1354) Christmas Peace

Image result for merry christmas peace images

———————

Luke 2:13-14  —  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

*******

CHRISTMAS MORNING by Larry Kiewel

I awoke.

Always a surprise, actually.

I lay quietly

As first light began its progress.

Precipitation was chased against

My window by a gale force wind.

The dog lay quietly on the floor.

My partner slept loudly beside me.

I did an inventory.

I was warm and dry.

I knew where all my children were.

I knew that their children were

Safe and warm and as

Happy as young people can be.

What a blessing to wake on a

Blessed morning to peace

In my miniature world.

Perhaps every morning

Is a Christmas morning.

———————————-

Not everyone awakes this morning to such peace in their ‘miniature world,’ but we can, as the poem expresses nicely, be grateful for the blessings of whatever temporary peace we do have in this life, for however long it lasts.  And because ‘a Savior has been born to us,’ we can rejoice in the promise of that eternal peace in God’s eternal home.

*******

Colossians 1:2b  —  Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

James 1:17  —  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…

*******

A PRAYER FOR CHRISTMAS MORNING
By Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933), from A Treasury of Christmas Stories

The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will.

Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men.

Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world.

Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

970) Peace on Earth?

Varvel

San Bernardino, California; December 2, 2015

————————–

     As in the picture above, the Christmas carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day expresses the sad message that “there is no peace on earth.”  The song was originally written as a poem, Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).  Longfellow’s first wife, Mary, died in 1835 at the age of 22 after a miscarriage.  He was deeply saddened by her death, writing “One thought occupies me night and day…  She is dead — She is dead!  All day I am weary and sad.”  Eight years later he married Frances Appleton, and they had six children.  In an accident at their home in 1861 Frances’ dress caught fire and she was badly burned.  Longfellow was also severely burned as he tried to save her.  Frances died the next day, and though Longfellow’s burns healed, he was again heartbroken.  That was the same year the American Civil War broke out and for four years the nation was torn apart by that long nightmare.  In November of 1863 Longfellow’s son Charles was severely wounded in a battle in Virginia.  

     On Christmas day of that year Longfellow heard the church bells ringing and wrote Christmas Bells.  The poem expresses his despair, saying that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men;” but then concludes on the word of hope that God will prevail and there will again be peace.

     The poem was first set to music in 1872 by English organist John Calkin.  Only five of the seven stanzas are in the commonly used version, but there have been other musical arrangements and other versions of the lyrics.

———-

Christmas Bells

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!”

———————————————————————-

The song “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day” performed by Casting Crowns:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F756Mjxxrvc

**************************************************************

Luke 2:13-14  —  Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

John 14:27  —  (Jesus said), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Colossians 3:15  —  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.

**************************************************************

 Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

–From a 1955 song by Sy and Jill Miller

886) In An Instant

     Late at night on April 26, 2006, a man fell asleep at the wheel of the truck he was driving down an Indiana highway.  The huge truck and trailer crossed the center line and crashed into the front of a van of college students and staff returning from a banquet.  Five people in the van were killed and three were seriously injured.  Funerals were held for those killed, and the injured began the long process of healing from their critical injuries.

     What happened five weeks later became an international news story that you may remember.  As one of the more seriously injured girls slowly recovered, her head injuries healed and facial swelling decreased, and the family at her bedside began to notice that she did not look like their loved one.  As she emerged from her coma and began to speak, it became clear that she was not who everyone first thought she was.  There was a case of mistaken identity at the accident scene.  The wrong girl had been pronounced dead.  There had already been a funeral held for the girl now in that hospital bed; and the family who had for five weeks sat at her bedside, learned that their own daughter and sister had, in fact, been dead all the while.  

     In an instant, everything changed for two families.  For the one family, grief turned to unexpected, unimaginable joy– their daughter was alive.  For the other family, joy and hope was turned into grief– their daughter had been dead and buried for weeks.

     This sort of mistake does not happen very often, and the story made international news.  What is not so unusual is the fact that life can change just that fast for anyone, anytime.  Joy can turn to sorrow, or sorrow can turn to joy, in an instant.

      We all go back and forth between good and bad times in our lives, but we do know that our story on this earth ends in sorrow.  However, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything.  Jesus has promised us that by believing in him, even that final sorrow can be turned into joy– in an instant.

