Posts Tagged ‘peace’

Fight terror with…truth.

November 22, 2015

Power reveals itself in very particular ways in this world of ours.  There are well established patterns for powerful people to follow; politics, and economics offer chances for ambitious people to make names for themselves – to build up their kingdoms.  We watch them with interest, we  offer them support (and sometimes our trust).  We leave them to manage the day to day affairs of the state.  Their products shape our culture and their ideas infect our minds until, viola – a way of life – a country – a kingdom develops which we want to share, or we are asked to justify and protect because “our way” is  somehow beneficial or superior or (heaven help us…) blessed by the god of our choosing.  These kingdoms are sometimes stable enough to last one lifetime – but not always.  There are times when multiple generations struggle to find a way of peace, or find themselves fighting for the wrong cause.

When I was choosing the lessons from the Lectionary for today, I wasn’t thinking about these things. Paris was just another European capital that I wanted to visit; Beirut was still a war-torn wonder that seemed dusty and backward; Syria had been in the news for so long that It was becoming dangerously easy to ignore.  The parade of misery in the last couple of weeks has (for me) changed that.  Our continued mis-use and misunderstanding  of our own power – power to make kingdoms of our own design; power to influence thought and action; power to control those who threaten or frighten us – every application of human power in the pursuit of human satisfaction was once again making headlines. I couldn’t help thinking kingdom thoughts.  I could not ignore the evidence that suggested we were arguing about (and fighting for) the wrong things, and  I could no longer ignore the conversation between Jesus and Pilate – from John’s gospel (Jn 18: 28-37).

This moment, coming as it does in the final hours of Jesus’ life, brings the confusion between ‘a Kingdom FOR God’ and ‘the Kingdom OF God’ into sharp focus.  It’s not magic – it’s barely even a mystery – but in a world saturated with violence done in the name of “right” or “faith” or “democracy” or “freedom”. this is a comparison to which we should pay attention.

This is the meeting of two very different kinds of power.  Pilate, representing ‘might makes right’, is the power that we all understand.  His is the power we are asked to support with our hard earned dollars and with our democratic privilege.  His is the power projected by our armed forces, and vested in our governments.  All officially sanctioned – all perfectly ‘normal’ as far as we are concerned.  And Jesus is brought before this power as a prisoner condemned.

Pilate doesn’t want the job – he had suggested that this was an internal, Jewish matter.  But Jesus is a threat to Jewish religious power, and that threat must be removed to protect the kingdom that the leadership is protecting – their kingdom.  Pilate has heard the stories, though – “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Powerful people understand the attraction of power – surely the oppressed must have a champion – a king of their own…

Jesus doesn’t really help his own cause – “My kingdom is not from [of?] this world…” – he claims the title that Pilate first gives him – and on this evidence, along with a multitude of other Scripture, we claim Jesus as “Our King” – and we long to call ourselves citizens of the kingdom of God – but what do we think that means?  Because Jesus is not making a statement about location – He is not offering directions to a kingdom in heaven (at some mystical future time); His is a statement of content and context.  My kingdom is NOT like your (human) kingdoms…

Jesus does not propose to make (or keep safe) a kingdom for God; he represents – and encourages us to seek – a different kind of kingdom – God’s own kingdom – which is ordered around the ideals of perfect love and true justice.  This is not a kingdom we are required to fight for or justify; we need not fret about who belongs, or wonder about a sudden regime change because Jesus has declared the boundaries open to all “who seek the truth”.  This kingdom is established by One who has no beginning and no end (see Revelation, chapter 1) – a kind of ‘kingdom’ completely outside our experience.

God’s kingdom does not ask us to take up arms, or argue about the process of kingdom-making.  We are invited to listen to Jesus, who dares us to believe him: “I have come…to testify to the truth.” – truth that says God has more to offer than power – more to share than territory or prestige.  In this kingdom of truth,  there is no need to fear, for this is a kingdom founded on the love of God, which drives out fear.  This is the kind of place we should want to call home, and Jesus has already hinted that this kingdom – this peace – this truth – is “very near…”

It may not seem possible, given recent events, but the Kingdom of God is always open to those who”’do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”  This must be how we choose to respond to acts of terror or calls for revenge – we must follow the example of our King, who resisted evil without resorting to violence.  Even his encounter with Pilate shows us Jesus offering this powerful man a chance to do justice – to seek truth.  Pilate only knew enough about Jesus to be afraid of this new thing that Jesus offered – imagine, this powerful ruler afraid of a poor travelling rabbi – and Pilate’s fear forced him to act according to the pattern of power in the world; with violent suppression.

