Sunday, March 2, 2014

Being in on the miracle

"Reconciliation" by Rebekiss


Beatitude Series - Part 5 (of 5)

The Hebrew word for Peace, Shalom, means “fullness” or “completion”.  So when you greet one another or say goodbye, with Shalom, what you are really saying is, “May you be completed.”
Blessed are the shalom-makers, Jesus says, the peace-makers, the fullness-makers.

Peace is not a wispy idea or ethereal concept. It’s an actual thing. 
Conflict and division – they are real, heavy and dark and sharp, a crushing and weighty thing. But peace is not just taking that away, leaving nothing in its place but a vacuum, a hollow restlessness, shallow emptiness where squashed down discord smolders or discontent breeds like mildew.  
Peace is not an empty, wasted space of enforced silence between otherwise foes.  No. Peace has substance and girth. It exists in the world. It is something you can hold and touch and smell; Peace is tangible and real wholeness.
It’s what God’s kind of life tastes like and feels like in your hands.

We know the feel of peace.
It’s that thing that happens between people when forgiveness is slowly labored into, 
and when love is discovered and shared. When, drifting along untethered, someone sees you and values you.
To the drug-addled mind and listless soul, peace is clarity and grounding.
To the fearful and lonely person, peace is belonging and trust.
To the frenzied and chaotic life, peace is order and settled calm.
To the heartbroken and despairing ones, peace is solidarity and hope.
Between warring factions, peace is not just taking away weapons or working out a tenuous agreement not to set each other off.  It’s the building of bridges, the joining together, the solidarity and shared humanity.  Choosing to see each other and reach out.  It’s enemies into friends.  It is together instead of separate, whole instead of shattered. Harmony instead of discord. 

And Jesus calls us not peace-keepers or peace-noticers but peace-makers. 
Peace is something we can make.
We can literally share in the substance of God’s life, here and now. 
To contribute to others’ fullness, fullness in the world around us, and the fullness between us, we can do that.  Peace-making is not just the job of negotiators on the front lines of international treaties, it’s all of us.  Every day. 
Whenever we are part of the wholeness and fullness for others, whenever we say by our words or actions, “May you be completed,” we make peace. We weave it and bake it and write it and say it and hug it and listen it into being and pack it into the empty crevices so it fills up the space where once there was strife and strain.
Each one of us, every day, in as many ways as we notice, can be peacemakers in the world.

But, being peace-makers doesn’t mean we’re suddenly not tension-makers and crazy-makers too.  We still get impatient and frustrated and annoyed and angry and lashing out from things often come easier and opportunities for them come just as often.  And being a peace-maker is also not the same as being a conflict avoider, you might “keep the peace” by not addressing what’s really going on, but you are not making peace. 

Making peace is to face reality and stand in the place of tension, holding out prayer and hope for the fullness and completion of each person in the room despite and in the midst of conflict.  Being a peacemaker starts with “being surrendered to God, for God brings peace."
Glen Stassen says, “We abandon the effort to get our needs met through the destruction of enemies. God comes to us in Christ to make peace with us; and we participate in God's grace as we go to our enemies to make peace.
” (with David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics)

In on the miracle are, then, are those who surrender to God and participate in the fullness and completing God brings among us –  they share in the very substance of God.

Our second movement today is the longest beatitude, and the one that suddenly shifts the conversation from blessed are they to blessed are YOU…
Up to this point, Jesus’ big sermon opener was hypothetical, theoretical, even.  It was general and universal– the meek, the poor in spirit, the peacemakers.  You could read yourself into it or not.  You could be sitting back in the grass and letting this sermon float right over you, or jotting down your notebook the wise isms from this guru and close it up, take it home, put it on a shelf and leave it at that. Until he says, You. Blessed are you when people persecute you and slander and revile you for my sake, your reward is in heaven! Subtext: This will happen.

Now, it’s one thing to get the pep talk about how you’ll be glad you did this hard thing because you’ll immediately notice why it was worth it, exercise because it will make you stronger, eat healthier and you’ll feel better, forgive the person who hurt you and you will be free, mourn and you will be comforted.  That’s one thing.

 But being told, this is going to suck, and even if nobody else around you now sees or appreciates how hard this is, one day when this is all over and this life is past you’ll be rewarded. 
Also, just to make it even punchier, it is the first time in five weeks we’ve had a command.  All the rest of the beatitudes are just telling us like it is – the meek are blessed, the poor in spirit, they’re blessed too.  Now, when we get to persecution and slander and people telling terrible lies about you, we find our first command: Rejoice! The Greek here is literally, “Leap exceedingly”!
Kick up those heels, baby, when you’re being torn to shreds! You’re in good company, and not only that, you will have a tremendous prize when this life is all over! Yipee!

