The Week After Easter

What do you do the day after everything changes?

This Monday, I walked into our sanctuary and sat for a while.  The sanctuary felt much different than the day before.  Sunday’s glorious music had given way to a powerful silence that seemed to carry echoes of Easter grandeur.  There were far fewer lilies flowering the altar, and there were no trumpets announcing cosmic victory.  There was no crowd, and the sacred buzz of Easter Sunday was long gone.  No little boys were pulling their ties away from their collars, and no little girls were twirling in their dresses.  All I could hear was my own heartbeat and the traffic passing by on the street just on the other side of a large stained glass window.

I began to wonder.  What do you do the day after everything changes?  What do you do the day after you give birth to your firstborn child?  What do you do the day after your phone rings at 2:37 a.m., and the officer on the other end delivers crushing news?  What do you do the day after the boss enters your office to announce the promotion you’ve wanted for years?  What did the world do on September 12, 2001 or December 8, 1941 or the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated?

One of my favorite resurrection stories is the one described in John 21.  Peter and the other disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus had risen from the dead.  They had seen him with their own eyes. Still they went back to the one thing they knew:  fishing!  They were trying to recreate some normalcy in the midst of all the chaos.  They were yearning for what they knew in the midst of the glorious wonder that defied comprehension.  Perhaps we can only handle so much of the inexplicably miraculous until we begin to hunger for something more base and mundane.

OK, I’ll confess:  one of the reasons I walked into the sanctuary on Monday was to relive Sunday’s glory.  I mean, Easter Sunday is the Super Bowl for a minister, and our worship was gloriously moving.  However, I could not recreate Sunday’s magic.

The risen Jesus is never captured in a room, an event, or even a worship service.  He is constantly and ceaselessly slipping through the human grasp, defying the categories, and avoiding his capture.  He is always on the move, refusing to be tied down by our constraining expectations.  If death, hell, and the grave couldn’t hold him, what makes us think we can?  If the worst of our humanity cannot contain him, neither can the best of it.  Our belief in resurrection does not allow us to sit in our pews and pay homage to a historic figure or recreate some past event.  Resurrection demands that we step into the very newness we celebrate.  It calls us to move to the rhythms of impossible life, to announce good news to all people, and to give our lives to a God for whom nothing is impossible.  The mystery of resurrection doesn’t just call us backwards in remembrance; it summons us forward in faith, hope, and love.  If Jesus’ resurrection was a sign of the inbreaking of God’s tomorrow, we will not fully experience it by reminiscing about the past.

On the way out of the sanctuary on Monday, I noticed the stained glass window in the back of the sanctuary, which portrays Jesus, with arms outstretched, summoning any and all to come and follow him.  I was reminded that we do not and will not find Jesus in rehashing Sunday’s wonder; we will only discover him as we follow him.  While I have days in which I’d rather just bask in a pew, Jesus is out there on the streets loving, healing, and speaking.  I guess we all had better join him on the other side of the stained glass windows…and take our news with us.

In this way, Easter isn’t so much a day, as it is a way.  And as it turns out, the last invitation is the first invitation all over again.  Jesus, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, said to those fishermen,  “Follow me.”  

That's what we do on the day after everything changes.

Preston Clegg

Every Need

Psalm 34:19 (NLT) stresses that “The  righteous face many troubles , but the Lord rescues them from each and every one.”

People have all kinds of problems. Mostly, we are reminded to pray for those who have critical physical needs. Along with that, we know many with family issues, and employment concerns. We could make an extremely long list of prayer needs, and could look in the mirror and see ourselves, as needy persons.

So, what does a verse like v. 19 really say to us in our multiple life issues and problems? Some of the thoughts which have come to me are centered on God’s love and power. A verse like this testifies to the great love that God has for us. He is concerned about EVERY need we have. His love is limitless. Incredibly, He is immeasurably  concerned about us, and all our problem-plagued friends and family. While we know He is ultimately concerned about us, we sometimes wonder about the capacity of His problem solving abilities. Our minds tell us He can do the job; our hearts may not be totally confident in His actual helping capability.

