Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Price of Peace

Sometimes we make too much of the peace that comes from following Jesus.  At the very least, too many promises of easy peace have been made from pulpits. 

Too many troubled souls have walked down the church aisle or the old sawdust trail of the tent revivalist declaring their faith and reaching out to claim the Prince of Peace, only to discover that trouble still abounded. 

Like many of you, I regularly pray for peace—peace in my own heart and mind, peace in my family, peace in my church, and peace in our world.  I pray because Jesus taught us to do so. I pray because I know that making peace is beyond my limited ability.  While I can live in such a manner that my living makes peace more possible, I cannot bring peace to others, and often not to my own life.  I pray because I believe that apart from God peace is impossible.

Yet it seems that even with God peace remains beyond our grasp.  While we proclaim the end of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, war rages on—there and many other places.  Daily we hear the news of another troubled soul who has taken his/her life.  Families quarrel and fall apart.  Peace officers are ambushed and killed, as was the case in nearby Bardstown early Saturday morning when a young officer was gunned down on his way home from work.

Into this trouble, peace-free world, the word of the Apostle Paul enters.  In Romans 8:1-11, Paul contrasts the law of the spirit with the law of sin and death.  The one promises life.  The other death.  One leads to a peace that cannot be found in the other.  But Romans 8:1-11 can’t be understood apart from what Paul wrote earlier and what Paul lived.  In Romans 5, he stated that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  From Paul’s writings and his life and from our own experience, we begin to understand that “peace” is something other than the absence of conflict and trouble.  “Peace with God” speaks not of a trouble-free world but of being peaceable in the midst of a troubled world.

We should pray and work for peace in our communities and wider world, but doing so first requires that we be at peace.  How can we be at peace with ourselves if we are not at peace with God?  How does peace with God come?  On the one hand, it is a gift through Jesus Christ our Lord.  On the other hand, it is the result of living in the spirit—living in relationship with Jesus.

Thus a text about law and grace becomes a key source for understanding how to be at peace—at peace with God, with ourselves, and with our times.  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11, NRSV).

There is a peace that sustains us even in troubled times, but it comes at the price of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  The more we live and walk that relationship the more peace will abound even in the midst of turmoil and struggle.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tower Building Can Be Hazardous

This past Sunday, I preached from Genesis 11:1-9 which is the story of the "tower of Babel."  When I read this story as a child, I liked it.  I liked seeing God give those evil people their due. When I grew up, it dawned on me that "those evil people" included me.  Tower building can be hazardous.

Beware!  The Tower of Babel is like the famed phoenix.  It keeps rising from its ashes.  Chances are you have built one or may be building one now.

Perhaps you, like me, are fairly inept with building tools in your hand.  If so, you may be taking false comfort in the thought that you will not be guilty of building a tower. 

Beware!  Towers of Babel are built of many things.  Some of the most damning are not built from bricks and mortar or glass and steel.

There are the towers that are built from ego blocks.  The building starts out well enough.  Those with strong egos are usually surrounded by others who have helped to convey to others a strong sense of self-worth.  The problem comes when nothing matters more than stroking our own egos and becoming obsessed with making a sure everyone else knows who and what we are.  When one with a strong ego becomes egotistical, the tower often crumbles and falls.

There are the towers that are built on the backs of our children.  Having failed to become all we hoped to become, we strive ever harder to be sure our children become all they should be.  It is admirable to see parents who guide and direct their children toward self-discovery and who urge them to be the best they can be.  The problem comes when the parent or parents confuse who their children can be with who they had hoped to be.  The parent trying to complete in the child what they failed to complete is a builder of a tower that will crumble and fall.

There are towers that are built from status blocks.  Individuals, couples, families, churches, and societies can be builders of such towers.  A person, a couple, a family, a church, or a society consumed by concern about its status will spend too little time looking outward and forward and too much time looking inward.  Such persons and groups forget to consider how their choices today will play out in the lives of others.  As a result, they build empty edifices that look good from the outside but are empty and hollow inside.  While others look on from the outside and rave about what they see, the builders slowly die from emptiness they know all too well.

Why do we labor so hard for that which crumbles, destroying others and ourselves?  Have we forgotten the Builder who calls us forth to a way of life?   Abraham knew that Builder and came to know that only that which God built would last.  “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

There are towers that are built on sure foundations.  To build those towers, we will need to look to the Master Designer and Builder and follow the plans provided—plans that call for the elevation of the Designer and Builder, not the elevation of our ourselves.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Sermon Disclaimer

Somehow I managed to take Ephesians 1:15-23 and turn it into a Mother's Day sermon.  For that reason, I sent out the disclaimer below to those who receive the sermon by email.  You can find the sermon at our church's website.

It is a Mother’s Day sermon.  While the sermon was born from the reading of the biblical text, it is not true to the text.  By this I don’t mean that the sermon is untrue.  I mean that the text does not address what the sermon addresses.

It is a Mother’s Day sermon and I am not a mother.

It is a Mother’s Day sermon, and I don’t like preaching Mother’s Day sermons.  I don’t like preaching them because too often they hold up an unattainable standard for mothers and, thereby, leave mothers feeling guilty; and most mothers feel enough guilt without the preacher adding to it.

It is a sermon preached on Mother’s Day, and any sermon preached on Mother’s Day is less likely to be heard than on other days.  Thoughts are turned to mothers/grandmothers who have died, and emotions run high.  Others present will be thinking of mothers they had and the ones they wish they had had instead.  Mothers, at least many of them, will be thinking of all they wish they had not done and of all they wish they had done.

You are getting some advance warning of where the sermon is heading.  As is often the case, those hearing the sermon at church will also be “hearing” some of what I’m writing to you.  I’ll slide some of the “faithful reader” note into the sermon.  In this way, they, too, hear my disclaimers.

Whenever we think of the immense role that mothers (and fathers) are called upon to assume, we need to hang tight to two important words: love and grace.  Every mother will make mistakes in rearing her children.  Those mothers who love their children, but occasionally err in the care of their children, will discover that children will see past the error to the love.  They will also discover the immense power of love to bring good even from our mistakes. 

Mothers are covered by God’s grace, and their growth as Christians and as mothers flows from their relationship with Jesus.  Mothers, like all the rest of us, should be willing to confess the error of their ways; but having done so, they should lay aside the error and the guilt and move on.  In Christ, mothers are forgiven and set free to be the only persons they can be—themselves.  In Christ, there is grace, and it is enough.