Tag Archives: peace

Best Wishes for a Happy New Year

In the turning over of the calendar every year, we strive to leave behind the strife, the grief, and the hardship of the year that has come before, and to experience both physical and spiritual renewal. May it be so for you, for your families, and your communities in 2017.  Happy New Year!

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

This poem is in the public domain.

Seeking the Peace of the City

Photo credit: clarkmaxwell on Flickr

It’s a beautiful spring Sunday morning here in central Maryland. Cool, sunny, a little breezy. The rains that have been a continual backdrop for the past two weeks have finally ceded their hold to gorgeous blue skies. But it’s not a typical Sunday for us, because on a morning when most Christians are preparing for worship, getting the kids ready, having coffee, our family, along with most families at our church, stayed home.

No, it’s not a church split. No one is angry at anyone else. And the pastor still has his job. It’s just that on this particular Sunday, we took a different view of what it would look like if we worshiped God and loved our neighbors at the same time.

Some background: our church – Columbia Presbyterian – has been at our current location for a couple of decades. We have a large property, big parking lots, and between 500-600 in regular attendance on any given Sunday. We’re parked right in the middle of suburbia with neighborhoods and a very large park and lake right across the road. And that park and lake are an important part of the story.

For as long as we’ve been at this location, the Columbia Triathlon has been based out of that park. It’s big. a USA Triathlon-registered event, with many athletes, thousands of people. And on one Sunday morning in May every year, they all converge on that park and the surrounding neighborhoods to run,  bike, swim, and to cheer for athletes. And all this is happening in a suburban neighborhood just about the time that our 500 worshipers are arriving for church across the street.

Imagine the traffic.

Imagine the parking nightmare.

Imagine the opportunities to love our neighbors.

The park has a few hundred parking spaces, but it’s not nearly enough. So race-goers end up parking anywhere they can – all throughout the neighborhood, clogging up suburban streets, blocking driveways.

A couple of years ago, we entered into a relationship with the Ulman Cancer Fund, the race sponsor, and offered up our building and parking lots for race registration and activities on Saturday. And a small team of dedicated servants show up early on race day every year to serve coffee to the pre-daw5387462_orign spectators who gather in the park. But that parking problem persisted, and we were still fighting our way through the traffic just to get to our building on Sunday mornings.

It would have been easy to stew about it. But instead we decided to approach the race asking ourselves, “What would it look like for us to love our neighbors on race day?” We thought about their needs. We considered our own needs. We thought about God’s instructions to his people as they  were exiled in Babylon to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you.” And we arrived at a simple conclusion – loving our neighbors would mean opening up our parking lots on Sunday morning for race-goers, relieving the parking disaster in the neighborhoods around us, and welcoming athletes and spectators with joy. So for this one Sunday a year, we moved our morning worship service to the evening and most of us stayed home.

Small teams showed up to help direct traffic, welcome people, and cheer for athletes, of course. But the point was to keep the parking lots clear, so my family, along with most other families in the church spent the morning outside of our normal routine, even as we prepared for a worship service in the evening.

Are there critics of this decision? Sure. Sunday morning is traditional worship time in America, and for some, it didn’t seem right to “give in to the culture” by cancelling morning worship. But it wasn’t just a question of what was good for us as a congregation, but also what was good for the peace and prosperity of our community and its people. Self-sacrifice is at the heart of the gospel, after all.  So today we’re loving our neighbors by welcoming athletes and offering a solution to a difficult neighborhood problem.

It’s not a perfect solution, by any means. I’m sure some confused visitors showed up for worship this morning and wondered what was going on. And some community members may not be all that comfortable with the church taking a definite role in this event. But we earnestly believe that we’re called to love our neighbors, and even to sacrifice our time and personal convenience for them. So, while it’s a little inconvenient to rearrange our church schedule, we taking a step towards service today, and gave our neighbors some breathing (and parking) room.

