Advent, Reflectionary

Unquenchable Peace

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Matthew 3:12

In the first congregation I served after seminary, when it was time to pass the peace, I noted that most members of the congregation commented on each other’s clothes, or asked about their neighbor’s grandchildren, or wondered about someone’s mother’s health. They talked about pretty much anything they could think of rather than offering each other the peace of Christ. I was frustrated, in that way you are when you feel pretty sure you know the right way to do everything. 

I stopped calling that moment in worship the passing of the peace. Instead I invited the congregation to rise and greet their neighbors. Several months later, after Easter, we read about Jesus in the Upper Room leaving his peace with the disciples. I preached about passing the peace as a radical acting out of our faith, a way of claiming our identity in Jesus Christ. 

John the Baptist offers a vivid image of the coming Messiah, wielding unquenchable fire to clear out all the mess of human systems. He has a very particular idea of who God will send, and we’ll learn later that it does not include Jesus’ fondness for having dinner with sketchy characters. John is making the way for a reordering according to God’s priorities. 

We probably all have moments when we hope for the same thing, as long as the definition of “chaff” is up to us. 

John expects the Messiah to burn away all the people who would not obey God, and I feel an uncomfortable identification with him when I remember how self-righteous I often felt in my first pastoral call. John is right to think that the Messiah will change the world, that the Messiah will change us. But he’s wrong about how. Jesus came to wield unquenchable peace. We see it in his healing, in his teaching, and in his dying, full of generosity for the rejected and the misaligned and the broken-hearted. Following him is all the things John suggested – letting go of our sense of importance and turning from our accustomed ways of being – and it is more – living in harmony with one another and with God, whose desire for peace will never be extinguished.

I wonder how ready we are to claim that identity? It’s tempting, instead, to talk about the weather, or that attractive reindeer pin our friend is wearing; it’s also tempting to adopt John’s perspective and threaten devastation against the people who don’t live up to our expectations. Who wants to admit, humbly, that we have been too harsh, too righteous, too wrong? 

For today, let’s try it.

The Peace of Christ be with you.

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Advent, Reflectionary

Unknown Hope

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Matthew 24:36

Advent begins with Jesus asking us to hold onto hope in an unknown: God’s change is coming, but we don’t know when. We are at risk of missing it when it does arrive because we are sleepy, or distracted, or too busy with the work in front of us to notice anything else. 

We might expect Jesus to be in the know on things of major importance, but that’s not what he tells the disciples. He believes God will make some kind of change in the status quo, but he admits he doesn’t know when, even though it revolves around him. I wonder how sure Matthew’s Jesus is about his status. Does he wonder whether he has accomplished what he came to do? Will any of this matter to anyone in the long run? 

I’m reminded of those uncomfortable times in my life when I knew something – a job, a relationship, a particular sense of identity I held – was coming to an end. Even when I knew the ending was appropriate, I felt uneasy, unsure of how life would change and who I would be on the other side. 

That feels to me like the apocalyptic dynamic of our time, the worry people of faith carry with them. We thought we knew what it meant to be God’s people. We had an idea of what we hoped God might do. But given the state of the world, we may wonder how we once managed to be so sure, why it is taking God so long to set things right, and whether there is something we need to do, right now, to make things better. 

As Advent begins, may we sit in the discomfort with Jesus, on the edge of what is coming next.

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Point of View

I get a lot of email intended to broaden my thinking or deepen my spiritual life: daily devotionals, weekly round-ups, and monthly epistles. They come from pastors, journalists, coaches, and writers, or from newspapers, magazines, organizations, schools, or collectives. I choose what I subscribe to, so most of the time, even when I’m not informed on a particular issue or situation, I’m in a sort of comfort zone for my point of view. 

It’s a surprise, then, when I see an unfamiliar name attached to an organization I support, then read further and realize that within the umbrella of the organization’s interests, there are people whose foundational points of view clash with mine. We share an interest or a belief, but we diverge on something that matters deeply to both of us. 

Does that person have something, anything, to say that I need to read and consider? Would they even read my writing, if my name were on an email in their inboxes?

In the faith world alone, there are plenty of people who share my love for Jesus, but differ on beliefs I hold dear. Will their reflections on scripture, or their application of the gospel to action in the world, resonate with mine? One day last week, I looked up a name and made an uncomfortable connection and decided to keep reading. I found there are some feelings I share with this person about scripture. I want to resist saying, “but…” with regards to our different points of view on interpretation, but I cannot. There is no way to ameliorate theology that excludes, and does it in the name of Jesus. 

Study, then, led me to prayer, for a point of view that truly centers on Jesus, who reached and touched and comforted and exhorted everyone.

Really. Everyone. 

A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

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