Monday, October 3, 2016

Come to the Table of Peace

October 2nd, 2016        “Come to the Table of Peace”       Rev. Heather Jepsen
Luke 17:5-10 with Lamentations 3:19-26
          Today is one of my favorite days in the Presbyterian Church calendar.  I love celebrating World Communion Sunday and I love that it is a day that our church has chosen to focus on Peacemaking efforts and the work of bringing God’s justice to our hurt and broken world. The message of peace that we celebrate at this table is something we need to hear and remember now more than ever.
          When we look at the state of the world around us it is easy to get down and depressed.  From racial violence and rioting in the United States, to the war torn brokenness in Syria, to the forgotten famines in Africa, the world seems a sorry and broken place.  Like the writer of Lamentations, the thoughts of our current state of affairs can fill our bellies with poison and sickness.  Our souls are heavy with grief and bowed down within us.
          Our alternative Psalm for today, Psalm 137, easily sums up our collective feelings of grief.  “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.  On the willows there we hung up our harps.”  The people have been taken from their homeland and are living as captives, refugees, and strangers.  “Our captors asked us for songs . . . (but) how could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” 
          This is certainly the way I feel as I watch the nightly news.  One more unarmed black man appears to be shot by the police for no reason.  One more angry and broken person with a gun begins shooting at random strangers in a mall or parking lot or worse an elementary school.  One more picture like this one from our bulletin insert last week, of war torn Syria a broken and desolated place.  One more angry person insisting that folks fleeing this mess cannot come here because they don’t have the same religion we do.  I am tempted to hang my harp in the willows and to never sing again.  How can we sing when we are living in a lost land on a broken and grieving planet?
          In the midst of his heartbreak, the writer of Lamentations says that he has hope.  “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning.”  What words of faith and hope.  The writer of Lamentations encourages us to wait for the Lord, to have faith and to be patient.  God’s promise of healing and justice will come.  God’s new kingdom where we beat our swords into the plowshares and turn our guns into tractors is on its way.  We must be patient, we must wait with hope.  “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
          Like the apostles in Luke’s gospel, I am tempted to cry out, “God, increase my faith!”  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about the path that is required of them.  They must share all that they have, the must not lead others astray, and they must always be ready to forgive even at the umpteenth offense.  They cry out for the Lord to bless them with more faith and Jesus responds with the parable of the mustard seed.
          Boy, nothing makes us feel guilty like this one, huh?  “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea.’ and it would obey you.” That’s a tall order!  I have met many a faithful person in my life, but I have yet to meet someone who can undertake a major landscaping project simply by the power of their faith.  Many times we hear this and we simply end up feeling bad.  None of us measure up if this judging Jesus is setting the standard.
          Thankfully, with this as with all other Biblical texts, we can turn it around and read it another way.  What if Jesus isn’t shaking his head in disgust and judgment at the disciples’ inability to muster enough faith?  What if instead Jesus is laughing and smiling?  “Why you don’t need more faith!  Even a tiny amount is plenty for life!  You can do anything with just the smallest amount of faith.”  As listeners we begin to straighten up and reconsider.  Instead of being filled with shame we begin to be filled with hope.  “Even a teeny amount is enough?  Well, I can manage that.”
          Jesus goes on to tell that odd story about the slave and the master.  This parable only appears in Luke and it is full of pitfalls and tripping hazards for the modern reader.  We are likely to stumble on the slave imagery, the master imagery, and the language about being worthless.  But really, Jesus is just trying to encourage the disciples.  “You are doing a great job” he seems to say “you are doing just what you ought.  And remember, I am the servant Lord, serving alongside you every day.”  Instead of feeling guilty we can say to ourselves that we have done what we ought to have done.  We have done enough with the right amount of faith, and that can be a hopeful thought for many of us this morning. 
          In the midst of our broken and fearful world today, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that even if we have just a tiny amount of faith, we will have enough.  Even if we do one small thing, it will make a difference.  We can use our little bit of faith to work for justice in the world and in our neighborhoods one day and one relationship at a time.  We can do what we know we ought to do, and call ourselves faithful servants of our servant Lord.  Imagining that we’ve got this, that we can make a difference, feels a lot better than telling ourselves over and over again that we will never measure up.
          Today we gather at this table of peace and remember the people who come here from all over the world.  This table unites us in faith with Christians in every country, on every continent, in every corner of the globe.  As we work for justice and peace in the world, we can look ahead with a tiny seed of hope, to the day when God will wipe away every tear and people from every place will gather and feast together at the kingdom of our God.  This is a table of peace for us today, and it is a table that looks forward to the day when peace will be a reality for all people in all places.  This table can be our teeny tiny seed of faith this morning.
          Like the writer of Lamentations we can look around our world and feel dismayed.  Like him, we can also remind ourselves that our hope is in the Lord, the one who is able to fix this terrible mess.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies are new every morning.  If we even have a tiny drop of faith, we have enough to be good servants who do what they ought.  We have enough to change the world one moment at a time. 
          May we come to this table of peace this morning filled with hope and courage.  May we come to this table of peace this morning in faith.  May we come to this table of peace this morning and celebrate with people of every time and place, of every land and nation, as we declare the love and grace and justice of our marvelous and faithful God.  Thanks be to God for this table of peace.  Amen.


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