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September 16, 2018

“Give Peace A Chance”

Psalm 34:14; John 14:25-27; Romans 12:9-21

 

We continue our series on God’s Table by going to the Table of Peace-which our fall worship team did a very nice job of interpreting by making a peace negotiating table. I particularly love the quote from Mr. Spock on the table, for all to “Live long and prosper.”

I actually had an experience of being at a peace negotiating table, in Russia, 1985- You have to remember how tense it was between the US and Soviet Union back in those days. It was as if we were on the brink of nuclear war, almost daily.

Approximately 40 college students from all over America were sent as peace emissaries from the PCUSA to Russian Orthodox church and Soviet officials. I was blessed enough to be chosen to be one of them. We were sent to listen, get to know the Soviet people, work for peace, and report back to the Presbyterian churches from which we had been sent.

We were there for 23 days. In Leningrad (Now St. Petersburg,) we were taken in groups to different meetings to talk peace. I was one of about 7 who went to listen and speak with several city officials and church representatives. We were led into a meeting room with a long Peace negotiating table. There were Russian and American flags in stands and at each seat, there were bottles of Soviet mineral water, which really took some getting used to- the minerals were so strong in that water that the bottom of the bottle was full of mineral deposits. Let’s just say I didn’t drink much of it, as you can Jsee

The city officials began. They said our then-President Reagan had called the Soviet Union the” Evil Empire”. I was told at the table we were the only nation that had ever used nuclear weapons on another nation, and that the Soviets considered us evil. How could Americans want peace? The next hour was not an easy one, as we tried to negotiate back and forth over trying to find a common ground where we could seek peace with each other. And upon my trip back home, in making several presentations to churches all over Northern California on seeking peace with the Soviet Union, there were several times I was accused of being a “communist sympathizer.” Working for peace isn’t easy.

I certainly found that to be the case when I went to and came back from the Soviet Union. That is by no means easy, especially in this pursuit. This leads us to the first passage of scripture to ponder, Psalm 34:14. David calls us to seek peace and pursue it. This suggests that perhaps peace is a moving target, one which we must fast-paced 24/7 culture in which we live. I wish it was the other way around- that peace would pursue me, but that has never been my experience. So how then are we to seek peace and pursue it? I have some practical suggestions that come to you from a person who claims to be nothing more than a seeker and pursuer of peace.

First, Pursue peace within your own soul. I find that now, in this hyper-political environment, with a president who continually sows strife in his speeches and Tweets, if I have a choice of listening to music on my satellite radio or turning on one of the news networks, the peaceful choice is to listen to Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, The Police or the Beatles rather than one of my favorite talking head pundits. And when I come home, I try to have 15-20 minutes sitting on my back porch, staring at the trees, the clouds, and Mt Grizzly, before re-engaging with the world, plopping down in front of the TV to stress out about the news of the day. Spend time in God’s creation. I like to hike Bandersnatch trial with my wife and dog or to go outside for a run in the mornings. I listen to my breath, to the songs of the birds in the trees and enjoy the beauty around me. And when I get to the top of one of the peaks at Bandersnatch, I pray. Finding time for prayer and quiet helps me pursue peace in a most profound way.

Second, pursue and spread peace in your community. When you get to an intersection at the same time as someone else, wave the other person through. Say hello to folks you walk by. Make eye contact with those who serve you your coffee, who ring you up at the register, or who pump your gas. Be helpful to tourists looking to find restaurants or OSF, or the old water fountain at Lithia Park. When we value the humanity of others, when we connect with others, we promote peace and understanding, and we all tend to pass on what we experience from others.

The third way we can pursue peace I’ll mention at the end of today’s sermon.

The next passage we’ll look at comes from John’s gospel, where Jesus says to the disciples gathered,” I have said these things (about heaven, Jesus’ pending death, faith and the gift of the Spirit) to you while I am with you. But the Advocate (That is the Spirit of God), whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give you peace as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”(John 14:25-27)Just what kind of peace is it Jesus is talking about?

In this case, I believe the peace Jesus speaks of is the knowledge that there is a life in heaven waiting for us after our earthly lives are done. In the context of the passage, Jesus is speaking to distraught disciples who have heard of Jesus’ pending death. He lets them know that in God’s heaven there are many rooms, and that through his death, he will go and prepare a place for them and that he will see them again(John 16:22).

