University Congregational Church
Dec. 9, 2018
“Jesus As Peace”
I have an elderly friend who lives in an assisted living apartment. She is an introvert, and has at times even struggled with social anxiety. But she also loves her church and does all she can to attend every Sunday…. Except in the cold Kansas winter months… when she tells everyone it is her time to hibernate. She makes a big deal about her hibernation. She counts down the weeks until her potential hibernation. She makes different plans for her participation or absence in various ways. She prepares her regular financial gift to the church so that in her hibernation, she won’t leave her church in a bind.
The days of December are continuing to grow noticeably shorter and the nights longer and colder, and she brings up her plan to hibernate at an increasing rate. I have to admit that there are days I am a bit jealous about the thought. What would it be like to read all day in my pajamas? And then I remind myself that hibernation is probably not all I imagine it to be. It would turn to isolation for me, and then isolation would quickly become loneliness. It wouldn’t take long before I would long for light to replace darkness, and ache to be with family and friends, and want to come here to be with you.
Whether it is by genetics or circumstance, or by choices of our own making, the darkness can feel all-consuming. It seems so powerful that we cannot break through to even a glimmer of light. We try to borrow light from anywhere we think it lives.
• We turn to social media and electronic devices.
• We reach for comfort food and the warmth of alcohol.
• We shop for lights and decorations to mask the darkness.
• We fill our lives with frantic busy-ness, so that we don’t have to notice the empty loneliness.
But there are times that nothing seems to work; the darkness remains.
As we remembered President George HW Bush this week, I was reminded of his initiative called “a thousand points of light”. He talked about the service clubs and volunteer organizations in the United States as “a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” During his presidency, Bush handed out “Point of Light Awards” six days a week to citizens working to aid their communities through volunteer work. In 1990, Bush spearheaded the creation of the Points of Light Foundation, the goal of which was to promote private, non-governmental solutions to social issues. He said, “I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding.”
This week, President George W Bush eulogized his father at the National Cathedral. He included the “thousand points of light” among the memories he shared about his dad. He said, “He recognized that serving others enriched the giver’s soul.”
Today, Points of Light has more than 250 affiliates in 30 countries and partnerships with thousands of nonprofits and companies dedicated to volunteer service around the world. In 2012, Points of Light mobilized 4 million volunteers in 30 million hours of service worth $635 million.
Today is Peace Sunday. As I thought about peace this week, I was struck by the idea that each of us can be peace-makers… those “thousand points of light” bringing peace to a dark world. What if we each considered how we might bring peace each day of the Kansas winter? What if we committed ourselves to being a shining light in a dark world? What if we took time each day to offer ourselves as a peacemaker in our homes, our workplaces, our extended families, our neighborhood, city, or state?
One of the issues of peace is the way we define it. Too often, I believe, we think of peace as the absence of something. We think of peace as the absence of war, for example. Or the absence of fear or anger. Peace is too often associated with absence – or hibernation.
What if we thought of peace as an active word? Peace-loving. Peace- making. Peace – bringing. Peace as thousands of points of light in a dark world. Isn’t this what we are all aching for? Our families need it; our community needs it; our churches need it; our society needs it; our world needs it; and all of us yearn for it in our lives.
The word peace means many things in the bible. It refers to rest, ease, security, completeness, shalom, quietness and unity. One can hold one’s peace; make peace; or follow the way of peace. Peace is something one can give or take away. It shows up in the bible 325 times!
The traditional word for today from Isaiah show us a lovely picture of the peaceable kingdom. The text lifts up motifs from other cultures and shows us the universal nature of peace. Natural rivalries are gone. Predators no longer feel the need to pursue their prey. Natural enemies live together in peace.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. Isaiah 11:1-10
This text reminds us that human beings are created for community, not for hibernation or war. Not for hateful rhetoric, isolation, or division. We are created to love and care for one another. We are created to be light in a world of darkness.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta received the Nobel peace prize for 1979. Believe it or not, some people were unhappy that the peace prize went to her instead of going to a notable political or religious leader. Was Mother Teresa, they demanded to know, doing anything deserving of the world’s most coveted award for peacemaking?
Certainly she was not a peace activist. She was, like Francis of Assisi, after whom she patterned her life, simply a woman devoting her life to wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor. That meant educating children, washing putrid sores of the dying, caring for lepers whom society shunned, taking in street urchins, giving medication to tuberculars, and, in sum, loving the unwanted, unloved, and abandoned.
What better example of a peace-loving person? This is what Mother Teresa said of her work as a peacemaker: “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look only at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one. You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. As Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.’ So you begin… I begin. I picked up one person – maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person I wouldn’t have picked up all the others. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if we don’t put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less. Same thing for you. Same thing for your family. Same thing in the church where you go. Just begin… one, one, one.”
Against Mother Teresa’s critics, I would like to suggest that she was putting her finger on the very issue that most prevents us from doing things that make for peace – we tend to focus on the issue in macrocosm and throw up our hands in despair. Mother Teresa threw herself into the task in microcosm, where she was in touch with the problem, and trusted that her small efforts made a difference one person at a time. She didn’t let the apparent insignificance of what she was doing overwhelm and render her useless.
When there is nothing left but the darkness, only then can our eyes see the single beam of light that shines in the darkness. We are drawn toward that light, through the walls of our isolation and into the presence of a loving God. And then, we can all become a small point of light that works its way into a thousand points of light to bring peace to a hurting world.
Bruneau, Barbara. “Come and Save Us Soon!” revgalblogpals, Dec. 6, 2018.