The Moment of Peace

2016-12-04-peace(Advent 2A) 1Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. 2May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. 3May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. 4May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. 5May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. 6May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. 7In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

18Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. 19Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen. (Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19)

 So, are you awake yet?  Our first week of Advent has been filled with visions of what can be, visions of what God is calling us to be.  And it has awakened us to its possibility if we will only pay attention.  So as the rising light begins to illuminate us, we begin to look around at what needs to change.  And today, we light the candle of peace.  We all dream of peace.  But it seems that we have quit talking about it.  Our talk of peace has become talk of policy and self-preservation.  Our discussions have dwindled to what is best for us rather than prayers for peace for the world.  Have we forgotten peace?  Or have we given up on its possibility?  Or are we so desperately afraid of losing what we have that it is easier to build our walls and secure our borders and wait for someone else to make it happen?

Peace has always been a little elusive.  Maybe it’s because we don’t understand it.  Maybe we are waiting for someone to put their weapons down first so that we will feel safe enough to disarm.  But that’s not peace.  That’s just putting weapons down.  They are still there.  They can still be picked up yet again.  Peace is not just the absence of war; peace is recognition that we are fighting ourselves.  Until we realize that we are all one, until we realize that the “other” is our brother or sister, until we realize that shutting each other out of our lives does not mean that we are at peace, we will still live lives of dis-ease and distrust and disunity.

Peace will not come to be because we sign an arms agreement or because we successfully disarm our enemies or even ourselves.  Peace cannot be sanctioned or governed or even agreed upon.  There is no policy on global relations that will produce peace.  Peace will not be between nations or tribes or even peoples.  Peace will come when each of us is at peace, when each of us feels the reverence of looking at a world that is not ours but one over which we have dominion, responsibility.  Peace will not come because one person thinks he or she can save us or fix us or put us back together again but rather when we realize that none of us are alone and that God is calling a Kingdom into being rather than each individual at a time.  Peace will come when we realize that we are so incredibly interconnected that hurting another is hurting ourself.  Peace will come when we finally see God’s very presence in each others’ lives.

Peace lives in each of us.  But we have to be at peace with ourselves to find it.  So, as we light the second candle today, be at peace.  Today.  In this moment.  Walk in peace.  Reach out in peace.  Sleep in heavenly peace…

 

Our true home is in the present moment.  The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment. Peace is all around us–in the world and in nature–and within us–in our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Speak

john-the-baptist(Advent 2A) In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Matthew 3: 1-12)

We never really know what to do with John.  We sort of cringe when he shows up every year, sort of like a really loud, badly dressed cousin that won’t keep his mouth shut.  John was the wilderness man who dressed badly and ate strange things.  He did have a following apparently and yet it is doubtful that cousin John was one that you would want to invite to your next party.  I mean, really, you never knew what would come out of his mouth and even if he’d bother to take a shower!  And yet, John got it.  Somewhere between being the badly dressed first-cousin-once-removed of Jesus and the wild wilderness man who would never have made it into the holiest holies of the temple, John found his voice.

Somewhere out there in the wilderness, away from the structure and the way things are supposed to be, John found it.  Somewhere beyond himself, beyond the expectations of the world, John’s voice began to build.  We need voices like that.  They twist our carefully-chosen words into sentences of hope and paragraphs of transformation.  They push are tastefully-structured thoughts into places we never dared to go.  And it is those voices that will compel us to journey to the edge of what we know and peer off into the cavernous unknown where God is at work building that vision that is taking hold.

We Western Christians are too safe.  Our sermons (well, at least mine) are carefully written so that we might dare to push people beyond themselves without irritating them too much.  But John just ticked them off.  While others were encouraging people to perhaps inconvenience themselves once in a while, John was telling them that their life needed to turn completely around.  No longer could they rely on who they were.  No longer would their tradition speak for them. They had to find their voice.  They had to become the new creation that God was calling them to be.  It would be risky.  It might even be downright dangerous, threatening the way their lives were and the dreams that they held.  But our faith journey is not about cleaning our lives up; walking in faith is about becoming something new.  What does that look like?  Speak up!

