Matthew 10:24–39 (NRSV)
24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
Whom to Fear
26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
Not Peace, but a Sword
(Lk 12:51–53; 14:26–27)
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
I have expressed on many occasions that I love to study scripture. It seems like every time I read a passage there is something there that I could swear, if Quakers swore, was not there the last time I read it. Obviously, words have not been added but the more we as individuals interact with scripture, the more we learn of history, the more we observe our culture and the cultures of the world, the more we learn and adapt in our lives, and the more trials and blessings we experience (usually trials) we gain a unique perspective to interact with the scripture with. Of course, our experiences should not be the basis of study, we should also make earnest efforts in learning all we can about the passage, but at times certain words just stick out, certain phrases seem to take our breath away, and at times upset us.
This passage is one passage that has been difficult for me. I find it difficult for several reasons. The main one though is it just seems like Jesus is throwing words out there that do not really fit in the general message He usually dictates.
Right from the start He talks about those saying that he is from the House of Beelzebul. Beelzebul is an interesting study. I say that because the history of the word is interesting not because of who the word represents. It is a word derived from the ancient Philistine god Ba’al, and that word basically means lord. The second half of the world “ze bul” is thought to mean of flies, so, ”Ba’al ze bul” lord of the flies. The Philistines believed that this god was one that flew, but the ancient Jewish understanding was a bit different, they regarded this lord of the flies to mean the attractor of flies or a pile of manure. So Beelzebul is a dung heap, one that attracts the undesirable pests of life. So often this word refers to the devil or Satan, the leader of the demonic powers and fallen angels. To be of the house of Beelzebul is a double-sided insult. The accusers of Jesus and his disciples are saying that Jesus is of Satan on one hand and a pile of excrement.
I find this first portion of this passage difficult because to me it almost seems as if Jesus regards this insult as humorous. Let’s take a different look at it. “If they regard the master a pile of manure, how much more will they regard the disciples of…” ok I think you get the point. The disciples are concerned with their reputation, and Jesus is basically telling them so they think you and I are piles attracting flies, who cares? It is almost as if Jesus is perfectly ok with this. Not necessarily the insult portion, but the reasoning behind the insult. He is attracting flies, the pests, the unclean and sinful segments of the population. Jesus is attracting the scum of the community, like manure attracts flies. They say this because Jesus spent time with his friend Matthew the tax collector, he even attended a party Matthew threw at his home, and not only did Jesus attend but he attended as an honored guest. To the religious orders of Jesus’ culture this was taboo. How can a truly religious man spend time with “sinners”? How can he attract such sinners to him as he does, unless he is the Lord of the Flies or at least of that fallen angel’s house?
He goes one after a good laugh about being the lord of the fly attracting pile, to get to the heart of why this has the disciples concerned. They are talking about you, they are calling you names, they are slinging mud and we hope it’s only mud and not something more ripe. Why do you care what they say? Do not fear, nothing will remain a secret or remain hidden. These religious leaders are making fun of the disciples because of the people they are helping. They are pointing out that these people, from their perspective, are not worth their time or energy because they are morally deficient sinners. Yet Jesus sent his disciples to teach and minister to these people’s needs, and to build relationships with them. Jesus tells his disciples to take heart and continue to speak boldly the gospel of the kingdom. Do not worry about what others will say because no secrets will remain, and when that time comes the religious leaders will be found wanting. Jesus once called these Pharisees white washed tombs, and this is basically what he is saying here. If you were to remove the façade those that are calling the disciples slaves to the Lord of the flies, will be shown as being the one that smell funny.
The disciples are concerned, getting upset that they are being characterized incorrectly, and they are so concerned about this reputation that they are pulling back on their ministry. Jesus is telling them don’t worry and don’t fear. They are not the judge, and are the true revolting piles. Instead be concerned with pleasing God. God is concerned with everything in his creation. He knows and God cares even for the insignificant sparrows.
So far, this passage of random sayings seems to be more connected than I thought. But then the most difficult saying of Jesus recorded in the gospels. “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” How many of us look at this passage and sit dumbfounded? This one verse has probably caused the greatest amount of confusion as any passage in the bible. Jesus the prince of peace, the one that tells us to love our enemies is now saying he is not bringing peace but a sword. This passage has been twisted for centuries to justify crusades and countless atrocities throughout church history, but it has been twisted.
Jesus has said in the previous verses that we should not care what others think and say about us, instead we should speak boldly the message that Jesus has given to us. Jesus is illustrating to us a principle with these words. It is a principle that he has shared many times in his teachings, the concept of not being able to serve two masters.
The sword divides, it split, and separates one side from another. The disciples were worried about what the religious leaders thought. They were out there calling Jesus the Lord of manure, the very leader of demonic forces that attracts the pests and scum of the earth. They were worried and they feared their reputations would be blighted because of their association with Him. What would people think if they knew I was following, that I was a disciple of this man everyone says if full of crap? They were concerned yet they followed him. They listened to him and were attracted to him; did that mean they were also flies? They loved what Jesus had to teach, they saw that it made a difference in their world and in their lives, yet they struggled with what others might think.
We often struggle with this very same thing. The problem is that we are not free when we are bound to what others think. We are impaled with a blade, held down and unable to move. We want to pursue our passions yet what would my parents think? Would my spouse think I was skirting responsibility if I quit my job and pursued an education? Would my friends think I was crazy if I pursued a relationship with another? Would my coworkers think poorly of me if I applied for a promotion? We are stabbed by a sword, unable to move because if we do part of who we thought we were would be cut away, and as far as we know we need that piece of us to survive. That threatened piece next to the blade is the mask we use to be accepted in our society. If I were to pursue my heart’s desire the passion God has placed within me, God will cut out something I think is important.
If we are worried about what others might think we cannot be disciples. If we are afraid of what others might say we cannot serve our master. If we are unwilling to respond to the calling within our hearts we cannot commune with God. Jesus is saying that very clearly. If that is what we are worried about we will never have peace. We will be in a constant battle struggling to find who God made us to be while trying to be what everyone else expects us to be. This war within is an epic battle that many will not survive. Many will be taken prisoner never to see what might have been if only they had taken that step.
The truth is that God has given each of us passions. He has created us each with some unique ability and place within our community that only you or I can fill. He has brought certain people into our lives with the hope that we would participate with Him to bring about redemption and reconciliation. But all too often we settle for something less. I recently saw a quote on Facebook, and I don’t know if it is true or not but it said, “Researchers estimate that two-thirds of humans have no idea what they’re good at or what their strengths are.” That is one of the saddest things I have ever read. Two-thirds of us do not know who we are. Two-thirds of us live our entire lives trying to be someone we aren’t because it is expected of us. Two-thirds of us. It is no wonder that so many people today struggle with anxiety and depression, why so many hate their jobs, why so many seek relief through substance abuse, and why so many take their own lives. Only one in three are free to live, the rest of us are caught in a battle.
Jesus says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Those who let the sword of Christ cut away aspects of their lives that are holding them back will find themselves free to boldly live for the Kingdom, everyone else is lost. Lost to the eternal battle of what others might think if. Who are we in Christ? And what is holding us back? Are the things holding us back keep us from fully embracing the love of God?
My prayer today as we enter this time of open worship is that we as individuals and as a Meeting will let Jesus weld his sword in our lives so that we can boldly follow him without reservations.
Matthew 9:35–10:8 (NRSV)
The Harvest Is Great, the Laborers Few
35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
The Twelve Apostles
(Mk 3:13–19a; Lk 6:12–16)
10 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
The Mission of the Twelve
(Mk 6:6b—13; Lk 9:1–6)
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
There is something exciting about the life that Jesus lived. Every time I read through the gospels and imagine myself walking with the disciple, I am pulled just a bit deeper into this journey of faith. I imagine the scenes that Jesus is involved. I imagine the disciples and the possible discussions that they would have among themselves before Jesus sets them straight. I envision the amazement of the disciples at the healing of each person, the shock of each interaction with the religious leaders, and the confusion they might feel when Jesus says something they do not quite understand.
Imagine if you will that you are walking with Jesus, following him around the countryside, listening to the teachings, helping people to Jesus as he heals various people for various diseases. Some of which have illnesses that could potentially affect your ability to interact with your countrymen. Just to do a quick review of the chapters proceeding today’s reading we would find Jesus’ sermon on the mount. I mention this because it is only after this sermon, according to Matthew, that Jesus’ begins the healing ministries that we enjoy. Then after the sermon Jesus begins to heal, first a leper, then a centurion’s servant, then he goes to the house of Peter and heals Peter’s mother-in-law and others in the house. He teaches some more, and then takes a trip across the sea, where they encounter a terrible storm while Jesus sleeps. When they wake him up and he calms the storm, Jesus heals the demon possessed man by casting the demons into a herd of pigs, they are driven out of that place, and Jesus then heals a man who is paralyzed. Jesus is busy. But up to this point the writer of this gospel did not claim to be among the disciples, it was only after all this that Matthew was called from his tax station to follow Jesus.
So, all this happened, some of the most momentous events in the ministry of Jesus and according to Matthew, Jesus had yet had the full band of disciples. I want this to sink in for a moment. Lepers being cleansed does not just happen every day, Jesus did it, people were amazed, yet continued to live life as they did prior. People were healed of every type of illness, people were amazed, yet continued to live life as normal. Jesus calmed a storm that was so great that seasoned sailors feared for their lives, yet many did not yet follow Jesus. He taught the most profound sermon ever uttered by human lips and heard by human ears, and people nodded their heads in approval yet walked home just as they did before. After all this time, Jesus did not even have a significant core group of disciples, in fact according to Matthew, to this point Jesus’ only disciples were Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
But something happened when Jesus healed the paralyzed man that changed things. You can read that story at the beginning of Matthew 9. The crowd brings the man to Jesus and Jesus says to him, “Your sins are forgiven.” The religious leaders get excited because it is blasphemy to claim to forgive sins, yet that is what Jesus claimed. Then he goes on to say, “what is easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘stand up and walk?’” Jesus healed that man, and because of it he claimed that he had power over the physical and spiritual bodies. It was this healing that changed things for a tax collector named Matthew. It was shortly after this interaction that Jesus walks up to Matthew’s booth and offers Matthew the opportunity of a life time, the opportunity to study under the only rabbi that can claim to forgive sins. And for a man as hated as a tax collector this is huge, he can be forgiven. He can be forgiven, be redeemed to God, without having to endure the public shaming within the temple courts. He can be forgiven, and accepted as he is. And this did not please the religious leaders one bit, in fact they started saying that Jesus spent his time with sinners, attempting to discredit the troublesome teacher who was causing their people to question their teachings.
This takes the group of disciples to five: Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew. Only five confirmed disciples to this point according to the writings of Matthew. And this is one third of the way through the gospel, and the last third of the gospel deals primarily with the last week of Jesus’ life before the passion, so one might say that Jesus had spent half of his ministry with less than a half a dozen followers. I mention this because I believe there is an intermission of sorts between the closing of the ninth chapter and the beginning of the tenth. I believe that there is a catching of breath so to speak, where Jesus pulls back from the healing activities for a while and engages more with repeating his teachings.
At the end of the ninth chapter Jesus looks out at the crowds of people. He is standing there with Peter, Andrew, James, john, and Matthew and he looks at the crowds and he sighs, “look at all of them, they are hurting, they are taken advantage of, and helpless. They are lost like a bunch of wondering sheep without a shepherd.” Imagine the scene. It isn’t a group of 12, but there are six people including Jesus standing there overlooking the city. So many people hurting, taken advantage of by their own countrymen, and they don’t even know where to turn to get out of this rut they are in. “The Harvest is plentiful,” Jesus says, “but the laborers are few.” Look at all those people, just look at them.
Remember who these first five disciples are. Peter, Andrew, James and John are all hardworking fishermen. They made their living by going out each night, throwing nets out into the waters to bring in as many fish as they could. They would then come back to the shore and attempt to sell or trade as much as they could so that they could obtain the food that their family would need to eat that day, and hopefully a few other necessities and luxuries along the way. Every night the same, go out catch fish, bring them in to sell and trade, mind the nets, go home eat a meal, take a nap, and do it again the next day. These men were not rich men. They lived like most food producing individuals, they could survive but that is about it. They were common people. They were like many of us, not broke but one hardship away from total collapse.
Then there is Matthew. He unlike the rest is not living paycheck to paycheck, he has investments and disposable income. He can throw parties for his friends and enjoy life. He is comfortable in one aspect of life but miserable in another. Both groups are teetering. They are both walking a fine line. And Jesus called them to a different life. And they took hold of the hope he had to offer.
