I had the honor of writing this letter, which was signed by nearly 45 area clergy. It represents our hope and prayer for our country in the days following the election on November 8th.
On November 9th, we awake to the results of an election that has bitterly divided our nation. It is tempting to proclaim winners and losers and to treat this election cycle like a sporting match where one party has emerged victorious at the expense of the other.
But to do so would be a grave mistake. In the aftermath of such an election season we will all need to work diligently to repair the damage done. Those who founded this country believed that there is more that unites us than there is that divides us. The candidates who celebrate victory on election night must rise in the morning prepared to govern for the good of all people, including those who voted against them. To forget this is to forget the history of this great nation, to forget the ideals and the hope of government of the people, by the people, for the people.
We are leaders of faith communities that, for centuries, have had many disagreements. And yet, we believe that what is more important than those things that divide us are those things that bring us together. In that spirit, our prayer for our community and for our nation is that we might set aside the rancor and bitterness of the campaign season in order to remember that we are Americans together. Together, we pray for the wisdom to remember the challenge of Isaiah: that our life together depends upon our ability to turn the swords and spears of hostility and division into the plowshares and pruning hooks of peace and unity.
May God be with us all, and the wisdom of the Divine guide those who lead the people, this day and every day. Amen.
Rev. Bruce Ballantine Morrisville Presbyterian Church
Rev. Wendy Bellis Morrisville United Methodist Church
Rev. Kyle Benoit Greater Grace Community Church
Rev. Josh Blakesley Warminster United Church of Christ
Rabbi Anna Boswell-Levy Congregation Kol Emet
Rev. Catherine Bowers St. Andrews United Methodist Church
Rev. Luky Cotto Casa del Pueblo Latino Ministry of Lehman Memorial UMC
Rev. Dr. Nancy Dilliplane Trinity Buckingham Episcopal Church
Rev. Chris Edwards Northampton Presbyterian Church
Rev. Susan Fall Forest Grove Presbyterian Church
Rev. Laura Ferguson Newtown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Joshua D. Gill Doylestown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Bailey Heckman Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church
Rev. Debbie Heffernan Morrisville Presbyterian Church
Rev. Doug Hoglund Woodside Presbyterian Church
Mary Dyer Hubbard Pastoral Counselor
Rev. Lynn Hade Church of the Advent
Rev. Keith Ingram Bucks County Seventh Day Adventist Church
Rev. Stacey Jones-Anderson First United Methodist Church Bristol
Rev. Catherine D. Kerr Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Rev. Nathan Krause Redeemer Lutheran Church
Rev. Bill Lentz Lehman Memorial United Methodist Church
Rev. Nancy Ludwig Lehman Memorial United Methodist Church
Rev. Joe Martin Fallsington United Methodist Church
Rev. Sam Massengill Newtown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. Kari McClellan First Presbyterian of Levittown
Rev. Mary McCullough Trinity Episcopal Church Ambler
Rev. Dorry Newcomer Newtown United Methodist Church
Rev. Jake Presley Bux-Mont Baptist Church
Rev. Eric Reimer St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Keith Roberts Doylestown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Michael Ruk, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, New Hope
Rev. Janet L. Saddel St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Warrington
Rev. Michael Saunders Crossway Community Church
Chaplain Susan Sciarratta Counselor, Insight Christian Counseling
Rev. Barbara Seekford Chalfont United Methodist Church
Rev. Stuart H. Spencer Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church
Rev. Doug Stratton Hatboro Baptist Church
Rev. Mark Studer Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church
Rev. Jim Sutton New Britain Baptist Church
Rev. Bill Teague Langhorne Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lorelei K. Toombs Willow Grove United Methodist Church
Rev. Sarah Weisiger Ivyland Presbyterian Church
Rev. John Willingham Doylestown Presbyterian Church
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.
What is it about cemeteries that folks find so peaceful? As I have approached the annual observance of Memorial Day, my mind has been drawn to the ways in which our culture so often equates silence with peace. And there is nothing that seems more quiet or peaceful than a big, sprawling cemetery.
When I was in seminary in Cambridge, my friends would often walk down Mt. Auburn to the cemetery. Heck, I even went on a first date there (surprisingly, a walk in a cemetery is a great way to get to know someone). We treated that cemetery like a park, and indeed it was one of the few substantial, wooded, secluded areas where one could go to enjoy the sensation of escaping from the sound and fury of graduate school.
There amongst the flora and fauna, it was easy to believe that this place was more than just a cemetery. And indeed, those who care for it claim it as far more than a resting place for the dead. According to their website, “a National Historic Landmark, a botanical garden, an outdoor museum of art and architecture, and an important habitat for urban wildlife.” Gravestones are no longer simply markers for the dead–they are works of art. The people who are interred there? Stories that connect us to our rich and varied past.
And certainly, this cemetery (and many others as well) is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. It is easy to imagine that those who grieved their loved ones sought it out for the rest that they believed it would grant their dearly departed.
But I would venture to offer that there is far more going on in the cemetery than perhaps we like to admit. Too often, what makes a cemetery seem peaceful is the absence of, well, people. To forget that one is surrounded not only by nature, but by the souls of the dead. And that not all of these souls went quietly into the night.
For me, this disquieting fact rings most true in military cemeteries. For there is little I can think of that is as sobering as Arlington Cemetery’s 634 acres of nearly identical tombstones marking the final resting places of over 300,000 fallen soldiers. Or the knowledge that the fields at Gettysburg are drenched in the century-old blood of 10,000 men. These places are not peaceful to me. For me, they call to mind the peacelessness of silent cemeteries which Oscar Romero recalled when he spoke of our Christian duty to seek the Kingdom of God, over and against the violence of this world.
For me, to stand at a memorial, or walk through a military cemetery, is to remember the cost of human conflict. To remember that this is what the world promises. This is the only guarantee of military aggression–more white crosses dotting a hill. More dead children mourned as a flag is folded. We can give thanks for their love of country, for their obedience to the uniform, for their desire to make the world better through service to their country. But we cannot mistake the stillness of their bodies and the quiet of the grave for anything close to peace or tranquility. Theirs is a silent and unending cry, which shouts to we who would stop and see: “THIS is the cost of war.”
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Forty days after Easter, and always on a Thursday, the universal, catholic church pauses to celebrate one of the five great feasts, or holidays, that mark the life of Jesus. Ascension joins the celebrations of Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration, passion, and resurrection as one of the moments in which the church has traditionally been unified in its witness to the mystery of the Incarnation.
In the Eastern Church, where prayer has been linked to icons for centuries, the Ascension is most often portrayed in the following way: Jesus, thronged by angels, levitates in the air. Below him, the disciples gape towards heaven, their postures belying their sense of confusion and awe. Two angelic messengers stand in their midst, telling them to go ahead to Galilee. And in the center, her arms raised towards heaven, her gaze directed at the viewer, bearing witness to this holy moment of separation, is the Mother Mary.
The Gospel account doesn’t mention Mary’s presence at the Ascension, but I think it is telling that the Orthodox tradition has placed her at the center of Jesus’ departure. Like any mother, she is has been there for the important moments in the life of her child—she kept watch over Jesus with the women as he embraced his calling in life, traveling the countryside with a message of repentance and new life. She did not hide when he was arrested, and she wept on the hillside as he drew his last breath. Wherever Jesus was, his mother was never far behind. And so it stands to reason that the Holy Mother would be there for the moment when Christ truly does say goodbye to those he loved as his own.
How fitting, that today, as millions of Americans shower their mothers and mother-figures with french toast, flower arrangements, and symbols of appreciation, that we have this opportunity to remember the Mother whose hands released the Prince of Peace into the heavens.
Mother’s day, as you may be aware, had, like Jesus, its own radical beginnings. In the 19th Century, women’s movements in the United States had been trying to establish different activities and holidays in favor of peace against war. In particular, American mothers wanted to ensure that the devastation that the Civil War and other conflicts had visited upon families would not be forgotten. By working for peace, they hoped to create a world in which war was a memory. As Julia Ward Howe’s proclaimed in her “Mothers Day Proclamation”:
We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.
Perhaps it is no surprise that this holiday was swiftly domesticated by the Hallmark industry. Far easier to hug your mother and go to brunch than to agitate for peace.
