Live in Peace

“Live in Peace”

 

2 Cor 13-11 God of love peace words

2 Corinthians 13:11-14 (13:11) – June 7, 2020

Did you ever try to grab the fog? I did, when I was a youngster. I’m sure all of us remember foggy mornings, when the fog was so thick you couldn’t even see fifty feet ahead of you. But—did you ever try to grab hold of that fog in your hands? Well, it can’t be done. For regular human beings trying to lay hold of that fog is almost the same as us trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. People may try. Yes, it is a difficult concept for Christians to grasp.

However, God’s comforting, welcoming presence is not difficult to hold on to, especially in complicated, troubled times like these. We turn to our Scripture passage for this morning. 2 Corinthians 13:11-14 is the close of a letter Paul wrote to a church very much conflicted, very much in pain. Yet, these final words are words of encouragement, comfort and blessing.

Did the multi-layered situation in First Church Corinth have any similarity to the tumultuous situation in the United States today? In a way and on a smaller scale, yes. The two situations do not have a one-to-one correspondence, true. But, can we find some insight, encouragement and comfort for today in Paul’s final words to his fellow believers in Corinth?

I have two sisters. Before they retired, both worked as managers for a number of years in two different corporations. Over the years, I heard from them both about difficult situations both had to deal with. I am sure everyone here knows of a complex situation that blew up in your face, or your friend’s face, or at your workplace. This kind of uproar can raise tensions, too.

Does this sound familiar? This complex group of situations was the uproar in First Church Corinth. Paul needed to address these situations in this second letter to the church.

I felt God nudging me to speak to this current great racial divide in our nation. It is bubbling over, even while many sit in our homes, sleep in our beds, and go about our daily business. Yes, this inequity has been present for a long, long time. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are simply the most visible among those horrific deaths that have been sad, desperate realities for countless numbers of families, for centuries.

We are not going to look through a magnifying glass at the complex situation in Corinth. It is enough to say that there was considerable strife among church members, including factions inside the church. I suspect this strife had spilled over into relations with others in the city. Perhaps, even, into relationships in the area of greater Corinth.

Paul did end up speaking sharply to the whole congregation, as well as to several specific people. Yet, in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul also gives us tremendous understanding about the reconciliation we receive from Christ that we are also commanded to go out and share with others. What a command, after quite a rebuke and commentary!

Referring to factions in the church, Paul stated in verse 1:10 of his first letter, “that you be united (katertismenoi) in the same mind and the same purpose.” And Paul comes back to this concept in his closing words in 2 Corinthians 13:11: “’mend (katartizesthe) your ways,’ ‘agree with one another,’ and ‘live in peace.’” [1]

Paul expresses the wish, the desire that his fellow believers might live in unity, mending their ways, finding agreement even in disagreement, and above all living in peace.

This earnest desire of the apostle Paul’s heart seems more and more evasive ad elusive in this turbulent time, indeed. Like the fog I referred to, a few minutes ago, so difficult to grasp hold of. I see the demonstrations, the rallies, the protests and yes, the looting of these past days, the bubbling over of widespread racial inequities that have existed for a long, long time.

My friend, Presbyterian pastor Russell Smith wrote, “by our society’s actions, it’s clear that we as a culture treat Black lives as mattering less. This devaluing of life is a devaluing of the image of God that every human being carries. It is sinful and wrong.” [2] Friends, I agree with Russell. Every person created on earth is an image-bearer. All deserve to be lifted up. All deserve to live in peace. No matter who. Period.

How, then, can we as followers of Jesus live in peace? As Professor Works reminds us, “the appeal to peace is also a marker of the Spirit’s work. In short, the presence of joy and peace are the indicators of the Spirit’s transformative work to reveal God’s kingdom: Paul’s closing in 2 Corinthians is not simply an appeal for the church to get along, it is an exhortation for the Corinthians to be the new creation that the Spirit is equipping them to be.” [3]

What a wonderful follow-up to our Pentecost celebration last Sunday. Paul is indeed calling every believer to be all that God through the Holy Spirit is helping us to be. No matter what, no matter who. No matter whether we live in city, suburb, rural, or any other community. No matter what our skin color happens to be.

God willing, we can all strive to become more and more like Jesus. Who would Jesus love? Every one. Every single person in all creation. No matter who.

Paul ends this letter with a benediction. It is called a “Trinitarian benediction,” because it refers to God the Creator, Forgiver and Comforter. Receive these words of the apostle Paul:

May Jesus Christ who forgives us,

God who created us and loves us always,

and the Holy Spirit who is with us helping us and caring for the world through us

be with you all today and every day. [4]

[1] Commentary, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 (Trinity A), Carla Works, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2081

[2] https://russellbsmith.com/2020/06/05/black-lives-matter/

[3] Commentary, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 (Trinity A), Carla Works, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2081

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/05/year-trinity-sunday-first-sunday-after.html

Worshiping with Children, Trinity Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Don’t Be Troubled

“Don’t Be Troubled”    

John 14-27 don't be afraid, words

John 14:1-4, 25-27 (14:27) – August 26, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Have you ever felt the pain and loss of an upcoming separation, even before it actually happened? Perhaps a good friend or relative is moving far away, soon Or, maybe a loved one is seriously ill in the hospital, in fact, terminally ill. You deeply feel the upcoming, approaching loss even when your loved one is still right there, with you.

