Friday, May 6, 2016

Sermon: May 1

Be present, be present, O Risen Christ, as you were with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of bread and in the Scriptures, we pray. Amen.

Now, Lydia had it all.

She had a business that was thriving, selling expensive cloth, richly dyed to the movers and shakers, the wealthy and elite, not just to her hometown in Macedonia but to Rome too. But this wasn’t enough, and she was looking for more for herself & her household. Where would it come from?

Lydia had it all, but did her life still feel shallow, like something was missing?

Paul on his missionary journey through Macedonia, comes to a place of prayer he supposes, the Greek word hints that it was not a proper synagogue but a place where people use to pray. There he finds some women and engages them in conversation, which would have been highly unusual in that day of age.

And there is Lydia, a worshipper of God, and the Spirit of the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. Her family was baptized and she offered hospitality to Paul and his companions. For Paul brought Christ to her.

The missing piece was found in the words and life of Jesus. Lydia, a woman of stature and wealth, would see in the words spoken by Paul that all these things she had were not enough in her life. And the God whom she worshipped had brought Jesus to her through Paul, and in her baptism she began her ministry, just as Paul had done after his encounter with Jesus.

An American nun was working in the missions of South Sudan. The village where she lived with another nun was caught in the crossfire of the never-ending civil war in the African country.

After another bombing in the area, the two sisters sat under the trees with about 12 women for prayer and Scripture study. Sister Theresa Baldini writes:

"We used the Scripture . . . from Luke's Gospel, chapter 6, where Jesus says to love our enemies. I asked the group how we would describe an enemy. Most of the women said that their enemy was the Khartoum fundamentalist Muslim government soldiers who were bombing them.

"Then one woman said: 'I believe my enemy is someone who has wounded my heart, but whose [own] wounds I do not know.' She went on to say: 'Maybe if I can know the person's story better, especially to know the person's wounds, and the person can know my wounds, we would not be an enemy to each other.'

"The theology of the Sudanese women," Sister Theresa writes, "has deepened my faith, compassion and forgiveness." [source: missing]

As the women of Sudan realize, peace begins in understanding the "wounds" of the other, in opening our own hearts to listen to the story of another's brokenness and pain. Lydia understood that for the lives of her family to be enriched, they needed the faith in Jesus just as Paul had brought to them. Such faith leads to peace.

And such faith is what we heard in the Gospel of John. In an intimate moment with his disciples, after he has talked openly about his death and what things are to come, Jesus tries to reassure the disciples at the last supper:

"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

The night before his death, Jesus leaves his fledgling church the gift of his peace and the Advocate who will come to aid them. The peace of the Risen One has come to free us from our fears when our hearts are troubled. The Spirit will be there to teach us. But it starts for us, at home.

" . . . And peace to God's people on earth" comes from a prayer we often pray on Sunday. We pray for peace in the Middle East, in the war-ravaged regions of our world, we pray for those working for peace in our prayers too. We long for peace in our cities and in our politics and, yes, in our churches. But let's start with Peace at our dinner tables.

Is your table a place where the peace of the Risen Jesus rules? Is meal time an oasis of calm, an island of tranquility, in the midst of hectic work and play schedules and school conflicts? Is your family table a place where fear, stress and anger are put aside and all are welcomed and appreciated?

Just starting with a prayer together can establish that sense of peace.; it's amazing the effect that a lighted candle or flowers can have, as well.

Now you're probably saying to yourself, Yeah, right. We're lucky if we're all home & in the same room to eat! You have no idea what it takes to get everyone together.

But that's the idea. Peace - among nations, between spouses, within a family - is work. Christ's gift of peace is not a warm fluffy blanket, but an attitude we take toward ourselves and others and a perspective by which we live our lives. Peace becomes a reality only through the compassion, gratitude and generosity we extend to others & ourselves.

Peace is not only prayed for but is a prayer in and of itself. The peace we pray for in the Gloria, the peace promised by the angels & spoken of by Jesus, is hard, intentional, focused work. And it begins where you eat. [Adapted from "Peace on earth begins at the kitchen table" by Annemarie Scobey, At Home With Our Faith, January 2009.]

The peace Jesus leaves us is not passive acquiescence or the absence of hostility and conflict; the peace that Jesus gives through the Spirit guides our mindset: a constant seeking out of God's love, justice and mercy, an understanding of our "connectedness" to God and to one another as children of the same God. Be it in Macedonia, in South Sudan or in our homes & at our tables.

The peace of Christ is a perspective that shapes all of our actions, behaviors and values. May such a perspective of peace, such an understanding of love, & such a faithful hope dwell forever in our hearts and spirits in this Easter season and in every season - beginning at our dinner tables. Tonight. Amen.

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