Nov 03 2016

Let The Peace Of Christ Rule In Your Hearts

“Let your light shine, so that they may see your good
works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
–Matthew 5:16

Dear Beloved Ones,

Warmest greetings to you in Jesus Christ! The extended summer has finally given way to the striking beauties of fall. At St. Andrew’s we have been blessed by some truly extraordinary witnessing to God’s power at work within the members of our community. And we are excited to embark on a year-long “Building a Stronger St. Andrew’s” program in our partnership with the Center for Progressive Renewal and the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference. We endeavor to be an even more vital and spirited faith community whose ministry impacts our wider community and world for Christ.

For these things, and for all of you, I rejoice!

As the calendar has given way to November, I am aware that this has not been a very peaceful time for us as a collective people and nation. The inflammatory rhetoric, scapegoating, fear mongering, and dehumanization of the electoral season has had us staggering, with many urgently seeking refuge and literally counting the days until next Tuesday, weary and discouraged, even depressed. Some have confessed a troubling sense of hopelessness.

So today I am writing to offer you words of consolation, encouragement, and deep hope. In addition to the good news above, I want to remind you of a great gift that God has already given you, not only to survive this season but to be a blessing and a different kind of political force in the world for the ages to come. The gift is your faith! Your faith, even when it only feels the size of a mustard seed, has the power to move the very same mountains that the bombastic political “titans” are unable to budge an inch! I know because Jesus has told us so. And while I am at it, I’d like to remind you of a great gift that God has given the world – You! To quote Jesus: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

So here we are, less than a week until the election, thank God! But what are we to do?

The answer is clear: Live as a disciple of Jesus Christ! With all your heart. Right now. Let it be your relief and your passion.

Perhaps we can begin simply and practically:

1) Let’s pray. Even as Jesus stepped away from his activity to strengthen and re-center himself in the will of God, so our prayers are essential to nourishing our spirits and rooting our discipleship daily in the life of Jesus. There promises to be an enormous yield of peace even in the midst of all the tumult! Pray the Lord’s Prayer verse by verse, as we have been doing in worship. Hear yourself praying for God’s kingdom to come, not just the particular administration you might favor. Pray for God’s will to be done on earth, rather than for your opinion to be confirmed. Pray for what is needed for today, recognizing that God is providing for everyone’s needs. And listen carefully as you humbly ask God to forgive you in the same way that you are already forgiving others. Petition God to deliver you from the temptation to behave in ways that diminish, and rejoice in God’s power to deliver us from all evil, particularly that which would come to grip our hearts. I believe that from this prayer you and I will manifest a new consistency. To paraphrase Pope Francis: “You pray for peace, then you practice it. That’s how prayer works!”

2) For those of us who desperately wish to be delivered from the anguish of the next six days, I have a helpful assignment (directly from Jesus) that will preoccupy you: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”> Jesus says that everything is connected in this principle. Everything. So resolve to practice it “religiously” for the next six days. You might enjoy it. Bring it with you to every encounter with another person; to every conversation, phone call, text, or transaction. Listen to others as you would want to be listened to. Speak to them only in the way you like others to speak to you. Extend the respect and the compassion to them that you would want for yourself and your loved ones. Convey the grace of God everywhere. And (importantly) when you are dealing with someone on the other side of a ‘political divide’: Treat them the way you want to be treated when you are wrong-headed!

Bring the Golden Rule to every electoral issue that you feel passionately about. Does the approach that you endorse promise to treat everyone in ways you would want for yourself? I believe that if you and I heartily engage this assignment, we will want to continue it far beyond next Tuesday. And as it changes you, you will increasingly experience hope for the world!

3) Immerse yourself in faith community (com-unity). Its foundation is Jesus, the curriculum is his gospel, the life together is both a way of being and a mission to the world. Three decades ago the Consultation on Church Union, bringing together nine denominations, urged us “to come together in such a way that the very form of Church in the world will communicate its message to the world . . .” What a glorious charge! Consider the witness of the community of Jesus and its importance in a culture suffering deep fractures and the breakdown of mutual respect and civil discourse. The church can become new hope for our future.

I suggested earlier that in giving you the gift of faith God empowers you to be a different kind of political force in the world. You may not have thought about your discipleship that way. But Jesus’ ministry has always been deeply political. Because politics is about the exercise of power. And Jesus brings the transforming power of God’s love to every situation. He stakes his life on it. Jesus’ “political platform” is one that calls us to the love that he has shown us, to embody that love every day and take it to all the people who hunger and thirst for it. Our love is to be complete, like God’s love, and include love of our enemies. In a world that is increasingly armed, he calls us to disarmament, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. We are to set down burdens of superiority, and find our salvation in humble servanthood. He prohibits retaliation, teaching us first the kind of unilateral, courageous, and transforming love that he has constantly manifested. Like us, he enjoys table fellowship and gives thanks to God for abundant provision. Then he schools us to set inclusive tables where everyone can know they belong, and can feast on the kind of potluck supper that is fit for heaven! Jesus’ social platform takes those who are last in the world’s consideration and moves them to the front of the line. Imagine if a political party dared to do that! Jesus practices debt forgiveness, so that we may be freed for new starts together and new economic relationships. He shows us a vastly different version of the world’s future, and beckons you and I to join him in completing it. You may feel small in that, but you are not. When we are a loving people, none of that love will be lost.

Oh, yes, there is an election Tuesday. I can’t tell you who to vote for. Contemporary elections are, I fear, more an exercise in damage control than anything else. But remember that the election is in no way an end unto itself (see “Lord’s Prayer” above!). I would counsel you to consider how prospective candidates evidence the values of Jesus, even to a small degree. You will know. The exercise may not impact them quite as much as it impacts you.

Keep in mind that it is faith community, not government, that practices fidelity and friendship with the abandoned victims of a devastating hurricane. It is faith community that teaches its children the ways of peace. Faith community tends to the soul wounds of service people and war victims. Faith community commits itself to feeding the hungry without repayment, to welcoming the refugee as brother and sister, to become fluent in the language of reconciliation. Faith community repents past wrongs and rejoices in God’s truth. We do these things imperfectly but wholeheartedly. From faith communities God weaves new networks of grace and hope that spread across the globe. In the words of Shane Claiborne: “One thing that is clear in the Scriptures is that the nations do not lead people to peace; rather, people lead the nations to peace.” [1] It is the peace of Christ, rather than the politics of the world, that will rule our hearts! This is a realization of enormous hope.

In closing, allow me as your pastor to give witness to your integrity. You are a wonderful (wonder-filled) people. I leave you with a commission from the Apostle Paul, whose life was once a harsh sword that Jesus transformed into a deeply human plowshare:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to that which is good.
Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, rejoice in hope.
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all . . .
Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
–Romans 12:9-18, 21

In Christ’s Love,

[1] Claiborne and Haw (2008). Jesus for President. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan.

Pastor Scott’s Archived E-pistles