Monday, March 31, 2008

Easter 2 - Year A

Easter 2 – Year A
Series: Living the Resurrection: Fruit of the Spirit: PEACE

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says. Of course, what else could he have said? The disciples were huddled together in a locked room, afraid that they might be next. There’s prices on their heads.

I can imagine them snipping at each other. Bickering back and forth. I’m sure Mary Magdalene did her job like Jesus asked, she told the others that he had risen from the dead, and they didn’t know if she was lying or just being delusional. There was no joy in the house. Only fear. Even though they had the testimony of a witness to Jesus’ resurrection.

In other words, they were being like everyone in this room. Insufferably human. Unbearably fearful. Just like everyone else.

Isn’t that the way we usually respond to traumatic events? I know I do. Some of us handle stressful, tragic events more calmly then others. But I think there always comes a breaking point, no matter how evenly centred you can be; no matter how serene a face you can show the world. At one point, everyone freaks out when the pressure multiplies.

And that what the disciples did. They weren’t known for their serenity.

The doors were locked because the disciples knew that they could be next. They saw the cost of following Jesus and there was NO WAY they were going to pay it.

This whole religion thing was supposed to help them with their daily lives, it was supposed to give them stillness in their souls, it was supposed to give them meaning for their lives and a little moral instruction for their kids. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Only cults run by megalomaniacal leaders ask their followers to die. If cups of Kool-Aid were being served none of them would have drunk it.

Aren’t we the same way? Many of us come to church to find a sense of spirituality, filling our spiritual gas tanks before heading back to a tough job and even tougher marriage. We come to get our God-shot before jumping back into the chaotic fray that is our lives. We come to be centred, to find balance, to hear good news for our lives and families. We come to find “peace.”

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Jesus does promise peace, doesn’t he? But I wonder if that’s only the first page of the story.

“Isn’t this whole peace thing just some left-wing nonsense?” one of my colleagues blasted at the presenter, a Mennonite theologian talking about the biblical understanding of peace.

“It seems that every time I hear someone talk about peace, it’s coming from some anti-American left wing hippie who hates rich people, who has doesn’t understand how the world actually works.”

I have to admit, I was both angry at his comments and embarrassed by his rudeness. But at the same time, isn’t that the cartoon the media presents in the news? Peace is a youthful ideal, but not terribly realistic. Especially in this age of global terror.

And so, we change the meaning of peace, At least the way we say the bible talks about it. When we think about the way peace is used in the bible we often think that peace means “peacefulness of heart” or “peace in our relationship with God.”

And while that’s true, that’s only half the story.

On November 26, 2005 Christian Peacemaker Team members Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney, and Tom Fox were taken hostage by a group calling themselves “The Swords of Righteousness Brigade.”

On November 29, radio-show host Rush Limbaugh, commenting on the hostage taking said, I quote: "part of me likes this…here's why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality…any time a bunch of people walk around with the head in the sand practicing a bunch of irresponsible, idiotic theory confront reality, I'm kind of happy about it, because I'm eager for people to see reality, change their minds, if necessary, and have things sized up." (

I’m guessing the “irresponsible, idiotic theory” that Limbaugh was referring to comes a little known wandering sage named Jesus of Nazareth, who said:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Of course, we know that this is the same Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified on a hill outside of Jerusalem, who rose again three days later, and who slipped through a locked door to bring a message of peace to his beleaguered followers.

Rush Limbaugh’s histrionics aside, I noticed that it was other Christians who reacted most negatively to what the Christian Peacemaker Teams were doing. As if taking Jesus’ message of peace seriously was an offense to the faith. Christians were calling these peace-maker team members frauds, accused them of self-righteousness of puffing themselves up, some even accused them of betraying the faith.

Never mind this left wing nonsense. Can’t we just turn the subject back to sex, please? Sex is less threatening.

But any of us who know anything about Christian history know that so-called “Peace Churches” have a rich and varied history. I remember preaching at a Mennonite church about 13 years ago, when at the end the service the pastor called up a group of teenagers who were going on a mission trip with Mennonite Central Committee.

I figured they were going to teach VBS, build a house or school, do personal evangelism, help out with the local church, or something like that.

Not these kids. These kids were going to a country in South America to escort people to and from a legal centre where they would receive legal help in dealing with corrupt landowners. In some of those countries, wealthy landowners wouldn’t blink at shooting someone starting trouble, demanding their “rights.” And the government was on the side of the money.

So, the Mennonites opened a free legal centre for folks to bring complaints. But people were too scared to make use of their services because they feared retribution.

But when these blonde-haired, blue eyed, young Christians walked with them, people were left alone.

I asked the pastor what the parents thought of these young kids doing such dangerous work.

“Dangerous?” he said. “We’ve never lost anyone yet, now that I think about it. It’s just what we do. We’re trying to be light in dark places. That’s why their parents and our church offer a blessing. It’s part of our tradition.”

I could hear Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Peace be with you. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

In other words, for this situation, “Peace be with you. Bring my message of peace and life with you. Life differently now that you know that I’ve risen from the death. Live my resurrection. Be a resurrection people.”

For these folks, being a Christian is believing that God is doing something new in the world. It’s actually believing that Jesus rose from the dead and started a New Creation that first day of the week when the power of death was defeated.

Contrary to what my friend and colleague says, this peace thing is not a left wing thing. It’s not a right wing thing. It’s a Jesus thing.

Peace is at the heart of who God is. Part of our Guiding Principles as a congregation is that we “participate in God’s reconciling love for the world.”

I think that’s a great way of putting it. Another way we can talk about “participating in God’s reconciling love for the world” is by using another biblical word, and many of you already know what the word is. It’s the way Sherry signs her emails. The word is “shalom.”

Badly translated, “shalom” means “peace.” But it means much more that that. It means “peace, prosperity, integrity for all people. Where forgiveness is at the heart of every relationship because it’s at the heart of our relationship with God.” It’s a vision of God’s promised future reaching back and touching us TODAY.

That’s Jesus’ challenge for us today. It’s Jesus’ resurrection challenge for his followers.

The challenge: that in all that we do as a church, God’s word of Shalom will be first on our lips.

That in how we talk to and about one another, we first say “Shalom.” In the decisions we make about what to do with our money, the first word is “Shalom.”

When we differ in our discussions surrounding our new building, the first word we say to each other is “Shalom.”

When we disagree with the direction the church is heading, the ministries we’re initiating, the music we sing, or the liturgies we pray, the first word is “Shalom.”

When the church is mired in controversy and we see no way out, the first word is “Shalom.”

Whenever we're afraid and hiding out, all locked up,
Jesus slips through those doors and meets us in the midst of our fear saying, shalom. Peace be with you'
Whatever doubts churn in our minds,
whatever sins trouble our consciences,
whatever pain and worry bind us up,
whatever walls we have constructed or doors we have locked securely,
Jesus squeezes through and says, 'Peace be with you.'" (paraphrased from S.A.M.U.E.L.

When our world is coming apart at the stitching,
Whenever homes are broken up
Whenever relationships shatter
Whenever friendships are destroyed
Jesus breaks into our lives and says, “Shalom! Peace be with you.”



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