Tag Archive: joy


God’s Wild Kingdom

This past Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

 

ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν… The kingdom of heaven is like a pastor who stepped into the pulpit one Sunday speaking foreign words. The listeners were confused and unsettled, wondering how they could interpret what she was saying.

Yes, like foreign words heard early in the morning, the kingdom of God is surprising, baffling and catches us off-guard – making us sit up and pay attention. Oh, and by the way, those words, ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν…,mean “The kingdom of heaven is like…” Now you can rest easy – I promise I won’t use anymore Greek today!

There are basically six different parables in this week’s Gospel – six! It seems as if Jesus is trying every possible way to get the disciples to grasp what he is speaking about. He’s already told them the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and the weeds. And now we hear these other parables about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. At the end, Jesus even asks them “have you understood all this?” They answer “yes,” but I’m wondering if they actually did understand or if they just needed to get past the parables!

These parables may seem disparate, but each one of them offers a glimpse into a different aspect of God’s kingdom – like facets on a diamond. The first speaks of God’s kingdom as one that begins small, spreads like a wild and invasive weed, and becomes a tree – a welcoming place where birds, symbolizing the people of many nations, make their home.

The second parable offers that the kingdom is like a tiny bit of yeast that permeates, lightens and expands our entire world. The next two parables describe the kingdom like a priceless treasure or pearl for which someone sacrifices and gives up everything in order to keep the newfound treasure.

The fifth parable reminds us that there is both good and bad within the kingdom, since it’s like an abundant catch of fish that needs to be sorted onshore. And Jesus’ final parable tells us that the kingdom is like the head of the house who not only brings out new treasures, but refurbishes the old to make it new again.

We speak about the kingdom of God and being a part of it by serving God and others. We even pray that it will come every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. But I find that it’s easy to forget what the words “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” really mean. These parables help to present a fuller picture and call us to reexamine our thoughts and beliefs about God’s kingdom. They declare that the kingdom is priceless, powerful and grows in amazing, often unseen ways.

When Jesus spoke these words, he was speaking in the shadow of the Roman Empire. This was an incredibly powerful and unforgiving empire, ruling the lives of not only Roman citizens, but also slaves and conquered peoples, crushing rebellions and dissenters underfoot. Speaking of the kingdom of heaven as opposed to the kingdom of Rome was radical and dangerous. Remember, part of Jesus’ sentence leading to the crucifixion dealt with him being a king and having a kingdom – something seen as a direct threat to Rome.

But I think we forget that we, too, have kingdoms and empires –we have things that rule over us and our lives. In some places, perhaps it is an oppressive government. But we cannot forget all of the other things that we allow to rule us – money, anger, fear, prejudice, material goods, gossip, anxiety, ourselves… The list could go on and on. And how often are we content to live under these rulers!

It is striking that Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven as something that people rush out and sacrifice all they have had previously to obtain. This sounds like a terrible maneuver or investment strategy to our ears, but it means putting our trust solely in God. And the people in these parables don’t grudgingly sacrifice their things or their old way of life to follow God. No, they do it with joy: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” They are excited and brimming with joy because they know the kingdom of heaven is better than anything else. So what sacrifices have you made for God’s kingdom? And where does your allegiance lie – with the kingdoms and mindsets of this world or with the kingdom of heaven and God’s ways?

It is downright scary to ask these questions of ourselves because it means going against much of what society teaches us. Asking about what we can sacrifice for the idealistic and nearly impossible sounding kingdom of heaven flies in the face of what many would call common sense. And yet, that is our call as disciples of Christ – to live as God calls us to live, not as the world does. It makes us confront the prevailing storyline that there’s not enough to go around and that we therefore can never truly help those in need. Or that those who appear different than we are for one reason or another do not have the same hopes, dreams and needs as we do. It makes us confront the ideas that forgiveness, reconciliation, and peacemaking are weak or foolish endeavors. It calls us to be people of radical hospitality and generosity.