I experienced that peace that “passes all understanding”(Philippians 4:7) the morning of my mother’s death. Most of you remember she died on Mother’s Day which was a Sunday morning. When I got the phone call early that day, I remember going back to bed and sitting down to tell my wife Paula of the news. As I sat there, I cannot explain it, but I felt a peace, as if being held, and knew I would be able to get through leading 2 worship services despite my grief. That is a kind of peace only Jesus can give-one which reminds us of the promise of heaven. It is the same peace I felt in the loss of each of my family members. This promise can bring peace to us as we travel through the valley of the shadow of death, as we mourn the loss of those whom we love so dearly.

Our third passage on peace begins with the foundation of genuine agape love, something we looked at just this past Sunday- extending the unconditional love of God to others. Professor Elizabeth Shively, who is the lecturer in New Testament Studies at St. Andrews in Scotland says, “Now Paul gives examples of how to cling to love. (verses 10-17). He uses the word agape for love in v. 9…The images are powerful: let your love be heartfelt; be eager to show each other honor; be set on fire by the Spirit; be devoted to prayer; contribute to -- literally “participate in” -- the needs of the saints, and pursue hospitality. To “participate in” others’ needs is to give of yourself and your own resources for their material needs, like food, clothing, and shelter. True love is fervent, relentless, and practical.”

By living out these faith virtues, we can “If it is possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with everyone.” A summation of all of these virtues of love follows in verse 18. Paul writes, for the most part, be at peace with others, a peace that is rotted in an agape love which is fervent, relentless and practical.

This is by no means easy. Consider the fact the Paul, who wrote this letter to the church in Rome was far from peaceable with everyone. He was thrown out of temples for arguing with scribes and Pharisees about Jesus. He argued with churches he founded.

The passage, however, has some wiggle room- IF possible (Sometimes it may not be possible to live at peace with someone). The passage also puts the emphasis upon US- so far as it depends upon YOU (Which means that we are to always try if possible to live at peace and share that peace with others.)

This past week I had the blessing of going to visit with long-time member Kathy Oyler in the hospital. Kathy is battling pneumonia and is in comfort care. I was a bit frazzled before heading to the hospital lobby. So, I sat in my car, took some deep breaths and asked God for calm, and for God’s presence. I felt at peace and went to Kathy’s room. We spoke for a while and then I shared some scripture passages with her. The last one was the passage from John- “Peace I leave with you. Peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give you.” Then we prayed, and a smile crept over her face, and peace was in that room in that moment. So far as it depends upon us, we are to be at peace and bear that peace to others.

To conclude, I’d like to go back to my third way of pursuing peace, which also is hard- Third, and by no means lastly, pursue and support opportunities for peace in the world, by working for justice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said, There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.” Without justice in our world, peace will be an elusive goal. And without peace, injustice is bound to continue. So, find a just cause you can support to help the world be more at peace. Help the homeless. Fight racism. Support the immigrant. Strengthen the environment. Do acts of justice, so that peace might be possible.

There are at least 500 families right now that do not have peace because the parents and children have been separated by our government. Is it possible that some of the 599 children still in detention facilities have actually been given up by their parents who have fled violence in Guatemala, and Honduras and elsewhere so that their children might start anew in America and not be killed by violent drug cartels? Yes. Is it possible that some of the children who came across the border were actually drug smugglers hired by cartels as the current administration claims? Yes. But that isn’t true about ALL of them. Many immigrant Children remain in prison, separated from their mothers and fathers who fled violent situations to protect their children.

At our coming prayer vigil, you can pray for reunification, and you can do more. Support one of the organizations that There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.”So my encouragement to you today is to remember Dr. King’s words in the battle to reunite families separated at the border-is working to reunite families like RAICES or the ACLU. You can take a picture home of an immigrant child and pray for them. You can write your representatives and remind them that just because more sensational headlines appear each week, this issue STILL matters. Work for justice in this issue, so that there might be peace.

So, as we go from this place out into the world, give peace a chance! Seek and pursue peace. Find comfort in the peace that comes from the knowledge of heaven. Live in genuine agape love and spread peace. Work for justice so there can be peace. And may Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace be with us all. Alleluia. Amen.

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