“Peace, peace” (An Academy sermon)

The following is a homily I shared with the community of The Academy for spiritual Formation, #29, meeting in Burlingham, California. I was given the theme for the day, and asked to provide the Scripture and message…

4You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord: When people fall, do they not get up again? If they go astray, do they not turn back? 5Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They have held fast to deceit, they have refused to return. 6I have given heed and listened, but they do not speak honestly; no one repents of wickedness, saying, “What have I done!” All of them turn to their own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle. 7Even the stork in the heavens knows its times; and the turtledove, swallow, and crane observe the time of their coming; but my people do not know the ordinance of the Lord. 8How can you say, “We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us,” when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie? 9The wise shall be put to shame, they shall be dismayed and taken; since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what wisdom is in them? 10Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest everyone deals falsely. 11They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. 12They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not at all ashamed, they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 8:4-12)

This passage disturbs me.
The word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.
O God, open our lips. And our mouths shall declare your praise.
May the Force be with you. And also with you.

It bodes well for me that I didn’t lose you with that last one! Here’s one more:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way;
when sorrows, like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say:
“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Is it?

I have to admit, sometimes when I stand in front of the congregation there are moments I just wonder if I’m full of Sith. (That’s another Star Wars reference… guess I lost some of you, there…)

That’s why I have an unease with passages like this from Jeremiah, passages that criticize false leaders or warn against false teachers. Here in Jeremiah it is like a prosecutor laying out a case against false prophets and priests. He even suggests that their understanding of the law of the Lord is at odds with the word of the Lord.

In hear passages like this and my inner insecurities flare up. Do my interpretations, my teachings, lean toward the heretical? Like when I share that Paul describes sin like the dark side of the Force? Or, perhaps worse, there are times when I speak about knowing peace in Christ and wonder: am I speaking the truth?

Some days it seems that all I know is chaos, not peace. Not that I experience any real trauma, or persecution, or even deep distress. It’s just… chaos.

*constantly stumbling on toys littering the floor. (My wife really wishes I would pick my toys up)
*the rush visits to the ER for stitches because of misused scissors or misplaced apple corers
*the sudden, piercing shriek of a child… I swear, hearing your own child shriek is worse than fingernails on a chalkboard; it feels like having your genitals in a vice grip (which is why I suppose young children are good natural birth control)

It hasn’t been traumatic, but after shifting from an appointment in rural Illinois to suburban Arizona, the chaos of the last four years has included three moves, the births of 2 children, and the purchase of 1 home. It sounds like a holiday song: “The 4 years of Stressmass…”

And it is not just the chaos of my life, but there is chaos in my heart, as well. The running verse in my life during this Academy has been one of Jesus’ beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” But, long as I might for purity of heart, instead I often have frustration, disappointment, anger, even violence in my heart. And I wonder if there is a corresponding curse to the blessing: “Cursed are the impure of heart, for they will be blind to God in their lives…”

And that’s not to mention the ongoing chaos in my heart nad mind related to bigger issues that threaten our mutual peace:

*wars and conflicts and atrocities
*the ongoing vicitimization and alienation of the LBGT community
*my home stat’s victimizing the poor crossing the border illegally just to eek out a living
*the ideological divide in our nation that seems to further distance us from one another

All the while, as chaos seems to make peace a distant dream, I hear other preachers in my mind, telling me that in Christ there is “peace, peace.” As pastor of a struggling church, I feel somewhat inadequate, and perhaps like the false priests speaking “peace, peace” to my congregation’s woundedness, when I hear the promises of peace and prosperity from Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, or Bob Schuller…

When things at home go to pieces, I routinely hear this line from Jeremiah in the back of my mind:

everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace…

Like others, we often put up a front that all is good and peaceful, but there are days when it is anything but…

I want to know peace.
I hear culture promise me peace: “Our newest Volvo’s safety features will give you peace of mind! Herbal Essence shampoo promises peace from the daily grind!”

I want to know peace, the kind of peace that brings the centeredness and confidence that enables Obi Wan to stand up against evil. I want to know such peace, not the whining about chaotic events that characterizes Luke. (And, of course, I don’t want to give in to the Dark Side of the Force like George Lucas.)

I don’t think I’m alone in desiring peace but feeling wounded by chaos. I know the chaos in the families in my church – the traumatic events like death, divorce, marital difficulty, and unemployment; as well as the less traumatic but hurtful stresses of problems with children or the chaos of balancing work and home. We long for peace, and feel as if something might be missing…

One commentary on this passage from Jeremiah shines some light on our desire for peace, as it describes the Hebrew understanding of peace, of shalom, as “a state of prosperity, completeness, and well-being in which blessing flows on everyone. The idea of wholeness underlies genuine peace.”