Jesus’ humble insistence that there was an option – that peace and truth and love would win – was proven three days later.  Thanks be to God, the power of peace prevailed against even the dismal certainty of death, and the Risen Christ still calls to all who seek a better way.  Amen

Love, and other words.

May 3, 2015

We are people of the WORD.  Reformed, protestant churches in general, and Presbyterians in particular, are committed to exploring and proclaiming the Word as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and revealed in the writings that we call Scripture.  Worship, preaching and teaching are key components of our life in the world.  I spend most of my time thinking about words – what to say and when to say it; wondering how will my words affect certain people; considering (only as a last step) whether my words match my actions.

Much of what I worry about, you might laugh at; my tone, my gestures, my body language – all these things help convey the message I carry.  “Don’t worry about it”, you say.  “Speak up”, you say.  and maybe, in the context of weekly worship, you’re right.  But there is more than Sunday at stake here.

Before we can be changed by an idea or energized for a project, we have to be attracted to what we hear.  So language matters; style matters; tone of voice and mannerisms matter.  The wrong tone, or a sweet-voiced announcement of impending disaster causes strange reactions in us.  I listened to an interview with a woman who presented information on the decline of songbirds around the world, and while I was interested in the information, I was distracted by…her voice.  It was sweet, and gentle and far too calm for the disastrous news she was trying to convey.  The words were right, but the weight of them was lost (on me).

That can become a problem in the church too.  We know what we are about – we are people of the Resurrection, disciples of the risen, reigning Son of God.  We understand that this means we should, among other things, “Love God and our neighbours as ourselves…”  We are urged by Jesus in the gospels to “abide in love”. We are assured by the Psalmist that, in time, “all the ends of the earth shall remember, and turn to the Lord…”  and from these sorts of statements come the vision of how to be the church in the world, as we wait patiently for the world that will be.  So how do we convey those words to others?  How do we tell the story?  What do we sound like to those who don’t yet know, or who have not yet heard…?

We might sound like John, the author of at least three letters – all of which lean heavily on the notion that we should love one another.  In this morning’s reading, the word love (or beloved,) appears 29 times…in a mere 320 words!  Do you think our author has a point to make?  but does he make it?

From the very beginning of the Christian community, love was clearly important – but the word is not enough; the language does not convey the attitude.

“Those who say ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers and sisters are lying!”  Pretty strong words from a guy who chirps on and on about love.  John’s tone belies his intention.  He sounds gentle and pacific, but he means business, and we have a hard time with the difficulties involved in living a life of love.

The very word evokes hearts and flowers – sweetness and light – but we have twisted the love of God to our purposes, and though we speak with tongues of angels, we (the corporate church, the historical people of God) are nothing more than clanging gongs and noisy cymbals…

Several of us had a chance to learn the truth about this yesterday, as we gathered for something called the Blanket exercise.

We all thought we know the history of the “discovery of North America” – we have long imagined that an organization such as the Christian Church, following the example of our King and Head, Jesus of Nazareth – Wonderful counsellor, Prince of Peace (etc), MUST be working for the good of those that come into her orbit.  The Church has worked with what seem like good intentions; the truth is that those good intentions often pave a dangerous road.

In the name of the King of love, Europeans exploited land and resources.

In the name of love, Europeans – Our ancestors – declared that they would ‘save the indian from [himself]’ , and civilize them through religion and education.

It was disciples of the Good Shepherd who ran residential schools, where children were starved, isolated from their families and their culture, beaten and sexually abused…

It was James who wrote to warn us of the dangers of faith without action:  “If a sister or brother is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them”go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill”, and yet you do not supply their needs, what is the good of that?”  Faith without works is dead, says James – Words, though we be people of the word and disciples of the Living Word – are not enough.  Attitude matters; style, tone of voice, mannerisms matter.  Our actions must follow our words, and they should match.  We do not show love with a closed fist; we should not speak peace through clenched teeth; and we cannot share the hope for the redemption of all Creation, until we recognize that we are not creations overlords.

