Peaceful Dawn by Bob Orsillo
(Please excuse the brood of vipers comment! Just mentioning John the Baptist’s pastoral counseling methods!)
My friends, in the depths of my heart I am grateful for you. I am grateful for your powerful witness, your courage and tenderness in being willing to take on all the powers that would shatter our community into small self-interested, divisive groups. You have shown up at churches where the language and theology, the worship and songs are unfamiliar. You have engaged in relationships with people who are unlike you and been vulnerable enough to share your own stories and to really listen to theirs, to allow their story to impact you and change you. This is gospel work. This is the work of sharing the love of Christ with all people. We have been called to gospel work, to the work not of witnessing to some difficult intellectual idea about God but to the work of Be-ing grace and love to each other, to our neighbor, to our community.
We have such deep need for this kind of dialogue, more now than ever. On Thursday I followed along on Facebook as two of my friends, both PC(USA) pastors, initiated brave conversations about gun control. There was some heated discussion, but each time it threatened to get out of control these two amazing people would intervene, would ask that all voices be respected and that we all remain engaged in this dialogue. Boundaries were drawn to keep people safe by including them in healthy and appropriate ways, by not allowing shaming or attacking, by not excluding those we struggle with. The truth is we need each other. We are connected by ties that we cannot cut. We are a congregation of diverse points of view, conservative, liberal, cautious, radical. We have intentionally practiced staying in relationship across and through these differences. We have begun to learn and to appreciate that places of conflict, of diverse opinions and views, are also fruitful places, are creative places.
It isn’t easy. It’s countercultural. Our culture would tell us we must win, we must be right and we can get ardently caught up in being right! But this is the path we are called to, one of dialogue across differences, the path of reconciliation. In John’s gospel Jesus states, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
God’s peace, not the peace of power over another such as the Pax Romana, surely Jesus knew of this peace, the peace enforced by brutality and power over. (do not be afraid) But a different kind of peace, a different sort than we had ever experienced before. This weekend I was watching a Lifetime movie, a cute, not especially significant movie. But there was this one scene where a mother was trying to keep her son safe by keeping him away from the homeless man and her son says to her, “But Mama, the bible says we are supposed to help people.” And she responds, “Well yes honey, but the world was safer back then.” And I almost choked. The world that Jesus grew up in was brutal. The practice of being a reconciling peace-bearer in that world got him killed, hung on a cross, but Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook. Go on now, pick up your own cross and let’s get going. We have whole communities to witness to! We have a world to bring peace to, a world that cries out for this.
In a world where protest camps are bulldozed at 4 a.m. in the bitter cold, in a world where people live in fear of armed attackers, where people must run from their homes, their country, in a world where vitriolic political campaigns become unremarkable, we are called to be reconcilers, to be peace-bearers, to witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. We are called to reach out to those unlike ourselves and really, truly engage with them, to love them. The Jesus way was counter-cultural 2000 years ago and it still is, but it is our path, the one we are called to walk faithfully.
It’s easy to become and stay polarized. To hang out and listen to, only those people who agree with us, who remain inoffensive. The wonderful and surprising thing about my friends’ Facebook conversations was that everyone was able to participate, that various points of view were included. Too often we are tempted to demonize those we disagree with. We struggle to hear the cry for understanding, for empathy and compassion under the fear, the anger, the prejudice. We struggle to admit that we are just as flawed and our needs are much the same as those whom we disagree with. Our common humanity and need for God’s grace unites us.
It is as if we are all engaged in creating a magnificent picture, of our deepest, most beautiful understanding –but we are doing so with puzzle pieces and I have some of your puzzle pieces and you have some of mine and our finished project will be diminished and incomplete to the extent that we fail to come together, to share.
John the Baptist takes us to task and invites us to a new way of being. That we would remove all barriers within ourselves that we might receive the Word of God. Make straight our tendency to slip around inconvenient truths and difficult experiences. Raise up our courage that we might enter into relationship with vulnerability and tenderness. Break down our arrogance and resistance that we might allow ourselves to be impacted and changed. Open our hearts and our mouths that we might confess in true humility that we need God and we need one another.
In Luke salvation is not a personal salvation, a get out of hell card for one, but rather a salvation which involves the whole of community, the whole of the world. In Luke salvation is the coming of the Kingdom of God here and now, in the flesh. It is something you can see and touch. So what would that look like? This breaking in of the kingdom of God become present among us? Living in the ‘already but not yet’ already Christ as secured our salvation, yet we wait upon the fullness, the fulfillment of this salvation. Can we see glimpses of it becoming present around us? Some glimmer of hope?
This week the camp that had been set up around the 4th precinct in Minneapolis was bulldozed at 4 a.m. In response the protestors gathered at city hall at 4 p.m. the next day and a truth was told that we, or at least I, had not heard before. As the community mourned the loss of this encampment something startling was expressed, that this camp had become a place where angry young men and women, those who wanted to respond with violence came and were talked down, were helped to be a reconciling presence rather than a divisive or antagonistic presence. Wanting to riot they were through an incredible gracious dialogue, brought into the process of reconciliation, of restoration. This was a place of love and grace. This is closer to Luke’s image of salvation, a community given to wholeness, to reconciliation which does not reject the angry, embittered or struggling but helps them to transform, to become better, to become witnesses to peace and reconciliation themselves.
We too are such a community. A community which does not reject dialogue or engagement with those who believe differently than us, but one which believes we can be wholly who we are without denying the validity of others. This is who we are called to be, to speak across differences, to humbly learn from those we disagree with, to invite all people to experience the love of God and to do so without fear.
Listen to Paul’s words, “this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight ,” that by being and sharing the love we have found in Jesus Christ we might change the world, one person, one experience, one place at a time. Love as the very being of God, “has to wear a face,” and that face is “our neighborhood, our neighbors and our community, other creatures, the earth and all its inhabitants.” That face is us. Love as the very being of God becomes present in a unique and tangible way when we let God wear our face and work through us. (Wendell Berry)
For the powers in the world cry to us Peace, peace, when there is no peace. They promise us walls to keep us safe but as in Ezekiel when they promise us walls to keep us safe, we will find these walls to be plastered with faulty mortar that dissolves under pressure, and with Jeremiah we will say, “they have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying peace, peace, when there is no peace. They do not know how to blush”. But we are not of the world and where there is pain, loss, injury and anger, we will be there with compassion, with grace, with love. Where hurt and misunderstanding confuse the issues we will take the time to listen, to learn, to understand.
A rabbi once asked his students, how can you tell when the dawn is breaking? His students, eager to please began positing solutions, “you can tell the dawn is breaking when there is enough light to see that the object on a distant hill is not a tree but a man.” No, no, the rabbi said. “You can tell the dawn is breaking when there is enough light to tell the difference between a sheep and a dog.” Another posited. No, no, the rabbi said. They continued this way for a moment, one suggestion after another always the rabbi said, no, no. They paused and into this silence the rabbi said, “The dawn will begin to break when you look into the eyes of the stranger, the foreigner, the other, and see there a sister, see there a brother. Then the dawn will have begun to break.”
By the tender mercy of our God the dawn shall break upon us.