We can come to some helpful conclusions. God is able to accomplish every good thing in our lives. Yet, when prayers seem to go unanswered, we wonder why. Some of our biggest problems relate to watching the suffering of good people, for example, beloved older persons, and innocent little children. Not only do good  people live with seemingly unresolved problems, but, often people die without our knowing answers. We all want relief from pain. Many  times we get relief, even in pronounced, miraculous ways. But, it is the other times that puzzles, even disillusions us. In the concluding words of 2 Timothy 4:20 (NLT) , Paul briefly states “…I left Trophimus sick at Miletus.” I have wondered, with the gifts of healing, why Paul did not take a minute, or so, and pray for his friend to be healed (Do not tell the TV evangelists about this! They will be disillusioned! LOL!) Oftentimes, we do not know why God answers, or does not answer certain prayers.

Since God is able to do every good thing, that must mean that His delivering us from all our afflictions may have broader implications than a simple “yes” or “no” answer. A highly respected minister, in his later years, developed cancer in his bones. He was known to have said that this was God’s last opportunity to do good in his life. Sometimes the most painful results point us to higher and more blessed experiences. Maybe only the most mature Christians are able to see the larger picture of God’s deliverance from troubles. I  am still working on it.

James Thomason

What! You too?

I have always felt a bit of guilt regarding my prayer life. My words rarely seem deep enough,  or thoughtfully composed enough; or my prayers were so distracted especially during that listening part of the conversation. They were predictable - almost like a mad lib. Prayer has felt something like this:

Father - Thank you for the (noun). It’s been (adjective) but I and grateful for (noun).
You are my (favorite name of God) and thank you for (noun).
Please help my friend (name here) as she/he (request)
And (friend) who is dealing with (issue or ailment)
(Distracting thought about the grocery list)
I’m sorry God - forgive me for not being focused enough on you.
(Distracting thought: I need to get a baby gift for that shower next weekend.)
Again forgive me Lord  for (sin here)
Help me (verb).
(Distracting thought: Teacher conferences are next week. Where did I put the send home information and what time did I sign up for? Did I tell mason about them?)

And that is when I throw my hands up and walk away… Years of church instruction  told me what a prayer had to be without a certain spiritual depth. This prevented my growth from blossoming past a third grade perspective.

Stellar prayer warrior is not on my spiritual resume, at least not in the way I thought it had to be. The mental picture of a prayer warrior in my head is very specific. The packing list for praying required a quiet or dark room or closet, Bible in the right hand, journal or notepad in the left (with a pen handy as well), ambient music, and a candle burning to represent the presence of Christ. It sounds divinely pristine. There’s nothing wrong with that picture, but it rarely represents my reality. It does not take into consideration what energizes me and what I long for when I think of conversation with God.

The other picture of prayer warriors that come to mind are the faces of specific people that I am confident have worn a bare spot in the carpet due to the amount of time they spend on their knees. The faces of Doris Cain, Whitney Gates Cate, and my own grandmother appear in my minds eye. I often felt they must have a holy of holies in their home. To slip behind that curtain, and know what it must be like to be so very close to the Creator, seems so far away and takes me to the conclusions that my methods are far inferior to whatever they are doing in their prayer life.

I’m not much for public speaking and thought it was the word part that was my hang up. If I had a better vocabulary or more spiritual syntax, then I would be more capable. But the more I’ve rolled this around in my head, the more I realize that words are not the issue. I’ve claimed Romans 8:26-27 in my shortcomings,” In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

My struggle manifests itself in the methodology rather than the words. It’s this whole “sitting still in my closet and thinking quietly words in my head” that truly is the bigger issue in my case. Through my 30-something years of existence, I know that I am visual and kinetic learner similar to many of the children I work with. I have to be doing something for lessons to absorb. When I am required to read and need motivation on getting it done, you will find me pacing and walking the halls with a book in my hand - while others may find a quiet corner to cozy up in. If I am in a meeting or on the phone, my pen will doodle all over my paper turning words into gardens on my page. I am confident it appears that I am not paying a lick of attention, but somehow the content magically soaks in much deeper than if I have to sit straight in my seat with eyes on the speaker. And still some of the most meaningful worship experiences have been with my earbuds stuffed in my ears and my feet pounding the pavement around the neighborhood.