What if Advent was not a season where we prepare by cleaning up our lives but rather one where we might finally find our voice?  What if Advent was the season where we did not just read the Magnificat but found our own?  What if our preparation for the coming of Christ into our lives was not only a quiet, prayerful move to change but at the same time a noisy, risky walk through the wilderness of our lives where we finally, once and for all, speak what the world needs to hear and, more importantly, finally say what God is calling us to say?  Have a wonderful, spirit-filled, noisy Advent!  Speak up!

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.  The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. (From “The Coming of Jesus in our Midst”, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Watch for the Light:  Readings for Advent and Christmas, December 21)

 

FOR TODAY:  What voice do you need to find this Advent?

 

Advent Peace,

Shelli

Hope Despite Evidence to the Contrary

2016-12-02-hope(Advent 2A) 4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.  5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” 13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.   (Romans 15: 4-13)

So why do we have these Scriptures?  There are those that will tell you that you need to memorize as many as you can, amassing sort of a mental collection of passages to pull up as we need them.  Well, good luck with that!  I can’t even remember my grocery list unless it’s written down.  There are some that depict that Bible as having all the answers.  Oh come now!  Have you read the accounts of the canonical Gospel writers?  (Not to mention the non-canonical ones—yeah, there ARE more of those writers!)  They can’t even agree on the order in which things happened much less why.  And then there are those that assume that the Bible is the moral code, the list of things you should do and should not do.  How boring would THAT be?  (Yeah, behavior lists also make for profound and exciting reading!)  But, here, the writer Paul says that the Scriptures were written that we might have hope.

For Paul, this hope comes through an awareness and acknowledgment of our shared story.  Hope, then, is realized in community.  None of us have a lock on the truth by ourselves.  Truth comes as we journey through life with others experiencing and balancing our story together.  Think of those that came before us 2,000 years ago.  For generations upon generations they had hoped for a Messiah, hoped for the One who would lead them home.  And their hope was part of their community, it was who they were.  That hope provided the very foundations on which they built their faith.  As each generation learned the stories and practices of their faith tradition, they also learned hope.

So hope is more than just a wish for the future.  It is more than an awkward dream that things will work out, that things will turn out all right.  Hope is found in the very depths of who we are.  Hope springs from the well-worn words of the pages of Scripture that we read and carries us into the future.  It is hope that takes us beyond where we are, that belies our fears and our need for the comforts and security of what we know.  It is hope that reminds us that we are called to be more.  It is hope that gives us life.  That is the promise.  The sign above Dante’s hell reads “Abandon hope all you who enter here.”  Regardless of what your image of hell may be (Dante notwithstanding), as long as we have hope, we have life.

Advent is the season that teaches us to hope, that teaches us to let go of certainty and let go of that need to know exactly where we are going.  Advent reminds us that even in the wilderness, even on those days when we do not think we can possibly go on, even when we forget who we are and feel a little alone, even when we momentarily lose our way or when we think the world has somehow slipped from our grasp and gone into a place that we do not want to follow, there is hope.  To have hope means that we dare to get out of our own way.  To hope is to open ourselves to God, to open ourselves to the God who leads us home.  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hope is what sits by a window and waits for one more dawn, despite the fact that there is not one ounce of proof in tonight’s black, black sky that it can possibly come. (Joan Chittister)

 

FOR TODAY:  In what way is God calling you to open yourselves to hope?  What’s in the way?

 

Advent Peace,

Shelli

And a short programming note…Apparently some (or all–I don’t know) of the emails for the 11/30 (Wednesday) blog post did not go for some reason unknown to me and unknown to WordPress.  If you did not get it, it IS there on the website.  Sorry about the confusion!  S.

Between Night and Day

2016-11-30-between-night-and-day(Advent 2A) A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11: 1-10)

Yes, another reading about that future vision that God holds for us.  Advent is harder than we thought it was.  After all, we assumed that we just had these four weeks to prepare for Christmas (challenging enough by itself!) and we keep getting hit with the prospect of preparing for what is essentially the “Great Unknown”.  I mean, God gives us this vision pretty plainly but wolves cavorting with lambs and calves and lions sharing an abode and all of this being led by a child may be just too much to fathom.  In the words of Mary at that fateful encounter with the angel, “How can this be?”

