A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Peace Worth Fighting For Sermon on Acts 1 May 22, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 16, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC

The Texts were:
Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
John 17: 6-19

Young Friends Message: Put the children into two groups. Give each group an idea to defend and give them one minute to come up with a reason why their idea is the best: Chocolate Cake or vanilla cake. Then give each team one minute to say why theirs is the best. What if someone doesn’t like chocolate/vanilla cake or doesn’t like cake at all? Should they just not say anything? Is that fair? What if when the say that they don’t like chocolate/vanilla cake they are told it doesn’t matter and they have to eat it anyway. Who won? Do you think that person who has to eat what they don’t like feels at peace? I mean the fighting has stopped so it’s all good right? Everyone has what they need? We’re talking about Peace today, which means we have to talk about not getting along. God understands that we will disagree and fight about things, but God really wants us to remember that we all have to work together, we have to remember, like Jesus says, that we are one-one people in God’s love. Jesus shows us how to not just end a disagreement, but to make sure that everyone is heard and has what they need for them. Jesus shows us that to truly live together, we have to listen to each other and understand that everyone is different. That is hard, but Jesus also prays for us and is with us, as we just read in the John story. Jesus promises to be with us, even in hard conversations.

I’ve been thinking about conflict a lot lately, namely what do we do when conflict arises. There’s been a preponderance of conflict it seems, or maybe we’re simply noticing it more, such as when you are thinking about new kind of car and you suddenly notice all the new cars around you. I’ve been blessed, yes blessed, to have engaged in several difficult conversations in the past week. Conversations where assumptions were made, feelings were hurt, avoidance of accountability and conflict were attempted, vulnerability had to occur, awareness blossomed, a resolution arose and yet frustrations remained. The conversations ran the gamut, and the common thread was uncomfortable and messy humanity. There were a times when we all tried to rush to the compromise, rush to the part where the tension ends, rush to go along to get along. But each time, there was a brave soul who refused to rush, who pulled us back into the mire and said, this won’t do. We can rush, we can end the tension but it doesn’t end the conflict and it doesn’t bring peace. We stayed in the messiness, we stayed in conversation, and we stayed in relationship. Why? Because we all realized that peace was worth it.

Peace is one of those concepts that I think we truly only understand in relationship to it’s antithesis: conflict. We use the term peace quite often day to day: All I want is peace and quiet. Keep the peace. Peace out. Give peace a chance. Love and peace. And in our worship: May the peace of the Lord be with you and Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Do we know what we are saying or asking for? Martin Luther King Jr, in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail offered that there is negative peace and positive peace. Essentially negative peace is rushing through the tension to maintain status quo, going along to get along, ignoring hard truths, shying away from hard conversations, peace that ultimately divides. Positive peace is awareness of the presence of something else, the messy and raw presence of truth, authenticity, vulnerability, humanity and wholeness. We have a lot of negative peace in our world I would assert to you this morning: negative peace that requires people to stay silent in the shadows of hatred, racism, homophobia, classism, sexism and the list goes on. Negative peace requires us to pick a side, are we for something or against it? Those are the choices for us. A kind of peace that buries truth, that allows power structures to stay in place and remain unchallenged. We all know this peace. The kind of peace that gives us that sinking feeling in our stomach discomfort when we are in the presence of people telling racist or sexist jokes, the innate fear of being ridiculed, or watching the news and seeing the destruction of towns and the death of innocents in the name of status quo and minding our own business. We fight to ignore it, we fight to feel comfortable. Or is that the presence of something else?

Peace isn’t inaction or nice words, I’m learning. Peace isn’t ignoring, sweeping conflict under the rug, giving up well-being or health of myself or other groups, swallowing my pride, keeping quiet for the comfort and stability of another group. Peace isn’t the path of least resistance. If it’s peace only for some, then it’s not peace for all. Peace is action, peace is recognizing and entering conflict, not for the sake of fighting but for the sake of bringing the presence of something else. The presence of wholeness. In the Hebrew Bible this presence is Shalom, which is mistakenly translated often as peace, but it really means wholeness, completeness. God’s will for creation and humanity from day one is this Shalom. God sends Jesus, sends Jesus into the world, where there are forces that oppose and are in conflict with God’s will. God sends Jesus to be the presence of wholeness, to be the presence that names truth, that names power, that names vulnerability. God gives this presence freely and abundantly.

How do you define (or give an example) of peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding? 

How does the concept of peace as Shalom (wholeness) move us to love our neighbor? 