This is who I am. But I often play the dangerous game of comparison. If I don’t pray like Doris I must not be growing in the right ways. If my worship doesn’t look like Whitney’s way of worship is it genuine?

We have been told to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). Imitation requires observation. But if we are not pursuing humility, pride will hijack observation and transform it to comparison. Pride wants glory and sees others as threats to self-glory rather than necessary parts of Christ’s body carrying out Christ’s mission. We can see this when we look at others and don’t see the fruits of God growing, but reflections of our own inferiority. We don’t see them as windows into God’s glory, but as mirrors into which we are asking, “Who’s the fairest one of all?” — and it’s not me.

It is natural for me to connect with God in the way he created me but for some reason in my head this was not enough to count as prayer or worship. If comparison is the thief of Joy, and the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy; then comparison steals, kills and destroys. Instead of letting the weight of these perceived expectations and prayer formulas crush my spirit, I am using it as a training tool in my spiritual marathon. I have found freedom in knowing myself and letting that fuel my conversations with God.

Prayer can be purposeful doodles without the worry that my markings indicate distraction.

Aerobics to Beckah Shaes “Me and My God” can be as meaningful worship experience as an hour in the pew.

And solace in the Lord can take the shape of simply folding towels in the quiet of my laundry room.

C.S. Lewis said  “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”  And luckily for me, I have discovered I am not the only person with this struggle. I have a whole group of friends who join me in a small group and we are exploring the creative ways to connect with God, as well as a church family that celebrates diversity in more ways than skin color.

Deanna Atkinson

Scar-friendly Places

Posted originally by Baptist News Global - Perspectives on February 11, 2015

Scars have a bad reputation.  They’re branded as the bullies on the playground, the bad apples in the barrel, the “Debbie Downer” of the party.  We ban them from our conversations.  We send them to sit in the corner by themselves.

Scars show the mark of a previous wound.  LBJ infamously showed his scar after they removed his gall bladder in 1965 and scandalized the nation.  Click here for the famous picture:

http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/rights-managed/BE045550/president-johnson-shows-surgical-scar 

When I was in elementary school, I fell one day and skinned my knee.  I doctored it myself in my elementary-school way, but I didn’t do it for a day or so.  It must have become infected because it took a long time to heal.  I have a scar on that knee to this day.

If you look above my right eye you can still see where I took a curve ball to the eye at age 14.  About thirty years later I showed the scar to the physician who stitched it up.  He was still proud of his work.  Believe me I can still see that curve ball coming in toward my head!

Scars are markers of the past.  They remind us.  They give evidence of our history.  Sometimes we try with great effort to hide our scars.  We use butterfly bandaids.  We use stitches.  We hire plastic surgeons.  We do everything possible to prevent our scars, to remove our scars, to hide our scars.  We want to keep anyone from knowing that we were ever hurt, that we ever needed surgery, that we somehow might be less than perfect.

It’s one thing to do that with our skin.  But we do the same thing with our hearts.  We have hurts.  We have scars.  All of us do.  We try with all our might to prevent them, to remove them, to hide them.  But they are there. Deep within us.  Calling out to us for healing.  Scars on our hearts are different from the scars on our bodies.  We can hide or remove the scars on our bodies and forget about them.  That’s not nearly as true for the scars on our hearts.  Some are deep.  Some are shallow.  But when we cover them up and shove them ever more deeply inside us, they fail to get the air they need to heal.  Our culture tells us that this is the proper way to handle our hurts.  To cover them, to hide them, to remove them.  But they never heal when we do that.  The longer they stay submerged, the more hurtful they become.

Let’s redeem the reputation of scars.  Let’s invite them to join us in our conversations.  Let’s let them join in telling our stories.  Scars can be redemptive if we allow them to be.  Scars can also remind us of what we’ve learned, when we’ve grown, how we’ve changed for the better.

Scripture tells the stories of how God has formed his community through the ages.  How he has taught them, changed them, led them, and grown them closer and closer to what he intended for them from the beginning.  Sometimes we have to look closely to see what is most obvious.  Some of what I’ve found most obvious is that God does his work through community.  It’s when we’re together that God does his most powerful work.  I’m not disparaging those who devote themselves to lives of prayer and solitude.  Far from it.  But the story of Scripture is that God speaks through our stories as we live them out together in submission to God’s story.  Here’s Paul speaking to the believers in Corinth:

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.  (2 Cor 1:3-5 The Message Bible)

We talk often about being the presence of God to the world.  We are also to be the presence of God to each other, priests to each other.  We are to bear each other’s burdens, hear each other’s stories, receive each other’s confessions.  We are to merge our stories with each other even as God merges all our stories into the grand and glorious story of eternal good news.

Henri Nouwen wrote about how our suffering, our scars, can be redeemed for the service of our communities:

"Making one's own wounds a source of healing, therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains but for a constant willingness to see one's own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all men share."  (The Wounded Healer, 88, italics added) 

Our scars are given to us for each other.  They remind us of the stories we share that go to the very deepest parts of who we are.  They are the visible evidence of our stories, often the most powerful parts of our stories, the parts our communities most need to hear in order to be redeemed.

Let’s work to find ways to make our communities “scar-friendly” places.  Let’s have parades for our scars.  Let’s have parties for them.  Let’s take them out to dinner.  Most importantly let’s invite them into our conversations and make safe spaces for them to be shared and processed.  Let’s allow God to redeem our scars as he uses them to redeem us.

Many of you know that I was in a plane crash in 1999 with my family and my choir.  While getting out of the plane, I cut my forearm.  It wasn’t a bad cut, but it was obvious.  Someone asked me if I thought it would leave a scar.  I said, “I hope so.” 

Charlie Fuller

Consuming Religion

We live in a culture that tells us our goal in life is to consume. We’re constantly looking for things that are newer and better, even if the things we have work just fine. Materialism isn’t really our problem (we don’t keep things long enough for that to be an issue!) but consumerism is. Unfortunately religion isn’t exempt.

I recently read “Consuming Religion” by Vincent J. Miller. He argues that the problem with a consumer culture isn’t with belief but in how we live. For example, nobody argues that child exploitation for cheap products is good or that we should utterly destroy the Earth. A majority of folks active within Christianity can tell you what correct belief is, but that belief hasn’t been truly internalized to the point where it affects our life. This disconnect happens because we as Christians have undergone decades of inculcation into a consumerist society at the expense of being deeply inculcated into a religious tradition. Consumerism is the lens through which we view everything, including our religious beliefs. Everything is a commodity. This allows Christians to pick and choose, which religious traditions they want to incorporate into their lives. Feeling gloomy? Just read a little Joel Osteen and have your best life now! Want to rail against corporate excess and the marginalization of workers? Wear your Mother Theresa meme t-shirt (available for only $9.95!). Everything has lost its context and is defined and commoditized by its consumer, and our faith is no exception. Don’t like worship at your church? Head to another that has the latest and greatest! Disagree with a church decision? Go to a place where everyone thinks just like you! After all church is about me, my and mine, isn’t it?

Fortunately Miller does point towards an answer. He calls for renewed formation and expression of one’s theology and communal tradition. Instead of selectively piecing together what we like, a little Catholic here, a little Baptist here, a little Buddhist Zen here, we need to rediscover our traditions to the fullest extent possible – to be the best Baptist/Catholic/Methodist you can. Fortunately for Catholics (and some other denominations), there is a much larger metanarrative and tradition that helps form and shape people and there’s much to be gleaned from them.

