Today’s Rethink Church prompt is “Peace.” Being myself, I would prefer a Haiga to a simple photo. On March 31st, a Sunday, I fell asleep on the couch. At some point, a child grabbed my phone and took this photo. I was asleep, enjoying a heated blanket, and completely unaware that the photo was taking place. Peace is sometimes that moment when you let everything go and get some rest.
Last night there was a meeting in the Upper New York Annual Conference. The bishop spoke, hearts broke, and certain people started talking about others. Opinions like mine were thrown to the side as people began speaking about how inevitable it was that the church would split. I was offering people my peace to people who stayed after to pray when I came across someone mocking people who believed the things I believed. I offered them peace.
I would love to say my poem isn’t inspired by Proverbs 25:21-22, but the reality is that we all have to choose how we live out our lives of faith. I try to be a person of integrity who prays with people, but sometimes you need to choose how to respond to people. I would rather respond with grace than with anger.
Offer them peace.“Offer them peace” Rondelet by The Distracted Pastor, 2019
When they do not know what they do
Offer them peace.
When all they offer is a kris
Which they offer to put in you
For trying to keep your heart true:
Offer them peace.
Once again, I have been drawn into deep thought by my children’s favorite podcast. My kids adore the NPR Podcast Wow in the World with Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas. Last week my kids asked to listen to the podcast while we were running an errand to the grocery store in Johnson City. The podcast was entitled “A Case FOR the Giggles” and revolved around a study out of Georgia State University. The study was on the health benefits of laughter.
The podcast was very amusing. The podcast was full of laughter which spread throughout our van as we drove through the hills outside Binghamton. The podcast also caught my attention when it began to speak about the idea of contagious laughter. Laughter, much like yawning, is contagious. Simply being around another person who is laughing can cause a person to smile if not laugh,
As I contemplated contagious behavior, I began to think about other behaviors which are contagious. The creators of the podcast suggested a social experiment where we look at how other behaviors might be contagious. The study suggestion was to see if people would engage in mimicking your behavior. I thought back through past situations in my life and here is what I came up with:
- Stress is contagious. If you enter a room and you are filled with stress that stress is extremely contagious.
- Body language is contagious. If you are in a deep conversation and lean towards someone, they will lean in like you. If you cross your arms and sit back, they may do the same thing.
- Panic is contagious. If one person begins to panic in a crowded place, things can go downhill quickly.
- Anger is contagious. I do not go out on Black Friday as a result of this contagion.
- Greed is contagious. If there are a limited amount of resources and you hoard as much as you can, others will likely follow suit.
I noticed that a lot of the examples I could come up with for contagious behavior revolved around pretty negative things. Yawning, body language, and laughing may be neutral activities, but anger, panic, greed, and stress can be pretty negative. I was contemplating this idea when I thought back to my time at the Academy this last session.
I remembered that when people smiled, grinned, and even made space for each other, the space was transformed, even in the midst of absolute silence. There were a number of periods of silence each day and what I discovered was that silence was not the end of communication. The sense of peace, welcome, and grace filled the room.
So, is peace contagious? Yesterday in my private devotions I was reading through Luke 10:1-12. In that chapter Jesus says the following to the seventy disciples that he is sending ahead of him: (Luke 10:4-7, NRSV)
“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there that shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move from house to house.”
What if what Jesus is telling the seventy disciples is to be contagious with their peace? He tells the seventy disciples to share their peace widely as they go. Each home they enter should be offered peace. As they preach in these towns, Jesus tells them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who are ill, but only if they are welcome. If they are not welcomed, they are invited to knock the contagious dust off their feet and move on.
What if the invitation to the seventy disciples applies to us? What if we are to offer our peace to people when we enter into their lives? What if we are to begin our relationships with others through the gift of peace? We live in a world that suggests fear and carefulness is the correct response to strange folks. What if the very first thing we are called to do is to offer peace? What if we have been going about things all wrong?
Can you imagine a world where the peace of God spreads like a contagion? Can you imagine a world where it inoculates us from things like fear, hatred, and angst? Can you imagine a place where grace and kindness spread like the joy of laughter? While I do not like being contagious when it comes to a cold or sickness, there is something powerful about the idea of being contagious with God’s grace.
What if all of the fruits of the Spirit were such contagious things? Perhaps the very contagious nature of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control that is why they are described as fruit filled with seeds. I hope they are contagious, because I know the people I know and the whole world could use more of these gifts. May they spread like wildfire among the saints and those people that they love.
Okay, so today I wanted to put out a blog post that addressed something I hinted at in yesterday’s post. This is more educational than pastoral. Teaching is a part of the role of a pastor in the United Methodist Church, especially in times of crisis. Yesterday I wrote about fear. Today I write about applying faith to action.
Our world stands at a precipice. We have rushed up to the edge of a cliff and are looking off the edge. There is a need for wisdom and discernment in the world. A voice needs to cry out with wisdom! In a world with a thousand and one opinions for every person, there should be some place we can turn when things are out of sorts to find a consensus of wise minds. Yes, the Bible is one such place to find guidance, but nuclear weapons are not mentioned by name in the scripture.