John’s letter urges us to share the love that Christ had for us – love that has it’s source in God.  We are urged to share that love with all we meet by Jesus who “showed no partiality” – who loved us in our lovelessness – and my experience yesterday served to emphasize the depths of our lovelessness.  We seem determined to treat those who are different from us – different colour, different culture, different faith, different philosophy – with either contempt or confusion.  In this we have succumbed to our fear, forgetting that the greatest gift of love is that it casts out all fear.

The good news is that love is still working on us – still reaching out to us – God’s great love still defeats our great fear.  In the strangest places; in just the right moments.  When love lets us hear the stories of those we fear because of our differences, that fear is banished.  When love becomes more than just a word to us – when it softens our hearts and opens our minds – then the will of God may be done, and the reign of Christ comes closer to us.

Peace, perfect peace. (Advent 2B)

December 7, 2014

The second Sunday of advent is traditionally devoted to peace. Waiting, as we are, for the coming of the Prince of Peace, it seems only right that some time should be devoted to something we say we all want, but have never really achieved. We are quick to pray for peace and to reward leaders who bring conflicts to an end. We imagine that the true definition of peace is ‘whatever happens when the shooting stops’, but peace as God intends is more than just the absence of conflict. The peace of God ‘passes all understanding’, and brings to mind deep contentment and true freedom – two things that are too often missing from the inventory of our “must-have” lists. Among the prophets, Isaiah brings our notions of peace and power under harsh review, and places beside them a vision of God’s power and peace that we must consider.
We are encouraged to think of the times between armed conflicts as “times of peace’, but the sort of struggles that the world has known in the last hundred years or so never really end. Peace treaties are marked by the vengeance of the victors and the impoverishment of the losers (in both the First and Second World Wars); Our pride in Canada’s role as principal peace keeper was well earned through the 60’s and 70’s, but it meant only that our soldiers (in Cypress and Crete and some places in the middle East) carried weapons that they could not fire, and found themselves placed between adversaries whom they could neither punish or assist. Their presence was not just symbolic, but the habit of trying to stop the fighting by a different show of force is a symptom of humanity’s larger problem – we don’t know what real peace looks like.
A survey of human history will show you that we have never really understood peace – always describing n terms of what we gained (or what others had taken from us). So the ancient instruction of Isaiah is understandable. People in Isaiah’s time saw their defeat at the hands of an enemy as a punishment from God. The ‘peace’ had been shattered by something they had done (or not done) that brought God’s wrath – when the truth was that they found themselves living between powerful and greedy neighbours. Israel had dared to claim the finest real estate in in the neighbourhood; trouble was bound to find them, and peace would always be elusive. To this nation, once more over-run, Isaiah brings the promise of real peace. Enough suffering; prepare the way of the Lord – make a highway in the desert look to your salvation – so runs the words of the prophet, but it runs against the wisdom of the day. A highway in the desert would only invite the invader; the easier it is to move from place to place, the more likely you are to see trouble coming down the road – but Isaiah promises comfort. Good tidings, rather than more grief. It is an unlikely promise, but that is because we don’t know what real peace – what the Salvation of the Lord – looks like.
We think we know peace – and in our arrogance, from our comfortable ‘First-World’ churches, we presume to understand Salvation. But the truth is we have insulated ourselves from the promises of God. Our prosperity, a stable and (mostly) reliable political system, the abundance we enjoy – all these things have given us a sense of security that is only momentary. So the peace that Isaiah preaches – the comfort God offers a people in exile – and the powerful peacemaker who will follow John the Baptizer into the chaos that is First century Palestine; all these should seem as wonderful and new to us as they did to their original audiences.
The promise of God is not just an absence of conflict – though that is certainly part of the expectation. God does not ‘enforce’ peace by virtue of superior power – this is peace bred by peaceful means; this is the power of a mothers embrace; the power of the world has no reply because we have even come to believe that love is something that can be manipulated and turned to our ‘advantage’. It can, of course, but the true power of love is conveyed in that image of God leading the people like a shepherd. Those who follow will enjoy a new perspective – God’s perspective. This is peace of a deep and personal nature that cannot help but change the way we conduct ourselves, our relationships; our politics; everything becomes marked by this promise of peace.

