Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dec 7, 2008 - Our Hope Is Peace

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Ps 85.7-13--”Our Hope is Peace”

Last week we talked about how the world is broken and how we are broken. We prayed to God about the specific ways we need him to come and save us. We confessed to him the ways in which our hearts are set against his kingdom coming. We called these actions and attitudes what they really are: sin. We repented. We admitted to God that we have been wrong and that we want to be different now, that we want to watch and wait and live like his kingdom is really coming right here into our lives.

As part of saying all this, we took little slips of black paper and wrote on one sided the ways we feel the world’s brokenness. On the other side, we wrote ways we have sinned, how we have added to the brokenness of the world. And then we folded them up and tucked them into the branches of this tree. That was all last week. If you weren’t here and want to put your confession on the tree, catch me or Cindy after the service.

This week, I want to talk about hope. Specifically, about what we hope, the content of our hope. Two Advent candles are burning tonight. The first one, the one we first lit last week, is the Hope Candle. The second one we just lit tonight is the Peace Candle. We keep both burning tonight because hope and peace are all tied up together. Our hope is a big part of what it means for us to be Christians. But for what do we hope? Are we just looking to wake up to a better day tomorrow? Or maybe a lucky lotto ticket tucked in our Christmas stocking and exactly what we want wrapped up underneath the Christmas tree? As Christians, as Jesus-followers, we hope for peace.

We hope for peace. But not just any peace. We are not like an exasperated old man shouting for some peace and quiet. We aren’t like a harried mom, driving kids to school, to sports, wishing for just a moment’s peace. Sometimes we may want these kinds of peace, but that is not the peace Jesus leads us to hope for. In the ancient song we read tonight, Psalm 85, the songwriter expresses the kind of hope we have in Jesus.

The songwriter begins with a plea to God. His request actually starts two verses before the part we read tonight, in verse 5. He asks God, Will you stay mad at us forever? Will you remain angry through future generations? Will you not revive us once more? Then your people will rejoice in you! O Yahweh, show us your loyal love! Bestow on us your deliverance! I brought up our practice of confession last week for a purpose. You see, like the songwriter says here, we always carry with us the broken world and the fact that we’re more often than not the one’s who break it. And when we fracture a relationship or hurt even ourselves, we are not only making a mess of things at a human level. We are always breaking God’s world--his creation, his daughter or son. This stands in between us and our hope of healing.

The songwriter says, “God, we’ve sinned. We’re guilty. You’re right to be angry at us for wrecking things. You created the world and said it was good, and we’ve taken it and made it bad. But if you leave us like this--if you stay angry and don’t come to save us--we’re not going to make it.” O Yahweh, show us your loyal love! Bestow on us your deliverance!

And now the songwriter waits hear how God will respond: I will listen to what God Yahweh says.

And this is what the songwriter hears: he will make peace with his people, his faithful followers.

What does it mean for God to make peace with us? We’ve talked long and hard about how we’re not at peace with God. Peace in the Bible means a lot more than the absence of arguments or fist-fights. I have been in too many homes where there is an enforced quiet, where marriages are falling apart or job tensions are cracking up a family. Everyone smiles around the dinner table or in front of the Christmas tree, but they’re always only a word away from slamming doors or punching holes in the wall or throwing suitcases into the car and peeling out of the driveway. This tense silence is not what the bible calls peace. Peace in the bible means that everything is all right, that we are healthy and have plenty of food to eat and jobs we enjoy. It means that instead of always being on the verge of a shouting match, we’re ready to turn on the music and throw a party. It means good times.

Everything is not all right between us and God. Every week we have to come and say to him, “Forgive us for failing to give you the obedience we owe you.” We could say it every day, multiple times a day. And the ways we fail God turn into ways we fail ourselves, our friends and family, our neighbors. We are not all right.

So how does God make peace with us when we over and over again push away or tear apart the gifts he gives to us? During Advent we’re looking ahead to the birth of the Way. Jesus is born to bring peace. First and foremost, he brings peace between us and God. Jesus is born in a dirty, wooden manger in order to take our dirty sins and nail them to a bloody, wooden cross. By becoming our peace offering to God, Jesus sets things right between us and God. He carries our confessions and cries of repentance to his Father, and he himself takes our punishment for us. Jesus is our peacemaker.

But peace doesn’t stop there. The bible shows our peace with God to be something that seeps out into every other area of our lives. It does not stay just a personal thing but shows up in the material, political world. Everything being all right between us and God is the beating heart of anything else in our lives honestly being all right. Jesus compares this peace to an uncontrollably spreading weed. When Cindy and I were first dating, she was rather enamored with dandelions. Sometimes I suspect this was mostly because they were the only flower I thought I could afford to bring her. The college campus where we went to school then was not so fond of dandelions. They wanted their lawns to be green and attractive to prospective students. They knew that the seeds from one fluffy dandelion could quickly cover acres of landscaping with yellow polka-dots. That’s what Jesus says about peace with God--which is also the heart of God’s kingdom. It’s like a mustard weed seed that takes over a garden.
The Old Testament songwriter reflects this contagious spread of peace in the rest of the psalm. He writes, Loyal love and faithfulness meet; deliverance and peace greet each other with a kiss. Faithfulness grows from the ground, and deliverance looks down from the sky. Yes, Yahweh will give his good blessings, and our land will give its crops. Deliverance goes before him and prepares a pathway for him. In beautiful, poetic language, the songwriter tells us what peace with God means: it means being delivered from enemies, from captivity; it means rain at the right time and a harvest with plenty to eat. In our day, this might mean healthy relationships, freedom from addictions, no worries about the future, satisfied people with enough food to eat (some things never change). In the end, it will mean that Jesus is the king, that he takes care of his people and his world, that injustice and war will be over, justice and righteousness dwell where he rules.

But we don’t see this right now. Since being a Jesus-follower is not about being in denial about the way things really are, but more about honestly embracing them, we need to find an answer for why our world is still full of violence and need and hurt even after Jesus has made peace for us with God. I think Jesus’ parable of the mustard weed seed points us in the right direction. You see, Jesus’ point is not only that our peace with God grows uncontrollably; he also is telling us that this peace is still growing. We’re in process, on the way; we’re not there yet. We are still waiting for Jesus’ final return with his Father’s kingdom, when everthing will be finally all right. I heard one person compare this to the discovery of a vaccine to a disease. In Jesus we’ve found the antidote to death and brokenness, and we’re giving it to everyone we can, but it will still be a while until the disease of death and brokenness will be completely eradicated.

We are part of this process. It is definitely up to God to make it happen, and it will not happen until he decides to step in completely and Jesus returns. But still, we are in a special way a part of it. Back in the middle of the psalm, the songwriter slips in a line to remind us of this responsibility: we must before anything else guard the relationship where this peace begins. After saying that God will make peace with us in verse 8, he writes, Yet they--meaning God’s people--must not return to their foolish ways. What foolish ways? All the ways we set our hearts against his coming kingdom, all the ways we break his world, our neighbors, ourselves.

The two other readings we heard to night tell us that we need to work for peace not only in our personal relationship to God, but also in the world around us. Both the Old Testament reading and the New Testament reading quoted Isaiah the prophet when he says, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make his path straight!” Following Jesus means nurturing God’s peace as it sprouts up all over the place, preparing things for when Jesus finally sets all things right at his return. Jesus demonstrated this in his ministry, spreading God’s peace by healing sick people, feeding hungry people, casting out evil spirits from oppressed people, and raising to life dead people.

So there are two questions to walk away with tonight. The first is, What are you hoping for? Are you setting all your hope in getting by--that things don’t fall apart at family gatherings during the holidays, that you have enough cash to pay for Christmas? Or is your hope rooted in your peace with God, hope that this peace will indeed grow out into the world until covers the whole earth when Jesus returns? Do you have peace with God? That’s basic to everything. Without that peace you have no reason to hope.

The second question to take with you as we go out caroling in just a few minutes is, How are you fostering God’s peace in the world? This needs to go beyond saying merry Christmas to the person staffing the checkout when we’re doing Christmas shopping or dropping our change into the Salvation Army bucket. How will you nurture God’s peace? Will you invite the homeless man by the overpass out of the cold to get a burger with you at Wendy's? Will you give gifts to the family of a co-worker struggling to stay above water financially? Will you make the hard phone call to an estranged family member? How will you prepare the way of the Lord?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...