Sermon Message for Saturday, December 3, 2022 & Sunday, December 4, 2022
Prayer For Illumination: Savior God, guide us by your Word and Spirit that we might hear your truth, heed your call, and be prepared for Christ’s birth this Christmas. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-10 (page 690), Luke 2:14 (page 1027), John 3:16 (page 1065)
Sermon Message: “Bigger Peace”
Without hope there is no peace. But hope fulfilled can lead to peace realized.
Jesus would sometimes share a simple little story in his effort to communicate and get people to think. I have a very brief little story that you can perhaps ‘relate’ to.
Two little girls saw there was only one cupcake left. The one little girl says, “I want the bigger piece.” Placing a knife on the table the mother says, “One cuts, the other gets to choose.” So, the elaborate process begins; one daughter trying to cut the cupcake exactly in half to prevent her sister from having “the bigger piece.” Oh how honest children are!
Some folks are still after the bigger piece. Today I will share with you some insights into peace, spelled P-E-A-C-E.
In the Bible a symbol of ‘peace’ is the dove. I know some of us place a dove on our Christmas trees each year when we decorate. We sometimes get Christmas cards that speak of ‘peace.’ It’s an important word because peace is such an important concept. It is important that people get along with each other and feel at peace inside. Conflict, war, and harsh disagreements are something we try to prevent and resolve. Jesus is sometimes called the "Prince of Peace."
Peace is the absence of conflict, but it is so much more. The word ‘shalom’ is the word Jesus used when he appeared to his disciples. It is the same word used by today's Jewish people as they greet one another. It means peace, but it really means much more. The word also implies God's blessings upon the recipients of the greeting. So, I say to you today, “Shalom.” “Shalom” leads to a bigger peace.
Angels remind us of peace. Angels came to bring us a bigger peace from God into our lives; within our world. The angels and a great company of the heavenly host praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
May God’s ‘favor’ rest upon you today and lead you to a bigger peace.
Some parts of the Bible make you ‘think’ as you consider their message. For instance, today’s first scripture reading from Isaiah offers his vision of the “peaceable kingdom” -- a world where “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, the cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together.” It’s an enticing vision, yet it also seems like an impossible dream. How exactly is that supposed to come about? How can genetic predisposition be overcome? Those questions seem particularly apropos for us today as well since we live in a world rife with divisions and enmity, especially in the wake of particularly vicious political campaigns and election results that have left all sides with raw emotions and worries about the future. How can we listen to those with differing viewpoints, put aside lingering resentments, and sit down together in fellowship and unity? Moreover, how can we reconcile the various parts of our own personalities that represent the lion and the lamb? And how can we avoid being lions that unnecessarily prey on vulnerable lambs and the powerless? In the current environment, achieving all of that seems almost unimaginably difficult. Yet the prophet provides the simple prescription for finding peace when he observes, “and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:1-10)
Have you ever taken the kids to the zoo? I sometimes wonder how some of those big animals, bears, lions and gorillas tolerate the human beings that seek to care for them. Who feeds them on a daily basis? What’s that like, I wonder? Are the animals somehow confined when the workers come into their area to feed them, clean up, or strive to examine them? How do the animals and the keepers learn to inhabit the same space, without harm to either one?
Within today’s scripture lesson from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah those questions are kind of resolved. Isaiah does not speak of ‘how’ God gets animals who are natural enemies to live in peace with one another. He just supplies us with a vision, God’s compelling vision that it will happen. How it happens seems awfully big, don’t you think?
How would a snake learn to transcend the reptile brain and not be a threat to a baby? What basis would the wolf and the lamb find for their friendship? How full would the leopard have to be to pass up a plump, young goat?
Isaiah promises that the natural order will change once the world knows the fullness of God’s peace. Even dead tree stumps will crack so new life can grow. We can’t help but wonder how this will come to pass, and if it’s even possible anywhere other than the mind of God. God welcomes us to consider and be a part of the bigger peace.
