Sunday, December 21, 2014

21 December 2014 - 4th Sunday of Advent - What Peace? For Whom?

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
John 1:26-38

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”  Mother Teresa

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other … The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully ...  With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up [our] wounds, to care for [those] who shall have borne the battle … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace ...”  A. Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865

President Lincoln was addressing the nation as the War Between the States was about to come to a close, but the address was also an honest reflection of how easily a people who have so much in common can be so easily at odds with one another.  And given that President Lincoln most likely meant the veterans of that terrible War as those "who shall have borne the battle", I wonder if he was not also referring to those who were harmed because of the War; that which we now refer to as "collateral damage" - innocent bystanders.

Even before the Council of Nicaea when the Church was established as an institution, writers and elders of all stripes have written volumes about the state of the Church in reflecting on the many problems we face as the Body of Christ, and we are no closer to a solution than before.  As many have determined the Church is in “crisis”, we have created for ourselves a new church “office”; that of a consultant ... an "outsider" looking in.

While this is not a problem in itself, it may be denying the one problem the Church knows we have, but we put all emphasis on trying to figure out what will bring new blood in while perhaps denying the one thing that may be keeping “outsiders” out: there is no peace in the House.

The Lord revealed to the prophet Nathan that as much as King David desired to build a house for The Lord, The Lord had every intention of building a house for David (2 Samuel 7:11).  David surely meant well, but he was focused on his own ideas and his own will.  Of course we know that a physical structure was not what The Lord had in mind.  There would be something much more enduring than a physical structure.  It is incredibly ironic that the disciples approached Jesus so many generations later in asking if Jesus had a place to stay (John 1:38).  It would take time before they came to realize Jesus Himself is the "House" The Lord intended to "build" - the Covenant into which all are invited to reside.

Without fully realizing it, the problems we face today are the same problems ancient Israel faced before the Exile: the curse of "every man for himself".  And the problem may have been made worse as the post-exile generation overcorrected itself by heaping rule upon rule to make even more rigid those simple but profound Commandments upon which the entire Law rests: “You shall love The Lord your God [with all you have and with all you are]” … and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I submit to you that in all the extra "rules", they forgot to fully define "love".

The Word existed before the foundation of the world, the Word was revealed at Sinai, and then that Word became flesh in Bethlehem.  Same God, same Word.  Yet since the birth of Messiah Christians in every generation have tried to create an even “newer” and more “improved” Word that makes more sense to us and accommodates us individually “just as I am”; a “new” word separate - and distinguishable – from the “old”.

A secularized culture has invaded and infected the Church to the point that we often “cast pearls before swine” in the name of holiness, and we insist that in order for something to be “right”, someone must be wrong … and all within the Church, all within the Body of which Messiah alone is the Head. 

Trying to maintain a delicate balance between this opinion and that is necessary … not strictly so we can get along but, more importantly, so we may rediscover – or perhaps find for the first time - our missional voice.  Without that Voice we lose an essential component of our being; that of Messiah who was born not to “rule” – but to serve (“I came not to be served, but to serve”, Mark 10:45).  We have lost our sense of peace because we have lost our sense of self.  Worse than this, perhaps; we have lost our sense of Messiah’s Presence.  And without Christ at the Head, then it's anyone's game.

It is an easy thing to say all we have to do is pray (and we should!), yet an earnest prayer life is very hard for some.  It is not because they do not try hard enough or believe deeply enough, but it may be perhaps because they try too hard.  Like many of our well-intentioned efforts, we put our best foot forward with the firm belief that “this” will work or “that” will work so much so that we will have to add new space to our churches to accommodate all the new folks who will come crashing through our doors - all because "someone" had a great idea!

It’s a nice idea, of course, but our efforts are often misguided because we confuse what we want (even with the best and most noble of intentions: bringing new souls to The Lord) with what The Lord has designated for us to do.  Same with prayer; we often go to The Lord with all our own desires (and sometimes, our demands), but too often we forget that after we search for just the right words to say and put all our energy into finding all the right phrases, trying to get it "just right", we forgot to “be still”.

The Lord spoke to the prophet Jeremiah: “Am I a God near by … and not a God far off? (23:23)”  Speaking to the people of Judah, The Lord further stated, “I know the plans I have for you … plans for your welfare and not your harm, to give you a future with hope” (29:11). 

"I know MY plans I have for you ... but do you have a clue?  Do you even care?"

While we often try to individualize this passage for our personal use, we fail to realize that the Word is much bigger than any individual.  Thus when one individual tries to capture that one passage for oneself, others who also embrace that passage for themselves find conflict – especially within the Church! 

It is a wonderfully fulfilling passage and very comforting especially when we have doubts, but “the prayers of both could not be answered.  That of neither has been answered fully.”  Because we do not think as "The Church"; we think individually.  This may be our greatest curse.

Mother Teresa had it right when she observed that "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  That is to say, when we take a single passage from the Scriptures to be applicable to only "me", we ignore the greater context that involves "us".  So then not only do we create a conflict, we also give that conflict teeth!

We do, in fact, "belong" to one another - and we should thank The Lord for this reality - because we need each other more than we are willing to admit.  Especially when it comes to the mission of the Church, should any single component matter more than that which proves to our neighbors we really do care about THEM, that we are willing to engage in their lives, that we are not so concerned about kitchen colors, flooring samples, and other equipment that does not change lives in a meaningful way?

"There stands One among you whom you do not know ... the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  He is among you ... and you do not know it.  Is this the mystery of the Incarnation?  Or has it become an indictment against the people of The Lord for whom this should not be such a mystery?

The peace we want, the peace we desire, the peace we so desperately need is that peace which will be found only when we as The Church submit to Christ as His Body.  Just as our bodies will submit to the will of our minds, so must the Church submit to the Mind of Christ.  And there - there alone - we will find peace.  Amen.

No comments: