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.

 

Don’t Get Distracted (And Don’t Cut Off Any Body Parts Either!) Mark 9: 38-50 Pentecost 18B Sept. 27th, 2015 September 28, 2015

In seminary I took a class in Chicago for two weeks where we studied different urban ministry settings-mostly in impoverished and struggling communities. We went to St. Sabina where Fr. Pfleger had focused on the church building up the community to provide social services and combat racism. We went to Trinity UCC with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III (formerly the congregation Jeremiah Wright served) where the focus was on building up people to be faithful followers of Jesus no matter what their struggles might be. We visited a small Lutheran congregation that ran an assisted living facility for elderly who were low income. We visited soup kitchens, programs to move people off the streets to self sufficiency and several other kinds of ministries. But the one that hit this (at the time) fledging soon to be pastor was a UCC congregation in the Latino part of Chicago.
This congregation ran a soup kitchen that fed lunch to 150 people from the streets every single day. They partnered with a nearby Catholic school for the youth to help serve; they coordinated massive food donations each week; they offered counseling for those in need, not to mention prayer and love. They were not a large congregation, maybe an average worship attendance of 100 or so and certainly not a wealthy congregation by any means. But they were focused on living out the gospel by whatever means necessary. What was more striking to all of us in the class was that this congregation had not had a pastor for two years. None, not even an interim. They had some supply pastors float in and out but no consistent pastoral presence. They deeply desired that presence, they wanted a pastor but it’s difficult to get one to come for what they were paying in that part of Chicago.
A parishioner named Rosaria had decided that the soup kitchen would be her ministry and while she had another full time job, she managed to put together a team of people both within and without of the congregation to work with her. She greeted us at the door and proudly told us all about that ministry and congregation. We sat and listened to how each member of this congregation played a role, how they had put aside the anxiety and fear of no pastor in place and just got on with the ministry that God had called them too, and they did it well. They were the busiest people I have ever seen and yet the calmest people I have ever seen. When something didn’t go exactly how they had planned, they readjusted and just kept moving around, over or through the obstacle not worrying about who is getting credit, or who is in charge. I marveled at the calm, as my personal M.O. is to worry about all of the things that could go wrong. I actually found myself concerned for them! But they ignored all of the possible distractions and were simply focused on God’s children who needed food for the day and a word of God’s love, mercy and grace.
“Be at peace with one another.” We tend to think that peace looks like serenity, rest, status quo, an easy life, or no hardships in our path to whatever we think we need to do to be at peace, happy or content. But peace is not any of these things. Peace in this text comes from the Hebrew word “Shalom” which means wholeness. Wholeness. Peace in God’s kingdom is about all people being whole: being wholly loved, wholly included, and wholly equal. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes when the disciples come to tattle tale that someone else is doing what they perceived to be solely their work. “Jesus this person is casting out demons! That’s what we do! We should stop him!” I mean heaven forbid that all of the demons get cast out and then everyone is healthy! Then we won’t be special! The disciples, and us, like to over think situations and make them more complex and more fearful than they really are.
Jesus then goes on to talk about whoever is not against us is for us, don’t put up obstacles, and then some gruesome words about cutting off body parts that keep you from fully participating in God’s work of peace in the world. Now we know that we can’t take such language literally, Jesus does not want us to cut off body parts or put a millstone around our necks but does want to get our attention and to think deeply about what distracts us from God’s peace, God’s wholeness and being part of God’ work that reveals God’s love in the world. What obstacles do we put up to keep out some of God’s children who make us uncomfortable? We love distractions from our real work at hand and we spend much more time creating them than actually just getting to the task of God’s work given to us. We worry about what other people are thinking or doing, we worry about what other people say about us, we worry that some people may not believe the same way, or will get mad, or not like us, or something may not work as well as we want. We worry, and in our anxiety and fear we create obstacles, we look for pitfalls and failings. What we don’t do is look to Christ who works in our midst, in our mess and promises to be forever present.
Hell is separation from God (it is not a place and no one is being sent there!) and we create our own hell. We create ways to exclude hope, joy and love so that we can say “I told you so” when things don’t quite work out how we envisioned. God desires for everyone to be close to God and wrapped in God’s love with no separation-hell is not God’s judgment or punishment; it’s how we punish ourselves. * But God never leaves us and never wants us separated from God or God’s loving community, yet we look for ways to resist God’s desire, thinking it’s safer to go it alone than to participate in the reckless abundance, generosity and love of Christ. Christ opened the way for all –removed every single obstacle that the world could provide-even death-in order for all creation to be in God’s peace, God’s Shalom and God’s love now and forever.
What distractions need to be navigated in your life, here at LOTH or in the community? How are we caught up in our own worry and anxiety and miss what God is doing right here, right now in our midst? We have the Prayer and Care ministry that offers mercy, hope and community right when people need it the most. We have all of our education opportunities that dive us all at any age deep into God’s word of love for us all. We have Habitat for Humanity and Prayer Shawl ministries. We have our buildings that offer safe places for our brothers and sisters in Christ to meet. God is at work here-no matter what obstacles we perceive!
Jesus removes all obstacles and simply calls us to do the same. The UCC Church in Chicago learned that Christian community isn’t about a pastor, a church building, a budget or anyone of the things with which they could have distracted themselves. Christian community is recognizing that Jesus has already removed all distractions, has already given us all that we need for the journey and has gathered us all into one body for the sake of loving God and our neighbor. “Be at peace with one another, for God is with you.”
*My own personal view point on Hell is that it is not a place where those who are “bad, evil or don’t make the cut get in.” God’s salvation is for all and all are in! All means all! That person right now you’re saying to yourself ‘not them’…yes them too! This is good news as nothing separates us from the love of Christ, not even our own attempts at self-sufficiency! If your head is hurting-good! God’s love and mercy are that mysterious and that overwhelming!