When Peace Kisses Righteousness
What is this peace, this shalom God creates? Nothing but a restored, redeemed and righteous relationship with God through Jesus Christ, AND, through Jesus Christ a right relationship with each other and everything living thing in this universe.
If you attended a Lutheran worship service on the Second Sunday in Advent in 1941, you would have heard this Gospel read.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
The service ended. After, maybe you went home or out to lunch or to the movies, or maybe you stayed to practice for the Christmas pageant, but wherever you were, whatever you did, you somehow heard the news that the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor had been attacked by Japan, destroying most of the U.S. Pacific fleet. Over the next few days, you would learn that the United States was entering into a global conflict of unimaginable magnitude, unknown in the history of the world.
In this conflict, it is estimated 15 million people died in battle and another 45 million civilians died, including more than 400,000 Americans. This bloodbath came only two decades after 16 million people died in the First World War. If you were alive then, you most likely remember that day, where you were and what you did. Yet for all the vivid Pearl Harbor remembrances I've heard over the years, I never once heard anyone remember what they heard Jesus say on the day the world changed 73 years ago today ...
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (Luke 21:25-26, KJV)
The vast majority of us cannot remember life before the war, but we do know that the surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945 did not bring peace, even though it meant a temporary end to combat operations. The Cold War followed. Conflicts in Korea and Viet Nam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and now a global war on terrorists. Even though the years since the war have been the most prosperous in our history, the postwar years have been times of conflict and unrest overseas and at home. It wasn't the peace or the prosperity we hoped for. The hope, the vision of world peace and prosperity never materialized.
The news of the last few weeks drives home the simple fact that things are just not right in the world. The world is lost in darkness, dead in sin. It seems that we live in the tension, in the space between the promise of America and the reality and brokenness of our time -- a time when love has grown cold; faithfulness has faltered; righteous-justice has wandered off; and peace has turned its back on us. In our world, in our country, in our neighborhood, even in our personal lives, it seems we have all had our fill of sadness and disappointment. We think we're mourning lost wages or opportunity or conflict or violence or illness or lost innocence, but what we truly mourn and lament is the the loss of love, faithfulness, righteous-justice and peace. Most of us, I'm sure, can bear witness to a Pearl Harbor moment in our own lives: a time when disaster surprised us and we were plunged into darkness and conflict, and although we may have survived or made it through by the grace of God, the promise of our hope of salvation, rescue, redemption simply didn't live up to the poor reality of our current lives.
The sad story is told of a young man and his father. The two had a stormy relationship. The young man asserted himself against the better wishes and judgment of his father, and he made mistakes, costly mistakes to himself and his body and his well being. The father on the other hand, grew angry with his son, and the two would fight and curse and scream and rage at each other. One day, the argument grew physical, and they both realized that they were better off apart. The son moved out. The fighting stopped, but the two were broken by the experience. They barely spoke to each other. One day the son, out of other options, returned home, and the father opened his his arms and his house to his son. They lived together under the same roof, but they seldom spoke. The father provided food and shelter; the son helped pay some bills, but the relationship remained cold and formal. Each had their life, lived under the same roof, separately. They didn't fight like they had in the past, but it was as if they were no longer father and son. They were strangers. The fighting had stopped, but there was no peace. The son put his life back together, saved some money, and even his health improved. The father too prospered, and he had his back, and his wisdom was vindicated, but each still felt they led a poorer life. What would save them? What would actually restore them and their relationship? Who could turn the heart of father to son and son to father?
Today's Psalm (Psalm 85) catches us at that point. We have been saved, even forgiven, redeemed and restored by God's grace and mercy. Yet, something is still wrong. We chase after this, and we run after that. We think, "If only we had this much money; if only I had this job; if only I wasn't so sick; if only ...." We have high expectations, but we find a lot of nothing when we search. So, the Psalmist begs and pleads for God to revive us again. Restore us, again. Save us, help us, heal us, prosper us ... again.
This time, however, the poet isn't just talking about freedom, good fortune and financial prosperity, the poet is now searching God's heart for an answer to this deep emptiness we carry around, and he searches for healing for this terrible sorrow that grieves with parents over the loss of a child and weeps with a police officer who has to live with the gnawing guilt that he took somebody's life. What word does God still have to us when we win the war, but cannot make the peace? What answer does God have that can bridge the gap and turn people's hearts toward each other in love and faithfulness?
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. "Repent," he said. "Turn around. Change your mind. God is coming to re-establish the agreement and commitment God made to us." God comes to us. Now turn around and open your arms and hearts to receive God’s grace. God comes to us and not as reluctant father grudgingly fulfilling an obligation, but in real, passionate and deep and abiding love, and God comes to live and abide with in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God's steadfast, unfailing love for us, and he is the one who will turn our hearts back toward God, even as God has set God’s heart on us. In Jesus, we discover again the grace found only in committed relationship, a relationship with God that is founded on love, generating new life and creating peace.
God creates, God makes, peace when Jesus reconciles us to God in his own suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus has reconciled us to God, and given us gifts of forgiveness and new life. Just as we have been reconciled to God through Jesus' death and reconciliation, we have been joined and reconciled to each other through Jesus Christ. Making peace is what God is doing by joining us to each other through Christ, in baptism. Making peace is what God is doing through this new body for the sake of bringing and expanding and enlarging the benefits of this peace to the whole world.
What is this peace, this shalom God creates? Nothing but a restored, redeemed and righteous relationship with God through Jesus Christ, AND, through Jesus Christ a right relationship with each other and everything living thing in this universe. Here is our hope and the good news John announced, Jesus is welcoming the whole world into a relationship with where this God is our God and we are God's people. Where love comes to us from God and flows back to God and pours out into the world, as steadfast love, faithfulness, righteous-justice and peace. It is life together as God intended.
In this restored, renewed, revived relationship we start to see the reality and the nature of the true, authentic prosperity and goodness God has promised us. Peace and prosperity flourish in abundance in the give and response between God and God's people: when God's steadfast love meets our faithfulness to God and God's ways; when God's righteous-justice becomes our lived love for neighbor, justice meets peace in a passionate embrace. In these dynamic and explosive and passionate and creative encounters we catch a glimpse of God's kingdom, flowering, exploding, bursting out around us. This is our hope of Christ's coming among us, but it begins in the reconnection to the Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, and it grows in the loving interaction and partnership between us and God: We hear God's word and in love we do it; we see Christ and God's goodness in all people and in all things -- peace and love and goodness and justice seem to spring up, blossom and bloom wherever we go.
Here's a glimpse of a beautiful vision of God's intention for us and for this world, but it also our vocation, our calling, our duty, our joy to embody, to incarnate this vision of Jesus for the world. That is the agreement of our response to God's grace in baptism, where we promise to live among God's people; love all people following Jesus' example; and strive to make peace and justice in all the world. In this mission, we are all like John The Baptist, standing on the edge of tomorrow, shouting for the people in our lives to turn around and be part of this beautiful relationship with our Lord Jesus. We are like the priest, the prophet, the poet of this Psalm a people who come alongside hurting friends with a word of comfort that says, "I prayed for you, and this is what God told me, concerning you: peace and wholeness and well being are yours, only turn your heart to God who has already turned His heart to you in Jesus. He loves you now and forever, and he wants to be your God, if only you would be His people ... In Jesus' name. Peace. Amen.
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