Today, I’d like to talk about peace. But first, a confession. I am a total, unabashed, and excitable nerd. Most of you know this about me. I know way too much about Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and several other properties that live in nerd space. My first book, which became Digital Disciple, originally had the working title “God’s Nerd.” I even co-host a podcast called The Podcast for Nerdy Christians. I say all this to prepare you for what I am about to say next.
When I created the world of Sularil in which to set my first ever Dungeons and Dragons game, one of the things I really wanted to do was create a language native to the world. The very first new word I created for my Elvish language was the word, “Peace” – “Fyara” in Elvish. I wanted “Peace” to be the word of greeting for the elves in my world, and so the first person would say, “Fyara” (Peace) and the other person would respond, “Fyarana” (Deeper peace).
I did this because the elves in my world are peaceful people. I wanted the first and last word on their lips to be a word of peace. Indeed, this word is also the first word on the lips of the Risen Christ when he encounters the disciples locked in the room on the night of the resurrection. “Peace be with you,” he says (or in the Elvish translation of the Gospel, “Fyara”). Three times in today’s reading, he offers them peace. Jesus offers this greeting of peace to his fearful disciples, and like so much else in John’s Gospel, even something as simple as this greeting has layers of meaning.
Today is the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit empowering Jesus’ first followers to spread his loving, liberating, and life-giving message. If you were listening closely to the readings, you might have noticed we actually read two different versions of the sending of the Holy Spirit. In the first one from the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit spirals into the house like a rushing wind from heaven and anoints the disciples with tongues like fire. In this story, we sense the glorious upheaval in the lives of the disciples as these elemental forces – wind, fire – disrupt and invigorate them to embrace their new ministry as Jesus’ witnesses.
In the second story from the Gospel of John, Jesus comes to his disciples on the evening of the resurrection. They lean in close as he breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In this intimate story, Jesus delivers the Comforter, the enlivening companion the disciples need to be about their work.
Sermon for Sunday, May 24, 2020 || Easter 7A || Acts 1:6-14
Early on a Wednesday morning last June, I stood in line at a checkpoint leading to the Western Wall below the Temple Mount in the old city of Jerusalem. Turning around, I watched the sun rise over the Mount of Olives, turning the distant tower of the Church of the Ascension into a dark silhouette against the thin clouds. And for a brief moment, my heart rose with the sun, and I was transported back to that spot 2,000 years ago. I watched with the disciples as Jesus was taken up into heaven. I gazed up at the sky and felt his final words settle in my gut: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Imagine with me the Apostle Peter, who is in Rome near the end of his life, talking to a friend about the day when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples in the locked house.
I wish I could tell you that seeing the empty tomb was enough. I went inside the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there and the cloth that had covered his face folded up in a corner. Thinking back now, surely grave robbers wouldn’t’ve folded his burial garments while stealing his body. But in the semi-darkness of that early morning, I wasn’t thinking rationally. I wasn’t thinking at all. I was numb on the outside. I couldn’t see the sliver of hope the empty tomb brought.
A few years ago, I read something my sister Melinda wrote on her website at the beginning of a new year. Melinda is something of a mystic: a writer and yoga teacher, who spends her days working at the YMCA to make sure as many kids as possible can benefit from the Y’s programs. Now, I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, so I was glad to see she had put a different spin on the concept. As she looks at the horizon of a new year, Melinda discerns not a resolution, but an intention. Here’s what she wrote two years ago:
“In years past, I’ve written about and set an intention rather than a resolution. In yoga we call this a sankalpa – a word or small phrase in the present tense that represents where we want to go or what we want to cultivate.” She continues: “I hadn’t planned on designating a new sankulpa for this year either, but as I was lying down for a little rest the world community sprung to my awareness… I don’t know what community is asking of me, but I do know enough to let it be, and open to what this energy wants to create through me.”
Last week I wrote a brief summary of my initial reactions to the pilgrimage I took with other local clergy to Montgomery, Tuskegee, and Birmingham, Alabama. You can read that essay here. Today, I would like to dwell on the centerpiece of the pilgrimage, the year-old National Memorial for Peace and Justice (sometimes called the Lynching Memorial).
Last week, I took a trip to Alabama with fellow clergy from New London and colleagues from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. For three days we made a pilgrimage to sites, memorials, and museums important to the legacy of Civil Rights. What follows are my initial impressions of the trip in brief. I am still (and will be for a long time) processing and integrating my encounters with historic and current injustice in this country, and I will be revisiting my experience as I write more during this sabbatical time. Continue reading “Sabbatical Notes, Week 2: Peace and Justice Pilgrimage”→
Sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2018 || Easter 2B || John 20:19-31
“Peace” is one of my favorite words. It has a bit of onomatopoeia to it – you know, a word that sounds likes its meaning, like “buzz” or “hiss.” When I say the word “peace” I become more peaceful. I take a deep breath and exhale on the first sound of the word, and the sibilant at the end takes the rest of my breath. “Peace.”
I imagine Jesus doing this with his fearful disciples in the upper room. Of course, he wasn’t speaking the English word “peace,” but he does breathe on them. If they’re anything like me, then their anxiety would have stolen their breath from their lungs. But Jesus gives it back to them when he twice says, “Peace be with you.” And then a third time when Thomas rejoins the group: “Peace be with you.”Continue reading “The Intention of Peace”→
Sermon for Sunday, December 10, 2017 || Advent 2B || Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
The second semester of my sophomore year of college, the choir of Sewanee performed in concert an extraordinary piece of music that I bet most of you have never heard of. The Dona Nobis Pacem by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is a work for choir, soloists, and orchestra in a similar vein as something like Handel’s Messiah but with a more eclectic text. The words of the Dona Nobis Pacem come from the Bible, a political speech, the church service, and the poetry of nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman. Written in 1936 as fascism was on the rise in Europe, Vaughan Williams work acknowledges the horror and heartbreak of war even as it cries out for peace. Dona nobis pacem: give us peace.
Now, the choirmaster at Sewanee, Dr. Robert Delcamp, programmed the music for the entire school year the summer beforehand. So he could never have known what would happen the same week we sang our song of peace. It was the spring of 2003: Shock and Awe, the bombing of Baghdad, the beginning of the Iraq War. And here we were, a little choir at a little college, tucked away on a mountaintop in Tennessee, singing our plaintive cry for peace while the drums of war sounded both within the music and out in the world.Continue reading “Dona Nobis Pacem”→
Sermon for Sunday, April 9, 2017 || Palm/Passion Sunday, Year A || Matthew 22:1-11; Matthew 26:36 – 27:56
As we move in our service from the humble triumph of Jesus’ festive entry into Jerusalem towards his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, there is one question on my mind. It is the question asked at the end of the Palm Sunday Gospel reading. “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’”
Who is this Jesus?
At the end of today’s service, we will read the Passion Gospel; that is, the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, suffering, and crucifixion. It is a story that is at once beautiful and heartbreaking, and I cannot read it without being moved. Indeed, it makes me tremble, tremble, tremble, as the old spiritual says. Today, as we hear this powerful story of our Lord’s unbreakable love for us and for all creation, I invite you to listen to how Matthew’s telling answers the question asked in today’s first Gospel story: “Who is this?” Continue reading “Who is this Jesus?”→