***********************************************

James 4:13-14  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

John 16:20-22  —  (Jesus said), “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you:  Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

I Corinthians 15:51-52  —  Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Jeremiah 31:13b  —  (The Lord said),  “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”

***********************************************

Almighty God, you have taught us that they who mourn shall be comforted, and that in our grief we may turn to you.  Because our need is beyond any help we can receive in this world, we pray that you grant us your peace, and turn our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

———-

O God, who hast appointed unto men once to die, but hast hidden from them the time of their death, help us so to live in this world that we may be ready to leave it; and that, being thine in death as in life, we may come to that rest that remaineth for thy people; through him who died and rose again for us, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

–William Bright, English Church historian, (1824-1901), Private Prayers for a Week, 1882.

———-

From a sudden and unprovided death, spare us, Oh Lord.

–Ancient invocation

884) Peace in the Midst of Trouble

     Two artists were asked to paint a scene which would depict their concept of peace.  The first artist produced a painting of a beautiful mountain lake.  Everything about the picture suggested peace and quiet.  The sky was clear and not a ripple disturbed the calm waters.  There were no boats on the lake, no cabins on the shore, and not even an animal or a bird to disturb this perfect tranquility.  To the first artist, this was the truest picture of peace.

     The second artist painted a picture of a thundering waterfall.  At the base of the falls he painted a tree, with its long branches hanging out over the turbulent waters.  In one of those branches, the artist painted a tiny sparrow sitting calmly on her little nest.  In the midst of the mighty roar, surrounded by what looked like great danger, the sparrow sat unperturbed and peaceful.  Her cozy little nest was snug and secure in the limbs of the mighty oak tree.  Though everything else about this picture suggested noise and commotion and peril, this little bird was safe and sound on a solid branch that the waters could not reach.  Both artists agreed that the second painting was the truest portrayal of peace.

     If we are to have any peace at all in this world, it will have to be a peace that can be found in the midst of the troubles that we will always be facing and the dangers that will always be all around us.  We can find perfect peace only in Jesus, because the promises of Jesus are not limited to this troubled world.  Rather, we are promised a time and a place and a life beyond this world.  We can be at peace, then, because even if we lose everything here, even life itself, we are still not without hope.  Jesus promises us that just as he rose from the dead, we too shall live again.

     On the night before Jesus died, facing a day that was to be anything but peaceful for any of them, Jesus said to his disciples, “In me you may have peace.”  He went right on to readily acknowledge that, “In this world you will have trouble,” but then he quickly added, ‘Take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  The second artist portrayed perfectly this kind of peace.  Just as the little sparrow was safe in the limbs of a mighty oak, we are safe in the arms of Jesus, even though there is turbulence, noise, and danger all around us.

     Tom Dooley was a medical missionary in Southeast Asia.  He died of cancer in 1961 at the age of 34, but his short life was filled with incredible accomplishment and service.  He not only worked as a doctor, he also started and staffed and raised money for several hospitals.  His Christian faith motivated him to abandon a much easier career in the United States for this very difficult overseas ministry.  His life was filled with difficulty, danger, toil, and then for several years, illness, as he battled cancer.  Yet, he had that peace in the midst of trouble that was promised by Jesus in John 16.  This peace is evident in a letter written on December 1, 1960 to the president of Notre Dame, the school where Dooley had received his education:

Dear Father Hesburgh,
     They’ve got me down, flat on my back, with plaster, sandbags, and hot water bottles.  I’ve contrived a way of pumping the bed up a bit so that with a long reach, I can get to my typewriter…  Whenever my cancer acts up a bit, and it is certainly acting up now, I turn inward.  Less do I think of my hospitals around the world, or of 94 doctors, fundraisers, and the like.  More do I think of one divine Doctor and my personal fund of grace.
     It has become pretty definite that the cancer has spread to the lumbar vertebrae, accounting for the back problems over the last two months.  I have monstrous phantoms.  All men do.  Inside and outside the wind blows.  But when times like this come, the storm around me does not matter.  The winds within me do not matter.  Nothing human or earthly can touch me.  A peace gathers in my heart.  What seems unpossessable, I can possess.  What seems unfathomable, I can fathom.  What is unutterable, I can utter.  Because I can pray.  I can communicate.  How do people on earth endure anything if they do not have God?”

