Sermon For December 7, 2014 ~ Advent 2

Joshua 22:1-5 & John 3:13-17

“While Shepherds Watched: The Shepherd Moses”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To watch a video of this sermon, please go online to: http://youtu.be/5NsNVn3vTZ4

 

What makes for peace? This is the season, right, that we proclaim “Peace on earth, good will toward all?” This, the second Sunday of Advent, the word of the day is “Peace,” a word and a concept that has been proclaimed throughout history, and yet we still live in a world wracked by violence and war, and people of faith do not seem to be immune to either their effects nor their causes. Our texts for today, which highlight the great patriarch of the faith, the shepherd-turned-liberator Moses, seem to point us only to a kind of peace that is built on the straining back of domination and manipulation.

Coptic Icon, "St. Moses The Black"

Coptic Icon, “St. Moses The Black”

 

The epic story of Moses leading the Hebrew people out of bondage and slavery in Egypt into the “promised land, “a land flowing with milk and honey,” has bothered me deeply since I first realized that this territory into which they were led by God was a place already inhabited, a land that had homes and farms and mothers and fathers and children. Yes, the residents were people of another faith, but

"Joshua" Phillip Ratner, 1998. The Safad Bible. Israel Bible Museum.

“Joshua” Phillip Ratner, 1998. The Safad Bible. Israel Bible Museum.

just because one calls them “heathen” or “pagan” does not make them any less human. I struggle mightily with the basic premise that one people’s liberation must necessarily require another’s annihilation or subjugation. We must remember that as much as Moses began as a shepherd, Joshua was born and raised a warrior, and much of his tenure would involve clearing the land of its occupants so that his people, the “chosen people,” could inhabit it. The tension of this troubling beginning wrenches our world even today.

 

And John’s words, where he offers the enigmatic phrase about Moses “lifting up the serpent in the wilderness,” also sets forth perhaps the most memorized line in all of scripture, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” And, even when the subsequent sentence is included, “Indeed God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” this passage still sounds like a antagonistic line in the sand. It feels to me like John is saying, “Unless you believe in Jesus in the way in which we do, you will perish (i.e. go to hell) – and we’re doing you a favor by warning you of this!”

 

The words of the prophet Jeremiah ring in my ears, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace.” (6:14) I hear so many ministers preach and pray about peace, and yet I cannot see evidence that all this has made the world a better place for anyone, Christians or others alike. I struggle with understanding the real intent for peace in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the focus which the Advent/Christmas season puts on peace only brings it painfully to the forefront.

Slide1But what does give me heart are Jesus’ last words to his disciples, also recorded in John, which included the deeply comforting “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus’ distinction between peace as the world gives, or sees, it and the peace that Jesus brings is so profoundly helpful. Without overly spiritualizing this, or making this an excuse for continuing our horrible behaviors while placating victims with religious pabulum, I do believe Jesus was trying to tell us something about from whence comes true peace. Until we are at peace deep within our own souls, there will be – can never be – peace in our world.

 

+ Until we come to grips with the truth that God may have chosen all of creation into which to instill the divine approval, and that by blessing us as a people God’s hands are not tied, God’s will is not hindered, in blessing another people, or all peoples even, like a shepherd who goes looking for the one lost lamb – until then – we will never find peace between the nations.

 

+ Until we come to grips with the truth that God, in sending us Jesus to show us God’s love incarnate for us, does not prohibit God from sending other means for grace and truth and salvation to be made real for others, that God might be quite able and willing to seek redemption for every single last one of God’s children, like a father waiting for a prodigal son – until then – we will never find peace between the earth’s diverse peoples.

 

+ Until we come to grips with the truth that when we experience heartache and pain, profound sadness and deepest sorrow, that God has not done this to us, but rather God remains inextricably bound to us and experiences that agony and grief with us as if it were God’s very own pain, like a mother hen seeking to gather all her brood under her wings – until then –we will never find peace between us and God.

 

+ Until we come to grips with the truth that God really meant it when God told us we will never be forgotten nor forsaken, that there is in fact nothing, not-a-thing, that can separate us from the love of God that we experience in Christ Jesus, like a savior willing to take the slings and arrows and nails of the world to show us that love – until then – we will never find peace within ourselves.

 

I tell you, I struggle with this call to peace and the story of our faith that seems rife with examples of conflict, divisiveness, and warfare. Moses, the great shepherd of liberation, and his successor, Joshua, the one who would bring our forbearers of the faith out of one cauldron of oppression into another kettle of conflict, are not perfect ancestors, but they are our relatives. John, gospel writer and a theologian known for conveying the faith in ways that, interpreted poorly, have led to bloodshed of our own kinfolk, is still one of ours and cannot be easily dismissed. But if we listen deeply to Jesus, especially in this season of peace, and let go of the definitions of peace which this world gives, we might just hear a word of peace for our lives that also is a word of peace to all and to our world.

 

Amen.

 

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