Tag Archives: peace

Turning swords into plowshares

Sermon given on Sunday, June 3, 2018 and loosely connected to the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window.

Leaving college and my farm life, I moved to Lexington, MO, and stepped into a new community that seemed so far away from my roots.  One facet of that new community was its historical connection to the Civil War and that of the military academy.  Through the years, I also learned that during World War II a prison camp for Germans had once been located in the area.

Now these historical pieces never really made me uncomfortable and I did teach at the academy for nine years, but I honestly never considered any connection between those pieces to my theology of loving one another.

In my mind, these facts were just glimpses into the history of the area, and working at the military academy was a teaching job about which I was passionate.  Teaching in that environment hinged on establishing relationships with students who were not living with their families.

But there is another connection between the images of war and theology that has become a focal point for me this week.  I literally was surprised to discover image #32 in the stained glass window and equally surprised at the mental picture that immediately jumped into my mind.

In Lexington, one of my church family always wore a lapel pin that fascinated me.  She had a miniature sword that was turned into a plowshare.  I was so intrigued that I asked her about it, and she explained the significance.  She was a respected science teacher in our community who always emitted a special sense of peace.

Nowhere else in my memory have I come across that image nor had anyone really develop a discussion around that concept.  As I studied the list of images in the stained glass window, I discovered that #32 was of a young person holding a sword that had been hammered into a plowshare just like the image of Pat’s lapel pin.

The paperwork for the puzzle provides this explanation:

 

Two times in the Old Testament we catch a glimpse of a restored paradise, where enmity and warfare have ceased and an abiding peace has come to stay.  In this vision, instruments once used for destroying one another will no longer be necessary, and instead will be converted into peaceful, useful, and productive tools for the sake of creation.  This image corresponds to, and signals the end of what began with the killing of Abel by his brother Cain in the first section of the window.

 

The two Old Testament references are Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3:

 

Isaiah 2:4–The Lord will mediate between nations
and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.

 

Micah 4:3–The Lord will mediate between peoples
and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.

 

Resuming the reflection:

 

Why would the image of a sword turned into a plowshare be included with the images of The Church?  The scripture connection is from the Old Testament, before The Church became established.  Historically, the ancient cultures fought wars to gain more land.  Battles were horrific, hand-to-hand conflict.  The outcome ended with death, dismemberment, and slavery.  The weapons included swords, spears, clubs, maces that were hand held and brought the warriors face to face—angry and fearful.

God never intended for humans to treat each other like this.  He designed a world that was to meet all the needs without conflict.  His human creation was to care for the world and all its creatures.  His human creation was to live in peace and in relationship with each other and with him. War was not part of his creation.

The Church is the tool that Jesus’ disciples created to establish relationships with one another and to care for this world through the one simple rule:  Love one another.  The Church continues to work establishing relationships that heal, protect, provide for all God created.  Swords destroy.  Plowshares cultivate.

Consider the context of the two verses from Isaiah and Micah.  The Jewish people populating the region along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea had split into two separate countries Israel and Judah.  The geographical area continues to be riddled with battling cultures. This warring attitude is far from what God teaches through his son Jesus Christ.  The swords today are so much more destructive and The Church struggles to develop peace.

One of the key words in these verses is “mediate” or “judge” as used in other translations.  God is the only one who can mediate or judge between peoples, as the scripture state.  The prophets wanted the faithful to understand that only God has that final power, humans do not.  The Church cannot judge, either, instead it is to spread the word that we are to care/love one another as we want to be loved.

Two different prophets, who were basically contemporaries, wrote these verses.  Interestingly, Micah’s role as prophet is identified as 742-687 BC while Isaiah’s prophecy began in 740 BC.  The two prophets even lived in nearly the same area as Isaiah was in Jerusalem while Micah was from Gath about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Surely the two prophets’ messages were heard by many of the same people.  But as we all know, we can hear the same message from two different people or in two different settings and not recognize that the messages are the same. Through the millions of years and the hundreds of translations the message from these two prophets are still as important as they were in the 8th& 7thcenturies before Christ’s lifetime.

The Church has continued to share the same message:

  • The Lord will mediates between peoples—not humans
  • Hammer swords into plowshares—get rid of weapons, turn to tools for feeding the people
  • Do not fight between nations—end war, do not even train for war

 

The Church preserved this message as it canonized the writings from the prophets into the Bible. The Church has turned the words of scripture into actions encouraging each of the faithful to do exactly what the prophets asked.  The Church has worked to develop the very peace-loving, nurturing practices that God asked Adam and Eve to do when he created this world:

Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.  . . . Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it. . . .”  [Genesis 1:26, 27]

 

Certainly God’s original plan was changed, and is noted in the stained glass window by the battle of the brothers Cain and Abel. Ever since creation, the battle between good and evil continues.

How, then, do we keep up our personal responsibility as Christians?  We are The Church regardless of denomination, congregation or community, what matters is whether you do all that you can do to carry out the message God has sent to us in so many different ways.  What matters is that you work peacefully to love one another just like you want to be loved.

The image of turning swords into plowshares is a concrete message to each of us.  The scripture introduced the mental picture, but the window shows us a visual picture.

Isaiah’s prophecy, written hundreds of years before Christ, includes the prediction that God was sending a messiah to teach the methods needed to shift from warring cultures to loving cultures.  And the work continues, must continue.

Creating the United Nations may be one global effort to turn swords into plowshares, too.  There is an interesting irony of how the prophets’ words have been artistically translated.  On the bulletin’s cover is the statue of a blacksmith beating a sword into a plowshare. That statue is at the United Nations headquarters in New York City; but the irony cannot be ignored.

The artist Evgeny Vuchitech was Soviet and the statue was a gift from the USSR (Russia) presented on December 4, 1959. The explanation provided by Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s website under the article “Art in the Christian Tradition” explains the bronze statue:

The sculpture, depicting the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other, which he is making into a ploughshare, is meant to symbolize man’s desire to put an end to war, and to convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of mankind.

 

The irony of the statue does not end, either.  While searching for more information on the artist, one learns that a step-granddaughter is an Israel politician Ksenia Svetlova.

Add to this the timeframe that the statue was donated to the UN.  The Secretary General of the UN was Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden.  He was known for his work to develop peace, to mediate between warring peoples.  His notable quotes reflect the message behind the prophets’ words and the artists’ statue:

Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each of us. To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear. To build a world of justice, we must be just.

 

The Church is global.  The Church is tasked to make every effort it can to return this world to God’s original plan:  a peaceful world where all is provided to meet our needs and we are the stewards of this world.  Hammarskjold also said,

We’ve got to learn hard things in our lifetime, but it’s love that gives you the strength. It’s being nice to people and having a lot of fun and laughing harder than anything, hopefully every single day of your life.

 

You are The Church, right here in this community working with this Church family.  Yes, it can be difficult, but life in God’s eyes is one that is peaceful, love-filled. You are not to judge, you are to love. Through love, unconditional love, you can do all that you can to create a peaceful world—at least in your corner of the world.

Closing prayer:

Dear God of all people,

As we listen to the words of ancient prophets,

Open our hearts to their peaceful message.

As we stop for these moments to think about The Church

Open our minds to all the possibilities God offers.

As we work together to serve all in our communities,

Open our doors to make plowshares, not swords.

 

Move us forward to share the messages of the prophets

To demonstrates Jesus’ love-filled actions.

Move us forward through these times of transition

To keep Jesus’ work alive in our community.

Move us forward to discover new, exciting ways

To hammer out swords of differences into plowshares.

 

Thank you for the guiding words of scripture.

Thank you for the unexpected messages of peace.

Thank you for the unconditional love you provide.

 

We can do all that we can through the your gifts.

We can do all that we can because Jesus teaches us.

We can do all that we can through the Holy Spirit.

Amen, Lord, amen.

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PEACE: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

Sermon given on Sunday, Christmas Eve 2017, based on the Advent study by James W. Moore and Jacob Armstrong, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  Even though Advent comes to a conclusion with Christmas Day, the study will be followed for the next week or two.  Many thanks to Moore and Armstrong for publishing this study so others may find the gifts that won’t break:  Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.

Scripture: Luke 2:1-6 (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.

 

Luke 2:8-11 (NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

 

Luke 2:8-11 (NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

 

PEACE: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

Life at this time of year sometimes feels like total chaos. There has been all the shopping, the baking, the extra events on the calendar and all this is on top of our typical daily life routines. No wonder everybody becomes exhausted. The idea of peace seems impossible.

Yet, peace is possible. And today, Christmas Eve, in the midst of all the seasonal chaos, peace is possible and it is a gift that won’t break.

Chaos is a permanent state around us and that is no different throughout human history.—even since creation, as John 1 reminds us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, NRSV)

 

At no time in our lives are we immune to chaos. The key to peace is knowing that God is with us, or as one of our members has said repeatedly this year, “God’s got this.” And that testimony has carried her through the chaos of a medical crisis.

God is with us. Since the beginning, God has existed and continues to be a very real presence within our lives. Have we opened this gift? Today is the perfect time to open this last gift, God’s gift of peace.

[Light the Peace candle.]

Peace is difficult to define especially when our world is in such chaos, but I always have hope that we can reach the ultimate goal of peace. The key is finding peace with God first, then finding peace with one’s self, and that makes finding peace with others possible.

This morning we awoke to find the magic of a white Christmas.   The snow really completes the mental image of Christmas for us in the Midwest. Seldom, though, does a white Christmas become real. I hope that as you stepped out into the natural world you heard the peace.

As I tried to figure out a way to explain what the gift of peace was to the kids, I could only come up with one idea—the way the world is when snow falls. There is nothing like it. When snow falls, there is a pureness that one experiences.

  • The visual shows a world with no flaws as the snow covers the dulled yards, turns leafless trees and bushes into white, sparkling gardens if even for a few moments.
  • Snow even has a unique smell, almost absent of odors but also refreshing. We notice that when we go into the stores and see candles and scents with snow as the descriptors. One might think that snow should smell like rain, but it has its own unique scent.
  • And who admits that snow does have a taste. As kids, I am sure we have all ran out into the snow, stuck out our tongue and tasted it. Why snow even serves as the base ingredient for an old fashioned treat—snow ice cream (even though we always add extra taste elements to it).
  • Touching snow may begin with the taste on the tongue, but snow brings out the kids in all of us as we run and play, scoop it up to make snowmen, or fall into it to make snow angels. Even the gentle feel of the snow on our face seems to calm our very anxious souls.
  • Finally, the sound of snow is the key to knowing what peace is. Step into a world where snow has coated the ground, especially as the day begins. The sound of snow is peace. It quiets us, it soothes us, it wraps us up like a warm blanket on the coldest of days.

This mornings gentle snow fall can serve as a real example of what peace with God is like.   (I know, the cynics might try to twist the magic of the white Christmas into the negatives, but I choose to focus on the snow as an example of God’s gift of peace.)

James Moore uses the story of the angels being taught to sing the one hymn to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds as a one-time public event. The angels were told that this was the only time that they would sing this one song as a performance. That may seem like a silly story, but thing about how the Christmas carols delight us as we look forward to Christmas.

The story concludes with God explaining to the angels that once they perform this majestic hymn, their job was done. Moore writes God’s response: “Because,” God said, “my son has been born, and now earth must do the singing!”

The Christmas story is told and retold every year in hope that all people can find peace with God. Moore adds:

The Good news of Christmas is so awesome, so full of wonder, that it’s not enough just to talk about it. We have to burst forth in song, we have to sing it. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 85)

The gift of peace begins with knowing God and accepting the gift of his son Jesus Christ as our savior. With that we can also find peace within ourselves even if chaos swirls around us like the tornadoes we know so well.

Accepting God’s gift of Jesus in our life makes it possible for us to find a sense of calm in our lives. Consider all those around you and that you have heard throughout history who demonstrate calm despite the chaos that surrounds them. I can list a few of the most historical examples : Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi.

Placing God first and then turning one’s life over to him creates peace within one’s own life. Moore states, “The only way we can be right with ourselves is to be made right by him [God].” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 89)

Finally, the gift of peace expands into peace with others. By accepting God’s gift of Christ, we turn over the chaos to him. Remember our own example this year as we heard the personal testimony in the battle with cancer, “God’s got this.”

Because God has accepted our chaos, we can find peace with ourselves, and that makes it possible for us to find peace with others. Moore explains the tradition of the mistletoe to demonstrate how important it is that we find peace with others, too.

The ancient tradition of northern European Druids is far different than what we may expect. Moore explains:

They believed mistletoe had curative powers and could heal lots of things including separation between people. So when two enemies happened to meet under an oak tree with mistletoe hanging above them, they took it as a sign from God that they should drop their weapons and be reconciled. They would set aside their animosities and embrace one another under the mistletoe.

When Christian missionaries moved into northern Europe, they saw this mistletoe custom as a perfect symbol for what happened at Christmas—that Jesus Christ came into the world to save us, to redeem us, and to bring us peace, healing, forgiveness, love, and reconciliation. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 90)

Today we can just imagine what it was like to live in the cold, frigid regions of northern Europe. The environment might be comparable to our lives without God, without peace. The mistletoe of God in our lives gives us the power to find peace with others, too.

Give the gift of peace this year. Follow Moore’s advice:

If you want to have a “peace-full” Christmas, go in the spirit of love and fix the broken relationships in your life. If you are alientated or estranged or cut off or at odds with any other person, go in the spirit of Christmas and make peace. Don’t put it off any longer. Drop your pride,your resentment, your grudges, and go set it right. With the help of God, go make peace today. Christmas offers us the gift of peace with others, but it’s up to us to accept that gift. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 90)

Christmas is the annual reminder that God loves us and gives us the greatest gift of all: Jesus Christ. Accepting that opens us to a world that is peace-filled.

Merry Christmas to each of you. I pray that you have received the gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy and peace.

Closing prayer: (in unison)

Dear God, thank you for the gift of peace.

Help us put peace into practice

            in our lives and show others

            the path to true peace.

Remind us to serve as peacemakers

            and to share the love of God

            with those in need. Amen.

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The Wonder of a Promise

The advent series this year is based on Ed Robb’s and Rob Renfroe’s publication The Wonder of Christmas available through Abingdon Press.  Many thanks are owed them for making this available.  The opportunity to share their work is a delight.

The Wonder of a Promise given on Sunday, December 18, 2016:  Week 4 of Advent series

Sharing the Christmas Story: Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT)

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement[a] quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[b] for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[c]
which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Promise by Rob Renfroe

The very sight of a Christmas gift all wrapped up in pretty paper and wrapped in ribbons and bows triggers our curiosity. What is hidden in the box? The mere box suggests a promise of something very special just for you.

Wrapped gifts surround us in the stores, on the cards in the mail, and under the Christmas trees, and all suggest a promise. They also represents a relationship from one person to another, one family to another, one friend to another friend, and even one co-worker to another. The practice of giving gifts reflects the value we place on maintaining relationships with one another.

God wanted a relationship with us so much that he decided to join us in the package of the baby Jesus, born under the light of a star, announced by the angels, and named Immanuel. But, he was not wrapped up as anything special, rather he was wrapped up in swaddling cloth and laid to rest in a manger. What a wonder that God would go to such an effort to be with us, to do all that he could to establish a relationship with us.

Our very creator desires an intimate relationship with us. For generations God worked through the faithful in an effort to deepen the relationship; but then decided to be with us. Rather than waiting any longer, God joined us as the gift of the baby Jesus to demonstrate how to be in an intimate relationship not only with God but also with each other. What a wonder that God’s gift continues to be unwrapped generation after generation, by one people after another.

Have you unwrapped God’s gift to you?

Have you shared God’s gift with others?

The wonder of Christmas is that sharing gifts with one another is one more opportunity to affirm relationships we have with one another. Yet, God asks us to live our lives in such a loving manner that our relationships with each other reflects the behaviors demonstrated by Jesus Christ.

The wonder of Christmas is that God’s love is infinite and available to all people. For those who accept God’s gift, unwrap it, and use it, the transformation is truly wonderful. The gift of a relationship with God evolves into the one true gift that keeps on giving and gives us a new name—Christian. The wonder of the name Christian transforms our lives.

God’s gift of Jesus Christ wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is the promise that God is always with us. It is a promise that establishes a relationship with God that we demonstrate in all the relationships we experience in our own lives. Accepting God’s gift turns us into a gift too.

Opening up God’s Christmas gift comes with instructions how to give that gift to others. We just have to follow God’s instructions on living in relationships with people rather than live as though we are against each other or above each other or simply living among others. As Christians we are to live with each other just like God did as Jesus.

Stop and consider the importance of that one small word ‘with.’ The Old Testament stories tell us how the ancient faithful understood the relationship of God to man. In the Advent study, The Wonder of Christmas, Rob Renfroe explains:

The Old Testament reveals that God’s people ‘believed in God.’ First and foremost, they believed in God above us. When they sinned, they believed in God against us. And when they thought they were doing everything right, they were able to believe in God for us. But they did not believe in God with us—at least not in the ways we need most. Not with us as a mother or father is with a child. Not with us as a person who understands what it is like to be human—a tiny being in a monstrously large universe. Not with us as one who knows what it’s like to give your best and see it do no good, to give your heart only to be rejected, or to cry at night because those you love are hurting and you can’t take their pain away.

 

Even today we can know those same perceptions. We can understand how the Israelites and even so many today still express those same beliefs that God is above us, against us, and even for us. Yet, God made a promise through the prophet Isaiah:

The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). [NLT]

 

In that promise, there is that small word with. In the wonder of a name, God promises that in the birth of a baby, God is with us not above, not against, and not simply for us. God promises to be with us.

Unwrapping God’s gift at Christmas we must read the instructions in order to make sure that Isaiah’s prophecy is a reality. We find the instructions in the scripture, especially in the New Testament that records Jesus’ ministry, the teachings, and the modeling of God being with us. The instructions are quite simple: Love one another, as you want to be loved.

First to live in a Christian relationship with God, we must understand the people with whom we live—not only just our own families but in our community.   We cannot be in a positive relationship unless we live with others. We cannot live as though we are above, against or for others. Maybe we do not co-exist in the same circumstances, but as Christians we have the capacity to with others through empathy.

Secondly, remember that we, too, had to accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ. There are times in our lives that we allow something or someone to separate us from our intimate relationship with God. Once we are separated from God, we slip into the mindset that God is above us or against us. We might be able to say that God is for us; but at those times we are separated from God, it may be difficult to even see that. The wonder of God’s promise is God is with us at all times.

Even as Christians, there are times in our lives that we become separated from God: God does not separate from us, but we make decisions that do separate us from God. Remembering our own human stories gives us the compassion to relate to others who have not accepted God’s gift.

The third set of instructions that comes with God’s gift is that we are to care about others. God knew that living with us as Jesus Christ establishes the intimate relationship that creates a bond of trust. Renfroe states:

When we tell people that God is with them and they can trust their lives to Jesus, we are asking them to trust us. Essentially we are telling them that we can show them how to create a different ending to their story. We are saying and promising, “Trust us with your lives; trust us with your stories. We will take you to the One who loves you. Trust us; we will not disappoint you.”

You don’t earn that kind of trust by telling people how badly they have lived or by acting superior. You earn that kind of trust by caring enough about their stories that you want their hopes and dreams to be redeemed. You earn that kind of trust by demonstrating humility and compassion as Jesus did—who was willing to leave the comforts of heaven and be born in a manger, disappointed by friends, rejected by the masses, and crucified on a cross—so that you can make the lives of others better.

. . . What enables people to trust us is our genuine care for their lives and their stories. And most often, what changes people is love. Most people are not argued into the Kingdom, lectured into the Kingdom, or guilted into the Kingdom. Most people are loved into the Kingdom.

 

The wonder of Christmas is as exciting as all the pretty packages sitting under the tree promising new and wonderful things. As Advent season begins, we experience the hope of God’s promise. Then we get busy in all the preparations and we seek relief from the hustle and bustle of the holiday, and ask for peace in our hearts and in our world. In the third week of Advent, we practice love in all that we do with one another. Each week of Advent we sense the joy of the season as we wait to unwrap God’s ultimate gift—a son to show us how to be in an intimate relationship with one another and ultimately with God forever.

Closing Advent prayer:

Lord Jesus,

Today I stand in awe with a heart full of gratitude at the wonder of your promise to be Immanuel—God with us today, tomorrow, and forever.

You are a God who truly understands our struggles, because you lived in our world and experienced life in the same ways that we do. You have compassion on us, recognizing that we are sheep in need of a tender shepherd.

Help me to have that same compassion for others, reaching out to love them just as you have loved me. With your help, I will seek to “keep” the promise of Christmas—not only this season but all of my days. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Angels of Peace: Are you an angel?

given on the fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2015

Scripture references: Micah 5:2-5a (from the Common Lectionary)

A Ruler from Bethlehem

2 [a]But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
whose origins are in the distant past,
will come from you on my behalf.
The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
for he will be highly honored around the world.

5aAnd he will be the source of peace.

 

Reflection:

 

The last Sunday of Advent and the calendar shows that we are speeding toward Christmas Day. Our human nature finds us in a frenzy as we finish up the shopping and the meal preparations. The house gets a cleaning, and the bags may even need packing for the journey to Grandma’s house. Peace is not an appropriate descriptor many might use to describe how they feel.

In the midst of chaos, peace is elusive. Yet, the coming of Christ was to bring peace to God’s people. Has Christ provided you peace? Have you shared the Christmas story with others providing them a sense of peace? Are you an angel of peace?

During the past four weeks, the scriptures have shared the story of the Israelites who were no longer living according to God’s law. The trials and tribulations of the people had eroded their relationship with God. And despite all of God’s attempts to tell the people how to live out their faith and to remain loyal to God, the people did not hear his message.

When people do not hear God, he sent messengers—he even sent angels. Today, do we hear God’s message? Are we aware of the messengers that do all they can to make sure that you know that loving God with all your heart will bring you peace?

Compare our lives today to those of the Israelites. The world remains infested with evil. Greed overpowers even the richest businessmen are out of control wanting more and more. Decisions are made based on dollars not on what is best for the humans, but what is best for the profit margin.

How can a world find peace in the midst of this mindset? It takes angels of peace. Certainly heavenly angels are trying their best to alert us to our sad state of Christian affairs. Many of us had parents who did their best to teach us the Golden Rule. They were real life angels present in our lives doing all they could to provide us peace.

Of course peace is defined in our minds two different ways. First, we think of peace among the nations. Our world continues to struggle with peace among the nations and now we have trouble identifying the source of conflict because it is no longer defined by political boundaries.

Now conflict is found between ideologies. The geographical and political boundaries no longer contain the conflict because the worldwide web has erased identifiable locations of conflict. How does God’s world find peace when armies cannot defend one another from such conflicts?

The answer comes from God himself: Love one another as one wants to be loved. God knew that the Law of Moses was too complicated, too inflexible, and the people needed peace. To live in peace, even the slaves, God had sent angels. He had even had prophets warning the people to follow the law, and finally prophets shared the message that a ruler would appear to lead the people back to God, back to peace.

Peace has another meaning, a very personal one. Peace for ones’ own self comes from a healthy relationship with God. The type of peace God provides each one of his children radiates outward from those who love God and share the message of his love with others. Peace-filled Christians are real-life angels in the midst of chaos.

The question then is, are you an angel. Are you peace-filled and eager to share that peace with others? Look around you. You can easily identify those among your family and friends who are at peace within them. They are the angels in our community. They are the ones who love one another, as they want to be loved.

When Micah prophesized that God would send a new ruler, even he did not say that the ruler was a political figure who would use political power and earthly justice to bring peace. His prophecy provided clues to who this ruler would be and the people drew their own conclusions—that is if they heard Micah’s prophecy.

Peace in our world cannot happen until the people find peace in a strong relationship with God. Each one of us has a responsibility to serve as an angel of peace in our own homes, our communities, and in our world. The best Christmas gift you can give—first to yourself—is a close relationship with God. Equipped with God’s love, you are ready to be the angels in your corner of the world. You will give the gift of love to each and every other person you meet.

Giving love to one another is the greatest gift of all. Giving that love creates peace. Peace within each individual also leads to peace within the community, the nation and the world.

Go ahead, then: Give love this Christmas and you will receive peace. Give love and you give peace, too. Giving love provides peace that gives hope to those who have lost hope. Give love and the peace that follows will fill you and others with joy.

Finally, when our communities are filled with people loving one another, the evil and the chaos disappears. The people who love God will serve as angels of peace transforming the chaotic world into a peace-filled world. God’s gift to us becomes our gift to God: PEACE.

Closing prayer

Merry Christmas, God!

 

How amazing is the gift of your son.

Thank you for loving us so much

That you sent your son so we may have peace.

 

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,

Help us provide hope for the lost

By loving one another as we want to be loved.

 

With each smile we share,

with each hug we give,

May we serve as angels of peace.

 

With the birth of the Messiah

You gave all of your children

Hope, love, joy and peace.

 

May our giving be a symbol

Of your greatest gift of all,

The Savior, the prince of peace. –Amen

 

 

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Where is your armor?

given on Sunday, August 23, 2015

Scripture base: Ephesians 6:10-20 (NLT)

The Whole Armor of God

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we[a] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[b] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[c] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.[d]

19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.[e] 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.

Reflection:

NBC has a promotional video currently airing that has caught my attention. Lester Holt is standing in the midst of a community devastated by a natural disaster. Everything is leveled and one lone woman is looking through the debris. He speaks with her.

Holt simply says, “It has been a pretty difficult 24 hours, hasn’t it?”

He stands, arms crossed with an empathetic tone in the midst of unrecognizable debris with only this one victim. She, too, appears composed yet bewildered.

Such a simple question: the video says so much, but the response to Holt’s question haunts me. She answers,“ Yes. Yes, Sir.”

The answer is also simple, but the audio shares much more. She answers, her scanning the scene, with a slow “Yes.” The question interrupted her thoughts, but she answered. Then, you witness her quickly self-correct with “Yes, Sir.”

The video illustrated another news report about what young people need to learn. Turns out that a survey indicates that the most important thing to teach school kids is how to say “Thank you, Sir. Thank you, Ma’am.” I believe that is the same as answering “Yes, Sir. Yes. Ma’am.”

Directly teaching this skill helps arm our young people to manage politely in today’s world. In the video, I realized it is a defense, too, from speaking too quickly or speaking in anger. The good manners become part of the armor needed in our world.

Reading the scripture, using the term “armor of God,” the metaphor seems out of place; almost inappropriate considering that Jesus’ teachings are peace-filled, passive, and loving. A military term such as armor does not fit. Yet, armor is protective gear and ancient society was filled with military action, especially in the Roman Empire of which Ephesus was part.

Paul’s use of the armor of God metaphor made sense to the young church, and in translating his teaching to our 21st century world, the metaphor continues to teach how to live our Christian beliefs in a hostile world. And our world is hostile, even on a daily basis in a peaceful setting far from a military engagement.