Black and white photograph of Tom Dooley. A white adult man holding two children of Asian descent in his arms.

     Tom Dooley was in a bad storm.  He was in his early thirties, thousands of people were depending on him, he was suffering illness and in great pain, and, he knew he would not get out of the storm alive.  He could have objected.  He could have been angry with God.  But instead, it was to God that he turned for hope, and in that hope he found peace.

*************************************

John 16:33  —  Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 4:7 — And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

John 14:27 — (Jesus said), “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give.  It isn’t like the peace that this world can give.  So don’t be worried or afraid. ” 

***************************************

O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed; and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

856) I Can’t Wait to Get Out of Here!

   Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt, 1633
————
     I was visiting Hilda in the care center the other day.  Hilda has had many health problems over the last several years, but her strong faith sustains her, and she is usually in good spirits and content to be at the care center.  So I was surprised to hear her say, “You know, I can’t wait to get out of here.”  
 
     Knowing that she needs the care she receives there and would not be able to live independently, I said, “But Hilda, where will you go?”
 
     “Well,” she said cheerfully, “to heaven, of course!” 
 
      That same joyful and confident hope is expressed in the following story which is adapted from Surprise Endings, by Ron Mehl (Multnomah Publishers, 1995):
     A woman caught in a frightening storm in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean had kept all the little children on board from panicking by telling them Bible stories.  After finally reaching the dock safely, the ship’s captain approached the woman, whom he had observed in the midst of the tempest.
     “How were you able to maintain your calm when everyone feared the ship would sink in this storm?” the captain asked.  As she looked up, he noticed the same quiet peace in her eyes that she had maintained throughout the journey.
     “I have two daughters,” explained the woman.  “One of them lives in New York.  The other lives in heaven.  I knew I would be seeing one or the other of my daughters in a few hours, and it really didn’t matter to me which one.”

*********************************

Isaiah 26:3-4 — You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.

John 16:33 — (Jesus said), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” 

John 14:27 — (Jesus said), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Philippians 4:6-7 — Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Psalm 46:1-3 —

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

Mark 4:35-41  —  That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.  There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

************************************ 
Protect me, dear Lord;
My boat is so small,
And your sea is so big.
–Breton fisherman’s prayer

778) The Everlasting Arms

From a letter by C. S. Lewis to Mary Willis Shelburne, June 17, 1963.
Shelburne was dying, and Lewis himself died November 22, 1963 after a year filled with health problems.

     Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well.  Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer?  It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you…  What is there to be afraid of?  You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life.  Your sins are confessed and absolved.  Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret?  There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.

     Remember, though we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way round– we get afraid because we struggle.  Are you struggling, resisting?  Don’t you think our Lord says to you “Peace, child, peace.  Relax.  Let go.  Underneath are the everlasting arms.  Let go, I will catch you.  Do you trust me so little?”

***********************************

Deuteronomy 33:27a — The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

John 16:33 — (Jesus said), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 1:20-24 — I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

************************************

Let me never think, O eternal Father, that I am here to stay.  Let me still remember that I am a stranger and pilgrim on the earth.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.  Preserve me by Thy grace, good Lord, from so losing myself in the joys of earth that I may have no longing left for the purer joys of heaven.  Let not the happiness of this day become a snare to my too worldly heart.  And if, instead of happiness, I have today suffered any disappointment or defeat, if there has been any sorrow where I had hoped for joy, or sickness where I had looked for health, give me grace to accept it from Thy hand as a loving reminder that this is not my home.  Amen.     –John Baillie (1886-1960)

712) Peace and Justice and Pontius Pilate (b)

 Image result for peace images

     (…continued)  I have been going to church conventions for over 30 years, and have heard many debates on resolutions in which well-meaning Lutherans have supported various causes in the name of peace and justice.  Some have wanted to support unjust regimes because at least they kept the peace, and some have wanted to support violent revolutions to bring about justice.  South Africa, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Nicaragua, Panama, Rwanda, Somalia, Syria, Lybia, Bosnia, Sudan, Cuba, and more; in every one of those situations, it was of little help to just be in favor of peace and justice.  It often has to be one or the other for a while, and hard choices must be made.  Those not responsible for the choice can make signs or write newspaper columns, and criticize.  If the peace is being maintained, they can complain about the absence of justice.  If force is used to attain justice they can complain about no peace.