But, I’m Baptist and not Catholic. What symbols/narratives/saintly examples exist in our tradition that we can reclaim to “free” people from a consumerist mindset and give them a telos (end or purpose) from which to understand and view their relationship with products within a consumer society? Unfortunately, Baptists often want to focus on aspects of practice that are least helpful in inculcating someone and giving them the framework and skills to resist a consumer mentality. For example, we’ve been known to split over whether we should use guitars or drums in worship. We’ve been great at majoring on things that don’t matter. Furthermore we don’t have an exhaustive theological framework (like Catholics) that governs virtually every aspect of belief. We subscribe to traditional orthodox teachings (Trinity, Jesus, etc.), but we are fiercely, and sometimes too, independent. With that said, there are some traditional Baptist tenets that can help our actions and beliefs match up.

The first is soul competency. It’s the belief that we have to choose our faith. It’s not something that’s done for us, but it is something we must own. Each person is responsible for his or her own response to God’s offering of salvation. Unfortunately, Baptists often act as if nothing matters once that decision to follow Jesus has been made. We forget that our choices and actions after we profess Christ matter greatly. Christ didn’t just come so that we could “go to heaven,” but to heal and renew a broken creation. When we remember the cosmic scope of the salvation we committed ourselves to, it should exhort us to live differently in every aspect, for nothing is outside the scope of salvation, not even economics.

Secondly, missions have always been an important focus for Baptists. Many have decided to follow God’s call to another country to witness to the resurrection of Christ. One of the most famous Baptist missionaries, Lottie Moon, was born into an affluent family but decided to give up her worldly wealth to become a missionary to China. Today, she’s only used as a rallying cry to raise money. Sadly, many don’t really know her story and how her actions made a difference, not only in China, but also among Baptist beliefs and action in the United States. Retelling her story (and the story of others) gives followers of Jesus concrete examples of rejecting the status quo and living in a way that seeks to bless the world and not just consume it.

So, what other elements of our Baptist tradition can help reframe the consumerism conversation so that our goal in life isn’t merely to consume goods/persons/religion but to be faithful to Christ in everything?

Awesome Sauce

Know what’s awesome?  Coffee in the morning.  Fantasizing over all things Pinterest.  Giftcards from Panera.  A clean house.  $2.00 for a gallon of gas.  Good surprises. Electronics that work properly.  A sunset on the beach.  God giving God. 

This past week I attended the funeral of a dear godly man from my church.  The room was packed with friends he and his wife had known their entire lives.   Precious funny stories were told.  Facts about what he did when he was younger, the sports he played and schools he went to.  Also shared were expressions of the love and kindness he freely gave away to all he met.  It was a beautiful service where not only was Mr. Green fondly remembered but God was honored.  It was awesome.

A few nights ago one of my daughters was telling me about a friend of hers that was upset because she thought that people didn’t like her.   Some kids were also being mean to her.  We talked about what she should do as her friend.  What she could say to encourage her and should a teacher be told.  Somehow my daughter was included in a group text from the meanness that was going on.  She did not respond to anything except to say “What’s the point of being mean”?  After that the texts stopped for the night.  The voice of reason from an eleven year old.  That is awesome. 

What makes something awesome?  The things I think are awesome (i.e. coffee and cheap gas) may not be awesome to you.  If your awesome list includes Fantasy Football, giftcards from McDonald’s, and skydiving, we are NOT on the same page my friend.   I wonder if God has an awesome list.  It might include, Noah building the ark, a star shining over Bethlehem, Daniel and friends faithful to clean eating, a curtain that once separated, forever gone.  When he looks on our lives would he agree with our version of awesome? 

Aware of his presence all around us and

Watching carefully as to not miss the miracle or even the opportunity to be part of the miracle. 

Earnestly

Seek – seek him, seek to be more like him, seek to share him. 

Overwhelming

Moments will most assuredly come – devastatingly glorious, hilariously inspiring.  It is always 

Enough, if we so choose. 

I’m reminded of the song “Enough” that says,

You are my supply, my breath of life
Still more awesome than I know
You are my reward, worth living for
Still more awesome than I know

All of you is more than enough for all of me,

For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with your love and
All I have in you is more than enough.

Of course we want to be awesome and do awesome things.  And God thinks that’s – well awesome.  Truly he does!  And we should absolutely strive for those things that please him and bring him the highest praise and glory.  This I know, the awesome that is ready to go and consume every pore of your soul is not too little and not too much – it is enough. 

In Ephesians 3 Paul’s prayer is that we might be able to know the vastness of God’s love.  It is deep and wide and long and high.  And even though we’ll never ever be able to fully understand it – we’ll never be able to comprehend its awesome power, it is absolutely able to establish and create and accomplish more awesome than we can ever wrap our heads around.  As in, “Man, I wish I had thought of that”.

When God gives God, there’s nothing more awesome. 

Suzanne Cain

Happy New Year

It’s a new year and it’s time for some changes.  On that note, there’s something we need to talk about.

It’s becoming an epidemic in our culture, particularly to internet users.  Particularly those internet users on social media.  It shows up right before our eyes, and when we see it we want to see more.  We know we shouldn’t click but sometimes it’s just too enticing and we can’t help ourselves.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t know? Clickbait.  Maybe you don’t know the term, but if you’ve ever used facebook or visited a news site (or maybe I should say “news” site) you’ve seen these before.  Websites make money from ad revenue.  The more their site gets visited, the more they can make on ads.  So if you read a headline but don’t click the link, that does them no good. They must make you click.

That can add up to some pretty ridiculous headlines.   Here are some of my favorite actual Clickbait titles:
They Fell Asleep On A Plane but Get A Huge Surprise Upon Waking Up.
Everyone Thought She Was Wearing Normal Jeans. When I Saw The Truth? Oh my.
During This Show, A Dolphin Jumped On Her. What It Did Was Embarrassing.
Seemed Like He’s Just Walking His Dogs. When I Looked Closer, I Was Dumbfounded.
When The Dog Finds Out Cat Had Kittens, It’s Too Precious.
He Cuts The Handle Off This Toilet Brush. Why? Pure Genius.
He Puts A Bar Of Soap In The Microwave And A Minute Later It’s Wild.

And my personal favorite:
When She Places A Mug Over An Egg, It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.

Really? It doesn't get any better than this?? Clickbait is everywhere which means it must work. We see these promises of exciting new knowledge and entertainment and we must know! All our lives we’ve searched for deep meaning and satisfaction. Come to find out there’s nothing better than a mug over an egg (I’ll save you the trouble, it’s just a way to separate the yolk and the white. Pretty sure there are much easier ways to do this without getting an extra dish dirty).

If there’s a better example out there of All Hype and No Substance, of All Promise but No Delivery, I can’t think of a better one.  Except maybe our New Year’s Resolutions.  “2015! A new year! The year things finally change!  The year I ultimately become who I want to be!”  We might have said those things in 2014, and if we’re not careful we just might say them again in 2016.  We live for the exciting, the memorable, the eventful, the big changes. We have falsely come to believe that life is about the sensational and the dramatic – the 50 pounds lost, the total overhaul in attitude and outlook, the big promotion.

And certainly some of us have big changes we need to make, but they likely won’t happen overnight.  If God is God of the big things, he is also God of the small things. And the more I understand of the ways of Jesus, I think God wants to know us in the littlest, most mundane and boring parts of our life.  In her book The Quotidian Mysteries, Kathleen Norris puts it this way:

“The Bible is full of evidence that God's attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us--loves us so much that the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life. It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is indeed refreshed like dew-laden grass that is "renewed in the morning" or to put it in more personal and also theological terms, "our inner nature is being renewed everyday.”

I remember finishing that book a few years ago and then going to do the dishes, and asking God, “Really? You came down to earth for this?  A life of daily routine and chores and minutiae?”  Maybe I didn’t actually pray the word ‘minutiae’, but you get the idea.  As singer/songwriter Sara Groves puts it, every day we’re “setting up the pins for knocking ‘em down.”  It’s not always exciting. There’s rarely hype.  But there is beauty to be found.  Jesus came to Earth to fully know life as a human, meaning he understands and cares about even the most seemingly drudging parts of our lives.

