Like the Hawaiian greeting Aloha or the Hebrew Shalom, the greeting “Peace be with you” is a common way that Christians introduce themselves into a common situation as well as depart from it. I began to think of this phrase the other day when I left the hospital and out of habit I said “peace be with you” to someone who was unconscious. Like many things we do saying “peace be with you” is something that I was taught to say but never really gave a great deal of thought to it until I decided to look it up in the bible.
Peace be with you is a quintessential New Testament phrase with the only close relation in the Old Testament found in Job which loosely translated says, may you find peace in the fact that God is with you. This is not too far off from what the writers Luke and John point to in their use of Peace be with you. In each occurrence, it is in the voice of Christ and is often linked to a deeper revelation of Christ. In John 20, in each of three appearances, the risen Lord greets the disciples with “peace be with you.” I hope you realize the humorous nature of Christ’s appearances here since in each appearance they are behind closed doors, in the dark. Obviously the disciples were not at peace even though the revelation had come to fruition. Therefore, we can see the spark of irony even humor that is found here.
Most of the other places in the New Testament we find this phrase in the midst of the Pauline epistles. In Greek the word “peace” is εἰρήνη. The Friburg Lexicon says that:
εἰρήνη, ης, ἡ peace; (1) literally, as a state of peace (LU 14.32), opposite πόλεμος (armed conflict, war); figuratively, as an agreement between persons (JA 3.18), in contrast to διαμερισμός (division, dissension); (2) as a greeting or farewell corresponding to the Hebrew word shalom: health, welfare, peace (to you) (1T 1.2); (3) as a religious disposition characterized by inner rest and harmony peace, freedom from anxiety (RO 15.13); (4) as a state of reconciliation with God (GA 5.22); (5) of an end-time condition, as the salvation of mankind brought about through Christ's reign (LU 2.14; AC 10.36).
Peace can be difficult to achieve especially when we place ourselves in the middle of controversy or distress. If there is anything that we learn form Job or the Gospel of John is that peace is a function that can only be a result of our allowing God to work his peace in this world.
Some might say “but I do work for peace. I . . .” but here is the real kicker. In order for peace to grab hold we need to let ourselves be given over to God, no strings attached. Granted, this is virtually impossible in the midst of our society. We operate, myself included, in the reality and complexity of our social structure, which causes us to give up peace in lieu of safety, security, and sometimes personal comfort.
In discussing Grace, Bonhoeffer speaks to Costly Grace and Cheap Grace. He argues that the grace God offers is a costly one because in its end it calls us to give everything over to God rather than a cheap grace which requires nothing. Here is where Peace and grace become similar in that true peace will come only when the whole of the earth accepts and welcomes that peace. Until then we can only work on our little corner of the world to work for peace.
In our community, putting God’s call for us to work for justice and equal voice among all the residents of our community is one way to bring peace among us. Among many ways to bring peace to our part of the world is to reach out to others, reconciling with estrangements, Opening our ears and eyes to see and hear how God it calling us is yet another, and changing to meet other people’s needs.
So when we turn to each other on Sunday morning and offer the peace, I hope you remember this note. I hope that you see that when we say “Peace be with you,” we are making a pledge to work together as a community. Furthermore, we are calling each other to step out of our “box” and let the spirit of God guide us in whichever way God chooses. In this, I say:
Peace be with you,
It is always sad when good words go bad. The two I often think of is evangelism and fundamental. While the strict definitions have not changes, the way we hear them often brings a lot of baggage that for many is not positive at all. This is because both of these words took on a movement. So in the case of evangelical, this word comes from the Greek euangelion which means good news. While evangelism means the spreading of the good news, Evangelical was coined as the description of the new protestant movement in Europe that was more concerned with spreading the good news then loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church. It is not until the modern times when we get this to be more narrowly defined into a core set of beliefs and with it the negative connotation to some outside that group.
The same is true for the word fundamental. This defined a huge movement at the turn of the last century and some argue laid the foundation for the modern evangelical movement. The sad part is that the fundamentals became defined as a select group of things that were so important to believe that without their adoption one would not find salvation. The sad loss of that word to a movement like the loss of evangelical, is that both are very important words to describe who we are and what we are called to do as Christians.
This is very much highlighted in the scripture we have this Sunday. At the beginning of the scripture Paul makes the bold statement “that [Abraham] would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” Interestingly, the law comes into effect many years after Abraham when Moses was leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt. For Moses and his community the law was meant to be a tool for faithfulness brining order and understanding to this newly freed community. The concern they had was: “How do you keep the community healthy? Here are ten simple commandments.” Even in the Ten Commandments, depending on your tradition, they are divided up differently.