As a pastor, I have been more than impressed, often times simply amazed, to see how the church community works to achieve and maintain this ‘bigger peace!’ Here in the church, I not only see quite distinct and different people worshipping together but also working together. There are some very impressive signs of the peaceable kingdom coming to life in all of God’s churches. I have observed the highly educated and the very wealthy roll up their sleeves and work right alongside people who just don’t know how they are supposed to ‘make ends meet’, serve a fundraising meal or a community luncheon together. I have witnessed those with plenty and those with little, pruning the hedges and mowing the grass, planting flowers and painting the church together. Best of all is when this occurs in worship. My heart is warmed and my spirit feels so blessed with the peace, the bigger peace, that stems from witnessing all different scenarios and types of people ‘here’ worshipping God, side by side. We all need prayer, we all need fed the Word of God, and we all need faith fellowship. We all have need for support, opportunities to give and share. We all are seekers of God’s peace, His bigger peace, that is far greater than the kind of peace we can know simply on our own.
God’s vision of a bigger peace can be brought to life more fully in the church! Functioning as a church family we live together striving for a bigger peace so our differences enlighten each other. As people of God, we need to make sure the wolf and the lamb both have their voices heard.
Additionally, try thinking about the lion and the lamb that both live inside each one of us. Images for Jesus include both the lion and the lamb, and our path in following him incorporates both. How do we know when it’s time to use the lion’s strength, and when it’s time to lead with the lamb’s gentleness? When we’re using our lion skills, how do we not scare the lambs? When we’re in lamb mode, how do we not get gobbled up by the lion?
God wants all of His children to have a bigger peace. Draw some analogies from today’s scriptural teachings and illustrations. Perhaps you, like myself, have been taught for years, Do not be quick to purchase items of food, clothing, automobiles, and so on, developed by people who are being paid poverty wages or enlisted in slave labor so that large stores and corporations can make a huge profit. This is perhaps a modern-day analogy of wolves, gobbling up lambs on a daily basis as our lives are sustained by modern-day subsistence labor. How can we change our wolf-like nature to impact the lives of people who are more like the lamb than we are? We don’t need to change everything at once, but begin with one change we can make in our consumption. Do that, and then “the next right thing,” and then another step. The peaceable kingdom comes one step at a time.
People still hope for what may seem impossible. No doubt many in Ukraine hope for what seems quite impossible with Russia’s war being daily imposed upon them. Perhaps within your own life, your work, your family, and your health, you perceive needed peace, a bigger picture of peace than seems at all attainable. God’s vision of extreme opposites growing to be at peace with one another across multiple centuries and amongst diverse peoples has seemed impossible. But that doesn’t mean we should stop working for it.
As with so many areas in our walk of faith, we can’t obsess too much with the results, but we do need to remain faithful to God’s vision of what He says can be.
Consider just ‘how’ you can be effective in working and attaining the bigger peace in any and all situations and scenarios, then work towards it. Use your degrees of effectiveness wisely and abundantly. I know and you know, you have some ways and means, some abilities to help attain a bigger peace somewhere in this old world IF you will but try. Be faithful not only unto God, but also be faithful to your own abilities and gifts streaming through you. IF you keep considering and affirming how ‘small’ your effectiveness might be, you will take on smaller and smaller tasks. Many a soul who has stood for high values never lived quite long enough to fully realize the effectiveness of their endeavors.
To work for the bigger peace this Advent and Christmas season, you and I need to ‘hang in there’ for the long haul.
Whether we’re wolves or lambs, snakes or babies, living together peacefully requires us to step out of what we know into an unfamiliar, uncomfortable world. Our usual instincts don’t work here -- we need a different kind of wisdom only God can give. Being together harmoniously isn’t possible in an instant -- we have to learn new ways of thinking, and then new patterns of living. But God is on our side in this work, just as God has always been on the side of peace. Our world holds the same darkness and fear that Isaiah saw, and God’s word of promise belongs to us too. But we have to learn enough to take our place in the world God dreams for all of us.
An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about the kind of life that leads to a bigger peace.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil -- he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” The old man continued, “The other is good -- he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you -- and inside every other person too.”
The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” My friends, feed that part of you that leads towards the bigger peace.
Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”
Prayer can lead a soul to a bigger peace. Hear, receive, and reflect upon this familiar prayer for peace; Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.