Those two situations, those two instances are similar to what actually happened to the disciples. For all they knew, their Rabbi Jesus was going away, permanently. Jesus knew He was going to be parted from His friends for a while. Jesus gave His farewell speech in the Upper Room. What could any of the disciples do or say?

Let us back up a bit. The disciples did not anticipate exactly what events were going to happen. It is not that He kept quiet about His leaving and going away. It was others, the disciples, who said, “Where are you going, Lord?”  What could some possibly hear that Jesus said would happen?

Here in the Gospel of John, the writer John wanted everyone to know that Jesus was in His final efforts to convince His disciples. Jesus knew very well what was going to happen. This discourse is one of utmost significance. Jesus gave the fullest explanation in answering these questions, and in expressing His longing, His care in this Upper Room discourse.

I realize that we here in suburban Chicago are not quite as familiar with the extent of the separation, heightened fear, and anxiety the disciples were facing during that Passion Week before Jesus’s crucifixion. But, many people today do face separation, and anxiety, too. In some cases, their feelings and emotions might border on severe fear, even terror. And, in some cases, these feelings and emotions are diagnosed as mental health challenges.

“According to U.S.A. Today (11/16/11), ‘More than 20 percent of American adults took at least one drug for conditions like anxiety and depression in 2010 … including more than one in four women.’ The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports (adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics, bold type theirs), ‘Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).’” [1]

Thank God, we do have ways of managing that anxiety, even severe fear, today. Let me say that the various types of therapy and group support and medication we have available to us are all valid. These are all ways to manage anxiety and fear. Jesus gives us another way of managing our anxiety and fear, too.

Listen to the words that Jesus had for us in the reading today, from the new, modern translation “The Message.” From John 14: 1-4 “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

The words that we are more familiar with, “Do not be troubled,” Eugene Peterson translates “Don’t let this throw you.” The disciples had good reason to be troubled and afraid! They knew that the Jewish leaders were out to get their leader, their Rabbi. And yet—Jesus had walked straight into the trap the leaders were setting for Him. Talk about anxiety! The disciples had every right to be scared to death!

Yes, separation can be triggered by fear and anxiety; in certain of the disciples’ cases, the fear and anxiety of just not knowing. Not knowing anything. That can be a scary prospect, indeed. The disciples enjoyed a deep intimacy with their Rabbi Jesus. Thus, “the disciples were full of fearful questions when Jesus announced His departure. Yet Jesus understood their troubled hearts and assured them of a continued home together.[2]

That was in the case of the disciples, two thousand years ago. But, what about us, today? We can see from Jesus’s words that He means a relational dimension to our interaction with Him. Yes, we can enjoy intimacy with each other, and intimacy with God. At the same time, we can be fearful and anxious at the prospect of separation—even that most permanent of separation, death itself.

How can we sort out these deep-seated feelings? Yes, fear and anxiety are part and parcel of all of us human beings. These feelings are part of our emotional make-up. Jesus goes right to the heart of our fear of separation and loss of intimacy with His words that tell us “I’m getting a room ready for you!” This image describes “the mutuality and reciprocity of the relationship of God and Jesus… [In fact,] Jesus uses the domestic image to say ‘My return to God will make it possible for you the join in the relationship that the Father and I share.’” [3]

How awesome is that? We all can join in on that relationship. Jesus lovingly invites us into that family relationship with God our heavenly Father.

But, that is not all, especially at this stressful, anxious, fear-producing time right before Jesus knows He is going to be arrested and crucified.  Listen to our Lord’s assurance to us, from Peterson’s modern translation of John 14:25-27: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.”

As if a close relationship with Jesus is not enough, He even promises us the gift of a dear Friend, the indwelling Holy Spirit. Even more amazing!

We are encouraged to think carefully about whether or not we have truly laid hold of the cure for troubled hearts that Jesus promises in our scripture reading today. “Faith in Christ’s person and hope in Christ’s promise will comfort your troubled heart. You may think, ‘That’s overly simplistic! That’s a nice thought, but it’s impractical and out of touch with reality!’ But these are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to troubled hearts. Either His words are true or they’re not.” [4]

Do you hear? Jesus did not leave His disciples abandoned and bereft, all alone, fearful with separation anxiety. What is more, Jesus does not leave us alone today, either. Sure, we may go through difficult times, but Jesus promises to walk with us.

We will have challenges and difficulty in this world, true, yet we have an intimate relationship with God freely offered to us. So, that is our Lord’s parting gift to us all. His peace. Don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. Be not afraid. We have Jesus’s word on it.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled…

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled-hearts-john-141-11

[2] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 110.

