Thursday, April 29, 2021

Trees & Grass - Reflection on Revelation 8:7


After our Bible study group discussion last night on Revelation 8, the seventh verse continued to whirl in my mind, awakening me through the night, spinning off a variety of thoughts until finally I was moved to get up and write.

My focus is on the phrase, "the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." (KJV) Perpetuating my line of thinking is John Wesley's Notes on this verse, "Some understand by the trees, men of eminence among the Jews; by the grass, the common people. The Romans spared many of the former: the latter were almost all destroyed."

Considering current events, those of eminence among us (excepting those represented by "the third part of trees") tend to be spared the difficult impositions of poverty, disease, and oppression while so many (represented by "all green grass") tend to suffer unbearably. Political and economic deference is given to the trees, while all the grass is sacrificed. 

For the past year or so, the global pandemic has been raging around the earth like "hail and fire mingled with blood" (the other part of verse 7). The horrific racial injustices perpetuated for centuries has been more recently coming into full public view as witnesses are becoming able to share videos of many tragic incidents. Massive populations around the world are displaced by starvation, war, homelessness, discrimination, human trafficking, and every imaginable kind of severe brutalities. Cruel politicians advocate for enacting legislation to further bolster the privileged at the devastating expense of the disadvantaged.  

It is as though the proverbial first angel has sounded the trumpet and all these calamities "were cast upon the earth."

But were they? 

Perhaps this Revelation imagery reveals more about our own personal responses to the conflicts of humanity than of an arbitrary design of the Deity.  

How does it make us feel when we consider the gruesome plight of innocent masses of children and adults, not only in the ancient past or distant future, but in our present time?  How can we pray? How can we advocate? How can we act? Moreover, what can we change in our own personal lives to diminish our participation in anything that contributes to the suffering of others and to expand our cooperation for the betterment of all Creation?

Jesus taught us to understand all the Scripture through the lens of love. 

Applying that method of interpretation to this verse challenges us to hear and respond to the inherit invitation to not only observe the Tribulation, but to actively mitigate its effect. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Be at Peace

When all the world is in turmoil around us, and when it seems like we have the fewest reasons why we would be at peace, yet we are because the peace of Christ is in our hearts and minds in the midst of it all. 

Then Jesus said to them, "peace, be with you. Peace, be unto you. As my father had sent me, even so send I you." 

Jesus appeared twice in this passage. It covers one event that spans two occasions. The evening of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to 10 of the apostles behind closed doors, where they were hiding. Still trying to put all this together, still trying to wrap their mind around what the events of the day and the week that had just transpired. We can certainly relate to that, even trying to imagine it ourselves. The reports that they had heard and some of them had seen and given it to each other, and all of them were talking about. Jesus appeared behind the closed doors demonstrating one of the limitations that had been removed that we normally experience in the flesh, but now no longer. In his resurrection body, because the doors were all locked and he was able to come into the room anyway. That begins our minds exploring and wondering what other limitations that are lifted in the resurrection body. They greeted him, they greeted each other. He greeted them with this greeting that seems to have been a kind of a hallmark in his life. "Peace, be at peace, peace be with you."

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on April 12, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

It's a little bit of a tribute to David Atkinson this morning, too, because he often said that to everyone. So that's why I went ahead and named the sermon. "Peace, Be at Peace."

When David would say that, you could just feel a little bit of peace coming.  It just turned your mind and thoughts to that direction. It may last for a long time. It may just last for a moment when somebody seeks peace to you, but it has an affect. Doesn't it? It makes you think. It makes you think about what you need to do in order to make that happen. The whole idea of peace is so comforting. That's something that we all need, and we can really kind of put up with anything if we can be at peace about it. Without that peace, even the smallest problems just become untenable. But with peace, then everything becomes manageable. 

I think Jesus had a habit of saying this because he said it several times, he even said it in the midst of the storm -- even to the storm "peace, be still." At his birth, the angels sang "Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth." When he set out the missionaries, he said, "Go and everywhere you go. In every single house you go into, as you enter say peace, peace, be upon this house."

We could probably find a lot more examples in the Bible. As the Bible says, so many more things were written than a lot could even be over done by Jesus and said by Jesus, even could be written down. I think we're on the right track to think that he spoke peace, to everybody and said, "Like David, be at peace" and invites us into the peace that passes understanding, as the Apostle wrote about that. When all the world is in turmoil around us, and when it seems like the least reason why we would be at peace, yet we are because the peace of Christ is in our hearts and minds in the midst of it all. Maybe that's why Jesus was called the Prince of Peace.

And why, as one of his Beatitudes, he said, "blessed are the peacemakers for, they shall be called the children of God."

I like how he didn't say "peace hopers" or "peace sayers." He said, "peacemakers... peace makers." That reminds us of that peace is not just something to say. We say it and we speak it and it turns our hearts and minds to that. But we have to follow those words with actions like the saying "no justice, no peace." Peace is something we make, something we forge, something we create, something we create space for. If there's injustice, then the peace is lost. Jesus pointed this out in some of his teachings also in saying that people go around and they go a "peace, peace" when there is no peace. We are invited to the work of making peace. As the children have gone with all those other children, regardless of who they are, where they are or what they're up to, to find ways to bring about the peace and harmony and justice that love requires.

Justice is love in action, as all of this ties together. If we want that peace that passes understanding then here's the path follow Christ. Join him in the work of peace, join him and seeking peace to the world around us and living out that peace like the hymn, says, "Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me."

Peace for All
How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God's people to live together in harmony!
(Psalm 133:1 GNT)

This peace is for everybody, it's not like peace for members of certain church or denomination, or even a certain religion or a certain culture or country or anything else it's for everybody. If everybody's not at peace then peace is allusive. You can't have two people in one of them is at peace. And the other one is at war with the person that's supposed to be at peace. Then it's still not peace. Is it? That's something to keep working on. It's for everybody. We want everybody to be in harmony. As the good news says "how wonderful it is, how pleasant for God's people to live together in Harmony."

The Agnus Dei is one of the most ancient hymns or chants of our church. Included in our official liturgies, even though we don't use it very often, but I like for us to reflect in its words just for a moment as we continue. 

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Grant us peace.

The peace that Christ offered. He said, "it's not going to be the peace like the world gives, but it's my peace. My peace I give to you."

It was that peace that in all of the doubts that they had. In the following week, Thomas was there and he had already been expressing his doubts. Then the same thing happened again Jesus said, "Peace to you." When he did Thomas just realized it was alright. He was safe. He was safe to believe he was safe to follow. He was safe to join the others in the work. It was safe. His thoughts and feelings were healed. Because the peace of Christ, is not the illusion of peace, but the reality.

Pax Christi in contrast to Pax Romana

 With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God poured rich blessings on them all.    (Acts 4:33 GNT)

So often the world gives the illusion of peace by forcing peace, as an outward expression of it. Back in those days, they had the Pax Romana, "The Peace of Rome," and we can see how that went. They got everybody to settle down about the events of the Holy Week, not by bringing everybody into a reconciled state with one another and bringing them into a place of understanding and joy and peace with one another, but by executing Jesus on the cross, along with a lot of other people that were being executed, not only that day, but on all the days before and after, and by force and violence, they enforced what they called "peace." I think we still see that happening in the world, down through the centuries, to our time as well, a peace that is not rather peace.

But it's forcing people into some kind of a position where it might look peace because they're all submitting to whoever the authority is and doing whatever they're told, whether it's good, bad or not. So it's mingled with so much injustice and so much disparity and inequality and victimization that it's just a complete corruption of the word and idea of peace. Now the other Latin word that is handed down to us through the centuries Pax Christi, "the Peace of Christ."

In the reading from Acts in the King James Versions was that "great grace was upon them." What a beautiful statement. Great grace was upon them. The good news that says "with great power, the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus and God poured rich blessings upon them all." That's the peace of Christ. One where people love one another and want to bring each other into greater joys and greater depths of justice and true peace. It's a gift from God. It's God's grace and blessing poured out upon us and through us to each other. It's a gift that we receive and we share. It comes from God to me and with me to you. They come from God to you and from you to me. Say God gives us all that blessing and pours it out on us then we share it with the community around us and the other people are brought into the Peace of Christ.

Peace through Forgiveness

 If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. (1 John 1:8-9)

That's pretty good contrast, I think. Don't you see the difference between the peace that the world offers and the peace that Christ offers? The peace that Christ offers comes through the forgiveness of sins. It's so vital that reconciliation and peace that we experience here's outside in the message. If we claim that we're for you to sin, we're only fooling ourselves a claim like that as errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins, simply come clean about them, he won't let us down. He'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrong doing. The more we recognize that, if we confess our sins, God forgives us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That goes through as individuals and as a society. Forgiveness removes the discord and immediately establishes peace to the extent of the forgiveness. If we can't forgive completely maybe our piece won't be complete yet either, but we'll grow as our ability to forgive grows.

Sent on a Mission of Peace

 Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”  (John 20:21-23)

That forgiveness is so important to the wellbeing of our peace and harmony. Jesus sent us on a mission of peace through his forgiveness.

"As the father has sent me so I send you." Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them."  Receive the Holy spirit." He said. "If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?" I love the way it's phrased. The message there. Jesus breathed on them "receive you the Holy Spirit. Receive you the Holly Ghost. And gave the empowerment and the authority and the anointing to those who follow him and believe in him to minister this forgiveness of sins to minister reconciliation in such a powerful ability and gift that we're given and mission that in the history of the church and for most Christians today. It's even still elevated as one of the official sacraments of the church, not in our denomination, but not in any way to diminish it, but even to elevate a little bit further about those not reserved for the clergy to minister but it for all of us to minister.

To hear each other, as we open ourselves in honesty and to encourage one another and to assure each other about forgiveness and absolution, and to bring each other into reconciliation and to support and encourage everybody around us.

We're big believers around here and appreciative to the believer, really proponents of that. That's one of our missions as believers in, Jesus, is that if this power and anointing through the Holy Spirit receive freely, the grace that God has given you in forgiveness of your sins and continue to receive that.

Extend that as abundantly as freely as we receive it let us extend that then to the whole world around us in every way that we possibly can find to do. We communicate the free and full forgiveness by sending it to others around us and bringing peace, making peace, forging peace, through forgiveness and acceptance and love and justice. It's a wonderful calling and it's wonderful to be sent. We're all sent to do this and, and to share in the blessing of the Peace of Christ.

In the name of Jesus, "Be at peace."