They are all standing there with their teacher looking out over the city, and Jesus tells them to look at the people. He is saying look at them, they are just like you were, hopeless, scared, struggling. Look at all of them. They are all over, you know them do you. You know where they live what they do. You know how they feel and what they are afraid of. Look at all those people who God loves and wants to redeem just as He did you. Look at them there are so many the harvest is plentiful, but guys there is only six of us. We need to pray.
Can you feel the excitement and anxiety of the situation? Can you sense the urgency that they might have been feeling? Here they are looking out over their hometown and Jesus is telling them look at your friends and your family, your neighbors, and that kid down the street that pesters you with all the questions. Look at them all. They are lost and caught within a system of life that has them caught beneath dominating forces. They are sick and that has them anxious. They are broke and do not know what they are going to feed their kids each night. They fear a collection call, or a revolt. The system is about to collapse and they have nowhere to turn. Pray. Pray that other will come and join us, pray that others will join with us to minister to these hurting and broken people. Pray that God will provide not only the harvest but those that will be suited to help bring them in.
The six of them walk into the city. They return to their usual routine catching fish, collecting taxes, bartering for bread, and throwing parties. They go back into their life as much as they can but there is this urgency in their minds that will not let go. They pray to God that others will join their group, and experience the redemptive hope that they have experienced in this life walking with Jesus. As they pray and live their lives they talk with their friends. They talk to Thomas, Phillip, Bartholomew, Judas, Simon, James, and Thaddaeus. They talk about their experiences, their hopes, the teachings, and they invite them to come and see. They talk to everyone in that town they interact with some respond and others just go about their usual routine. They talk and they pray, they live their life and they continue to follow Jesus every day. Eventually their group grows from five to twelve. And Jesus’ ministry takes on a different form, Jesus sends the twelve out into the surrounding communities. They pair up and they walk each direction, with the assurance that everything they had seen and heard Jesus could do they could do as well. They go out to tell other about the hope they have, and they go out providing whatever services they can to show the people that God does care.
We live in a time very like that of our ancient brothers. We live in a world filled with uncertainty, a world that at any moment could veer off in a direction that could leave each of us devastated. But we are not citizens of this world but citizens of the Kingdom of God. Though there is uncertainty all around, we still have hope. We have hope because of Jesus. We know that no matter what happens God remains. When we do not understand we can rest in our faith, we can rest in the assurance that God will work things out for the good of those who love him and are called to his purposes. We may not understand but we can live in the faith that it is true, because we have seen it in our past as well as in the lives of the multitude of saints that have proceeded us through the courses of life. I want us to look down at our own city and community and listen to the words Jesus spoke to those few disciples. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Repeat those words to yourself as we enter this time of open worship. Repeat them and reflect on it. Five disciples heard that statement according to Matthew, five that we know of because the rest are not mentioned till after this statement was spoken. Repeat those words, reflect on them, and pray. Consider everything that has happened in the past where you have come from and what you have experienced. Consider the hope that you have for the future and from where that hope comes. Repeat those words, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” They were few, yet they shook the foundations of the world. They were few but their witness has span the courses of time. Consider those words, take hold of them and pray. Pray about the hurting, the broken, the oppressed and the hopeless. Pray that people will come to bring relief and hope, and pray that we can be there too.
2 Corinthians 13:11–13 (NRSV)
Final Greetings and Benediction
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
This week I have spent a lot of time thinking about life, church, and what the future might hold. I do this from time to time. Luckily, I have some friends that are willing to listen to my random ramblings, otherwise I would probably have some manifesto written somewhere. And I really do not have the time to write everything so my random ramblings will probably never be spread too far beyond a text message. But on Wednesdays we have been watching a series called, “Drive Thru History” and this week we watched the episode about Corinth. I read through the letters that Paul wrote to this church and it just got me thinking more.
In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he spoke a great deal about problems they were having as a church and as individuals within the church. It is filed with hard sayings and inspirational musings. The second letter is a bit different, it is an appeal. An appeal for unity, and participation in the continued ministry of Christ through the saints. It is almost a plea for the church of Corinth to come back into communion with the other churches, letting go of resentment that they may hold and to move forward with renewed hope.
I needed to read this letter this week. For many that have vocal ministries, we often feel as if we have offended more people than we have encouraged. Which is easy to do since the Spirit of God uses scripture to convince us of weaknesses in ourselves and where we need to rely on God. When these things are revealed to us sometimes we are not too excited about it. The truth of the matter is that often the one convicted the most is the one speaking. And this passage is one such passage that really hits home.
Right off the bat Paul writes words that hit me squarely. “Finally, Brothers and Sisters, Farewell.” The first thing that comes to my mind is Brothers and Sisters. This letter is one that follows at least one other letter sent to this church. We know in 1 Corinthians, that Paul was heavy handed with some of the issues this community was facing. The use of the word brother, which can mean physical or spiritual sibling. Shows us something important. First of it is plural, it is usually translated brother because it is a masculine word, but in grammar most plural words like this are written in the masculine form even if it is referring to a mixed gender group. So most contemporary translations use brothers and sisters to inform us that in the ancient church women were present in worship. Older translations use the term Brethren which is still a plural word referring to mixed genders. What is being said is we are all in this together. We are family, as well as friends. And just like with any relationship there are times where there is closeness and other times where we are not very pleasant to be around.
The second part that strikes me is the word “Farewell.” Other translations translate this phrase, “Finally, Brothers and Sisters, rejoice.” Do we make it our custom to live rejoicing? I sat considering this single word for quite a while. Rejoice. So often we can get so distracted with life that we forget to rejoice, we forget to be glad in this moment. Rejoice.
Many of you know, that I will use scripture in my times of prayer. I use the words that God inspired the people of ancient times to write to assist me in drawing closer in conversation with God. So, I sat considering this word for a while. I found that many days I fail to rejoice, at times I get very far from rejoicing and spend more time doing the exact opposite. I worry. I complain, I get irritated, and often I have been so consumed with these feelings that I forget how to rejoice. When I notice this, it scares me because we have much to rejoice in.
What Paul is getting at is this, “Finally, Brothers and Sisters, don’t get distracted by everything going on in the world around you, instead be intentional in finding something to rejoice in.” Make this intentional search for gladness become a holy habit among you. One that will lead you to even greater things. Things like reconciliation.
The next phrase, “Put things in order.” Could also be translated as restore or mend. He is speaking in terms of spiritual siblings so what he is speaking of is restore our relationships. Just as we should develop a holy habit to find something to rejoice in, we should also find some way to make amend our relationships and rejoice in them. Some of the most hurtful and lasting emotional, physical, and spiritual wounds are inflicted by those we are closest to, this is because we make ourselves vulnerable around those we are comfortable with. We let down our defenses, and we stick our necks out only to find ourselves ridiculed and rejected. So, we withdraw and we mount defenses around ourselves because trust has been breached.
This is the greatest plea that Paul makes, in all things make every effort to restore, mend, and strengthen our relationships. Be intentional about them, just as intentional as your jobs are or were. Just as intentional as a meal you prepare, or intentionally microwave. If you are not actively seeking to mend, restore, and strengthen relationships around you and encouraging them to seek God we are living in sin. Sin is any and every action that hinders our relationship with God and with others. It is a lack of love. If we were to look at the list of commandments we would find that each one of those commands are relational. Do not use the lords name in vain, is respecting our creator. Do not kill is respecting and preserving the life of other because they are created in the image of God. Do not bear false witness means we not only need to be honest but we need to protect the reputation of others from slander. Ever commandment is relational. So, if we focus on intentional healthy relationships we will honor the commands.
Paul continues, “Agree with one another.” I’m sure that every one of us is beginning to think Paul is crazy right now. How is it possible to agree with each other all the time? Quite frankly it is not possible in our own strength. But that is not what these words mean exactly. The phrase means to think, or to set one’s mind on something, to form an opinion, or hold a view. Agree with one another is to come to a mutual understand and stick with it. There are areas that we will have differing opinions and that is healthy, but we as spiritual brothers and sisters, should be intentional in honoring that of God in all people and agree honor one another as family even if we do not see things the same way. It is building some form of understanding as to why we think the way we do and why they think the way they do and respect their perspective. If it is something all parties cannot agree on then it is a subject that is closed. We move forward as a united front in the areas of unity, and we do not proceed in the areas where there is not unity.