[3] O’Day,Gail R., The Gospel of John, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 741.

[4] bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled…

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled-hearts-john-141-11

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Struggle for Liberation

“Struggle for Liberation”

Isa 61-1 freedom, liberty word cloud

Isaiah 61:1-3 – August 14, 2016

Has anyone listened to the news? Or, read the newspaper lately? Or, checked out the headlines on their computer news sites? Other than the Olympics—which is some positive, uplifting news, indeed, and a much needed boost in this mixed-up world—there is very little positive going on in the world right now.

Bombings in Thailand, and wide-spread flooding in the Gulf Coast. Not to mention the violence in Milwaukee, poor economic forecast and drought-stricken areas covering large sections worldwide. Add to that, the rise in the prison population in the United States, complicated by the surge in unemployment in many urban areas across the country. Problem upon problem. What can we do about all of this? It makes me feel helpless, and hopeless.

Our Scripture passage from the Hebrew Bible comes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 61. As we read through the first two verses, we might just as well be reading the headlines from the daily paper or from a news site online, or listening to the news on the radio or television. Chapter 61 talks about the poor, those who are captive, brokenhearted, and those in prison. With one huge exception: the prophet has been chosen and anointed by the Lord to bring help and hope to those very people.

Reading from Isaiah 61 again: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. God has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, margto proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Praise God! The Lord is listening to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the prisoners!

The prophet knows very well he has been sent and deputized to go to these people who are down and out. On the outskirts, on the margins of society. In this world today, so many people are poor, and captive, and prisoners. Outside of this country, certainly. But, even within this country. I am certain there are many people on the outskirts and margins of society very near this church, in a two mile-radius all the way around St. Luke’s Church.

I am preaching through the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission for my summer sermon series. This week, our sentence from the mission statement says: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to join oppressed and troubled people in the struggle for liberation.”

This call from the statement of mission certainly echoes Isaiah 61. The prophet is clearly joining oppressed and troubled people. On the outskirts, on the margins of society.

Our Lord Jesus read this very passage from the prophet Isaiah when He started His ministry. Right after Jesus was baptized, He went to Nazareth. While in the synagogue, He was given the opportunity to read from Scripture. This was the passage Jesus read. After reading these verses, “20 Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

We have the prophet in the time of Isaiah sent to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. We have our Lord Jesus saying—at the beginning of His ministry—that He has been sent to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. And, we have the United Church of Christ’s Mission Statement saying that we—all of us—have been sent to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized.

Jesus chose to hang out with these “down and out” type people, deliberately.

In fact, Jesus was soundly criticized. In the Gospel of Mark, the religious leaders get all righteous on Jesus for hanging out and eating with tax collectors and other “sinners.” The super-righteous Pharisees would not even allow themselves to come near these second-class citizens! That’s how much better they considered themselves. But, our Lord Jesus willingly associated with these “sinners,” these people who according to religious law were ritually unclean.

Jesus came to earth to reach out to all people, to bring the good news of the Gospel to everyone. Jesus came to the tax collectors just as much as the Pharisees, to free all people from their spiritual bondage. To liberate all people, so that we could be free, indeed!

Isn’t that just what God has been doing, all along? All throughout biblical history, and throughout the history of the church? We can follow that thread of liberation through the Hebrew Scriptures, highlighted by the Exodus, where the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt. A huge liberation, to be sure!

We can follow the additional freedoms from oppression and liberations from captivity stated in the Bible. The book of Judges has one after another. The books of the Kings of Judah and Israel, more periodic liberation. The return from captivity of both Judah and Israel. Then, the ultimate liberation from captivity—humanity’s freedom from the bondage to sin and death, paid for us by Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.

Praise God! We have been set free from this bondage of sin and death. The physical, mental, emotional and psychological shackles that kept us all bound as prisoners have been loosened. Thank You, Jesus! I am so very, very happy and grateful and thankful.

Jesus encourages us—each of us—to reach out in the same way. We are to reach out to the poor, the brokenhearted, the oppressed. That is our part, to offer this freedom from bondage to those we meet.

I know what some people might say. “I am just one person. The task is much, much too big. Plus, I haven’t been trained in mission, or evangelism, or chaplaincy, or how to preach.”

Let me tell you a story. A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!” [1]

Remember, our sentence from the mission statement says: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to join oppressed and troubled people in the struggle for liberation.” Exactly so. You and I can do what we are able. No matter how small or how big it might be.

What can I do? This task of freeing the starfish—I mean, people from the penalty of bondage and death? What can we do to join oppressed and troubled people, and sit with them in their time of need? Walk with them through their difficulties?

I know it seems like a small thing, but I go regularly to play for a hymn sing at a nursing home in Chicago. I know the seniors appreciate my playing. What about donating to the Maine Township food pantry? I know it seems small, but there are hungry people throughout the community who will thank us.

Let us follow the prophet, and follow our Lord Jesus in this worthy effort. Engage with others. Find something to do, or say, and do it!

Please God, help us all in this endeavor. Amen!

[1] Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)