Advent is the perfect time to remember that there is a holy way to be found.
December 5, 2021
A Place at the Table: Peace
Baruch 5:1-5; Philippians 1:9-11
Pastor Heather McColl
Take off your mourning clothes and oppression, Jerusalem! Dress yourself in the dignity of God’s glory forever. Wrap the justice that comes from God around yourself like a robe. Place the eternal one’s glory on your head like a crown. God will show your brilliance everywhere under heaven. God will give you this name by which to be called forever: The Peace That Comes from Justice, The Honor That Comes from Reverence for God! Get up, Jerusalem! Stand on the high place, and look around to the east! See your children gathered from the west to the east by the holy one’s word, as they rejoice that God has remembered them.
This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.
A Place at the Table: Peace Baruch 5:1-5, Philippians 1:9-11
Nine years ago, on a different Peace Sunday, after a different school shooting, I stood in front of this community of faith, reminding us of the Peaceable Kingdom, reminding us of the promises which tell us that the lion will lay down with the lamb and the little child will lead them.
Nine years ago, on a different Peace Sunday, after a different school shooting, I stood in front of this community of faith, reminding us of the promise…Emmanuel, God is with us, that we are told we do not need to be afraid for God has remembered us.
Nine years ago, on a different Peace Sunday, after a different school shooting, I stood in front of this community of faith, reminding us that this world will not have the last word, that the Spirit of God is moving in and among us, turning the sword into plow shares and the spears into pruning hooks, transforming them into instruments not of death but of life. I reminded us that nation shall not lift swords against nation and neither shall they learn war any more.
Nine years later, on another Peace Sunday, after another school shooting, I find myself again standing in front of this community of faith with the words from another prophet, with another prayer for God’s peace to come here on Earth just as it is in Heaven. The stark contrast between the promised vision of God’s Peaceable Kingdom and the harsh reality of our world makes me angry. It feels my heart with grief and pain. The stark contrast between the promised vision of God’s Shalom fully realized here on Earth and the brutal reality of our world overwhelms me. Nine years later, on another Peace Sunday, after another school school, the stark contrast between the promised Peaceable Kingdom and the oftentime bleak reality of our world has me wondering if peace is possible for us as the people of God.
Given what all happened this week, from a school shooting to grief from loss of loved ones, I am grateful for the words of a colleague which reminded me that “Advent is the perfect time to remember that there is a holy way to be found. We can slow down, take a deep breath, and look for those places or moments where we are reminded of God’s presence and actions in the world.” I am also grateful that this colleague reminded me that “The truth is, in the proverbial big picture, peace has always been beyond humanity’s reach. There has never been a time in global history without war and violence. This is why the Bible is filled with promises of peace, and repetitions of God’s steadfast love for the whole of Creation.”
Because on our own, we do not have the strength or the courage to proclaim that peace is possible. On our own, we would never be able to “create global peace.” Because on our own, we would and we do give up hope, buying into the false narrative that this, all this hurt, all this hate, all this brokenness, buying into the false narrative that all the wars, all the violence, all the broken systems, all this pain, all this sickness, that only these things which try to drown out the light, that only these things are possible, that only these things will ever be our reality as the people of God.
Because on our own, we close ourselves off from the ugliness which often fills our world and we miss how in spite of the false narrative of hurt and hate being the only way in this world, how in spite of the pain and dismay we feel as we hear about yet another school shooting, as we hear about yet another story of grief and loss, . We close ourselves off and we miss how in spite of our wonderings if peace is even possible, we miss how God is here, bringing healing and wholeness, making room for the holy in our midst, we miss how God is here reminding us time and time again that this world will not have the last word.
Again, I am grateful for colleagues who when the words fail me, shine the light, I am grateful for colleagues who share that: “When Baruch invited Jerusalem to “take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction… and put on forever the beauty of the glory of God,” the invitation extended and extends to all who seek to live on the holy highway. [As people of faith] we can make the decision to be defined by something other than sorrow and affliction. This doesn’t mean that we deny the sources of suffering or pretend that oppression doesn’t exist; it means that we actively pursue more than what is. [Let me say that again: we actively pursue more than what is.] We stop excusing the fear and hatred spewed by politicians, by our neighbors, by anyone and everyone. We look for ways to repair what is broken, tangible ways to end oppression with actions that promote justice. [As the people of God], putting on the beauty of God’s glory means that we also recognize God in every human being. [When] we do this, we [show that] we will not tolerate excuses that keep violence an acceptable part of our society.”
[Because]“peace is [only] possible when we [as the people of God] actively pursue more than what is, when we reach for and embody the Kingdom of God right here, right now.” When we embody the Peaceable Kingdom here on Earth, the Kingdom where the lion lays down with the lamb, the Kingdom where nations do not raise a sword against each other, the Kingdom where swords are turned into plowshares and spears turned into pruning shears.
Which brings me to the Philippians text for today…Paul offers this prayer for the community of faith in Philippi. He tells them that he is praying for their love to grow more and more rich with knowledge and insight. Paul tells them that he does this so that they will be able to discern what really matters.
This phrase has been going around and around in my head all week…discern what really matters. For each one of us this looks different due to our passions and our interests. Yet for us as a community, as a culture, as a society….what really matters looks the same. We want to know that our children can go to school without worrying if they will be shot in their classrooms. We want to know that our parents are cared for when we are not able to be there. We want to know that we can go to the hospital and not have to file for bankruptcy. We want to know that everyone in our community, in our state, in our nation, in our world has enough to eat, that they have enough clothes to wear, more than adequate shelter to protect them. We want to know that our homes, our communities will not be destroyed due to flooding, wildfires or storms like we have never seen before because of the changing climate around us. We want to know that our loved ones, that we as individuals will be treated as Beloved Children of God, seen as created in the image of God, and accepted for who and how God created us. All of us, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, background or lot in life, all of us, want the vision of God’s Peaceable Kingdom to come to fruition here on Earth for all of God’s people in our lifetime.
Yet none of that will be possible, none of that is possible if we as people of faith sit on the sidelines and expect others, expect someone else to do the hard work, the challenging work, the messy work of building relationships, of connecting with others. We cannot simply wring our hands when we experience the brokenness, when we hear stories of grief and pain and expect others, or this magicaL someone to do the hard work of building God’s Kingdom here on Earth while we go about our lives, pretending that none of it affects us.
As the people of God, we are called to take off our mourning clothes and oppression/ We are called to dress ourselves in the dignity of God’s glory forever. As the people of God, we are called to wrap the justice that comes from God around ourselves like a robe, and place the eternal one’s glory on our head like a crown. We are called to discern what matters.
Because I can’t and I don’t want to ever stand up here in front of this community of faith, even that is in a year, or two years, even it is in six months or next week, I can’t and I don’t want to ever stand up here on another Peace Sunday, after another school shooting or any other type of human made violence, I can’t and I don’t want to ever stand up here in front this community of faith and wonder if peace is possible ever again. So it is my prayer that as we explore what means for us to house the Holy, we remember the promises given to us by our God who loves us more than we will ever know, that we do not let these promises simply be words we say on Peace Sunday but rather that they become our guiding light in all that we do and say as we join with God in the work of bringing about the Peaceable Kingdom here on Earth for all of God’s people. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, December 5, 2021 – A Place at the Table: Peace, Baruch 5:1-5, Philippians 1:9-11