The problem with Evangelical and Fundamentalist is that they blurred the tools (i.e. the rules or laws) with faithfulness. This is one of the issues that Christ is trying to rectify for the Jewish people he came to minister to since much of what we see in the groups he encounters in the adherence to law or tradition over seeking a relationship directly with God. We must remember that rules and laws are not faith. Faith is our relationship and righteousness found in God. In layman’s terms the law is good, as long as it is helpful and does not get in the way of our faith. However, once the law gets in the way of our faith then we have real issues, because ultimately we are worshipping the law instead of God.
The truth of our faith is that we are called to live into the fundamentals, not those that were preached a little over 100 years ago, but to live into the fundamentals of our faith, continually questioning and seeking God. We are called to be evangelicals, not in the sense of telling people how they should live, but in spreading the Good News and helping each other grow in faith.
For Sunday, I challenge you to explore how you seek God and help others find faith?
I always am bothered a little when people come up to me and ask what I am giving up for Lent. To be honest I never understood this practice, and I really have no theological clue as to its relevance beyond the humanist tradition of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. To focus one’s faith on giving something up is to place one’s faith squarely and rooted within the human tradition, as if it really was suffering to give up a “pleasure.” To focus the Lenten time on something which you are giving up is to miss the focus of what the season is really about, and that is the love and passion of Jesus Christ.
To use the Lenten season to overly focus on the deprivation of something which we enjoy is to miss the reality of what suffering really is, especially for those who have nothing. The example I often use is that a person who is hungry only feels that hunger over the first few days; after a while the pains of hunger morph into other problems, but that intense pain in the stomach which many us to describe as “being hungry” does not exist. Suffering is part of life, but even in our suffering we must keep our humility and connection to the hope of our Lord Jesus. For he give us the charge that “. . . whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”
Often it is in the times when we are at our weakest, and allow for the spirit to work, we grow in our faith exponentially when we encounter the truly difficult times of our lives, not false, manufactured ones. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
There are so many experiences and disappointments that drive sensitive people toward nihilism and resignation. That is why it is so good to learn early that suffering and God are not contradictions, but rather a necessary unity. For me, the idea that it is really God who suffers has always been one of the most persuasive teachings of Christianity. I believe that God is closer to suffering than to happiness, and finding God in this way brings peace and repose and a strong, courageous heart.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran by training and member of the Confessing Church, an anti-Nazi church coalition/denomination, was an early twentieth century theologian and martyr. He wrote this personal note to a family, in a time when his society was at war and the persecutions of the Nazi government on the people were intense.
The question asked was probably one that is asked often today, Where is God in the midst of the world we live in today? Or, If God offers peace where is it? This is the difference between pop theology and traditional theological understandings. Pop Theology tends to pick out the bits and pieces of faith that make the point they want, rather then struggling through the stories and understandings which come from previous generations or even our traditions. Whether, it is the fathers of the faith, the prophets, the disciples, or even Paul, the struggle and suffering is evident. But the promise and power of Christ is the hope and truth that the life of suffering and struggle of this world is based in this world and we must be of this world in order to move to the next.
Bonhoeffer, whose life mirrored the apostle Paul’s in many ways, was given an opportunity to make a choice; though he was a strong pacifist, there came an opportunity for Bonhoeffer to get close enough to Hitler that he could put a bomb right next to him. This act was a struggle for Bonhoeffer, but in the end, the lives that he would potentially save if it worked, outweighed the risk that it would be to take out Hilter, so he did it. It did not work and he found his way into a Nazi-concentration camp. While in prison, Bonhoeffer often wrote and we understand him and his situation and faith through his letters and papers from prison. In the camps, as we now know, the Jewish people, homosexuals, nonconformists, and political prisoners were not treated as human, were starved, experimented on, and often killed. Survivors speak of the terror of living day-to-day in those conditions.
In the midst of this terror he reminds us that:
Christian hope in resurrection differs from that of mythology insofar as it directs us to life here on earth in a completely new and, compared to the Old Testament, even more incisive fashion. Unlike believers in the myths of redemption, Christians have no ultimate refuge from earthly tasks and problems in the eternal. Christians must partake of earthly life to the very end, just as did Christ (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), and only by doing so is the Crucified and Resurrected with them and are they themselves crucified and resurrected with Christ. This life here and now may not be prematurely suspended. This is the link between the Old and New Testaments. Myths of redemption arise from the human experience of limits, whereas Christ addresses us at the very center of our lives.
It reminds me of a favorite hymn, My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. In the midst of the struggle that is life and that is the full nature of life we cannot separate ourselves from the struggles of this world, but we can embrace them and allow Christ to embrace us through the Holy Spirit in the midst of our suffering.