Thankfully, the United Methodist Church meets for holy conferencing every four years. While I am not always a fan of everything that comes out of General Conference, there is one resource that I believe best expresses the heart of what good holy conferencing can create. Unfortunately, not many United Methodists read the words of our Book of Resolutions. The Book of Resolutions are non-binding on people within the church and as such are free to express our most passionate ideals while not forcing churches in wildly different circumstances to engage in the same behaviors.
Here’s what the 2016 Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (¶160.1) says about “The Natural World:” (my underlines)
“All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect. Economic, political, social, and technological developments have increased our human numbers, and lengthened and enriched our lives. However, these developments have led to regional defoliation, dramatic extinction of species, massive human suffering, overpopulation, and misuse and overconsumption of nature and nonrenewable resources, particularly by industrialized societies. This continued course of action jeopardizes the natural heritage that God has entrusted to all generations. Therefore, let us recognize the responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social, and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitable and sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.”
As United Methodists have gathered in Holy Conferencing, we have come to the conclusion as a global body that there are some things we believe about the world around us. We believe that this world is a world that is entrusted to us but does not exist entirely for us. Our planet has a natural heritage this planet possesses that abuses have caused us to damage and debilitate in some cases. Plants, creatures, and the earth itself all consist parts of God’s creation. We are called to care for this earth as caretakers and stewards.
While there are people who still argue about and around climate change, the vast majority of people understand that the deployment of nuclear weapons would be a damaging act that would do a massive amount of harm to the earth, the plants, the biosphere, and the creatures including humans. United Methodists believe that the way we treat the world can jeopardize the natural heritage entrusted to all people and all who live upon and in the world itself. As a people, we cannot abide the concept of nuclear war and the ramifications it has on human and natural life. We have the technology and we have the ability to develop non-technological responses (e.g. diplomacy, sanctions, isolation) to deal with tyranny without resorting to nuclear exchanges.
The suffering which would take place as the result of a nuclear exchange would be massive. As people of faith, there are many things we can do. We can pray for our leaders and for other world leaders. We can study peace-making and begin to create a culture of peace-making that can influence challenges like these in the future. We can also write or call our representatives in this earthly nation and ask them to express displeasure (and abject horror) to other leaders in the world about the possibility of a nuclear exchange.
Regardless of feelings of helplessness, questions of efficacy, or doubts about our own abilities, it is the obligation of stewards to care for creation. We are stewards of creation and we have an obligation to seek a way forward which will care for creation in the face of nuclear annihilation. To do anything less would be an abdication of our responsibility as caretakers of a planet that has given us all of the great elements that provide us life.
A Collect for these days: “Holy God, You are the One who stitched this world together. Knit together Your caretakers in action, deed, and love through your Holy Spirit so that we may work together to keep this world from being torn asunder through the most brutal and violent of forces. We pray these things through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
I was out in the world this morning. Cold or no cold, there are some appointments that cannot be put off. I had an appointment with a specialist that I had scheduled weeks in advance. I went to my appointment on cold medicine, advised everyone I was in contact with to wash their hands, and we made the best of things.
My appointment today was for a simple non-invasive type of treatment which took a few minutes. The doctor and I sat alone talking while she was going about her work. We began to talk and things went to deep matters in a few moments. I was not surprised. People often open up to me–I do not advertise that I am a minister, but I always seek to be polite and courteous. It can be amazing how quickly people come to trust you when you always say “please,” “thank you,” and tell them that you are grateful for what they are doing for you. I also believe that most people just want someone to listen.
She started talking about what she had heard in the news. She was afraid of what was happening in the world. She talked about intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear warheads, and the idea that someplace as nearby as Washington could be struck, although she did not rule out New York City. As medicated as I was at the time, I wondered aloud about the fact that people feared nuclear attacks on the Hoover Dam and the dam at Niagara Falls during the Cold War. We talked about how frightening things are, how strange everything seemed, and she wondered what she would do if a war broke out. She was frightened. I commiserated, listened, spoke very little, and prayed for her fears in my heart.
The conversation reminded me of a passage in Matthew about the end times. Discussions of nuclear winter, nuclear fallout, and global conflict often remind me of the passage found in the twenty fourth chapter. Matthew’s gospel reads in verses three through fourteen: (Common English Bible)
“Now while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately and said, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age.’
Jesus replied, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the Christ.’ They will deceive many people. You will hear about wars and reports of wars. Don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in all sorts of places. But all these things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end. They will arrest you, abuse you, and they will kill you. All nations will hate you on account of my name. At that time many will fall away. They will betray each other and hate each other. Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because disobedience will expand, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. This gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all nations. Then the end will come.’”