This concept is where the Meeting of Business in the manner of Friends comes from. We recognize that we as individuals have our own opinions, so we will not move forward until the Spirit of God has shown us a way through, a sense of the meeting. This idea can become problematic if those involved are living in sin, or are not focused on honoring and strengthening relationships with God and with humankind. If we are not focused or of one mind on that aspect we will be relying on human wisdom and opinion. And human opinion and wisdom has limited perspective.
“Live in peace; and the God of Love and peace with be with you.” Remember who Paul is writing this letter too. This is the church who had a man living in an adulterous relationship with his father’s wife. This is the church that would eat meat at the temples of idols, because they were living under grace not the law, and did not care if their actions caused someone else to stumble. This is a church that was situated in a city focused on earthly delights. And Paul is telling them to live in peace. Everything about their situation is at odds with them. Even their own spiritual siblings cannot seem to agree. Yet Paul encourages them to live in peace. Peace can only happen when there is mutual respect. Respect is progressively built over time. To build respect one must converse with one another, listening to their perspectives and expressing our own. Peace is something that should be pursued with heroic effort, because any area that lacks peace lacks the relationship required by God’s standard. Any area in personal or corporate life that lacks peace is sinful, even if we can justify it in our own minds. Humanity was created to live in unity with God and all of creation. The absence of peace is a visual reminder of sin present not only in the world but in our lives. Those that make every effort to pursue peace will be in the company of God. Those that make efforts to build peace between people express the love of God to those around them.
Call me naïve. But it is in scripture. Live in peace. It is said that the wisdom of God is foolishness to those of the world. Which is why it is such a difficult concept for us to grasp. We all struggle with this because we all have a desire to be right. We have an opinion and we want others to agree, but this does not honor the perspective and humanity of those we converse with. Which leads us right back to the beginning put things in order, restore and mend the relationships around us. See and honor the image of God carried by the humanity of each one here and everyone that we meet. Build and strengthen relationships and pursue mutual respect. Just as the lyrics of one of my favorite songs say, “Every day we go to war again, we assume we know so much more than them before we hear what they have to say. Headline breaks, and we start to hate again, calling them names again, we give our peace away.” We give our peace away. Think about that, let it sink into your very soul.
It is difficult to consider. And more so when we consider the next phrase that Paul writes in the conclusion of this letter, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.” Think of the intimacy of this. Who are the people we kiss? In our culture, the act of touching our lips to another human being is reserved to the closest members of our family, or in some cases people we hope would eventually become family. In the ancient church, there was a sacramental expression of faith symbolized in kissing those within the church. This was seen by those outside the church as being odd. Leading many to believe that there was something sinister and immoral occurring behind the closed doors of the church. The holy kiss was associated with the feast, and was only allowed for those that had publicly proclaimed their faith. As part of their worship they would literally kiss those around them. Some cultures are more willing to do this, ours is not one of them. But consider the intimacy factor. If you were to kiss this person, what would the relationship with them be like? Could you kiss someone you did not respect and honor? Could you give a hug to someone you were not at peace with? The person sitting next to you, the ones sitting at the back of this worship space, and at the front are all deeply loved by God with a love that is more intimate than the love we have for our closest family members. If Jesus were physically here he would grab each of us and pull us in and kiss us just as a parent kisses their child. They are loved deeply by God. Now take that a step further, while we were still sinners, while we were still enemies of God, Christ still had that same love for us. God has that love for our enemies. He loves those of differing opinions just as deeply as those that agree with us. I am not saying go kiss our enemies, because I’m pretty sure that would get you shot, but I am saying consider the love that your God has for them. And the love that he hopes we as a church can restore with them.
As I said the past few days I have really been wrestling with the idea of church. I have considered it because my deepest desire is to love as Jesus loved. To hope as Paul hoped. I want to participate in the kingdom just as Peter did. I want to be the church. And if I look at myself I see so many areas I have fallen short. I have not been in unity at times. I have not intentionally pursued peace at times. I have not loved as Christ would love. But Jesus did love for me. Jesus did come to this earth and lived a full human life, he died in my place, and rose again to ensure that way through him to overcome and redeem my own brokenness and sin. As we enter this time of open worship, examine your life, consider where we as individuals and as a church fail to pursue the restoration of relationships and repent. Let us look to Jesus and take on his life and lifestyle and rest on his power to live through us in our weakness. And let us be bearers of peace in our community and world.