And yet, that is precisely what Jesus’ life, and this moment of ascension affirms. For as he ascends into heaven, Jesus reminds his disciples: “YOU will receive power when the HS comes upon you; and YOU will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” Jesus, with Mary, and Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis and mothers everywhere, looks us straight in the eye and says: the Kingdom is in your hands.
How many of us have found ourselves in that moment where the training wheels truly have been taken off, and we are on our own? When it is up to us to decide—will we soar with the eagles, or will we stay grounded? Will we trust Jesus when he tells us that we can, with God’s help, follow in the Jesus way? Or will we find excuses to stay silent, to stay home, and thereby clip our own wings
No parent, not even Mary, desires this for their child. We want our children to soar. We want them to embrace the destiny that God has for them. And yet, we also fear what will happen if their wings fail, and the fall to the ground. Or, that they may fly so far from us that we may never see them again.
This moment was clearest for me on the day that I left for college. At nearly 19, I considered myself incredibly mature. I was ready to embrace the future. And so my parents climbed into my dad’s truck, loaded up with boxes of my most cherished possessions, and we started down the I-5 freeway towards the celestial palace that would be my academic home. Five hours later, we laughed as we labored to cram those boxes into my tiny dorm room at the University of Southern Cal. We walked through the campus, bought a sweatshirt, ate a meal together. And then, it was time to say goodbye. I will never forget how it felt to walk with my family to their car, and to know that I would not be going home with them. I will never forget how my mother embraced me and then turned away quickly so that I wouldn’t see her tears. How my father awkwardly shook my hand (something we never did!) so that he could slip me a hundred dollars, and how his eyes shone with tears as he waved goodbye.
Perhaps you have embraced a child yourself, whether one you bore or one whose love found you in another way. Perhaps you have been embraced by someone who was like a mother to you. Perhaps you know what it means to let go and to be let go, to fall or to fly, to discover the world for yourself. To discover who you are. For most of us, this is simply part of what it means to grow up in the world.
As Christians, let us not forget that this is also what is at stake in Ascension. That the God who dwelled with us embraces us even as he departs from our sight, not as a punishment, not because he doesn’t love us, but because this next part we can only do on our own. It is time for us to discover what it means to be Christ’s disciples for ourselves. It is time to embrace the Kingdom on the power of our own abilities and gifts. It is time to honor the witness of the Prince of Peace by being like him.
A frightening moment, indeed, but here we are. Full of the hope and promise of the Kingdom of God. May we raise our hands with Mary, and may we walk into the future with the confidence of the children of God.
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
“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. 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. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
Long ago a man sought the perfect picture of peace. Not finding one that satisfied, he announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from far and wide. Finally the great day of revelation arrived. The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the viewers clapped and cheered.
The tensions grew. Only two pictures remained veiled.
As a judge pulled the cover from one, a hush fell over the crowd.
A mirror-smooth lake reflected lacy, green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely this was the winner.
The man with the vision uncovered the second painting himself, and the crowd gasped in surprise. Could this be peace?
A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky precipice; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy-gray clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind and rain. In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a spindly tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached out in front of the torrential waters as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power.
A little bird had built a nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones, she manifested peace that transcends all earthly turmoil.
-Berit Kjos (A Wardrobe From the King)
What does it mean to seek God’s peace in the world???
Peace is a slippery word. To imagine a world of peace—for many of us, if we are honest, this sounds like sentimentalism, the sort of naïveté we reserve for the young. That word peace; well, it is far easier to meditate on its opposite—our minds are driven to images of war, conflict, struggle, the absence of peace, really, and the complicated feelings that many of us may have about war and the many good people—soldiers and civilians alike—who are caught in its path.
And many of our cultural images of peace—undisturbed natural scenes, a solitary walk on the beach—are characterized by the absence of, frankly, us. Many religious visions of peace have been relegated by definition to the afterlife, leaving us in the present stuck with this question: is peace really possible?
Too often, the question of what it means to seek peace becomes defined by what peace is not. It becomes an exercise in identifying all of the places where peace is absent, all of the reasons why peace is difficult, illusive, or just plain impossible. And so we never get to the question of what peace actually looks like. Here. Now. Today.
We need to confront this issue, because it is to here, to now, and to today that Jesus speaks these words:
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.
We would do well to remember that Jesus speaks these words to a motley crew of beleaguered disciples hiding out in an upper room. To the core of a faith community that has been shut out of its own temple and the synagogues and condemned by its leadership. He directs his words of peace to an oppressed people living under the thumb of a Roman Empire that achieves “peace” by force, its streets littered with military personnel and its hillsides dotted with crosses. A world that we can identify with.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
The full force of violence and human brokenness churns and roils before Christ’s disciples. And yet, before them also stands the One who has overcome it all—Jesus has faced the darkness of his friends, his faith, and his country, and he has endured. He has walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and emerged on the other side. He has faced the world at its worst, and into that pain and anguish, he sends forth peace.
In the Hebrew, the word peace is encompassed by another word, and that is shalom. And while Shalom is often translated as peace, it is far more than that. Shalom has to do with wholeness and completeness. It is a moral value, a cosmic principle, a divine attribute.
My understanding is that to seek God’s shalom is to manifest divine grace in every sphere of your life. It is to walk through this life holding the question before you always: how would God have me live? It is as much an orientation as it is a destination. And it is the difference between seeing peace as an absence of the Other, and seeing peace as a hymn sung in six-part harmony.
When Jesus offers us the peace of God, he is offering us a gift of a new orientation. A God-shaped compass. God’s peace is an invitation to hold within us the image of something other than the the world that lies broken and bruised before us. To paint a picture of what could be, so that even when the world looks dark, we will have something to guide us. A light in the darkness, if you will.
This does not mean that the pursuit of peace will be entirely peaceful. Jesus never says: I give you peace, now you get to go spend your life doing yoga on the beach and drinking fruit smoothies.
Instead, It may look like Paul’s journey in our lesson from Acts. It looks like a life filled with purpose. For it is God’s shalom that directs Paul’s path, sometimes in unexpected directions. It is the vision of peace that leads Paul and Silas across the sea on an ancient boat and into Europe, the same sea that many refugees today are risking and losing their lives to cross. It is God’s shalom that leads Paul and Silas to the house of a wealthy Gentile woman named Lydia is waiting to embrace the message they have been given.
Or it may look like the witness of faithful people like Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran priest and peacemaker who put his life at risk in pursuit of peace for his people during the Civil War and had this to say of peace:
Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is a dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is a right and a duty. May it be so, and may we pursue peace with the heart of God.
It may look like broken shards of glass and pottery, puzzled together and put in place by many broken hands, some of whom we may never know, until together they create something beautiful, something new, the work of art that Dr. King Jr called the beloved community, created by a loving God for a beloved creation.
May it be so, May it be so, may it ever be so. Amen.
We live increasingly in a world of violence, and we offer our prayers today for those in Brussels whose world has been pierced by the sword of terror.
For civilians who fear the threat of bombs in public places–airports and subways, markets and malls–we pray.
For the families of the dead in Brussels, but also in South Sudan, in Syria, we cry in mourning.
For first responders, police and fire and hospital staff, who balm the wounds, comfort the dying, tend the traumatized, seek the perpetrators, we beg that you would watch over them.
And for those of us who wait and watch from a distance–give us courage to be a people of peace where we are. Help us to preach the Word of Jesus’ Kingdom, to seek unity with our neighbor, and to meet the violence of this world with the kiss of peace.
May it be so. Amen.
Rehoboam traveled to Shechem where all Israel had gathered to inaugurate him as king. Jeroboam had been in Egypt, where he had taken asylum from King Solomon; when he got the report of Solomon’s death he had come back.
Rehoboam assembled Jeroboam and all the people. They said to Rehoboam, “Your father made life hard for us—worked our fingers to the bone. Give us a break; lighten up on us and we’ll willingly serve you.”
“Give me three days to think it over, then come back,” Rehoboam said.
King Rehoboam talked it over with the elders who had advised his father when he was alive: “What’s your counsel? How do you suggest that I answer the people?”
They said, “If you will be a servant to this people, be considerate of their needs and respond with compassion, work things out with them, they’ll end up doing anything for you.”
But he rejected the counsel of the elders and asked the young men he’d grown up with who were now currying his favor, “What do you think? What should I say to these people who are saying, ‘Give us a break from your father’s harsh ways—lighten up on us’?”
The young turks he’d grown up with said, “These people who complain, ‘Your father was too hard on us; lighten up’—well, tell them this: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. If you think life under my father was hard, you haven’t seen the half of it. My father thrashed you with whips; I’ll beat you bloody with chains!’”
Three days later Jeroboam and the people showed up, just as Rehoboam had directed when he said, “Give me three days to think it over, then come back.” The king’s answer was harsh and rude. He spurned the counsel of the elders and went with the advice of the younger set, “If you think life under my father was hard, you haven’t seen the half of it. My father thrashed you with whips; I’ll beat you bloody with chains!”
Rehoboam turned a deaf ear to the people. God was behind all this, confirming the message that he had given to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah of Shiloh.
When all Israel realized that the king hadn’t listened to a word they’d said, they stood up to him and said,
Get lost, David! We’ve had it with you, son of Jesse! Let’s get out of here, Israel, and fast! From now on, David, mind your own business.
And with that, they left. But Rehoboam continued to rule those who lived in the towns of Judah.
1 Kings 12:1-17
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
This year our church has been following the narrative lectionary. And so, like the Bible, we began at the beginning. Along the way, we have heard from Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Ruth. We have considered the ten commandments, and were reintroduced to the great King of Israel, David himself.
But this week, for the first time, we reenter the story of the Bible through a cast of characters that are almost certainly less familiar: Rehoboam and Jeroboam. So I think perhaps it would be wise to do a little remembering together.
Before king David dies, he anoints his son Solomon as king over the people. Solomon, you may remember, is the wise king, and he is also a prosperous king. Solomon builds the temple his father had dreamed up as a house for God. He also spends considerable time and money building up his roster of eligible young women. His appreciation for the female form gets him into some trouble, especially when he begins to construct temples for his foreign wives to worship the gods of their ancestors.
But there is another problem. I bigger one. Solomon may have built a beautiful temple, but does so on the backs of many poor, powerless people. One of these people is Jeroboam, who during Solomon’s reign served as an overseer of building projects in Jerusalem. He became aware of widespread discontent amongst the people, and began to organize a resistance within ten of the tribes of Israel. Solomon uncovers this treasonous act, which prompts Jeroboam and his supporters to flee to Egypt.
After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam succeeds him and inherits a wealthy but socially fractured kingdom. And when Jeroboam returns from Egypt, he has one question for the new king: will you treat the people more fairly than your father?
This question may seem innocent, but Jeroboam has allies. Ten tribes worth, in fact. So there is a threat beneath this question. “Will you meet our demands and give us rest, or will you be like your father?”
What an opportunity Rehoboam has been given: to consider, what kind of king will he be? What will be his legacy?
It is the sort of question that falls into that “non-urgent, but important” category. How often do we take the time to reflect and discern our higher goals, our priorities and our ethics?
Last week I had the opportunity to do just that when I spent a week at the Presbyterian Pension Program’s CREDO retreat. I spent a week surrounded by natural, spiritual, and communal beauty. And during that time, I was faced with important, defining questions. Questions like: What kind of person do you believe God has called you to be? And how might your finances, your family life, your work practices and rest practices help or hinder you in living out God’s call for you?
One of the greatest blessings of CREDO was that I didn’t wrestle with these questions alone. Instead, I was gathered with other pastors and with mentors who encouraged and supported one another in this deep soul work. We listened, offered our experience, and helped one another to keep our eyes on the important.
In Rehoboam’s case, he does something similar: when faced with the big questions, he turns to trusted mentors and to friends. But in his case, the advice they give him conflicts. The older and wiser amongst him counsel that a legacy of servant-leadership will bind the people to him. The elders counsel that “The way to gain the hearts of others is to show them that you live for them, not for yourself. Then people will follow you, will obey, love, and even defend you. A good king has no self-interest.” His contemporaries, on the other hand, encourage him to flex his kingly muscles, to lead by strength, and if necessary, fear. Don’t bend for anyone, they cry. Good kings don’t give in to unimportant people.
What to do, when we are given different advice? How to proceed?
In his desire to be respected, Rehoboam forgets the wisdom of those who have governed before. He rejects the wise counsel of those who know better and he doesn’t even bother turning to God for advice. He doesn’t pray or consult scripture or speak with a priest. Instead, he falls into the trap of peer pressure. He worries that if he doesn’t appear strong, his own friends will think he is weak. He believes that, for a king, weakness is unacceptable.
But there is a price to be paid. Rehoboam’s show of strength divides a weakened nation and throws Israel and Judah into a civil war that will claim hundreds of thousands of lives. For the rest of his 22 years as king he is at war. There is constant fighting and dying over the boundaries of the kingdoms, over what belongs to who and where.
The price of Rehoboam’s show of force is peace, unity, and mercy for the needy. And it is paid on the backs of the poor, the helpless, those sent to war and never to return.
All of this leads me back to wondering: what ARE we supposed to do when we are faced with big questions? With situations that will test and define our legacy?
Do we make a Pro/Con list? Prayer? Scripture study? Ask trusted friends for advice? Write a blog post or paint a picture? Mow the lawn? What helps you make big decisions? Perhaps one thing we learn today is that it can be helpful to ask from guidance from the very people whom we wish to be like. And for us, there is no one who fits that description more readily than Jesus himself.
And what does Jesus say? We who wish to serve God must become like servants to one another:
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many?
Jesus points the way forward by reminding us that it is our calling to use all that we are to serve God. Our time, our gifts, our resources—they are given by God so that we may live to give glory TO God with them.
When we take time, to remember our priorities, it can bring us to a place of great spiritual clarity. Perhaps we recognize that we find peace in God in the quiet. Perhaps, with perspective, we see our slowing schedules not as a sign of age, but as an opportunity to rest in and delight with God. To take Sabbath, and take it joyfully. Or perhaps we find ourselves yearning to make a difference in the world, to follow Jesus out into a community that is broken and crying out for Christ.
Whatever it is that helps your soul rejoice in God, I invite you to pay attention. Take the time, seek out neighbors and fellow disciples whom you trust, and start a conversation: how might we follow Jesus together? How might we honor the God who made us? I promise you, it will be worth it.
The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word endures forever. Amen.
A disclaimer to those of you who imagine peace through John Lennon’s rose-colored lenses—today’s scripture shatters the illusion that the work—and it is work—of peacemaking is something pretty to look at, or rational in practice or idealistic in scope. Contrary to the prose of some of great pop songs out there on the subject, the practice of truly making peace is downright messy. It is profoundly realistic about the evil that exists in the world, and is only “peaceful” in light of the storm of violence and rage that all too often precedes a lasting peace. Peacemaking is full of emotion, is never detached from the world around it and always aware of the dangers that threaten it. And in a twist that may seem awfully contradictory for us peaceniks, the truth of the matter is that to make peace is, in a sense, to wage war against all of that which resists it.
To think otherwise is to live in a land of unreality.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at Psalm 137. Now, many of us feel uncomfortable when we hear this Psalm—it manages to describe images that we know ought never to go together—songs sung by victims for the merriment of tormentors, babies’ heads and sharp rocks, enslavement and suffering of the faithful people of God. The sometimes violent imagery of this psalm describes for us that which seems furthest from what we think of when we speak about peace.
Perhaps this is because, for many of us, this Psalm sounds less like a promise to fight even and more like a white flag on a barren landscape. For instead of prayers of hope for a promised future secure and free in God, we encounter lament. Instead of nonviolent resistance, we encounter hostility and angry, violent words. And perhaps, we may think, instead of faith in God, we encounter despair. We encounter chaos in the heart of God’s people.
And so it becomes tempting to skip over the difficulties of this Word. It becomes tempting to pat this sad little psalm on the head and move on to a Word from God that sounds more like the peace we imagine—strong, and vital, tranquil and still, harmonious and ultimately unthreatening.
But to do that is to make a grave mistake. To deny that this Word can speak of peace is to ignore the very voice of those who most desperately are in need of peace. The voice of Psalm 137 is the voice of the peace-less, the voice of those who cry out from the darkness for a real and an urgent and a raging peace in this world right now.
Psalm 137 is the lament of the oppressed who weep for freedom from the forces of Empire which enslave, limit, destroy, and murder.
It is the cry of people who have experienced and witnessed violence against themselves and their community—those whose babies HAVE been dashed against the rocks, or who have been sexually victimized, flayed by bullets and machetes, silenced by oppressors whose brute power over them is total.
It is the wail of the more than 1 billion people in this world for whom peace is impossible because they are literally starving for want of adequate food and water.
It is the moan of those rendered invisible by the social and economic forces of a markt whose ethics and morals are sold to the highest bidder, and to whom the powerless are expendable commodities.
To speak of peace without these voices is unfaithful, for these voices are the very reason that we dream of peace in this world. And to ignore the real and present pain and suffering of the peace-less is neither honest nor particularly helpful—for in truth, to ignore their voices or read past them is to once again do violence to those who most need to be heard, for it is to render them invisible once more, and it is to exert power over an already trampled and forsaken people.
Furthermore, we have it on good authority that we are called out precisely to listen for and to speak with these voices. For this is precisely how our Lord Jesus Christ responded to the desolate and the dejected of his own time. Rather than ignore them, he sought them out. And rather than speak for those in need, Jesus taught us the power of learning to speak with those society had rendered invisible, first by getting to know their stories and their lives, and then by inviting them to a table to participate in the ongoing conversation and work of ushering forth the Kingdom of God.
The Jesus of Nazareth whom we follow lived and worked and prayed and taught and ate and cried and lamented with precisely these downtrodden, these marginalized, these voiceless people of God. And in the end, he was willing to lay down his life rather than cease working and speaking and praying with those whom society labels the least of God’s people. Our Savior was willing to wage war against the Empire itself, and he did so armed with the Word of God and a Fierce Love for God’s people that would not back down to tormentors and baby dashers.
The least that we can do, brothers and sisters in Christ, is welcome these voices to our table, open our arms to those who grieve and cry and lament and weep for peace, and welcome them to the Table that Christ has welcomed us to as we seek to understand one another as we fight for truth peace in this dark and stormy world. We are stronger, and more faithful, when we dare to do so in the name of the One who dared to risk His Life so that we may have Life in Him.
I went on a retreat a few weeks back with my fellow seminarians where we spent almost two days in seclusion on the property of some Cistercian nuns in Southern Massachusetts. It was a great experience for me, to a great extent because it was intentional space set apart from the world around me, space in which I could think and reflect before diving into a new semester. It was meant to provide peace and comfort, community and grace to those of us who came.
And it did. For in many ways, now that I am in the thick of classes, and feeling the beginnings of stress again, that retreat reminds me that it is always possible to set aside time for oneself. One of the most meaningful things that we did while we were there, actually, was to practice silence. Which can be lonely, but in a room full of people, it felt so full and spiritual. I was also touched by the rituals in which we partook. At the end of the retreat, in particular, we were asked to each write something to ourselves, something that we wished to take with us when we left the retreat center. Then, we placed our wishes for ourselves in a bowl and each of us picked a new wish to take with ourselves out of the bowl. My new message said the following:
“Be at peace with the struggles and joys of the journey– you are on the right path.”
I cannot tell you how often I have found myself returning to that small piece of lined yellow paper in the past few weeks. For this semester has not been easy. I had begun my spring thinking that I had addressed the major problems and concerns of my last semester, confident that this was the time to figure them out, to explore more intentionally what was meaningful to me and to be unabashedly myself. Then I watched in disbelief as my safety net began to crumble. My character was attacked by a fellow student. Then my roommate began to have problems. I found myself being attacked by those who are in pain themselves, people whom I did not ever try or intend to hurt, but people who nonetheless feel hurt by me. I began to wonder– is this where God wants me? Did I take a wrong turn? Why all of this suffering, God?
And still I wonder. I am worried out of my mind for my roommate, who becomes more paranoid by the day and whom I feel helpless to aid. The issues that surround that such that I don’t want to go into it on a blog, but I can say that she is very hurt and that many of the things that I believe in and participate in, both in school and in faith, are painful for her.
How does one protect oneself when the one who is attacking her does it not out of anger but rather of pain? Knowing my roommate, she is a kind person who is suffering. I feel as though I am targeted by her because of what I represent, but at the same time I know that what I represent and how i relate to the world makes her feel unsafe and attacked. Who is to blame then? How does one heal? What can we do? These are all questions that I have no answers to. I can only hope there is an answer somewhere, and trust in the little yellow sheet and the soul that formed it, that there is hope in this struggle, that there is peace, and that this is the journey I was meant to take.