Jesus shows us how to enter conflict for the sake of true peace. Jesus hangs out with the people whom society decided were the scapegoats to ensure peace for the powerful. Jesus upends tables of status quo and that excludes peace, wholeness for the poor, the vulnerable and the weak. Jesus walks through conflict with authorities, is tortured, executed on a cross, because he wouldn’t be quiet, he wouldn’t stop agitating. He wouldn’t stop being the presence of something else besides what the world wanted him to be. He wouldn’t stay in his place. He wouldn’t stop being in relationship with us, even when it got hard and dangerous, because the peace Jesus brought to the world for the world was worth it.  Jesus was the living peace who only sought wholeness for all. Jesus was the peace that does indeed pass all understanding, for Jesus reveals the truth of God’s embedding peace, wholeness in creation from the beginning. For God, bringing this wholeness  full circle is, dare I say, worth fighting for. Not fighting with weapons or malice, but fighting by dying, fighting with love, fighting with mercy and fighting with hope. God won’t give up on us.
For positive peace, true peace to abound, we too must not give up but enter the world, into the forces that oppose separation from God and creation. We trust that we too are the embodiment of this presence, that we don’t keep the peace, we make it, we build it, not alone, but with God, in the presence of Jesus, and sustained by the Holy Spirit, for we are one-wholeness. We engage conflict, we speak not of right or wrong but of wholeness, mercy and love. We don’t respond to violence with violence but with vulnerability. We lay down our weapons of words, actions, ego and yes, maybe real weapons, and stand bare before our neighbor seeking connection and peace. We stay in the mess, in the tension, because the world, the world where all people and creation thrive and flourish is worth fighting and dying for. Yes, that sounds naïve and dramatic, or perhaps plain foolish, but I think that is the point. Jesus was foolish in who he hung out with. Jesus was foolish in feeding 5000 people as if it made a difference. Jesus was foolish giving away his power to heal a worthless woman, or outcast lepers. Jesus was foolish to believe that turning over tables would permanently end economic theft and the grifting of the poor by the rich. Jesus was foolish to not defend himself before the Roman authorities to save his life. But Jesus foolishly trusted God’s wisdom, God’s wisdom that shows peace, wholeness, is forged through the hot coals of conflict. Peace that matters, peace that means anything, is a peace that isn’t soft, squishy or delicate. Peace that lasts is a peace where conflict is put to death once and for all. The peace that passes all understanding pulls us into the mystery of life together and life with God with humility, openness, mercy and grace. A peace that is for all, no one is harmed, no one is on the outside, no one is right, no one is wrong, but all are loved, fed, housed, sheltered, given abundant life now, and protected in Jesus name. This is a peace worth fighting for. Amen.

 

It Matters That We Matter Sermon on Acts 3 April 16, 2016

On Monday evening, I had the opportunity to worship with the young adults with Urban Servant Corps. I had been invited to come and lead worship around the topic and information on the ELCA’s social statement: Women and Justice: One In Christ and the newly minted social message on gender based violence. I’ve been what’s called a “process builder” for the Rocky Mountain Synod on the Social statement since 2013 offering listening events and feedback to the church wide task force as well as offering presentations on the findings. I was asked to wrap worship, including Holy Communion, around this very difficult conversation on sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse based on perceived expressions of gender and sexual orientation. Tricky to say the least and I wasn’t sure how this would be received. After all, I’m well aware of my own generational biases and these young adults are much closer to the age of my children than myself. No matter how hip, cool and relevant I think I am, my children assure me that I am indeed not.

But while we had these different generational lenses on how we enter into the conversation, we were all wrestling with the tension inherent to Christianity: the good news that Jesus is risen, the tomb is empty and death and suffering are conquered. We will have eternal life someday with God. And yet, there is the reality of the here and now that suffering is real, any kind of pain of mind, body or spirit is real and our physical bodies matter. It matters that we are bodies created in the image of God. Not esoterically, or spiritually, but physical manifestations of the divine. Male, female, tall, short, black, white, gay, straight, two legs or one, all ten fingers or fewer, a fully functioning heart, or a broken one, a brain that becomes overwhelmed by stimuli easily, or can tolerate noise, social or introverted, unable to walk or an elite runner. Galatians 3: 28, the foundational Bible verse for the social statement work: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer free or slave, no longer male or female, all are one in Christ Jesus”, sounds lovely, utopian and a wonderful goal to assent to someday, when we all see Jesus face to face. But I think Paul didn’t mean that in a someday by and by sense or only when it was easy, comfortable, accessible and safe. Paul knew that bodies mattered to Jesus in the here and now, no matter what the cost. And when MLK quoted this verse in his last speech before his assassination, 48 years ago Monday, I think that King also exactly understood the cost of this truth.

