We have reached the second week of Advent, and I come with previous meditations on Peace, and a new sermon delivered today:
How to Follow the Map to Peace
Christmas Peace: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Makers of Peace: Guest Meditation Kristy Burmeister
Last week I told you one I was particularly fond of. I'd say this week would be Kristy's Guest Meditation.
Pack Your Bags
A Sermon for Fig Tree Christian and Community Christian
In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
A voice crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.”
Luke 3:1-6 NRSV
A meditation and scripture on peace: Peace. Peace be still and know that I am God. Peace be still and know that I am. Peace be still and know. Peace be still. Peace be. Peace. Peace. Peace.
A scripture from Isaiah and Luke: Prepare. Prepare the way of the Lord.
Prepare and peace. Two things I don’t normally put in the same sentence. For me, peace is what happens at the conclusion. The children have opened the presents. It was an explosion of paper and toys. Then, after it has been cleaned up, peace settles over the house. Preparation is what happens before, and preparations are anything but peaceful. Preparing is a stressed filled mess. Right now I’m preparing for a Lenten Devotional. I have ¾ of the writers done and taken care of. I’m stressing over the remaining ¼. Will they get their devotions in on time? Will I have to find someone else? Meanwhile, there is cover art, formatting and publication I personally have to worry about? Tons of preparation, and little peace.
Why are these two words put together?! I mean, are we supposed to look at these things like sandwich bread? Wait. The bread is all the same in a sandwich, but it takes different meaning whether it’s on top or at the bottom. Hmm. There might be something to that. Also, sometimes that peace, that letting go of an event, can come before the preparation of another event. Like if one were to stack sandwiches together there would be bread from the bottom of one sandwich touching the bread from top of another sandwich.
Ends of some things butt up against the beginnings of other things all the time. It’s simply how life works.
Last week Advent began with hope. I believe hope is the knowledge that things cannot continue the way they have been going, and the anticipation that the future is the way to go. Hope is the seed that is planted throughout our Advent journey. It leads us to this week, this strange mix of peace and preparation. Yet, these two pieces are the healthiest next move to positive change.
In my short pastoral tenure I have seen many a church cling to this bygone image of what their congregation used to look like. They tape this image over their ability to self-reflect. In conclusion, they convince themselves they don’t need to change. Because of this, they never find the peace to let go; to find an ending to their previous story. (By the way, I said AN ending, not THE ending. The story of any healthy church is full of beginnings and endings. A healthy beginning comes from a healthy ending.)
I’m not just making this up. This is biblical! When Moses went to Egypt to release the Israelites from captivity, the story wasn’t, “Hey, Joseph brought us here. We should really stick around and be slaves because that’s what we were called to.” It sounds so ludicrous hearing it spoken out loud. Yet, I’ve heard the church claim stories that have already ended, as their reason for not moving forward. The thing is, as great as it was that Joseph saved Egypt from the seven year famine, that was not where the story was when Moses entered the picture. The Israelites were no longer buddie-buddie with the Pharaoh. For their story to continue, they had to come to peace with what could no longer be, and prepare for something new.
When the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, they were bitter. They lost their home, and were forced to live with the enemy. They said some things we probably wouldn’t be comfortable hearing. Things like, “God, I just want revenge. I want to beat their baby’s heads against rocks!” (That’s my summation of the end of Psalm 137, written while they were in Babylonian exile.) Eventually, Babylon let them go back home. When it was time to go back home, they had to come to peace with what they lost, before they could prepare to reclaim their home. If they had taken their revenge on Babylon, like they wanted, the Israelites would have lost everything. Instead, they had to forgive their enemy. It sounds ludicrous to think a people wouldn’t know when to let go, but I’ve seen churches hold on to that anger. They refuse to accept the peace that comes before the preparation, because they want revenge for that wound. They want revenge for whoever it was that took them out of their Promised Land, and put them into exile. The thing is, as terrible as the Babylonian exile was, the Israelites had to come to peace with what happened so they could move back home.
When Rome finally entered Jerusalem the Promised Land was a mess. The North and the South were not getting along. They both thought they had claims to where the Holy of Holies resided. Meanwhile the Priests had their job down to an art, at the expense of God’s people. They knew how to follow the rules found in scripture. They knew the right way to do everything. Yet, following the letter of the law created outcasts. God loved and loves everyone, yet the Priests did not accept everyone into the temple. It was simply against the rules. This is where John the Baptist comes in. He was someone born within the priestly line, but not part of it. The peace before the preparation had to come from a hard break from the system. If following the letter of the law meant the leper, the Samaritan, the sinner was not part of temple worship, then the worship would leave the temple.
The sentence that always unhinges any positive change always goes like this: “That’s how we’ve always done it.” It’s so easy to say, but when churches use those words they are channeling the Priests from the Gospels. Of course the Priests wanted to keep everything the same. There was nothing wrong from their perspective. Everything worked well for them. The peace, in this case, is the peace of letting go of what personally works for us, to embrace what necessarily works for God and all of God’s people. I’ve seen churches destroyed by the few who can’t let go of how it’s always been done. I truly don’t believe new church start is going to happen the way it did in the late-90’s. I believe if we just want to shuffle around the same people we’ve always had going to church, that’s what we do. If we want real change, it’s gotta’ happen differently. We’ve got to come to peace with what the church was, and prepare for what the church will be.
I don’t know if you could relate personally with any of those examples. If you could, you are not alone. I’ve seen it over multiple congregations over multiple years. There is nothing you are going through that many churches all over the United States are not also going through. The question is: What do you do with it?
Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming, and we must find peace. We must accept our congregation just as it is. We are held captive by the very things we were once invited to join. We were forced into exile and must learn to forgive those who put us there. We might need to break ourselves from the system to begin to see the Body of Christ as more full than we could possibly imagine. If you are ready to find that peace, than you got to leave. You’ve got to leave that captivity. You’ve got to leave vengeance. You’ve got to accept that wilderness.
Jesus is coming, and leaving is the only way to fully accept what Christ truly came to do. Be at peace. Leave the brokenness behind, and prepare for the fullness to come.