Signal for world peace


Lectionary blog for Nov. 17, 2013
Pentecost 26 — Proper 28
Texts: Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98;
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

By Delmer Chilton

About 15 years ago I was driving my son to school in Nashville, Tenn., bogged down in the usual 7:15 a.m. commuter mess on the freeway, when I saw a bumper sticker that expressed my frustration perfectly: FORGET WORLD PEACE; VISUALIZE USING YOUR TURN SIGNAL!

There you go, I thought to myself. Forget the big stuff, like “Visualizing World Peace.” That’s too much, and too hard, and too unlikely to contemplate. But I can visualize (and actualize) using my turn signal; just do the little things that make life a little easier for everybody.

“Who knows?” I thought, “Maybe if everybody in Nashville and Tennessee and “the South” and the United States, etc., would use their turn signals properly, it might be a real start toward world peace. I know it would reduce my animosity toward my anonymous neighbors.

When I read today’s Gospel lesson, I thought about that bumper sticker. In the midst of all that big talk about big doings, Jesus sprinkles hints that it’s really about the simple behavior asked of us when such things inevitably happen.

Many people get all excited about that prophecy stuff in the Bible, all these dire predictions of awful things soon to come. Me? I think with the government shutdown, and the war in Iraq, and the falling apart of the ozone layer and global warming and, health care debates, and, and, and; we have plenty of things to worry about in the present without fretting over predictions from the Bible.

One of the real problems we have is that all these things are so large and global and unmanageable and we are so small, that our temptation is to throw up our hands in despair and bury our heads in the sand and hope against hope that it all turns out all right.

But it is important to note carefully what Jesus says in today’s text: Verse 9: “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified.” Verse 14: “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, for I will give you words and wisdom.” Verse 18: “Not a hair of your head will perish.” Verse 19: “By your endurance, you will gain your souls.”

We have a tendency to hear bad news, but these texts are really about good news, about the Gospel. Jesus isn’t preaching gloom and doom; Jesus is preaching reality. Jesus was not predicting some far off day of ultimate battle; he was talking about the reality of life in Israel, which was an occupied country and had been buffeted about by war during its entire existence.

Jesus’ words remind us of our call to a life of endurance, patience and faith in the midst of a world that is often difficult and confusing. We are called to a faith that looks above and beyond our personal circumstances to the promise of God to hold us and keep us safe forever. We must not forget about “World Peace,” but we must remember that we move toward world peace in little things, like remembering to use turn signals.

In “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum tells the story of a medieval stonecutter who was working on a cathedral. An interested bystander saw the man working day after day carefully cutting and shaping and polishing one modest-sized piece. Finally the watcher said to the cutter, “This stone must be very important. Is it a part of the baptismal font? Is it the base of the pulpit? Is it the front of the altar?’

The cutter got up from his knees and wiped his hands and lead the man around the scaffolding and pointed out a very obscure corner of the building, “It goes there,” he said. The onlooker was astounded, “Really, you’re working so hard on something nobody will see?” The stonecutter smiled and said, “God will see it. We’re not building this cathedral for nobody; we’re building it for God.”

Our Gospel lesson is a call to faithful living, to endurance, to hanging in through tough times, to having faith in the God who has faith in us. It’s about building our life into a house for God. And we move from that to making our congregation a cathedral, a place for God, a place where God rules in every heart, where Christ’s love motivates all actions, where we remember it’s about God and not about us.

And we then move into the world, carrying this ministry of cathedral building with us, building networks of connection in the world, networks that share God’s love with those who need it most, those stepped on by war, those persecuted by oppression, those rejected by society, those left wounded and bleeding outside on the doorstep of life. And it is our call to do the little things that open the door so that they may come in and be received into the arms of God’s love.

Amen and amen.

Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

You might also want to read:
Let peace begin with me
Pay attention to the small stuff
Hope in God

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