Rob and I have been invited to speak at Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite on Sunday, February 4, so these notes will serve the purpose of both planning for St. John's and preparing for Florence.
I didn't go into the texts planning to use them for Florence's series, but they connect to the theme in a number of ways. Their services for February, titled "Active Pacifism: Waging Peace in a Time of War," will focus on peacemaking in various contexts. Our week will focus on peacemaking in our local community.
We learned from a conversation with Florence's pastor, Nina Lanctot, that one of her hopes is that the series will counteract the cynicism she sees in herself and others in this particular time and place. How do we maintain action and hope for peace when the spirits of the age seem to be working against the very things we desire and that we believe God calls us to? In this context, the Isaiah passage is very humbling and encouraging:
It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God"?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
We are assured the renewal of our strength in waiting. I don't think "peacemaking" at its most effective is about creating some grand plan for the world or staging a huge protest against the war or completing a magnificent act that will turn the tide of an entire culture--though these things can happen and are important pieces of the puzzle. Rather, since Rob's time at Goshen, I've come to think of "peace" as one of several synonyms for the Kingdom of God, which is to say that we can glimpse it, we can work for it (indeed we are called to work for it), but it is only the Creator who will perfect our actions and desires.
I think it's a commonly accepted notion that peace is more broadly defined than just the absence of conflict between people or entities; it's a comprehensive concept that had implications for all areas of our lives (again the parallel to the Kingdom, at least in the way I'm used to talking about it). A state of peace is a state of right relationship: between human and God, between human and human, between human and self, between human and creation, etc. Once we acknowledge peace/Kingdom in this way, peacemaking becomes much more than just political activism. Peacemaking is a daily way of life. We make peace when we are attentive to the environment, when we get "out of your car, off your horse" as Wendell Berry would put it, not just for the sake of reducing fossil fuel consumption, but for the sake of being in relationship with our neighborhoods and neighbors. We make peace when we are intentional about the sources of our food and goods, ensuring that the the people and the creation involved in the process are treated as worthy of our care. We make peace when we open our homes to friends and strangers alike and bring an attitude of hospitality with us wherever we go. We do what we can do. As Archbishop Oscar Romero puts it,
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.
And this is where the Mark text for the week comes in. Jesus models for us such a trust in grace when he leave Capernaum, even though he certainly could have spent more time there healing and teaching. The whole city, after all, was gathered outside of his lodging the night before. He does not move on because his compassion is insufficient to stay, but because his compassion is so great and he is attentive to his purpose of spreading the news of salvation. He appears to be trusting God to grow the seed that has been planted there.
I hope to write more in the next few days on some other specific resources I anticipate drawing into this service. In the meantime, I'd welcome any feedback that might be useful for preparation.