Ultimately the one whom John proclaimed will take up this peaceful cause, and he will be questioned and mocked, and finally killed for his devotion to such a profound redefinition of peace. It is Jesus’ cause that moves us to shake off our misunderstanding and embrace a new approach. This promise of peace has the capacity to save us – not just for eternity, but in the present as well. God’s deep, perfect peace has come to us – is coming to us – in Jesus Christ, and it has – it can – it will change the world. Thanks be to God. Amen

Plus ca change…(Pentecost, 2014)

June 8, 2014

Pentecost Sunday: Everything has changed.

One week ago I was in Waterloo, Ontario, attending the 140th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The weather was beautiful, the company was encouraging, the discussions were engaging, and all seemed right with the world; but all was not well. I had already been told of two tragedies at home – I knew even then that things would never again be just as they were when I left for Ontario. On our return, we were met with the news of more job losses in the county, and the horrifying events in Moncton that resulted in the death of three RCMP officers – Everything had changed.

Now, the conversations around the tragedy in Moncton got me thinking; the language of radical change is in everyone’s speech. We are led to believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg; that measures must be taken; that all this is a sign of our decline as a civilized nation. And I find that I cannot agree.

Our access to events of this nature is easier; we are ‘tuned in’, through our computers and cell phones, to the instant and constant flow of information from the scene. Murder and the resulting machinery of justice have become spectator sports. That has certainly changed. Seventy years ago (today) when the largest battle group ever assembled began an assault on the beaches of the Norman coast, our access to information was restricted by both necessity and the lack of invention. We were not eye-witnesses to the D-day invasion; the general public became experts only after the fact, and our sense of fear or our notions of change were (are) influenced by carefully crafted descriptions of courage and carnage. Such purposefully moderated reports changed the way an entire generation viewed war, duty, sacrifice and honour. We have learned much since then, and not all to our credit.

Change is an unavoidable consequence of the beating of hearts and the drawing of breath. And catastrophic change is a regularly recurring feature of the human experience. What changes most, however, is our response to such violent and heart-rending episodes of change. The changes wrought by war continue to affect politics and economic realities in every corner of the globe. In some places, the battle continues unabated, the reasons renewed by successive generations of combatants. There is no beginning, and seemingly no end to the manner and methods of our distress, but the Christian church has encountered, in every generation of her existence, a radical response to such things.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” so begins the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles – a book which describes the reaction of the (mostly) faithful friends of Jesus to a series of horrific and life-altering events. Things had gone from bad to unbearable with Jesus arrest and execution. Then, an empty tomb, and the appearance of Jesus alive and among them. And fifty days later, the unkindest cut – Jesus is once again taken from them; in glory and light, this time, but taken, nonetheless. And on the day of Pentecost, the festival of celebration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, there comes a rushing wind, and something like fire from heaven, and the Spirit of God speaks comfort and hope into the situation – and not for the last time, everything is changed.

This spirit still speaks, if we would hear it. It blows into our lives, past the wreckage and the clutter, and draws our attention to the truth in our situation. The Spirit of God is not deterred by tragedy or misery – in fact, it brings new light into such dark places as we have visited in recent days. Pentecost, as described in Acts was not a once and only thing, but a reminder that as long as God’s people face challenge and fear, the Spirit will rattle the doors and shake the foundations and bring our attention to the activity of God in those moments of uncertainty.

The Spirit moves even now to change our focus, to alert us to alternatives. It comes, not in tongues of fire but in that imperceptible nudge that suggests a new path, or that brave idea that you can’t keep to yourself. The spirit was present at the Assembly in the noisy debate and the quiet times of reflection and reconnection among the commissioners. And most important, the Spirit presides over this changing church, here in this changeable world.

Following their encounter with this holy wind, The friends of Jesus could do nothing but praise – they could see nothing but promise. Their situation was no different than it had been the day before, but their eyes had been opened to the power of God – their perspective changed – their behaviour changed.

So our situation seems grim – the world is going to hell in a hand-cart; changes beyond our control are threatening all that we hold dear – yet this is familiar ground for God’s people. We who wait longingly for signs of grace, and are called to live as citizens of the peaceable kingdom should, by now, recognize this pattern. For it is into this pattern of chaos and hopelessness that God’s Spirit is speaking comfort and hope. We know what to look for; we know the power of this gift from God – and not for the first time, we will see everything changed. Thanks be to God! Amen.