“Peace in Progress” by Anna Strickland

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Listen to the sermon from December 1 2019, titled “Peace in Progress” by Anna Strickland.


Does anyone remember the great “end of the world” scare of 2012? How about Y2K? That was my first end of the world scare. Was anyone around for Pat Robertson’s prediction the world would end in 1982? He tried again, but the world didn’t end in 2007, either, so I think we can safely say Pat Robertson is not an expert on end times.

Our culture is filled with predictions about how and when the world will end. Ever since Jesus left, people have tried to calculate out just exactly when the Second Coming would take place and what it would look like. We assume there’s a particular day in mind. Jesus has it on his calendar, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t want to share it. Or maybe, instead of a date circled in red, is there perhaps some triggering event? When a certain person gets born or the trillionth hamburger gets sold at McDonald’s? Well, if there is a rule, we don’t know that either. It’s a secret, and one we’re obsessed with cracking.

But what if – and don’t kick me out for an honest question, y’all – what if God doesn’t know either? What if the ending is still being written, so instead of being characters in a novel we’re more like the characters on a soap opera? What if.

I have to be honest, I have no idea how time works, and the concept totally freaks me out. On the one hand, I like the view that has gained popularity among physicists lately, that time is another dimension through which we move in only one direction. And just as the Fellowship Hall exists when we are not in it, the future, present, and past all co-exist whether or not we experience them from our current position in the cosmos. It makes sense to me on a cosmic scale. But when I imagine humanity in such a view of time, a lot of problems start popping up for me. If the future exists fully formed and we just don’t have access to it, do I have free will? Does the future change when I change my mind? Or have all my choices since the day I was born been accounted for? Am I strapped into a roller coaster ride that has already been built for me? And if so, who designed this thing?

This is the kind of view Christianity has supported for a long time, whether or not we mean to. An omnipotent, omniscient God who has a plan and knows how it all turns out – that God is comforting sometimes. We hate not knowing. We hate randomness. We look for patterns. We seek answers. And when the answers about the future are nowhere to be found, we hope God knows. We hope God designed the roller coaster because we trust God. And if God’s not in control, no one is. However, if God is both all-knowing and all-powerful, there sure are a lot of things in this world that deserve an explanation.

So let’s imagine something different for a moment. Let’s go back to an ending in process. We’re not characters in a novel, or even the characters on a soap. Rather, let’s imagine we are actors in an improv troupe, and God is our director who has a general direction in mind and, most importantly, a deep desire for the good of all. The prompt is peace. Action.

Already, this metaphor has solved my first problem with our conventional view of God. Just because the director can get up on stage and perform a one-person show, moving the actors’ limbs and speaking lines for them, doesn’t mean she does. That’s not the point. The director has to allow things to unfold, hoping that when things get off track or someone gets stuck, the actors will listen to her cues or at least work together to figure it out. So waiting for God to come and fix all of our mess, bringing peace on earth goodwill to men, is like waiting for that director to come up on stage and act for the actors.

Don’t get me wrong – God is still very present in this whole process. We are called into a creative space with God, who will inspire, correct, and suggest. But it is ultimately up to us to make a choice and take action. We beat our swords into plowshares, we beat our spears into pruning hooks, we sit under our own vines and fig trees, we choose peace. Can’t nobody else do it for you, because you can’t outsource your spiritual work.

The good news – and here’s where the metaphor gets a little fuzzy – the good news is that God is not only watching our actions like a director, God is acting our actions, too. God is with us, and that piece of divinity in you, the Holy Spirit that fills your lungs and pumps through your veins, means God is in all our actions. Maybe we make a mistake. God doesn’t leave us stranded. Maybe we run away. But you can’t escape your breath and bones. God is ever-present, radically immanent. Truly, we know Emmanuel, God with us.

If God is always with me, dwelling in my very being, I have to recognize that God is dwelling in your being, too. And in Rodney Reed. And in Pat Robertson. And that sure complicates things, doesn’t it? God’s breaking into the world and into all human hearts means all human hearts. We are intimately connected to one another by divine DNA. But because of the skin we wear, we imagine we are separate beings destined to live separate lives. The hyper-individualism of our society only adds fuel to this fire. We forget that our skin, which appears to divide us into separate bubbles of flesh and bone, is really designed to touch. To feel. To allow us a way to interact with the world around us. But the separation began in the Garden by wearing clothes. Ashamed of our nakedness and vulnerability, terrified of the intimacy of being seen and known so completely, we covered our skin and tried to hide from the One who knows us better than we know ourselves.

Do me a favor. Touch the people around you. Right now. I know we all passed the peace already, but humor me. We’re all comfortable with different levels of touch, so be considerate of your neighbors’ wishes. They might want a high five, a shoulder squeeze, a hug, or maybe even just some eye contact. However you do it, be vulnerable for a moment, especially with the people you don’t know yet. Because you do know them. You’re related. Don’t you see the family resemblance?

Peace would be so much easier if we weren’t all part of the Holy Family. Using coercive power to impose a peace like the Pax Romana is effective, but it requires us to deny the sacred worth of others and elevate ourselves as somehow more divine, more Christlike than our siblings. At the expense of others, we seek our own peace. Scratch that. We seek our own security. Safety. Peace of mind. This so-called “peace” would lock people up out of fear that they might take what we hoard. This so-called “peace” would build walls to keep people out of land that has never truly belonged to us. This so-called “peace” would order preemptive attacks, unconcerned with the collateral damage. This so-called “peace” depends on separation.

But peace, real peace, can’t grow isolated in walls and towers. To trade our weapons for gardening tools and begin the hard work of cultivating peace, we have to get outside. We have to touch the earth. We have to work together. Walls only get in the way. See, walls and towers are just a communal version of the clothes we put on in the Garden of Eden. Afraid of vulnerability and intimacy with our siblings whom we have labeled “other,” we hide behind thick coats of stone and wood. If we don’t touch them, if we don’t see them, if we don’t recognize the divine within them, we can pretend we don’t know them.

And so we pray like the Psalmist: “Peace be within our walls and security within our towers. May those who love us prosper.” We pray for the sake of our relatives and friends. We pass the peace and we seek the good of our own. Seeking peace for yourself and your people is difficult enough. When we open that up to the entire world, remembering how interconnected we all are, it seems downright impossible. And maybe it is.

Maybe we understand peace all wrong. Maybe it’s not a destination we reach or a thing we attain. Maybe, like us, peace is an ever-evolving process, a growing and breathing organism. Because if peace is about seeing the divinity in every person, enough that we destroy the weapons and walls that keep us apart, then the work is never over. People die and people are born. People change and people grow. Members of our inner circle come and go. There is nothing static in our world, so neither is peace.

Peace is a dance among strangers. A melody from a jazz band. A scene from an improv troupe. If we are struggling with each other, letting our egos outweigh our desire for beauty and truth, nothing emerges. Have you ever witnessed this? When someone wants so badly to show off or get their own way that their ego squashes any possibility of organic growth? I think I’ve been that person. So eager to share my own ideas, or maybe just afraid of a blank slate, I step on toes and play off beat and talk over my cast mates. And in doing so, I step on the little sprouts that emerge in the space between us, an electric space full of possibility and creativity and the Holy Spirit.

Peace is a dance. A melody. A scene. A process that never ends. We are constantly improvising, moving together to delight in the new life that grows when we no longer feel the need to separate, withdraw, protect, or coerce. When we recognize the sacred worth that belongs to every inhabitant of this planet. When we trade in our weapons for gardening tools. When we lean into the mysterious, shifting, electric space between us. When we tear down walls and towers so that we can touch one another. May it be so. Amen.

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