The Word This Weekend – October 15, 2017
“Joy and Peace – Even Now”
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
Rejoice in the Lord always; I repeat: Rejoice!
Let your good character be known to everyone.
Since the Lord is near,
don’t fret about anything, but in everything,
by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,
let your needs be made known to God.
And the peace of God, beyond all human reason,
will safeguard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
As I write to you this week, my heart is full, burdened and heavy laden. This past Sunday we welcomed hundreds of South Bay neighbors to our annual “Blessing God’s Creatures” Festival, and laid hands on nearly 100 animals, as well as their caring families, to commend their lives to the hands of their Creator, and to offer thanks for the love and protection they have found together. This event is always humbling to me, as I hear so many stories of the rescue of innocent creatures so horribly abused or neglected by those whose need to control or inflict pain would cause them to visit such suffering on these animals. A potent reminder this has been -- of the depth of human sin, as well as the courage and resolve of people who will stand in caring and compassion for others, whether human or not.
Of course this year, this month, our hearts are also weighed down with the reality of the Las Vegas massacre. As I’ve written elsewhere, our Southern California community has a special connection to this terrible and unconscionable act, as so many of the victims and their loved ones are our close neighbors. Our FLCS family is hurting in an especially deep way, as we grieve deaths of those very close to us, including a young woman who graduated from our school in 2009, and whose mother and aunt are our fellow employees. This phrase – “Everyone knows someone who knows someone” – is a knife in our collective heart. Even as we offer profound thanks for those attendees who survived or escaped harm, we embrace so many who are in a place of grief or trauma in the wake of this terrible tragedy.
And in the midst of all this sorrow, remorse and anger over the depths to which human beings can stoop or sink, we hear these words from the pen (and chains) of the Apostle Paul, as he addresses a beloved community of believers in Philippi.
Writing from his imprisonment, Paul repeatedly urges joy upon his hearers and readers – while so much of what I feel these days is about as far from joy as I can imagine feeling in a long, long time. Paul promises peace beyond reason – while such a peace seems so very elusive, unreasonable and unattainable these days, at least to me. And maybe to you as well.
So where is your heart right now? As I wrote back in July, we need only recall events like the Pulse massacre in Florida -- as yet another hundred of our neighbors were brutally slaughtered by yet another delusional and misdirected man, people executed for daring to dance and sing and celebrate in an Orlando nightclub – to wonder where in the world (or beyond it) such peace and joy may ever be found.
Maybe you’re as sick at heart as I am at the It could be the images of nativist or racist marchers, convinced of their damnable philosophies or buttressed by their misbegotten religious convictions. It could be the images of nativist or racist marchers, convinced of their damnable philosophies or buttressed by their misbegotten religious convictions.images of Charlottesville, with nativist and racist demonstrators donning their armbands and trumpeting their inhumane convictions -- fueled by convinced of their damnable philosophies or buttressed by their misbegotten religious convictions.long-nurtured hatreds, twisted philosophies or misbegotten and ridiculous religious notions. Or the murders in Charleston, where those same evil ideals found their deadly expression aimed at a church study group. And now the Route 91 Massacre in Vegas. Whether driven by religious intolerance or self-hating psychosis, the result is the same – the grim toll in blood and terror mounts ever higher, and we sit in stunned and sorrowful amazement at the capacity of humans to attack or destroy what they neither understand or will tolerate.
With the prophets, and with Paul, we cry out “Joy, Joy,” and “Peace, Peace,” when neither seem much in evidence. Tired are we over settling for such a Peace -- illusory and transitory, thrust aside by the crack of an assault rifle or the dark shadows of fear or evil. Is that the Peace that passes for Peace? That passes for us?
When Paul wrote the words quoted above, he wrote in the midst of another Empire besieged by war, inequity, corruption and sin. He wrote to fellow believers, to those derisively called “Christ-ians” by their Roman neighbors and overlords, violently threatening and pressuring them to forsake the sort of Peace their brother Paul preached. Those were the stakes, for the Apostle, for the Philippians, and for all who would shout out for Joy and Peace, even into the maw of desperation, defeat and incarnate evil. And they are still the stakes today.
“Don’t fret,” Paul says, fully knowing how tough such a view is when all seems so very dark and cruel. “Let your good character be known,” he urges. “Make known to God your needs, but always with thanksgiving,” he advises. And, most of all, “Trust in the Peace of Christ.”
And such is this Joy, and this Peace. A Joy beyond fortune, and a Peace beyond reason -- this is the very definition of a Peace like this. Peace that flows even when the wars rage on and the injustices hold sway. Peace that surpasses the transitory peace of the silent battlefield, or the hushed sobs of the oppressed or vanquished. A peace which we continue to pray for, to work for, to press for, and to demand. A peace grounded in a freedom beyond what any republic or regime can assure, no matter how much we love it and how deeply we cherish the sacrifices of the generations who have risen and fallen on battlefields and foxholes to assure. A freedom enlivened by the sacrifice and victory of Peace’s Prince, the crucified and risen Christ, in whose name we can and must press for full equality, full personhood, and full reconciliation and kinship.
So, even with a hurting heart and a fragile faith, I join ancient Paul in urging you to embrace the Peace that hearts of faith can give. Settle not for a “peace that passes,” but pray and strive for something more. Something worth the blood of the saints, the voices of the powerless, the sacrifices of the oppressed and the transformations of all those who have painfully recognized in themselves the sins of pride, superiority and self-interest, and this pervasive deafness to the cries of brothers and sisters within the human family -- the everlasting and ever-embracing Peace that passes all understanding and all circumstance – the Peace of the peaceable Christ!
I look forward to seeing you at worship this weekend, and across the long green season of worship, learning and community this Fall. And may the risen Christ meet us in every prayer, every determination, and action for justice, joy and peace we press to being to birth, gratefully and resolutely drawing every single breath our Creator’s heart grants us to breathe in his name and in his service. , or through the machinations of hateful groups or individuals, or visited upon innocent creatures who deserve care and not abuse, it is tempting to throw up our hands in despair and complacency. This we will not do.
With You in God’s Good Work,