As you prepare for worship this week reflect on your life with christ and think about what what your lenten journey will be this year.
I want to let everyone in on the best kept secret of faith and God. I want to tell you something so scandalous that it has brought good men and women to their death. The secret: Jesus loves ALL people. Now don’t put down your paper, because for many this is a secret.
In the back of my house growing up was a large field. One day I saw two boys who were passing a football and went out to join them. I must have been about twelve. As I approached, I heard them whispering to each other, “God must really hate that jerk.” The statement referred to a neighbor who had been stricken with polio at an early age. I chose to continue walking past them to play in the park alone.
I remember that incident because it was the first time I had ever really seen hate that was not connected to an action. As I had known him, he was a very nice man with a couple of kids and the coolest hand-operated bike. He always seemed to have a smile on his face, but in a neighborhood that stressed sameness in looks and actions, the foreignness of a disability made many uncomfortable, which spawned the ignorant hateful comments of the two boys.
Lent seems to be a time when we focus on the actions of Christ and His teachings. Forget, for the moment, the “Hollywood” vision of Christ with a perfect body, a full head of long wavy hair. Perfect teeth and so on. Now picture him as your best friend or just a random man in the crowd that physically did not stand out. Think of him as just an average guy, of average weight and average strength.
Now picture this average guy getting people interested in his teachings. See crowds flocking to Him. Now think a little harder, and see this man sitting and having regular conversations with the outcasts of society, breaking all of the rules of society, and making the leadership look bad along the way.
In Jesus you begin to see something different, and one thing we know about difference is that it makes us scared and angry and can make us hate. The hate for Jesus that so many had in his time had been visceral. How dare he do what he was doing? How dare he challenge the traditions of society? How dare he preach a message of love? How dare he call himself the Son of God?
Jesus dared to challenge the world, and for that he gave his life for our sins. For in challenging the world, he challenged the sinful separation that people created between people and God. Ultimately, he took those sins on the cross and it gives hope today.
Unfortunately, our world still includes hate. Many use the Bible to promote hate. Others use the traditions to force hateful interpretations. The truth is, in no way did Christ ever, and I mean ever, preach or teach a message of hate. Instead, Christ taught love. Not to judge, because that was His job, but to love even when all societal indications point to hate.
This is difficult in our time because of our traditions, but you know what, if we really want to be faithful to God’s calling, he is calling us to love and work for justice and peace and a world filled with hope and joy, not hate and anger. This means that we are called to take the difficult road and love our neighbors as ourselves.
This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday occurs in the lectionary the Sunday before Lent and is strategically placed there as a preparation for the Lenten observance. The story of the transfiguration is found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; and Luke 9:28-36) and alluded to in the Gospel of John (12:28-30). In this story, Jesus is goes with Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain and there something incredible happen, Jesus transfigures before them, changing from his everyday outfit to glorious white and a glistening air around him. This was not all that happened, at the moment of this change, the figures of Moses and Elijah came, later followed by the voice of God.
What is evident in the story is the fact that the disciples really have no clue what was going on. As the events were taking place, all three gospels express how the disciples were afraid. The use of the word “afraid” is very important because it points to the state of the relationship between the disciples and Jesus. While they were very much devoted to Christ, their understanding of him as a human person clouded them from seeing His full divinity. So when they saw him in celestial garb, they could not really process what was happening. In fact, as the gospel moves on, this becomes one of many instances where Christ’s divinity is revealed only to be misunderstood.
Another interesting aspect of the transfiguration is the transfiguration itself. Debate has gone on since the earliest scholars about what actually is happening on the mountain. The analogy that is often used is that of a butterfly. We know the caterpillar is the larva form of the butterfly. While looking completely different from the butterfly, within its structure is everything (well, except nutrition) it needs in order to become a butterfly. At a certain point the caterpillar knows it is time for a change, forms a chrysalis and emerges a beautiful butterfly! Here the analogy is that Jesus is always Christ, but at the transfiguration, the reader for the fist time sees him as more than a wise prophet and really the anointed Son of God.
The timing, and who Christ brought with, was very important, because he was at a point in his ministry where he needed to help those around him understand that he was more then a teacher or a prophet. This was evident at the end when he said to them not to tell anyone of the event until he rose from the dead. Something that provocative is not easily kept, and the passage alludes to their questioning of that point.
Which brings us to the last aspect of the story that I find interesting, which is the parallel to the story of the resurrection. This is why the passage is located where it is in the lectionary, just before Lent, because helps to bookend Lent with images of the resurrection. This is a way of giving perspective for Lent, placing the pensive time with the reminder of something bigger.