For the now apostles, it had been less than two months since the death and resurrection of Jesus. They had received the Holy Spirit, they had converts being added to their numbers day by day and they were still very much on the radar of the Roman and Jewish authorities. Hiding, or at least laying low and not making any noise, would have been the prudent, smart, and safe thing to do. But that’s not what they did. We read that Peter and John were going to the temple; remember that the apostles and early converts did not identify as Christians but Jewish Jesus followers. At the gate of the temple, they came upon this man who had been born differently abled, not able to walk and in first century Palestine, he did not have worth, and most certainly was not considered created in the image of the divine. Each day, he was placed on the outside of the temple by his family, to beg for alms from the good, proper and pious church goers who were required by Jewish law to give mitzah, commitment to do good which included giving away money. So, much like we give a $5 or a $10 or even a blessing bag to those who stand on the street corners with signs, people just threw money at him without really looking at him, probably judging him for his own misfortune (after all he must have done “something” to deserve this) and pushing down the fear that they themselves are only one mishap away from such a fate. They were terrified to identify with him.

But Peter and John saw this man. Really saw him, body, mind and spirit. Now, the safe thing would have been to just go to temple, pray and go home, but really seeing this man, knowing that his body mattered to God, knowing that his inclusion in community mattered to God, seeing themselves as connected, Peter and John couldn’t just go on with their own lives, worrying about only themselves. Peter looked at the man and told him to look at them. Connected equally before God. Connected equally in God’s image. Connected equally in God’s love. The man assumed he was about to receive alms but Peter had something better-something that no matter what the risk or cost to himself, he couldn’t keep to himself. He offered him healing in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He didn’t first demand a faith statement, an assent to some sort of proper belief of God, no, Peter freely offered what he had first been given, Jesus’ message of love and that he mattered. And Peter also didn’t offer the man a platitude of someday, in heaven being healed. He was being healed today, right now, in public. The man got up and walked but more than that, entered the temple, with all of those who had excluded him his whole life. He leapt and praised God not just because he could walk, but because his body had mattered to someone, he was no longer isolated, he now could offer himself as part of the community and the community benefitted from his presence and praise.

We didn’t read on in Acts to hear what happened next, but it is important. You see, after acknowledging that bodies in the here and now mattered to God, Peter pointed to this act not as something he, himself had done but as a sign of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, what God is up to and this was available to all people no matter the condition of their mind, body or spirit. Peter and John boldly proclaimed that the old system of the world, was not God’s system. The world’s system of worth, was not God’s system. The priests and other Jewish leadership didn’t like this at all. It was disruptive, it was uncomfortable, and it threatened their power and control. The healing and proclamation of this man as a beloved child of God ushered in the first of many post-resurrection clashes between the apostles and the authorities. In true non-violent resistance form, Peter and John were arrested for radical inclusion, pushing on the status quo and disrupting the systems of privilege and entitlement.

The man, who went from immobility to freedom, is not only a sign of God’s kingdom to come but also highlights the inconsistencies in our lives and the things that we don’t understand as we await the fullness of time in the return of Christ. Why are some healed physically in the here and now and not everyone? Why do some people experience a miracle and not others? Why does God allow injustice? I’m here to say with confidence, I don’t know. I struggle with this as well any time I read the healing stories in the Bible. But here’s what I wonder and I invite you to wonder with me.

What if we are called to really see people as God sees them, not as broken, different or disabled, but as whole and beloved children of God and a part of us? What if really seeing people and including them despite the risk of our own comfort, safety or privilege DOES bring healing in ways that only God can heal through us? What if we allowed ourselves to truly be seen by our neighbor, brokenness and all and be healed by one another? What if when Jesus says with the bread and the wine, do this to re-member me, is not about a memory or nostalgia but being re-assembled, re-membered into the one body of Christ in order for the whole of creation to be re-assembled, re-membered as one, one in hope for reconciliation in the here and now, one in solidarity with those in our society who are told that their bodies don’t matter, one in the unconditional love of Christ in the here and now and forever? What if we are the ones, like Peter and John, who are called to risk pointing to the in-breaking of God’s system in the world?

The good news is that despite our human differences, our human biases and our human fear, Christ proclaims that we all are one in Christ, we all belong to Christ and we are in the here and now, truly seen, forgiven and loved through Christ. Thanks be to God.