Sabbatum Sanctum

The Two Marys Watch the Tomb, James J. Tissot

There’s a brief moment between the crucifixion and the resurrection, between what we now call Good Friday and Resurrection Day, that is so completely unique in human history, and yet so common to our shared experience, that it demands that we pause for consideration. Masses and great liturgies have been written, whole requiems composed for the events of the Passion and to celebrate that most holy of Sunday mornings. But that Saturday was an in-between day, the day of waiting after the tragedy, but  the not-yet day before the redemption. And make no mistake, they did not know redemption was coming. For them, Saturday was all despair. Today we call it Holy Saturday. I doubt the disciples had the energy nor the presence of mind to call it anything at all. They spent the day in weeping and confusion and dejection, unsure of what had just happened, what would happen next, or what any of it meant.

Caught in the in between.

They could not imagine what the next day would bring. Most of them were still struggling to understand that the Messiah to whom they’d devoted their lives was dead. And not just dead of the regular kind. Stunningly dead. Humiliatingly dead. He had entered the city to loud shouts of praise just days before, hailed as the Messiah of God. Dead. They had placed all their hope in him. Not just in his teachings, but in him. And now their hope was crucified, executed by the state as a criminal. What were they supposed to do? What would God do for them now?

Would he do anything?

Anything at all?

Surely those few hours just past crucifixion, but still not quite resurrection, were the worst of their lives. They were just hours away from the greatest event in human history, but still not understanding what the Christ had explained to them. Excruciating hours of waiting, of mourning, with no expectation that the dawn would bring hope and life eternal. They had heard all the words, but not understood any of the promises.

Stuck in the middle.

The day was unique, but the feeling is not. The disciples were not the first to experience shattering disappointment when hopes are dashed. Each of us may find ourselves caught in the in-between of failure and dejection. Waiting. Uncertain, even afraid. Asking God for help, but not sure if he’ll answer. Maybe the day is more like a month. Or a year. Longer. An interminable period of longing and waiting that seems to have no end, and no hope.

Does God hear me?

Is He doing anything?

Many messiahs had come into the world before Jesus. Many more would come after him. They are legion, even today. Some are celebrated. Most of them, if they are any kind of half-way decent radical at all, are maligned, even killed. And each of them, in his or her own way, leaves behind a group of disappointed disciples.

What makes the experience of Jesus’ disciples unique is what would come with the dawn on the following day, the Great Event that they could not anticipate. Their Messiah refused to stay dead. For most of us who lose faith when our personal messiahs fail, the Saturday after stretches out into an endless parade of Saturdays after, until the pain finally begins to fade away and we make some fragile peace with our misplaced hope. But for the disciples it was different, because the next day came with the realization that everything Jesus had ever told them was true, all of his stories and parables and promises were now affirmed, not by his death, but by his life, by his living presence among them there in the garden by the tomb where they’d laid his body just days before. All previous and future messiahs could only disappoint, but this one time in history, dejection gave way to incredulous rejoicing when they realized that everything he had said about himself was all true.

With that, despair is banished. We may have misplaced our hope in the past. We may be dejected, or sad, or afraid. But we do not live in the Saturday in between, but instead on this side of the resurrection of the Christ, and all of his promises are shown to be true. He is risen, indeed, and he has said of all those who follow him:

Your sins are forgiven. Completely.

You will find life, and peace, in God.

He himself will call you brother, sister, friend.

There is a place at God’s table that is already set for you.

God will never leave you, forsake you, or send you away from his presence.

He is with you, forever.

The disciples had heard the promises, but had not yet seen the proof – the resurrected Jesus, standing before them, his hands stretched wide to prove his life, his death, his passion. Without the seal of his resurrection, the promise of reconciliation and relationship with God seems impossible. We have seen the reality of the risen Christ – if we know him and place our faith him, then we can shake off despair, put aside whatever fear, and live this Holy Saturday in the joy of the resurrection. Don’t wait until tomorrow to experience the forgiveness, the peace, the friendship, the companionship, and the presence of God. He is present, he is willing, and he is able, even on the most in-between of days.