     Sometimes, those on the conservative end of the spectrum will try to keep the peace, even when that means allowing great injustices.  Sometimes, those on the liberal end of the spectrum will advocate violence in the pursuit of a more just society.  And sometimes, it is the other way around.  It is a messy world, and good, faithful, Bible-believing Christians can honestly disagree on what messy methods should be used to achieve greater peace and justice.  And mistakes are often made by well-meaning people.

     As a nation, it is sometimes necessary and helpful to enter into these conflicts, and sometimes it is not.  As individual citizens, Christians have a duty to be informed voters, and may even, as politicians, enter the debate and promote one course of action or another.  But it is usually best for the church to stay out of these things most of the time; perhaps not every time, but certainly most of the time.

     The church has something more important to be concerned about, and Jesus himself points this out in his words to Pilate in John 18.  “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate had asked, and Jesus said did not say that he wasn’t.  But he he did say, “My kingdom is not of this world; my kingdom is from another place.”  Jesus did not align himself with the establishment which was trying to keep the peace, nor did he align himself with the revolutionary zealots who by violence wanted to create a more just society.  He had more important matters, eternal matters, on his mind.  In getting too closely aligned with the kingdoms of this world, the church stands to lose focus, credibility, and clear purpose. 

     Then Jesus told Pilate exactly what he is here for, and therefore, what the church should also be about.  Jesus said, “I am here to testify to the truth, and everyone who listens to me is on the side of the truth.”  What Jesus meant by truth was much bigger than political truth, much bigger than peace and justice issues.  He had already said that his kingdom was not of this world, and throughout his ministry he was always pointing to his heavenly Father, to that eternal kingdom, and to himself as the one who can offer the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Jesus was always calling on us to believe in him, and to believe that what he said was true.  “I am here,” he said, “to testify to the truth.”

     This is what we must remember about Jesus.  Believing in Jesus is, most of all, a matter of truth.  Faith is not a matter of what works, what is good for society, or what most effectively brings peace and justice.  The test of faith is not if it guarantees happiness, fulfillment, peace, prosperity, or whatever else, no matter how desirable.  Those are all agendas of our own that we place on Jesus.  And while some of those things might come along as a part of what it means to believe Jesus, believing in Jesus is primarily a matter of truth.

     Jesus was always concerned about truth, but he was not always concerned about peace.  One time, in fact, he made it clear that he came not to bring peace, but division (Luke 12:51).  And the message of Jesus was not so much about justice as it was about grace.  Remember the parable of the wage-earners?  Those that started at the end of the day got paid the same as those who started first thing in the morning.  That wasn’t ‘justice.’  That was grace.  Some received even more than what was just (Matthew 20:1-16).  It is by grace that we are saved, not by getting what we justly deserve.  And we can all be grateful for that.

     Questions of whether or not Christianity works will get one into all kinds of side issues, from the problem of suffering, to the errors and shortcomings and divisions of the church, to the negative witness of so many Christians, to the divisive debates at church conventions about what political course to follow, to debates on science and Christianity and what should be taught in schools, and on and on.  All of these things raise important questions and need to be discussed.

     But as we do so, we must always stayed focused on the main point, and that is the truth of who Jesus was and still is.   The truth of Christianity all depends on Jesus, and we must remember that Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if it is true, it is of infinite, eternal importance.  That is regardless of whether it seems to be working or not working in any given situation or individual.

     There are many in this world who despise Jesus, but who seem to do very well.  There are others who believe in Jesus and are persecuted to the point of being tortured and even losing their lives.  To some, it might look like believing in Jesus doesn’t work.  But we don’t believe in Jesus because it works for us in this brief moment of time here on earth.  We believe in Jesus because in Him is the truth, the truth and the life that lasts for all eternity.

     “My Kingdom,“ Jesus told Pilate, “is not of this world.”

*********************************************************

John 18:36  —   Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”

John 18:37b  —  (Jesus said), “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

John 18:38a  —  “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 14:6  —   Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

*********************************************************

Lord Jesus, give us the grace to follow you, the Way, to learn from you, the Truth, and to live in you, the Life.  

–Erasmus

711) Peace and Justice and Pontius Pilate (a)

     Many Christians place a great emphasis on ‘Peace and Justice’ issues.  There are many churches in which you will hear more about peace and justice than about Jesus Christ.  To be concerned about these issues is certainly implied in the teachings of our Lord, who was called the ‘Prince of Peace,’ and who proclaimed the truth that all are people are equal in the eyes of God and deserving of justice.  But such concern about peace and justice has led many churches more and more into partisan politics, leaving less and less emphasis on the eternal salvation of souls.  A balance is needed.  But there is always the danger of that balance being lost, and the primary message of the church being ignored or distorted.

     Among those who demand for peace and justice, there are always those who forget the hard truth that sometimes in this wicked world you cannot have both.  For example, the American South in the pre-Civil War days was a peaceful place for wealthy plantation owners.  They lived a life of ease and comfort, and could build up incredible wealth without any labor on their part.  But there was no justice in the South in those days for the eight million Negroes by whose slave labor those plantation owners gained their wealth and their peace.  And there was no justice possible without a considerable disturbing of the peace for four long and bloody years.  Abraham Lincoln would have preferred to always maintain peace and justice, but in the very first days of his presidency, he was forced to make the choice to pursue one or the other.

     The Roman empire prided itself on the peace and justice it brought to its conquered nations. Of course, they had no qualms about making war in the first place to conquer the territory, and no qualms about using armies to enforce the peace. But when at its best, the Romans did try to rule with justice and, at the same time, keep the peace.

     That was what Pontius Pilate had hoped for in the ordeal of a Jewish wandering preacher that was brought before him one morning in the fourth year of his reign as governor in Palestine.  Peace and justice were always his goals, noble Roman that he was, and that would have been his agenda for dealing with Jesus.  He would ask him a few questions, determine his guilt or innocence, declare his verdict, and then either sentence him or set him free.  Pilate was not a soft-hearted man.  He did not care about these people.  But he was a proud Roman, and the Roman ideal was to be just and fair.

     However, Pilate that morning would be confronted with the same awful choice that Lincoln faced, that of having to choose one or the other, peace or justice.  It is not a simple world we live in.  It is easy to be for peace, and we are all in favor of justice and fairness for all.  But what do you do when you are forced to choose one or the other?

     Pilate at first seemed irritated with the chief priests for bothering him with this matter.  “Take him for yourselves and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.  “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they said.  So, reluctantly, Pilate began the cross-examination:  “Are you the king of the Jews?…  Do you refuse to speak to me?…  What is it you have done?…  Where did you come from?…  What is truth?”  Then, satisfied that Jesus was not a threat, Pilate said, “I find no basis for any charge against him.”  There is Roman justice at its best– a judgement in favor of the little guy.  Pilate has to deal with the religious authorities on a regular basis, and so he would have had a good reason to please them and just give in to their request.  But Pilate took a stand against them, and declared innocent a poor man who can do him no favors.

     But then came the threat to the peace.  First, the religious leaders put the pressure on.  “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar, because anyone who claims to be king opposes Caesar.”  Jesus had told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, and Pilate was at first satisfied with that answer.  But the threat of trouble with Caesar was a frightening prospect, and so Pilate began to reconsider the verdict.  Then the crowd started shouting, “Crucify him, crucify him,” and there was the beginning of an uproar.  A riot would mean a bad report to Caesar, and that would not be good for Pilate.  That might be too much trouble to risk for the sake of some little religious fanatic.  So there’s the conflict between justice and peace.  Pilate knows what is just, and, he knows what it will take to keep the peace; and he decides to keep the peace.  But he does so with an uneasy conscience.  He has a wash-basin brought to him before the crowd and symbolically washes his hands of the whole thing, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”  Everybody wants peace and justice.  Pilate found out that you cannot always have both.  (continued…)

***************************************************

Luke 23:13-15  —  Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion.  I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.  Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.”

Luke 23:23-24  —  But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.  So Pilate decided to grant their demand.

Matthew 27:24  —  When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.  “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said.  “It is your responsibility!”

***************************************************

PRAYER FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE IN OUR COMMUNITIES:

Gracious God,
We pray for peace in our communities this day.
We commit to you all who work for peace and an end to tensions,
And those who work to uphold law and justice.
We pray for an end to fear,
For comfort and support to those who suffer.
For calm in our streets and cities,
That people may go about their lives in safety and peace.
In your mercy, hear our prayers, now and always. Amen.