Maybe that’s our whole problem.  Maybe we have not allowed ourselves or risked ourselves or trained ourselves to imagine something other than what we know.  We are pretty locked in.  Most of us have planned our tomorrows and possibly even the day-afters and we get really irritated when someone has a different idea.  In other words, those pesky new shoots that keep getting in the way of our perfectly trimmed hedge around our lives are sometimes just downright irritating.

So this season of Advent comes along as the great reminder that life does not and cannot go as planned.  Thanks be to God for that!  As we walk this season of remembering that coming of God into the world 2,000 years ago as Jesus Christ and at the same time looking toward the coming of God’s Reign in its fullness into the world that we now know, we are acutely aware that we live between two ways of being.  With our feet planted in this earth that still bears the marks of poverty and homelessness, of terrorism and war, of disunity and disregard of the rights and lives of others even at our own back door, we are called to imagine something different, something more, something beyond what we have.

We are the ones that live between night and day.  The night is reaching toward us, calling us, desperately needing our voices and our hearts to bring it into the light.  And up ahead in the faint distance is the Light that we ourselves crave so badly.  It would be so easy to just go and leave all this mess behind.  But that is not the plan.  Between night and day is where we are called to be.  That is the lesson of Advent.  And here, here is where we are called to imagine God’s vision into being.  We are not called to passively wait for the coming of God but rather to actively imagine this world the way God does and do our part to make it happen.  So, dare to imagine what God does.

If I cannot find the face of Jesus in the face of those who are my enemies, if I cannot find him in the unbeautiful, if I cannot find him in those who have the “wrong ideas,” if I cannot find him in the poor and the defeated, how will I find him in the bread and wine, or in the life after death? If I do not reach out in this world to those with whom he has identified himself, why do I imagine that I will want to be with him, and them, in heaven? Why would I want to be for all eternity in the company of those I avoided every day of my life? (Jim Forest)

 

FOR TODAY:  What do you dare to imagine of God’s vision?

 

Advent Peace,

Shelli

Advent 2A: Troublemaker

Mandela
Nelson Mandela
(1918-2013)

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Oh, John!  Shhh!  Really, you’re causing problems.  Why are we reading this during Advent?  What happened to Mary?  What happened to Joseph?  What happened to that wonderful story of the journey to Bethlehem leading up to the Holy Birth?  Well, the truth is, John was just a troublemaker.  He came onto the scene with his outlandish dress and his unconventional diet and his loud, brash behavior and his ideas that went totally against the establishment.  This really does not fit with the season, don’t you think?  Yeah, John was a troublemaker.  John was preaching something that the world had not ever heard, preaching something that most did not want to hear, preaching something that could shatter and take down what we knew.  Shhh!  Really, you’re causing problems.  Really, you’re truly a troublemaker.

Fast forward…On July 18, 1918 in the village of Mvezo on the banks of the Mbashe River in Transkei, South Africa, was born a child.  He was named Rolihlahla.  In the Xhosa language, the name means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but more commonly is translated as “troublemaker”.  Attending a Methodist school as a child, he was given the English name of “Nelson”.  And today…today is the end of an era as Nelson Mandela passed away.  He was not always who he was.  Early on, he was brash and impatient and even prone to violence.  Born into an almost aristocratic clan, he was brought up to despise the white people that shunned him.  But as he grew, he realized that his calling was not to hate the whites but to hate the system, the establishment, that separated him from them.  And so he began a lifetime journey of change, speaking something that the world had not ever heard, speaking something that most did not want to hear, speaking something that could shatter and take down what we knew.  Shhhh!  Really, you’re causing problems.  Really, you’re truly a troublemaker.

The world is gathering as I write this, standing in moments of quiet silence, honoring Mandela, remembering, standing on the edge of a new era, hoping that the change will continue and on some level afraid that it will.  Mandela’s beginning would carry him through years of imprisonment from which would emerge one of strength and calm with a playful bend and a resolve toward non-violent revolution.  The world is better because he walked among us.  His legacy is one of peaceful resistance, one of change.

Although his life was cut short earlier on, I’m not convinced that John was that unlike Mandela.  (OK, probably Mandela didn’t eat locusts.  I don’t know.)  In very different ways and in very different contexts, both stepped forward and banged the door of the establishment, daring to disturb the sleeping giants of acceptable society and insert themselves as instruments of change.  Both were troublemakers, shaking the walls that had been so carefully built around their lives, refusing to be silent in the face of injustice, in the face of the acceptance of that which flies in the face of change.

Perhaps Advent is the time that calls troublemakers.  Perhaps it is a time that makes us uncomfortable enough to think about another way of being, another way of doing things, another way of life.  Perhaps it is that for which we are getting ready in this long season of waiting.  At the end of the day, most tributes would pray that Nelson Mandela rest in peace.  Do you think that’s really what he would want?  I think that he would much rather that we keep shaking the walls and banging the doors and knocking down those systems that are unjust and unfair.  I think he and John would both be much more pleased with us becoming troublemakers, with our awakening.  Thanks be to God!

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the  ways in which you yourself have altered. (Nelson Mandela)

Reflection:  Where do you need to be a troublemaker?  Where are you called to be an instrument of change?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

 

Advent 2A: Shoots and Stumps

Garden of Gethsemane 07 (New Shoots)Advent 2A Old Testament Passage: Isaiah 11: 1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

We Christians tend to read this with our own Christ-centered lens.  The shoot–newness, replacing the old sad stump–and the branch–us, growing from the foundations that have been laid.  And yet, this Scripture is purely Old Testament, purely Hebrew Scripture.  It speaks of a vision, a vision when life will be what God calls it to be, when the earth and all that it holds will finally once and for all live together just as the Lord intended.  Jesse was the father of David, the pinnacle of the great dynasty of Israel.  But dynasties and kingdoms have life spans just as people do.  And what was once a thriving political powerhouse becomes a stump, seemingly useless for the world, a shadow of the past.  And yet, from what we thought was dead suddenly springs forth life, providing a foundation for a new shoot.  It creates a new order, a new way of seeing the world, a time of peace and unity for all the world.  The people of Israel expected this from their king.  This was what God intended–an order of justice and righteousness and peace.  They long for a dynasty such as this, one with all the solid foundations of the past but one that grows in righteousness.

So, back to the Christ-centered lens…new order, justice, righteousness, peace…isn’t that the thing for which we hope?  In this season of Advent, we once again remember and live that hope of the people of Israel for the Messiah, the Savior of the World.  And we prepare for this year’s coming that will once again push us just a little bit closer to who we are meant to me.  And at the same time we wait for our own Advent, our own coming of God in its fullness.  Advent is all these things.  We long for that new creation.  We long for the day when  warriors will sit down with those that they now attack, when predators will live in peace with their victims, and when those that consume more than they need just because they can finally come to the realization that the resources of this world belong to all.  We hope against hope for a world without poverty and homelessness, without the threat of annihilation from weapons of all kinds, a world where each and every child has enough nutrition and education and healthcare to grow and flourish into who God calls him or her to be.

So, are we the shoot or the stump?  Are we the newness bursting forth or are we the foundation from whence it comes?  The answer is yes.  The two are so inter-connected that they cannot be separated.  The shoot does not just drop out of the sky but is born into generations upon generations of waiting and hoping for the Light to come.

Garden of Gethsemane 08 (New Shoots)When I was in Israel a few years ago, I was fascinated with the olive trees.  You see, they live hundreds or perhaps even a thousand years.  And then they die, they leave what seems to be a mere stump.  But the root system gives way to something new.  So one of the oldest trees has a stump that is thousands of years old, almost petrified from the eons of weathering.  But shooting from its foundation is another tree that is hundreds of years old.  And shooting from it is another younger tree.  And shooting from it is yet another brand new shoot.  The tree is both a stump and a shoot, embracing the foundations of the past but leaving room for newness and recreation, leaving room for God’s work.  And they exist together there in the garden, the Garden of Gethsemane.

God did not create a disposable world, regardless of what we do with it.  God created an earth that would sustain itself not as individual lives making their way on others but as solid foundations giving way to new life.  Both shoots and stumps are part of God’s vision for what will be.  God is not replacing but recreating, redeeming, and resurrecting over and over again.

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. (Julian of Norwich)

Reflection:  Where are the stumps in your life?  Now look closer.  What shoots do you see emerging from them?  Are there parts of your life that you have discarded before God was finished working on them?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

To see my full notes for this week’s Lectionary passages, go to http://journeytopenuel.com/.  If you’d like to get them each week, just follow the blog!