Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—September 30, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Lord God, give me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Amen.
“Be at peace with one another.”
Does the “with” refer to us being peaceful with one another…me with you and you with you…getting along…no quarrels about who is the greatest…no drawing of boundaries that create divisions among us that leave one another out?
Or does the “with” refer to us, as one group, being all in a state of peace at the same time…that we happen to be there side by side, together surrounded by the peace of God…like you might be at the movies “with” someone?
Or is it both/and?
A similar phrase appears in the Prayer of the Day: “that we might come to peace with you.”
Does this phrase mean that God is how we come to peace…that it is only with, as in through, God that we find peace?
Or is it trying to say that only as a “we,” as a community, that we can come to peace with God?
Or, again, is it both/and?
The disciples have seemed to learn their lesson last week; they are no longer arguing among themselves about who is the greatest. But John, and we can assume the rest of the disciples, continue to draw lines between people. He is trying to define who is in and who is out. But this too is against the intentions God has for the kingdom.
We have been given the ability to make judgments, and some judgments are necessary. For example, we encourage children to differentiate between people they know and strangers. This judgment is taught in order to keep them safe. However, many times we are too quick and too harsh to judge others, to draws lines of separation between others and us.
Throughout the Bible, we hear about God working through unlikely people to do God’s work in the world. David was too little, Abraham and Sarah were too old, Hagar was an Egyptian, Moses was not a good public speaker, Rahab was not an Israelite, Jesus was a hometown boy, the son of a carpenter…
If society had worked any harder to really hold these distinctions against these people, God’s work would have been impeded, or at least forced to find another way.
We run the same risk when we let our self-imposed divisions and quarrels divide us. We are one body, and I am not just talking about this congregation, or denomination, or even the Christian church, I am talking the whole of the human race, the whole of God’s creation.
There is lots of God’s work in the world to be done; it is too heavy for any one of us, or any one group to carry. The burden is great, so who are we to say that God does not actually work through our neighbor, even if they are Brazilian, Muslim, gay, new to the church, or have a mental illness? God can work through each and every human on earth, even those who do not confess God publically in any way.
If we go back to those two phrases I talked about at the beginning, we can see that there is some connection between being open to those who are different from us, outsiders, being at peace as a whole, and being at peace with God. The only way to stand in the glory of God and feel that all-consuming peace is to do it together, and it is really hard to stand united and take it in if there is not some amount of peace between ourselves.
And this is the intention of the Passing of Peace in worship. This part of the service is not just a time to stretch your legs or say “hi” to your friends who you did not see before worship began. Passing the Peace is a chance to acknowledge each other as children of God, and remind each other that God is active in each one of our lives. It is also one last chance to reconcile with your quarreling neighbor before you approach the Eucharistic table with them. It is a chance to come to peace with one another, among ourselves, before we approach God’s grace and peace together as a gathered community.
This is why it is so important to mingle, to actually step outside your pew (which this congregation is already pretty good at). It is not only the people in the pew in front and behind you who God works through. And the person that you have wronged this week or who has wronged you is more likely sitting on the other side of the sanctuary. So get up, go to those people you need to and make peace, and go to those people you do not know so well and declare to them that you see Christ in them and therefore offer them the peace that goes with him.
In some Christian churches in Africa, instead of shaking hands, or hugging, or kissing during this time, they pass a patch of green grass throughout the community. And if any one person refuses to take it from another, as a sign that they are in conflict, the whole community skips communion. I am not suggesting we start passing grass or we skip communion, but I simply share this tradition with you as a reminder of the original intent of the piece of liturgy.
But maybe, this week it is more important for you to use the Passing of the Peace to proclaim the gospel to someone “God’s peace be with you”…as in, God’s peace IS with you. Its not just about righting our wrongs with people, but also it’s our opportunity to remind people who are caught by worries and fears of life that God is with them, that they are not alone. It’s our chance to proclaim good news to them even when we don’t know what they are going through. You never know who needs another reminder, even after the sermon is preached, that they are a loved child of God, who has a share in God’s peace.
God made the entire human race and declared them good. There is sin in the world so we do still have to watch out for things like “stranger danger,” but overall, we make too many judgments, and those judgments are our main stumbling blocks that we put in front of ourselves and others on the path to God’s peace.
Making and maintaining peace in any group is tough. Many times it requires persistence and hard work, sometimes even our salty sweat and tears. It is this hard work that differentiates between the casual greeting and a peace-making blessing and peace-giving reminder during the passing of the peace.
So have salt in yourselves and come to peace with one another, so that we can be with another and fully engage in and appreciate the peace of God, as we gather around the table. Because God loves each and everyone of you and works to daily surround you in peace. Amen.
 Mark 9:50, NRSV.