The kingdom of heaven is beautiful and glorious, foreign and surprising given what we know of the world. To describe it using events of our own time, “The kingdom of heaven is like a beautiful land where the homeless and refugee feast at the table of God alongside the rich and well-connected. Where Palestinians and Jews see one another as brothers and sisters.   Where the boundaries of ethnicity, economic status, background, sexual orientation, and class melt away so that we finally see one another as fellow children of God.”

The kingdom of God is unexpected, mysterious and not yet fully established. And it can be incredibly difficult to keep faith and hope when there is so much around us that tells us so glaringly that there is pain, injustice and evil in the world.   But Christ is calling us to step out of our comfort zones and embrace God’s wild kingdom. To see glimpses of it breaking in. And it is breaking in.

Can you see it? It’s where Rwandan students like George and Bosco are receiving an education that will help them continue the transformation of their country. It’s in the smiles of children singing VBS songs and learning about God’s love. It’s breaking through when a Muslim professor in Iraq sacrifices his life in order to speak out against the persecution and murder of his Christian neighbors. It’s forgiveness and love instead of revenge and bitterness. It’s where someone generously and humbly offers the gifts they’ve been given to help others. And it is found in bread broken and wine shared among a diverse group of people.

The kingdom of heaven is popping up here and now in little and marvelous ways all over the world.  And maybe we can’t always see it because the bad and horrific news gets so much air time, but maybe we can take a page out of Solomon’s book and pray for an understanding mind – literally a listening heart – that will be able to see both the good and evil and discern God in the midst of it all.

And we can remember that no matter what happens, God is bringing this kingdom about.  Paul talks about this beautifully in his letter to the Romans when he says that nothing, including other kingdoms, empires, rulers, or even angels, can separate us from God’s incredible love.  Hearing that just makes me feel lighter somehow. No matter what hardship there is in our lives or in the world – no matter what horrors we hear about or experience – we are firmly embraced in God’s love. Knowing we are secure in Christ’s love, now and always – that is freedom to live and work for God’s kingdom.

There are so many kingdoms and rulers in our lives – so many things we can choose to serve. So who will we serve? Will we listen to Christ’s call to joyously be a part of God’s wild and growing kingdom, even if it involves hardship and sacrifice? Or will we be content to dwell in the kingdoms of this world?

I’d like to close with the words of a Taizé chant that have been echoing in my heart this week: “The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.” Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Journeying with the Magi

This was yesterday’s sermon for the Eve of the Epiphany, preached at Community Lutheran Church.  The text was Matthew 2:1-12:

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah* was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

One of the things I loved most about growing up in the country was being able to look up at the clear night sky.  And I didn’t realize that until I moved to Rockville and I couldn’t really see the sky because of all the electric lights.  When I was younger, I remember going snow tubing once in Pennsylvania and leaning back on my snow tube, gazing up at the starry sky.  I just thought it was perfect – the crisp, cold, clean winter air and the stars twinkling above me.  And I remember feeling like there was something holy about that time – something that filled me with a spirit of worship and praise.

In this morning’s reading we hear about the magi having their own night sky experience – encountering the star of all stars.  These magi show up in Jerusalem asking about the child who is to be born king of the Jews.  And they don’t just ask around town, they ask Herod, who is, by title, the appointed king of the Jews.  Awkward!

Needless to say, Herod is caught by surprise, and he calls together his top advisers – the chief priests, those who are in charge of the Temple, and the scribes, those who interpret the law of God – to see what they have to say about all this.  They tell him the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, just 5 miles south of Jerusalem.  This revelation makes Herod shake in his sandals, as well as all of Jerusalem, because a new king not appointed by Rome is not only a threat to Herod, but a threat to the Roman Empire.

So Herod, not exactly rejoicing over this news, secretly calls the magi to go and search for the child and to let him know when they find him.   He says he wants to know so he can go and pay this new child king homage, but as we heard last week, he’s really out to eliminate this potential threat.