—www.churchofengland.org

669) Peace at Last

“Merciful Snow”

A short story from Rev. Michael Lindvall’s book The Good News from North Haven: A Year in the Life of a Small Town, 1991, pages 26-33.  Lindvall is a Presbyterian pastor who grew up in Minnesota, and has served parishes in Michigan and New York.

        …Priscilla Atterby died at eighty-four years:  “fourscore if by reason of strength,” as the Psalmist has it.  Priscilla was a world-class worrier.  She worried most about her three children, who are themselves now grandparents.  Each of them moved out of town right after marriage, partly, I suspect, to distance themselves from the immediate clutches of their mother’s unrelenting concern.  Two of them moved out to California, and Priscilla worried about earthquakes.  One moved to Chicago, and Priscilla worried about crime and fire.  “Fire?” I asked when she shared her anxiety with me during a pastoral call.

     “What happened once can happen again,” she answered.

     Her face was deeply lined.  People who knew her longer than I said that the worrying was something that had animated her only for the last twenty years or so.  When she was younger it was something a bit different that drove her.  “Agitation,” somebody called it.  “Priscilla always looked agitated,” this friend had said.  I think the image was meant to be taken literally, like the agitator of an old Maytag wringer-washer, never sitting still, never letting anything be.  It was, I suspect, Priscilla’s agitated love that chased her daughters to California and her son to Chicago.  It was this agitated love that slid into worry in old age.

     During the funeral it started to snow, gently at first, and then very hard.  The television had said that if this storm “swooped south, we might really get walloped.”  Newscasters everywhere seem bent on talking about winter weather in apocalyptic terms as if the same thing didn’t happen every winter.  On the other hand, folks here, being quite accustomed to it, try to outdo each other in being blasé about blizzards.

     I, however, am possessed by an outlander’s agitation about snow.  My readiness to cancel everything at the sight of the first snowflake has become something of a standing joke in town.  True to form, I had told a half-dozen people how worried I was that we wouldn’t get Priscilla in the ground before the latest blizzard immobilized southwestern Minnesota.

     I was reading the New Testament lessons when I first noticed the thick, heavy flakes through the funeral home window.  The storm had “swooped south,” I thought to myself.  My minister’s calendar-brain began to race ahead to everything in my life that the weather was going to foul up for the next couple of days: a meeting about the church’s budget deficit, a Presbytery meeting over in Mankato where I was doing a big report, and the annual meeting of the congregation on Sunday after church.  A worry lump began to congeal in my stomach.  I was reading through the funeral service on automatic pilot when I realized the words from the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel were bouncing from my eyes, out of my mouth, and into the ears of Priscilla Atterby’s crowd of mourners:  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I it unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

      Priscilla, I thought, you never knew peace in this world.  Yours was a troubled heart, anxious, thumping, rising to a start at every little threat.  But in funeral meditations you don’t say everything that’s on your mind.  In prayer, we remembered Priscilla, for whom “the fever of life is over” and who now knew “peace at last,” as Newman had prayed.  Death, after eighty-four years, had stilled her troubled heart.  Last night Minnie MacDowell had peered into the casket at Priscilla and said, predictably, “She looks so peaceful.”  That old mourner’s euphemism appeared to be true in this case.  Priscilla really did look to be at peace.  The worry lines were relaxed from her face, her anxious eyes now peacefully closed.  With a word, God was able to convince her of the simple truth that a lifetime of cajoling by her late husband and three children had never brought her to, namely that “everything is gonna be all right, Priscilla; everything is gonna be all right, Mom.”

     We sang Abide with Me, got in our cars, and drove very slowly to the cemetery.  We walked up a long, shallow hillside to the open grave, a warm black cave in the blinding white of the snow, and there we laid Priscilla Atterby.  I went straight home afterward, somehow feeling good for her, but in a dither about how the snow might foul up the next few days of my life.  

     It snowed all that day and night and most of the next day.  Then for two more days the wind howled and screamed.  The old manse we live in trembled before the power of it.  When the storm was over…  we were snowbound—literally bound by the snow for four days.  Everything stopped:  school, meetings, work for most everybody except the plow operators and the mailmen following in their swath.  