Holt’s promo for the evening news provides viewers with an example of a woman who faced utter destruction, but her simple response speaks to us. She learned how to use her Christian armor in the face of nature’s storm. She did not rant and rave of how wronged she was. She did not stand in tears unable to answer. Instead, we have the video to show us that even answering a simple question, she has inner strength and the composure to realize her impolite answer and self-corrected: “Yes. (pause) Yes, Sir.”

At that moment I knew she accepted the difficulties of the last 24 hours, and she did not show anger towards God, towards Holt, or even towards the weather. She demonstrated her upbringing with dignity.

Paul’s use of the armor metaphor provided the Ephesians a means of understanding how to live Jesus’ teaching in daily life. The armor is really a set of defenses to use against any and all evils that confront us today. He was directly teaching character development.

With the diminishing influence of Christian principles in our society, developing one’s armor against all the bad influences around us is failing. Teaching our young people the very qualities Paul shares in the letter to the Ephesians is providing them an armor of God. The metaphor covers the qualities truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the word of God.

Trying to find a metaphor for the 21st century is difficult, but as shared with the kids in the handout, the use of protective sporting gear is one way. In ancient times, the armor included protection for all body parts and today the full protective gear worn by football players is comparable:

  • Ancient—a belt stands for truth to defend ones self from lies that the devil uses. Football also has belts, so that symbol representing honesty can still apply.
  • Ancient—body armor was the metal shell created to protect the heart and other vital organs. The metaphor explains that the devil attacks our heart that is the base of our emotions, self-worth, and trust. Today football players wear shoulder pads in a similar manner.
  • Ancient—shoes represent peace that comes from sharing the Good News of Jesus. Remember that in ancient times, footwear was typically a pair of sandals, but the armor style was designed to cover the foot with metal, too. Sharing the Good News meant taking risks to share the story, rather like football players using cleats to run for the touchdown.
  • Ancient—soldiers carried shields. Paul used shields to symbolize faith. The shield deflects the arrows that flew across the battlefield. It takes awareness of the source of evil that targets you, but holding on to faith as your shield serves as a strong defense. Football players themselves are shields. Not only does an individual player defend himself using the strength and agility of his own muscles and wits, the players form a shield for the quarterback carrying out the play.
  • Ancient—helmets were fashioned to protect the head, even wrapping around to cover the ears, the chin and the forehead. Our brains harbor our knowledge, but it also makes the decision on what is good and bad. Acceptance of Jesus life and crucifixion leads to salvation; life eternal. No matter what, the brain constantly needs protection. The helmet, even for football players, is critical. No game continues until helmets are secured before the ball moves. As Christians, the helmets we wear protect us from the mental barbs thrown at us. It is critical to protect our brains from all the evil influences and our own human doubts.
  • Ancient—swords were the offensive weapon of choice. Each soldier had one. Every battle with evil is a hand to hand confrontation. On the football field, swords are the arms of the players protected with pads as player tackles player. Christians have the Word of God as the sword to defend themselves from evil. Being prepared at all times takes constant practice. Reading and studying the scriptures is a constant practice to keep our swords sharpened. Always be prepared with God’s words when the devil tempts or attacks us.

Paul’s metaphor in the letter to the Ephesians still applies today. The armor may change, but the principle remains the same. We must be ready at any moment for the evil forces to attack us.

Living a Christian lifestyle may not be easy in our difficult world, but keeping our defenses in good working order makes a difference. When asked where is your armor, you know the answer—with God! God is our armor. We know him personally.   We depend on his teachings. We practice our beliefs at home, at work, and at play. We keep our armor shined and ready for the moment evil attacks us.

Closing prayer

Dear Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Each day we hear how evil attacks people.

Some attacks are violent against your children.

Some attacks are mentally challenging.

Some attacks are from nature.

Thank you for providing us the armor

Needed to protect us from evil.

Thank you for the words of the Bible

Giving us all we need to fight off evil.

Thank you for demonstrating

How to use our faith

And how to live righteously.

Let us share the Good News

So others may experience the peace

That comes from knowing you.

Let us also share the Good News

So others may receive the gift of salvation. –Amen

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