So off the magi go, following the star they had been following from the East.  Eventually, it stops over the house where the child Jesus is living.  When they see him with Mary, the magi kneel down and pay him homage, acknowledging him as king, and bestowing gold, frankincense and myrrh on him.

It’s a familiar story – a great story!  There are songs about it and there’s even a tradition of going around and blessing houses on Epiphany, marking them with the year and the initials of the wise men’s names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.  But, there’s a couple interesting things about all this.  The Bible never tells us how many magi there were.  We only think there were three because there are three gifts.  The Bible also doesn’t give us any names – these were added on later in Christian tradition.  And, finally, while it’s really fun to sing “We Three Kings,” these people probably weren’t kings at all.  Instead, they were probably astrologers and magicians from the East – maybe even Persia.

So we’ve got an undisclosed number of people from the East following a star to a king.  And they must have had some doubts about following a star to get to their destination because they pull over in Jerusalem for directions! It’s only after Herod tells them to keep searching that they follow the star again.  It’s like verifying your GPS isn’t lying to you by asking a local.

Still, you have to admire them.  They set out from their homes, not knowing where they were going or what they might encounter along the journey, or even what they might find at their destination – and, still, onward they went.  They went, following a star, knowing that stars were associated with kings.  And they went to worship the king of a foreign country.

It’s made me think a lot about journeying and traveling.  I have always loved learning about different countries, cultures and history – so much so, in fact, that I thought I might end up going into anthropology in college.  And when I was sixteen, the travel bug bit me… hard.  In my previous, pre-seminary and pre-pastor life, I worked at a travel company.  Working there, I was able to learn a bit about different countries and was fortunate to be able to travel to a couple different places.

I still love traveling, and Jeff and I are blessed to be able to be headed to the Holy Land with Gettysburg Seminary tomorrow… and, yes, I still have to pack!  Now, this is going to be a religious trip, focused on the land and history of Scripture.  But one thing I’ve realized throughout my journeys is how all my travels have played a role in my faith.  They’ve helped me to understand church history better, but they’ve also helped me to see people in a new way. I’ve realized that it hasn’t been the places so much as the people and experiences that have shaped my faith.

Speaking with Muslims in Egypt during the month of Ramadan – their month of fasting – helped me to reflect on my own Lenten practices.  Realizing how far a laugh or a smile can go to break the ice and transcend language barriers has helped me think about people as the children of God in concrete ways.  And I’ve been moved to prayer taking in gorgeous landscapes and spectacular feats of engineering.  Having time away from the hustle and bustle of regular life and experiencing a new place has given me the opportunity to tune in to God in new, fresh ways.

That’s been my experience traveling, and perhaps you’ve experienced similar things in your travels, but I firmly believe that you don’t have to travel in order to be on a journey.  We can journey even while we’re at home and encounter Christ on our way.  I have seen God in the faces of people with whom I’ve worshiped.  And I’ve seen God in conversations and laughter with family and friends.  Maybe you’ve seen God through cooking or through creating things.  Maybe it’s been through your interactions with others.  Or maybe it’s been through being transported by reading fantastic books.  What has God used to move you worship like the wise men?

Each of us is on a faith journey.  They all take different shapes and forms, but there is one unifying factor – God is seeking us out.  God led foreign astrologers and practitioners of another religion by a star to meet Jesus.  Now, that’s some creative communication if you ask me! It shows that God pulls out all the stops to reach out to people and draw them from afar to be near to God.  Listening to people’s stories, God’s creativity in communicating with us never ceases to amaze me, but we’ve got to have eyes to see it.

The question when it comes to our journeys is what are we seeking?  Are we seeking Christ or something else?  In our world, success, wealth and fame are highly prized and highly sought after rather than the radical way of Christ. Instead of listening for God’s leading in our lives, it’s often much easier to listen to what society tells us is meaningful – power, prestige, money and independence.  So are we looking for Christ as we travel through life?  And where do we meet him, see him and worship him in our lives?