Whatever we may be up to in 2015, let’s ask ourselves this question: what does it look like for us to go through life – our work, family, relationships, hobbies, free time – and do those things in Jesus’ name? Every day we make decisions, and those decisions make us.  Over time, when we place our life in God’s hands, we’re slowly but surely being formed into his image.  We can trust that God is acting on our behalf and for our good. As we’re told in Lamentations, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”  God is no clickbait; he is good on his promises.  With that in mind, it is indeed a happy new year.

Logan Carpenter

On Earth, Peace

I wonder what the shepherds were talking about under that lone tree in the fields, as they watched their flocks that night. 

You know they had to be talking.  What else could shepherds do as they watched their sheep sleep?  Perhaps one of them expressed worry about his son who was drinking his life away.  Perhaps one of them was worried about finances.  I imagine it was difficult to support a family on a night-shift shepherd salary.  Perhaps one was worried about his struggling marriage, which had grown cold after all those years.  The more he worked at it, the worse it became.  Or maybe they were pondering the recent census ordered by Quirinius and the heavy taxation soon to follow.

I don’t know what the shepherds were talking about in the fields that night, but I know the sorts of discussions 2014 has placed on the table.  In this year, we’ve seen the rise of ISIS and the evil that can be inflicted by radical fundamentalists.  We’ve watched in horror as entire towns were held in their grasp and heads rolled.  We watched as conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine sent entire people groups running for their lives.  We watched as EBOLA spread and took lives.  We watched as racial conflicts destroyed the illusion of living in a post-racial society.  I don’t know what the shepherds were struggling with that night long ago, but I know the disturbing news which has sent us to our knees this year.

Into the midst of their fears and anxieties, the heavens opened and angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest…and on earth, peace.”  Peace.

It seems absurd to utter that word in our chaotic and fractured world today.  When there is animosity between the religions, tension between the races, division between the classes, and war between the nations how can we even think of peace?  To speak of peace in our day is either comical on the one hand or revolutionary on the other. 

One neglected aspect of the Christmas story, at least in the way Luke tells it, is the Roman backdrop to this scene.  The whole story begins with the phrase, “In the days of Caesar Augustus.”  These were the days when Rome ruled the world.  Empire was having its way.  Might was making right.  And of course, Rome, like all empires, couched their control in the language of peace.  They called it the “Pax Romana” or “peace of Rome.”  But the peace of empire isn’t true peace.  It is subjugation and control, which only lasts as long as you are the big kid on the block.  It is not creation in the ways of God, but politics in the ways of empire. 

But when Jesus was born as a “Savior, Christ the Lord,” he was born as an alternative to the ways of Rome.  The peace from the angels that night was a different sort of peace from a different sort of Lord.  It wasn’t the peace that comes from subduing or killing your enemies, but the peace that comes from loving them and being reconciled to them.  It’s not the sort of peace that comes from controlling people by overt force and power, but the sort that comes from inspiring people with authentic love and service.  It’s not the sort of peace that comes from halls of power; it’s the sort of peace that shows up in mangers and fields.  It’s not the sort of peace that comes from silencing the other; but the sort of peace that comes from actually listening to them.  It’s not the sort of peace we achieve through military victory, but the sort of peace we receive through grace. 

It is a pervasive peace, which begins deep in our own fractured and alien hearts and spreads from person to person, religion to religion, nation to nation.  It allows us to make peace with our own souls so that we live out of our true selves rather than our false selves.  We can be honest about ourselves and with ourselves.  This peace reconciles us to God, so that we need not keep looking for something else to worship or running from the One who can’t be escaped.  It brings us closer to people, even those with whom we disagree.  It unites and reconciles, bringing together shepherds and angels, heaven and earth, Rome and Bethlehem.

So, as we reflect on this Christmas season and all that 2014 brought us, may we open ourselves to this peace.  It is this peace that the world longs to receive.  It is this peace which God longs to give.  It’s almost too good to be true…almost.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth… peace!  PEACE!!!

Preston Clegg