Advent Day #8: Peace Candle

Today we lit the Peace Candle. My title was “Peace? When? Where?” The scripture used was: Isaiah 40: 1-11,  Mark 1:1-8 and II Peter 3:8-15a When we were living just outside of Jamestown, I spent a few years serving on some of the boards of the North Dakota Conference, now known as the Northern Plains Conference. It was then that I first became involved with Lay-Person Pulpit Supply. I tell you this because I am not sure exactly what the meeting was at which my little story happened. I know that it was a Friday night, and we were meeting in the library of the Jamestown Church’s education wing. Conference Minister Dr. Jack Seville was leading the group, and he asked us all to share something going on in our life or something we were concerned about. I was so proud to be the one opening the door and acting like the host rather than the person attending the session. Come to think of it, we were at a training session for Pulpit Supply.  I know that now because I remember saying that I felt the meeting being there in my backyard was telling me something about me supposing to be there. At any rate, I remember my sharing was something trivial and personal and insignificant really. And it was made abundantly clear to me as the others shared that I had missed the boat. I don’t remember what the world event was at the time, but it was something fairly big and they were all concerned about it and wanted to include it in our prayers, and I had missed it totally. My focus was inward instead of outward, and I have thought of that almost every time I am in that sort of session or even in a meeting of any kind. Where is my focus? Today we lit the Advent Candle of Peace. We are sitting inside a beautiful church building. The music so far has been wonderful, the setting is so pretty with our windows and the candles and the flowers from the funeral yesterday. The pews are comfortable; the heat is at a good temperature. We are anticipating the time after church as a fun activity. There will be food and fellowship and hopefully lots of laughter and cooperation and lots of good memories when we return home; it would be easy to make this a time of total peace. Everything is upbeat! We are in midst of Advent, Christmas is right around the corner, family is probably coming, or we are going to them, what could possibly be a negative to creep in on the peace that we feel today, here in this safe, wonderful sanctuary. What could be less than peaceful in our lives? Ironically today is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as President FDR called it, “a day that will live in infamy.”  I can tell you, one little look at the internet as I am able to pull up on my iPad, or a sit down to the evening news or open your newspaper on any given day and you will see that we have lots of things going on around us that aren’t peaceful. We have riots in many of the major US cities, riots over police shootings of unarmed people, or chokings or beatings where people die, or even killings as near as Bismarck and drug stealing and young people shooting at each other in Sioux Falls. We have health care workers getting Ebola, some dying, some returning home to quarantine with a right or wrong “no way am I sick and staying home” attitudes. We have workers all over the world in danger of being kidnapped and held and killed in gruesome ways, well maybe all death is gruesome when it is part of war and strife and hatred. There is much wrong in our world today. And in some cases we don’t even have to turn on the news to find a good fight. For some it is a look across the backyard or even an exchange with a, well you know how easy it is to let some simple disagreements get out of control. How can we resolve this in real life let alone simply in our minds, as we sit in a beautiful church sanctuary on a Sunday talking about the Advent candle of Peace as we prepare for Christmas? I remember growing up in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and watching the news with pictures of Civil Rights riots and demonstrations on the evening news. I remember hearing the reports of the Viet Nam War’s Body Counts each day. It was a gruesome time. It was a time of super unrest, and when the 1980’s came, life just seemed to settle down and become just so peaceful. But in looking back, I am not so sure it was. There might have really been a more peaceful existence for a time, yet maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. I believe it was, I just didn’t have a clue. One of my favorite creative writing assignments I used to do with students was to hand them the lyrics for the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” There are different websites for the meaning behind the lyrics. Although I couldn’t find it last night, the last time I used it, we were able to go to it and can click on the various phrases and an explanation would pop up for what it means. I would have the students research just one stanza then write their own version for the current time. I wonder what would be included if we did that today. I haven’t tried to put a stanza together, but I looked into the things that our National Church is lifting up on its website as well as what I found on another news feed. Here is a bit of a jumbled list of what I found: Ferguson, MO; New York choking, Cleveland toy gun; Let’s end AIDs, Ebola scares, Immigration issues; we need a pipeline, Wars in Syria, Terrorism everywhere. No we didn’t start this fire, but we might want to pick a project and do what we can. I was quite delighted to find that in the midst of all those gloom and doom stories, there in the top four was the picture of our Conference Minister Rev. David Felton signing the final deed to transfer the land back to the members of the Dakota Association. Here was a good positive story, a story moving towards peace, even cultural peace in the midst of all of that strife. Our scripture lessons today both in Isaiah and in Mark talk about pointing the way. Rather than take them apart and give you a long and drawn out trivia about what some expert has written about these two passages, let it suffice to say these passages both are about the work of one pointing the way to one who could bring salvation. Both passages are ultimately teaching about John the Baptist or John the Baptizer as Mark says. These stories tell specifically of John who lived in the days that Jesus walked on earth, and John witnessed and proclaimed and literally shouted to others that Jesus was the one they had all been waiting to follow. What can we do about the unrest in our world? How can we take a book made up of all these other books, a book that is not just hundreds of years old, but a couple thousand, how can that tell us anything about how to react to the awful things going on in our world today? How do we do that? I guess we could send a nurse to Africa to fight any number of diseases there. Maybe we could check the congregation for someone to send. What about a sharpshooter to go to the cities with the riots, certainly with all of the hunting we have in this area, someone could fill the bill. What about a diplomat to help negotiate a plan here or there. What about a soldier to help with the combats we find ourselves in. Maybe we could send blankets or supplies to those who have been displaced because of the wars or the riots or the terrorism going on here or there. Maybe we could share some of our resources with someone, anyone who needs it at least as much as we do. Later this month we will be taking up the offering for the Christmas Fund. It is to help what our church calls, The Veterans of the Cross. It goes to retired or perhaps tired clergy, who are struggling to get by because of little or no retirement fund, or an unexpected illness or loss. Today as we leave, you have the opportunity to pick up a special envelope to contribute to that fund. But there must be other ways we can offer our support to others. In the future, we will continue to participate in other ways, to other funds that support those around us who are in need. But, we need to do more. Today as we go about setting up the tree and the lamps and the Nativity scene here in front of the altar, we may find things that we have tucked away in the church. Things that might seem like they are extras, or even to some they will seem as junk. Perhaps it is time to look at these items as resources that can be used to enhance our ministry, or convert into a way to add to ministry or better yet turn into something we are able to share with others in ways that we have not been able to share before. I really don’t expect that we are going to pack up members and ship them off to all of these other places to do these other things, but I do think there are ways that we can offer resources that we have access to whether in terms of funds or items that we can share. If the candle we lit today is for peace, if the goal of this part of Advent truly is peace then we must do more than just think about it. We can start with prayer, but we also need action. We must be a people about peace. We must support it with our resources, with our voices, and with our hands and feet when we can. Today we should do more than just read and study and learn about one who is crying out in the wilderness, we need to be the one crying out in the wilderness. We need to be the one pointing to Peace, pointing to Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace. Amen!

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