When the wise men saw that the star had stopped, the gospel says that they were overwhelmed with joy.  In the Greek, it almost seems as if the writer is falling over himself trying to describe how excited and bubbling over with joy the magi were.  It says, very roughly, “and seeing the star, they rejoiced with great joy very much!”  It’s a wooden translation, but you get the point – these were happy people, overflowing with joy that they had finally found the one for whom they were searching!

It reminded me of one of my family’s favorite movies: Hook.  In it, Robin Williams is a grown-up version of Peter Pan who has lost the magic and become a workaholic lawyer, driven by success and blind to his family.  That is, until Captain Hook, played by Dustin Hoffman, captures Peter Pan’s kids and makes him return to Neverland to get them.  It is there that he begins to remember his past and reconnect with magic of life again.

The other lost boys have a difficult time seeing past the fact that their beloved leader is now grown up.  But one of them takes a good hard look at Peter’s face, smoothing away the wrinkles and peering into his eyes.  He then says, “Oh, there you are Peter!”  He is filled with joy at this discovery of his long lost friend.  And his joy causes the other boys to take a closer look and realize that their leader just needs a little help and memory jogging to get back into shape.

I’ve seen this movie a thousand times.  And when I have those moments when I encounter Christ in the unexpected, or I witness God in conversations and interactions, a little voice in my head says, “Oh, there you are God!”  It’s always a moment of surprise, wonder, delight and joy.  I think it’s this type of response that the magi had when they knelt before Jesus and paid him homage.  It’s the kind of attitude and response, we too, should cultivate in worship and in our daily lives.

Imagine if we came to receive communion that way.  Following God’s call to come to the table and outstretching our hands in wonder and joy that Christ meets us there.  Imagine if we entered into conversations with others, looking for God to be present there.  Imagine if we remained open to God’s leading and let ourselves be moved to prayer and worship in this midst of everyday life.

As we continue our journeys, we can remember the journey of the magi.  How they came from afar, trusting in a star and God’s leading, and being open to worship Jesus and be filled with joy.  We can keep our eyes open for encountering Jesus in the people and places, situations and experiences of our lives.  And we can remember that God never stops seeking us out or trying to reach out in creative ways to get our attention.

I’ll end with one of my favorite prayers: “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

This was the homily I preached this morning based on Psalm 118:14-29 and Benjamin Britten’s cantata “Rejoice in the Lamb.”

There are images circulating around the internet right now that I’ve seen seminary pals posting on Facebook that say, “what do you mean Easter is over?!  Easter lasts 50 days!”  But it’s easy to forget after all the glorious celebration of Easter Sunday that we get to continue the party.  And part of this means being able to rock out the “hallelujahs” again!

The Lenten ban on “hallelujahs” or “alleluias” is something that I really try to uphold, but it gets hard because I love music.  Even with pop music, I’ll be singing along in the car, feeling the music, bopping along, and then I realize that I’ve let the forbidden word slip.  Oops.  One of these songs is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which has been covered by everyone and their brother.  You’d think that with a title like “Hallelujah” I’d be able to see it coming and restrain myself, but it’s still really hard because it’s a great song!  It is, however, a melancholy kind of song – the kind of song that makes me well up and want to let out all the emotion in my soul.

Music can do that to you.  It can carry you away so that you say “hallelujah” even in the middle of Lent or it can move you to tears.  And speaking of great music, we’re going to hear some fantastic music in just a few minutes.  In reading over the text of Benjamin Britten’s piece, which is printed in the bulletin and was written by Christopher Smart, I was at first a wee bit baffled by the lyrics.  But as Gerry and I discussed the piece, I became really moved by what it was saying.  One part of it that really caught me were these lines:

“Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah from the heart of God,
And from the hand of the artist inimitable,
And from the echo of the heavenly harp
In sweetness magnifical and mighty.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”

First of all, Christopher Smart’s poetry is mysterious and beautiful.  Second, I was hooked by this idea of a “hallelujah from the heart of God.”  What does that mean?

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word.  Well, actually, if we want to get technical, it’s two words – “Hallelu” and “jah.”  And this phrase is a command that means “you all praise God!”  So when we shout “hallelujah,” we’re really saying “ya’ll praise God now!”  It’s an exclamation – something that is not just for us, but that is meant to draw others in.  “You all praise God” so that we can join our voices together in praising and worshiping God, just like a choir.

But what would “hallelujah from the heart of God” mean?  I think it means something incredibly profound.  I think it means our praise of God doesn’t start with us.  It starts with God.   This may sound like a really foreign concept for us, but it shows up in the psalms as well.  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.  By the LORD has this been done; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. … You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you, Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good; God’s mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 118 is part of the praise psalms whose primary purpose is to praise and glorify God.  And the writers and singers of these psalms praise because God is who God is.  They give thanks and exalt the Lord because of who they know God to be and because of what God has done.  They give praise and bear witness to how God has been active in their lives in order to point to God and to share the goodness of God.   They shout “hallelujah” and command “praise God,” inviting others to join the song of praise.  They invite them to be a part of the chorus of hallelujahs by sharing with others what God has done for them.

We even see this in the Gospel of John: “now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  All that we hear in this Gospel is written down so that we may come to believe in and worship Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  All these amazing things about Jesus’ life, miracles or signs, death and resurrection have been written down in order to invite us to believe.  All these things that have come from the loving heart of God and have been graciously and generously given to us – these things invite a hallelujah.  What we’ve experienced as the goodness and mercy from God’s own heart should evoke a hallelujah – our praise of God.

In all of this, the question is this: do we give praise and shout hallelujah in order that we, as well as others, might believe?

When I am struggling with unbelief, or doubt, or missing out on that encounter with God, I recall what God has done in my life and in the lives of those I know.  I listen to the stories of others who are praising and bearing witness to God’s action in their lives.  This hearing and remembering what God has done helps to spark gratitude and praise in my life.  It helps me to continue believing – and as we hear in the Gospel of John, it’s through this believing that we have life to the full in the name of Christ.

On Wednesday, I watched a TEDxChange event that was put on by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  TEDTalks are devoted to “ideas worth spreading” – sharing ideas in order to make a difference in the world.  At Wednesday’s event, several speakers and poets took the stage, but the topic all were focusing upon was “positive disruption.”  The speakers spoke about ways of positively disrupting the world in order to make a difference – whether through better health care for women, contraceptives, or famine relief.

But I love that phrase “positive disruption.”  I think that’s what “hallelujah” is in our lives.  It’s a shout.  It’s a word you want to blurt out.  It’s a positive disruption or interruption in our lives in that it shakes up our doubts, sorrows, and difficulties and fills us again with gratitude, praise and joy.  It’s the word that bursts the tomb and offers us Christ, standing before us saying “peace be with you.”  It’s the word that causes us to think about what God has done.  It’s the word uttered from another’s lips that causes us to remember God’s goodness even when we feel far from God.  It’s the word that energizes us and helps us remember that we are invited to live our lives as responses to God’s love.

Today, may we let our hallelujahs burst forth in our words, prayers and songs.  May we let the Spirit stir up in us those hallelujahs that were born in the heart of God.  May we, with our hallelujahs, invite others to praise God.  And may we continue the celebration of Easter all our days.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

The Peace of God

This was my humble and much wrestled with attempt to speak to the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.  May we continue to pray for God’s peace for the families and community affected, as well as for all people and nations.  And may we be peacemakers, sharing the love we have experienced in Christ Jesus with all those we encounter in both our words and our actions.

Today is Gaudate or Joy Sunday.  And the readings we’ve just heard are bursting with praise and joy.  But to be honest, I don’t really feel a whole lot like rejoicing.  I’m still thinking about the horrible shootings of the past week – two in one week.  I’m sad and wondering how this could have happened.  I’m frustrated and I’m angry that once again there have been shootings in our country.

I guess when I think about it more, I’m just tired.  I’m tired of turning on the news and hearing about continuing bloodshed in Syria, or more trouble in Israel and Palestine.  I’m tired of hearing about tragedies happening in movie theaters, temples, malls and in schools.  I’m tired of all the bad news.

And so it seems that these texts for today are horribly out of place given what’s been going on in our world.  But I think just the opposite is true – these texts have a lot to say to us this morning, particularly the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

I really love this letter to the Philippians.  It’s positive and upbeat, it includes the Christ Hymn in the second chapter, and it’s full of these wonderfully written sentences and phrases that I have found incredibly valuable in my own spiritual life.  Not to mention, it’s short and that makes it seem a little bit easier to handle!

But there’s a lot more depth to these four chapters than we might think at first glance.  The Philippians were living in what is now northern Greece along one of the major Roman trade roads of the day – the Via Egnatia.  In addition, the city of Philippi, once a backwater town, had become a sort of retirement community for Roman military personnel who had fought previously with Marc Antony and Octavian against Brutus and Cassius – yes, “Et tu, Brute?”  So the city had a Roman vibe.

Then, in around 50 CE, this guy named Paul had founded a tiny church – the first on European soil.  As a follow-up, Paul writes to the Philippians to share what he’s been up to, to encourage them to stay united in Christ, and to continue in the faith despite opposition.  And he’s not just writing this letter from his cushy home office, he’s sitting in a prison cell, knowing that his life could seriously be in danger.  Prisons in Paul’s day were not places for punishment or reform, but rather places where people would be held until a verdict could be reached.  Paul was waiting to see what would happen.

It is with all this in mind that we hear four verses of Paul’s letter to the community at Philippi.  We hear about rejoicing, about not worrying, and the peace of God.

How on earth is Paul able to write, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice?”  If I were sitting in a dark, dank prison cell, pondering the possibility of my death, as much as I’d like to, I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to write that.  And yet, Paul is not the only prisoner I know who has had this attitude.

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII for various charges, the gist of which was that he wasn’t following the Nazi party line as he should have been.  During Christmas of 1943, sitting in prison, away from his family, friends and fiancée, Bonhoeffer wrote a Morning Prayer included in a collection of “Prayers for Those Also Imprisoned.”  The prayer is rather long, but here’s a portion of it that echoes Paul’s words:

“In me it is dark,
but with you, there is light;
I am lonely, but you don’t leave me;
I am faint-hearted, but with you there is help;
I am disquieted, but with you there is peace;
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I don’t understand your ways, but
You know the way for me…

Lord Jesus Christ
You were poor
And wretched, and imprisoned and abandoned like me.
You know the affliction of all people,
You stay with me,
Even when no person stands with me.
You don’t forget me and you search me out.
You desire that I recognize you,
And that I turn myself towards you.

Lord, I hear your call and follow.
Help me!”

These words help to clarify for me some of what Paul was talking about.

All of the things Paul talks about in these four verses – rejoicing, not being worried, receiving the peace of God – all of these things only happen in the context of what God has done first.  We are able rejoice, but we rejoice “in the Lord.”  We are not concerned or worried about the things we face, because in all things, we can always bring our prayers, requests, and questions before God.  And we receive the peace of God that guards our hearts and minds “in Christ Jesus.”  In God, come down to earth in a fragile, vulnerable baby, we rejoice, we pray, and we know God’s peace.

What is peace? How do we define it? There are two KFC commercials right now that feature the tagline: “find some peace this holiday.”  One shows a man using chicken to quiet two women, who are laughing and gabbing, while the other shows this same man pacifying his fighting children with chicken and chocolate chip cookies.  Is that what peace is?  Quieting down the noise with fried chicken?!

When we say we long for peace or that we’re praying for peace, what is it that we’re actually saying? Are we hoping that people will stop being physically harmful to one another?  Or are we hoping that conflicts will cease?  What does peace mean to you?  What does peace look like and feel like to you?

I think we often have a more limited view of peace.  I think our idea of peace sometimes looks like something that you’d hear in a beauty pageant – “I wish for world peace and for everyone to have a puppy!”  Both awesome things, but a little limited.

God’s peace is far greater than that.  God’s peace is  “shalom” – completeness, soundness, safety, health, prosperity and wholeness.  God’s peace is nothing short of the complete healing and wholeness of an aching world.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine it.  Wars cease.  Painful conflicts end.  Bitterness between politicians disappears.  Words of love and joy flow from peoples’ lips.  Sharp and hurtful remarks are gone.  Relationships are healed and restored.  People feel and are safe and secure because this peace from God is permanent – it is not temporary or confined like human peace.

This is the peace that Paul and Bonhoeffer knew.  It was in the hope of this peace that they lived and died.  It was in this peace that they waited for Christ’s return, just as we do today.  And it’s not that their lives were free from the pains, tragedies and sufferings we experience.  No – just the opposite!  They had more than enough trials and ordeals.  But they knew that the Lord was near.

They knew that God had come into a violent, worrisome world as a vulnerable child to live life among us.  They knew that God, the holy One of Israel, had lived life as a poor peasant – an outcast.  They knew that this same God, had faced the injustice and violence of the world head on, and had been crucified.  They knew that this God – the God who worked through weakness and the unexpected – was raised from the dead conquering sin and death once and for all.  And they knew that this God had done all of this out of love for God’s beloved children.

They knew that they could take all of their struggles, worries, problems, fears, doubts, questions and joys to God in prayer and supplication.  They knew to give thanks for the good things and to let their requests – all of them, even the most mundane – be made known to God.  Knowing all of this, they lived with the peace of God guarding their hearts and minds.  They were able to rejoice in the goodness and the promises of God even in the midst of persecution, violence and injustice.  In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation.”

We catch glimpses of or experience this peace from time to time.  We may feel God’s peace surround us when praying or being prayed for.  We may witness courageous souls stand up against violence and hate in favor of love.  We may see it in little children who go caroling through the neighborhood, lifting a neighbor’s spirits.  God’s peace – God’s kingdom – is breaking in, despite all that we have seen to the contrary.  It has always been this way.

The peace of God is found in expectant hope.  We see the horrors of the world around us and yet we know what God has done for us in Christ.  We watch the news and we pray, knowing that God hears us and is at work, even if we cannot perceive how.  We wait and hope for that day when God’s peace will reign.  We wait and hope for Christ’s coming, knowing that all things will be made right at last.

It will take time to grieve the losses we have experienced this week.  Even if we were not in that Oregon mall or at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we are all grieving.  We are all wondering what the next steps will be.  But God is also grieving.  God is grieved anytime there is suffering in this world.  And God knows the unbearable pain of losing a child.  But God also knows that death does not have the last word.  There is light that the darkness can never overcome.  There is peace that no violence can take away.  There is life that comes forth from death.

I’ll close with the last verse of the hymn we are about to sing: “O God, whose heart compassionate bears ev’ry human pain, redeem this violent, wounding world till gentleness shall reign.  O God of mercy, hear our prayer: bring peace to earth again.”  Amen.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Sometimes I miss You breaking in.
I see only uneven and broken pavement,
People’s litter on the side of busy roads.
I hear sirens and see flashing lights.
I witness people without homes
in blistering sun and pouring rain.

But then I turn the corner.
I see bright and hearty smiles,
Friendships and joy littering the streets.
I hear laughter and see kids at play.
I witness strangers helping one another
in the Metro and on street corners.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

A song about “Big City Life:”

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