Now, there have been, and are now, Christians who experience terrible persecution for their faith, like torture and death, and the first century people hearing Jesus’ words in Matthew are no strangers to the threat.  I was a child of the 80s, and the thought of Russian Protestants hiding in underground meetings and facing imprisonment and punishment for their faith was seared into my consciousness. Persecution for following Jesus is real, and it’s not to be taken lightly.  But in case we’re tempted to pass over this beatitude, thinking it applies only to these extreme circumstances, we get persecution broken down a bit, to include “despise and insult you and make up lies about you on my account.”  Blessed are you when you’re hated for representing me.

Fourteen years ago I was a green and timid chaplain, responding one night to a code blue. A code blue meant someone had stopped breathing, and the chaplain came mainly to sit with whatever family might be around, to provide some comfort, to be a non-anxious presence while all the medical personnel were rushing in and out of the room.  I was jolted awake from my restless sleep by the page, shivering in my tiny on call room, hurrying to pull on my shoes and blazer, smooth down my hair and put my badge around my neck, and dashed out and made my way to the floor as fast as I could waking up as I went. When I rounded the corner into the long white hallway, I could see the scene unfolding on the other end, blaring lights, code siren still beeping, people in white coats and scrubs rushing into the room, a chaotic dance of voices and movement and intensity.  Just outside the door, a woman sat on a chair with her head in her hands, gently rocking.  I began walking toward her, and she lifted her head and saw me – 30 yards away -- I have no idea how she knew from that distance that I was the chaplain, but she did --- and her face twisted into a look of total terror and rage and she rose to her feet and shouted at the top of her lungs at me, “NOT YOU! You Go AWAY! Do NOT Come Any Closer! We DO NOT WANT YOU HERE!!!”
“But I’m just here to sit with you…,” I stammered, “nothing more…”
“NO!  I MEAN IT. GET OUT OF HERE NOW!!!!!” She roared.

Her words hurtled down the hallway and hit me in the chest, I stumbled backwards, struggling to breathe and fighting back tears, and turned and raced back down the stairs to my on call room where I slammed the door and leaned against it crying.  What did she think I was there to do? Did she think the chaplain showing up meant her loved one would die? I wondered. Or had she had such a terrible experience in the past with religion or religious people that I represented something hateful and vile to her? Something that would take away instead of give? I wanted her to know I was not there to hurt her and only wanted to help. 

But after a while I began to see that this was her deep pain and nothing to do with me.  And I could still help.  I could hold her in prayer from a distance.  She could hate me if she wanted to.  It would make no difference in the truth of what I was there for, whether she chose to recognize or believe it or not, I would remain on her side and support her if she needed me, regardless.  And most importantly, I knew God was with her, loving her through this, and if not through me, I’d continue to pray for a way she could know that too, in a way she could receive it.

In a world where people are more often against instead of for each other, where so often we hurt and ignore others, where mercy is not the means of relating, when you’re hated for standing in the way of Christ, and you will be at some point, rejoice, and take heart.
When you step out of the game, turn away from strategies of manipulation and violence, decline competition, and the corrosive need to be right or control what people think of you, and instead you seek to love people – all people, when you want the overlooked to stand side by side with the prestigious, and you think there might be enough to go around if we shared and so you take steps toward that, and when you try to forgive instead of hold onto anger and grudges, and you let gratitude lead you to be generous, and you have some sense that this is all gift, and even the most terrible suffering is not meant to be borne alone, and so you seek to go there with others, the truth is: You are not doing this to get people to like you and admire and respect you, and include you in their list of important people.  And since you’re undermining the system, that’s probably not going to happen. But that doesn’t matter, because that’s not why you’re in this to begin with.

You’re living this way because you are in on the miracle, and you’ve heard the love of God calling you to stand with Jesus in the world on behalf of your neighbor. 
So, the promise of this last beatitude is that what you are doing is noticed.  Maybe not by those around you right now- maybe it will even be deeply misunderstood and you will be labeled and dismissed or hated. But the world would not be the same without you, and there is a whole cloud of witnesses, of those who’ve been in on the miracle longer than you have, cheering you on.  And one day, when all this is over, you will be thanked by the Creator of all for your participation in the miracle.

So blessed, then, are the peace-makers, who share the substance of God, and contribute to the fullness and completion others, and blessed are you when you are persecuted for the sake of the kingdom of God. 
You have some sense that there is more to all this than we can see, and one day, alongside others who’ve given their lives to love, you’ll receive the satisfaction and joy of knowing you got to be part of life as God means for it to be shared.

That concludes our season with the beatitudes, where life as God means for it to be shared begins with blessing.  
So as we close, hear this:
Sisters and brothers, you are in on the miracle. 

Blessed indeed, are we.
Amen.


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