” way, correct? 

And who gets to decide what is morally right?

 

We are living in a hair-trigger world right now

and everyone is on edge. 

And everyone is just trying to make decisions

based on what they think is the morally right thing to do.

On the surface, it seems like our country is horribly divided

but if you look deep down,

each one of us is really trying our best

to decide what is the morally right thing to do.


I had a conversation with a friend this past week

about something that happened in her church

during worship the previous week. 

And it happened right here in Winnsboro. 

 

My friend has a brother

who has some pretty serious mental problems. 

He’s been in mental hospitals and in jail for them

and she and I have talked about it before. 

She knows that my own sister was schizophrenic

and so we are able to sympathize with each other

and speak openly and honestly.

 

She said that her brother walked into church

in the middle of worship looking for her. 

He appeared agitated and was pacing back and forth. 

He was also wearing a coat. 

Now, two things happened at once. 

My friend knew that he probably wasn’t a danger to anyone. 

He didn’t own a gun to her knowledge, he never had. 

He was probably hungry and needed money.

He was looking for her because he needed some money.

She figured that if she just gave him some money

he would leave. 

 

But the second thing that was going on

in this hair-trigger and morally righteous world

is that the men in the church wanted

to protect the people in worship. 

What they saw walking into their house of worship

wasn’t a mentally ill brother of a member;

it was an agitated and ill-kempt man wearing a coat

and they didn’t know what he was hiding under that coat. 

And my friend said these men started patting their pockets

and their waists and everywhere

she knew they had concealed weapons on their bodies.

It was a recipe for disaster

if her brother had unwittingly made a wrong move

or one of our neighbors had overreacted.

 

We live in a hair-trigger world. 

And we live in a world where we are desperately

trying to be morally righteous. 

Somehow, we are going to have to find a way

to calm down enough

to avoid making some really bad mistakes

by getting in a hurry.

 

There really is only one morally right answer. 

It is God’s answer but to find that answer takes a long time. 

 

I have been driving past the same mountains in Guatemala

for twenty years and even with road clearing equipment

the mountains are still there. 

John tells us that every mountain will be made low

but he doesn’t say how long it will take. 

I get in a hurry sometimes because I know that God has eternity

and think that I have only my own lifetime to see things unfold the way I want to see them happen.

And I get really frustrated. 

You know what I need?

I need Peace.

 

I just spent the weekend at a Spiritual Retreat at Gilmont.

 

 The focus of the weekend was Peace. 

 

One of the last exercises was to write a poem

answering the question:

 

“Where am I yearning for peace?

How might peace be invited in?

And where is Christ in the midst of the space?” 

 

Here’s my poem:

 

A deeply divided family of brothers and sisters

sit and argue without thinking how much harm

they are doing to their children and the world.

And how much they actually love each other.

 

Christ invites each one of them to supper with him

And they come

Each one thinking he loves them best

 

Before the meal he washes their feet

Then they eat from the same loaf

And drink from the same cup

And they are united once more.

 

Now that might sound like a simple little poem. 

But don’t be fooled by communion. 

In some cultures they call it a Fiesta—a party! 

A Feast! 

In a few minutes we will partake in a feast

prepared by Christ himself –

a feast laid out 2,000 years ago that still hasn’t ended yet. 

The table is STILL set for us. 

Christ is STILL the host. 

All is ready for us. 

All that remains is for us to receive the gift with joy. 

Let us begin our celebration with hymn #514….

 “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ”

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