     My agitation built and then crested on the second day when it became obvious that more than half of a week was going to be plucked right out of my calendar.  I canceled meetings and fretted over what was not going to get done, all of it seeming so essential.  Everybody agreed that we’d had a “decent little storm” and that I had not been an alarmist…

     When I informed a fellow clergyman over the phone that I could not make the committee meeting in Mankato, I heard a set of half-forgotten words tumble out of my mouth and onto the phone.  “Milt,” I said, “look at it this way, in a hundred years we’ll all be dead.”  That piece of folk wisdom belonged to my late Uncle Paul, my mother’s gangly bachelor brother, who could be counted on to say it every time something didn’t go just the way he or somebody else had planned, which I recall as being fairly often.

     After that remark there was, of course, nothing else to say, so I hung up and looked out the window at this white act of God that was in all its lumbering and relentless might foiling the plans and plottings of thousands of His creatures.  “Be still.”  The words whispered invitingly to me.  “Be still, and know that I am God.”  It is often so hard to hear such whispers in this life.  Priscilla Atterby had known God, but had never been still, not until four days ago when God’s love finally held her agitated soul in a quiet embrace.

     This cold, irresistible embrace held us so tenaciously that we had to drop our armful of doings and makings and plannings and yield to stillness.  It was a mandatory stillness that insisted we listen as it told us what we know but forget again and again.  In tandem, the blizzard and Priscilla’s death… were a manifestation of simple truth;… all our mortal effort, all our ambitions, all our worries, all our dreams, whether noble or vain, are little before God, not so much because we are so small, but because God is so great.  The blizzard was barely a whisper, as divine utterances go, but it was enough to still me and put before me again who God is and who I am.

********************************************************

Psalm 46:10a  —  He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

John 14:27  —  (Jesus said),  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

********************************************************

O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–John Henry Newman

538) True Comfort Found in God Alone

From chapter 16 in THE IMITATION OF CHRIST by Thomas a Kempis  (1380-1471)

     Whatever I can desire or imagine for my own comfort I look for not here but in the hereafter.  For if I alone should have all the world’s comforts and could enjoy all its delights, it is certain that they could not long endure (Matthew 16:26).  Therefore, my soul, you cannot enjoy full consolation or perfect delight except in God, the consoler of the poor and the helper of the humble.  Wait a little while, my soul, wait for the divine promise, and you will have an abundance of all good things in heaven.  If you desire these present things too much, you will lose those which are everlasting and heavenly.  Let temporal things be used, but desire eternal things.  You cannot be satisfied with any temporal goods because you were not created to enjoy these alone.  Even if you possessed all created things, you could not be happy and blessed; for it is only in God, who created all these things, that your whole blessedness and happiness can be found.  This is indeed not the fleeting happiness that is seen and praised by lovers of the world.  Rather, it is the happiness for which the good and faithful servants of Christ await (Philippians 3:20), and of which even here they may sometimes have a foretaste.  Vain and brief is all human consolation.  Blessed and true is that which is received inwardly from the Truth.  The devout man carries everywhere with him his own Comforter, Jesus, and says unto Him:  “Be with me, Lord Jesus, in every place and at all times.  Let this be my consolation, to be cheerfully willing to do without all human comfort.  And if, for a time, you withhold all such comfort from me, then may I let your will and just trial of me be my greatest comfort.”

 

**************************************************

Matthew 16:26  —  (Jesus said), “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Matthew 16:24-25  —  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

Philippians 3:17-20  —  Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

**************************************************
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast preserved me by thy fatherly care through all the years of my life…, (grant now) that the disquiet of my mind may be appeased, that my faith may be increased, my hope strengthened, and my life regulated by thy will.  Make me truly thankful for that portion of my health which thy mercy has restored, and enable me to use the remains of life to thy glory and my own salvation…  Extinguish in my mind all sinful and inordinate desires.  Let me resolve to do that which is right, and let me by thy help keep my resolutions.  Let me, if it be best for me, at last know peace and comfort; but whatever state of life Thou shalt appoint me, let me end it by a happy death, and enjoy eternal happiness in thy presence…  Amen.

–Samuel Johnson (1770)