This describes what I long for: wholeness, completeness. And there is a further prophetic word here, too: it sounds like we cannot know peace unless we all share in it. If we don’t come to know peace together, we won’t know it alone.

So perhaps the first word for me from my unease with this passage is that instead of fearing I’m like the priest – saying “peace, peace” when there is not peace – instead perhaps I need first to recognize and acknowledge our communal dis-ease. To be faithful, perhaps I need to help others acknowledge our un-ease and woundedness in order to more fully hope for peace.

Perhaps we need to know and share that we are not alone, so we don’t worsen our experience of chaos by trying to hide it from others. Perhaps this is one of the paradoxes of Christian life that Kathryn was alluding to this morning: to truly know peace, we must first embrace chaos.

More importantly, I need to receive and share the good news that was shared with us in Morning Worship today from Ephesians 2: “Christ is our peace.”

Peace is not just a prophetic promise, but a Messianic gift! “Peace be with you,” Jesus says, “My peace I give to you.”
This gift from the voice of the One who spoke into chaos and darkness and created order, beauty, and tranquility!

Perhaps the gift of Christ’s peace is something we live in to. Maybe I shouldn’t be s worried that right now I have more in common with Luke’s whininess than with Yoda’s quiet, centered presence.

Perhaps I should proclaim peace in Christ, until those around me know peace. And then, because those around me know peace in Christ, I can proclaim it more boldly.

I need to recognize and proclaim Christ’s gifts of peace amid the chaos of life, after all, there are moments of true peace that I recognize as pure gift:

*moments like the photo I’ve imposed on many of you, when Kate and Will stop their perennial struggle for domination and hug one another, all smiles.
*moments of peace like when Kate, and more rarely now Will, rests her head on my breast. This is an image of peace that Marjorie Thompson comments on, drawing from Psalm 131: “A weaned child is not seeking anything at its mother’s breast; it is content to rest quietly, enjoying the simple comfort of the mother’s loving presence, an image of complete peace.”

This is what Frederick Buechner means when he writes that “for Christ, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of love.”

My hope and prayer is that I, and perhaps we, can learn to faithfully speak to our woundedness, to speak of and aknowledge our dis-ease;
to acknowledge in truth the chaos in our lives, as well as our seemingly perpetual tendency to turn away from God in the midst of such chaos and instead turn toward whatever popular spiritual heroin promises us a quick-fix of peace.

I pray that we can speak in love the truth of, and to, one another, and in so doing that we might all hear more and more and lean in to the voice that says, “My peace I give to you…”

I pray for myself and all of you that we might faithfully and boldly proclaim peace in Christ, sharing the news with others until they experience its goodness for themselves, that we might all then know “peace, peace” for our woundedness, as given and spoken to us by our wounded healer.
In Jesus, Amen.

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2 responses to ““Peace, peace” (An Academy sermon)

  1. Ron–I appreciated your sermon, a truly good word.

    Once when we were 3/4 of the way through a full year of difficult and untimely losses, our pastor’s sermon proclaimed God’s promises. While I found his words reassuring, I knew a mother grieving the loss of her 12-yr-old son would not. I said to him on the way out, “Don’t try to convince Karol Kay.” (Indeed, she committed suicide three months later.) His expression told me my raw response hit a nerve, but because we had worked together closely for a long time, because I was part of the congregation’s pastoral care team, because I so frequently affirmed his extraordinary gift for preaching and mostly because he is a generous and forgiving person, he took it in stride.

    Two things I have learned:
    First, “Don’t sing songs to a heavy heart.” That is the way Stephens Ministry’s Kenneth C. Haugk parapharses Proverbs 25:20. Those who suffer need permission to voice their lament. So the proclamation of promises must acknowledge that sometimes we simply cannot believe they are true. Your sermon does that. Thanks.

    Second, and even better, the most convincing proclamation of promises is made by survivors. Those who suffered some of the deepest losses in that year–Karol Kay’s daughters and the parents of other teens who died–are the ones who strengthened my own faith when they eventually began to speak of the ways God was healing and sustaining them. They still do so even years later. I love it when one of those girls emails me or sends a message on Facebook asking me to join in praying for an individual or family who is going through a tough time. Smiling pictures of her with own beautiful family, the normalcy of her posts, and her words of encouragement to others are revelations of a peace that passes understanding.

    • Hi, Ruth: Thank you so much for your reply, and for the story. Authenticity is incredibly important to me, especially as we seek to reach folks who are “spiritual but not religious,” who distrust organized religion or churches because they view us as inauthentic. Anyway, thank you for the comments, and for the affirmation that it was a “good word.” 🙂 God bless you.

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