I first came to know this passage well through the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. In that translation verse six says “…you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed…” These verses have all taken a vital place in my lived theology within this world of global information and easily spread global panic, but verse six has always rung out the loudest in my mind. As I lay on the table, I could almost hear a palpable voice repeating in my heart “you will hear wars and rumors of wars…” alternating with “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
My doctor was afraid this morning. I chose not to be fearful, but to be compassionate. What is the good news? In this context, I believe it can be best expressed earlier in the Gospel of Matthew. In verses twelve through fourteen in chapter eighteen, Jesus tells a parable: (CEB)
“What do you think? If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go in search for the one who wandered off? If he finds it, I assure you that he is happier about having that one sheep than about the ninety-nine who didn’t wander off. In the same way, my Father who is in heaven doesn’t want to lose one of these little ones.”
I invite you to think about the promise which inherently sits within this parable. My doctor, like many individuals, has an uncertainty about the future. The world seems to be less than the ideal many of us were taught as children. Most of us lose a sense of the innocence of childhood as we grow into the world, and I personally believe that there’s a correlation between this loss of innocence and the traditional drop in church attendance that tends to happen at around the same time. Losing our innocence hurts.and events like those depicted in the news can send us back into our grief over our loss even if it has been decades since we first realized the world is broken. The world can seem to be a confusing place and our fear can isolate us.
Into those moments of fear, there is an ancient promise embodied in the person of Jesus. God does not want to lose one of those little ones. God cares about the lost sheep of the world. Even when it seems that the world does not care one bit for our fears, God does care and will walk through the valley of darkness to lead us all home. There is space for us at the table, there is space in the flock, and there is deep grace despite our fears for all people. God has come near, God has shown compassion, and eternal life will come to those who follow the Shepherd. As Matthew records in the twenty ninth verse of chapter nineteen, “…all who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms because of my name will receive one hundred times more and will inherit eternal life.”
Friends, be at peace. God does not give as the world gives. Know that the path of a Christian is not an easy path, but there is a place of peace that awaits the end of our journey. Go! Be a blessing in a world of fear! Fight for justice and grace! Share the Good News! Walk with the lost sheep! Please, be compassionate…
This morning I stood outside the elementary school where my children go to school. Today is Flag Day in the United States. Our children sang songs, marched, paid tribute to the flag, and were very patriotic. The presentation was a stirring event for everyone involved.
I returned to my office, visited with the CHOW folks serving in the Zimmer Annex, spent some time reading from my book for the Academy, and then sat down at my computer to look up the menu for the local deli down the street. I clicked on Facebook while Kelli made me a delicious sub for lunch. I saw an article about violence in Virginia. I read an article which was updating as I read. Violence, death, and pain suddenly filled my mind.
I wanted to go back to the circle in front of the school and see my kids celebrate the flag. I wanted to go back to the moment where all of my cynicism crumbled before a child who marched proudly and another child who signed boldly with their classmates. It had been such a powerful expression of innocence and I wanted to go back to that place.
I have been asked how I handle being a citizen of earth and a citizen of heaven. I tell people that I have dual-citizenship. I am a citizen of the United States and a citizen of Heaven. I love the nation where I was born, but have accepted allegiance to the Kingdom of God. I have made vows as a minister that have further tied me to that nation as an ambassador of the “Shepherd” of us all who serves within the church.
Ultimately, as a result of my faith and may vows, my allegiance falls foremost to my citizenry in Heaven. History teaches me that nations come and go, and that life is short. The dictionary teaches me that eternity is endless. My citizenship in Heaven is established by and through Jesus Christ and will last as long as I am held with love by God. My citizenship in Heaven is eternal since nothing can separate me from the love and God. My citizenship in Heaven is eternal since Christ will not lose me.
Unfortunately, my ties to Heaven do not release me from the sorrow of events like those that took place today in Virginia. My heart is broken as more folks lay in hospitals injured by violence. My heart is broken as I know at least one person lies in a morgue.
Even reading the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for today did not bring comfort today, and not just because Job gets told off by God in one of the readings. If anything the readings (except Job’s selection) brought longing for a better world into my heart. Consider the words of Psalm 29:10-11: (NSRV)
“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!”
I long for a world where God sits enthroned over humanity. If Jesus is the image of the invisible God, then I truly long that Jesus would be enthroned. The world needs more compassion, more grace, and more love from her leaders.
In my opinion, the world would seemingly be a million times improved if Jesus were to return. Consider the promise of John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
In defiance (apparently) of Jesus’ words to us, my heart is troubled by the violence that I see in the world where I was born. On this Flag Day. I wish that everything could be happy songs sung by children, but this is a dangerous and questionable world. I want the peace of God to fill the hearts of the world, because the world just doesn’t offer the peace we need on days like today. I fear we need the strength spoken of in the Psalms, because this world can shift like sand in a single moment. We need to build on the rock for when the storms come.
The reading from John 14 brings more longing than perhaps anything else. John 14:25-26 says: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
Teach me, Holy Spirit. Teach us all. Remind us of Jesus’ words and teach us how to live in this world of rifles, bullets, and death. Our sins stain us scarlet. Wash us clean and we shall be as fresh as newly fallen snow…