As you can see, this passage really highlights different parts of who Christ is as a person. Along with wearing something butterfly-related, think this week of who Christ is for you. What would you do if you saw this? And why the resurrection is so important.
What does it mean to be a church? This is a question I often pose in my Friday letters, because it is the focusing question, which helps us to understand what it is that we are called to do and be as a congregation. Biblically and polity wise, our purpose is to be the Body of Christ, a community of believers witnessing and caring for our community and its needs. More than anything, it is about being a community together.
Having been in this congregation for the past three years, I have seen a lot of changes. Some that have been hard and some that I doubt many have even noticed. One thing that I have seen is that when we work together building each other up and working for a greater goal, there is nothing that can keep us from making our goal. I have seen that with VBS, the Fourth of July hotdog giveaway, many other events, and now the organ fundraiser.
I loved hearing from non-members: “boy, this is a fun church,” “wow, what a great night,” and “so this is the first annual?” These statements, and many more, were a sign that something more then a wine tasting and auction were happening. People from very different communities were mingling and getting to know each other. Funny, I watched two couples who had not known each other at the beginning of the evening leave together because the one couple who had walked, bought too much stuff to walk home.
Though the church’s goal of the event was to make money to fix the organ, my goal was to connect with our community in a new and different way. We did that, and I think that we will see the results of that over the next few months. But this goes back to what it means to be the community. If our only goal was to make money, I do not think that the heart of the evening would have been there. Yeah, I think we would have still made our net, but without the love and care for our community our event would quickly be forgotten. This is because this event was more than a fundraiser-it was about witnessing to what the community of Christ is all about. Showing our neighbors hospitality, respect, and Love.
One of my favorite movies to use during confirmation classes is Simon Birch. Though, one line always frustrates me when Simon asks the pastor what a “continental breakfast” has to do with God. I know what the director was going for, in showing the prejudice of the pastor, but had I been that pastor, I would respond that the Bible is full of times when we eat together; in fact, it is just as common to find stories of eating and meals as it is not to. Moreover, some of the greatest moments in Jesus’ ministry happen while he is breaking bread.
I always say that eating together is the great equalizer; it is not only a shared event, but one of necessity. When coming together, even if it is not directly or explicitly a Christian service, it is a celebration of being the body which calls us to community.
This week we have two interesting passages, one from Isaiah and companion from 1 Corinthians. The two passages are really very interesting because in very different ways they are saying the same thing, that God has to be at the heart of faith.
We have been going back and forth with Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians for the past month. In today’s passage, Paul is lifting up the importance of the Gospel being at the center of one’s faith. Now this is not the Gospel as in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they were not written yet; this is the Gospel as in the Good News of Christ. This Gospel is the central focus of the faith and nothing else.
For the reformers and many critics of Christianity today, it seems that Paul was dealing with a community that was using faith for gain and salvation as a goal. For Paul and traditions like ours, any gain, even salvation itself, that comes from being Christian is seen only as a bonus and should never be the motivation. If gain becomes the motivation, the underlying message of Christ and the gospel become corrupted into selfishness.
The more interesting passage is this Isaiah one. Whereas the Corinthian passage is concerned with people getting personal gain from “using faith,” the Isaiah passage is speaking to a people who are having a hard time seeing any use in faith. This passage is part of a “pretrial” exhortation by Isaiah making a plea to the Hebrew people before judgment. This is a pivotal passage especially for a community that has found itself in exile, because it affirms a couple very important points. First is that God has not abandoned the people.
Honestly, anytime I have ever been in a crisis the very first thing that is raised is the worry that God had abandoned them. The truth is that God does not abandon his people; it is more that we turn from God, or block our ability to see God because we are so overwrought with our own circumstances. Moreover, if you were to place yourself in the situation of being in exile, the constant assurance of connection is crucial for perseverance.
Which leads us to the second promise of this passage, and that is the recognition that the road ahead is one that will tire out even the most energetic among us. The passage highlights young boys and teens because of their insatiable energy, but even that goes weary when the fight is so strong. So at the end of this speech, Isaiah promises that those who keep the connection to God, no matter how hard they fight and how weak they get, they will always be able to find renewal from God. This is very important because even today, because we who are no longer young children or teens, have to find the energy to keep going even when the journey ahead seems untenable.
In our lives we can probably see people in both of these situations, where some use their faith to assert power, and others abandon faith because they see no use for it. As you prepare for worship, I challenge you to think of someone in both camps and pray for them. Also, I want you to think about your own journey and when you might have let your own feelings and needs trump what God is asking from you.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen