Sunday, October 16, 2016

Moriah Hurst: Praying with Persistence

Between Exodus and Promised Land: Persistence
Luke 18:1-8

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    Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and to not lose heart. There are so many things that seem hard about this for me. First whenever Jesus tells a parable I kind of brace myself, because if I’m really listening and understand the context then this is going to hurt me a bit. Parables are those stories Jesus uses that have a sting in their tale. They are going to make the listener say “ouch” when they realize what is being said. We are given an insight into what this parable is about: the need to pray always and to not lose heart. When I look around at the world today there are lots of things I know I want to pray about but it gets overwhelming and I have to ask “are our prayers working, why do things seem to get worse instead of better?” But we are not to lose heart so there must be hope here in this story and teaching about a way forward. So lets look at this story.

            There is a widow and an unjust judge. We are not meant to like the judge because how he is introduced is that he doesn’t fear God and doesn’t respect people. Hmm…he sounds like a winning character. Enter character two: a widow. Ok we should all have an idea about what a widow means if we have been paying attention. Widows are the bottom of the barrel in the society that this is set in and yet they show up all the time as main characters in the Bible and they do really amazing things. Widows are cast as those with the least power and here we see her matched with judge who would have had a lot of power.

            Nagging, pestering and bothering are not normally seen as traits we want to affirm but here in this story the widow persistently brings her request before the judge. Finally he says “Enough”, and grants her what she wants before he become exhausted by her continual asking.

            In sitting with this text leading up to this sermon I kept asking “is this judge a representation of God?” Really, is God portrayed as the one who doesn’t care? But then I heard echoes of Matthew 7: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” and the end of the parable for today responds with “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?” This judge is painted as the opposite to God, but even an unjust judge gives way under pestering, so wont God listen even more to God’s beloved people – to us.

            Who is this God that we are praying to? If we think of prayer as a conversation between us and God, than we need to consider who we think God is because it will change our conversation. If you are talking to a best friend or your parent you will have differing degrees of openness. If you are talking to a political leader with power or someone you idolize you want to come across in different way. Who do we think this God is that we are crying out to?

            A few years ago there was a National Study of Youth and Religion done here in the USA. This study found that for a majority of young people their picture of God was that of a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This understanding is that 1.God created and is watching earth. 2. God wants people to be good and nice. 3.The goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself. 4. God doesn’t really need to be involved in your life unless you need God to fix a problem. And 5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

            Before you write this off as just a young person thing, the research went on to say that this view of God was being shaped by what the adults in these young peoples lives who were teaching them and modeling this for them. What they were learning about God was this:
    “God is: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one's affairs--especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”

    This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. "In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."

            I tend to think about this God as a personal Santa Claus in the sky that we take a shopping list of wants to and who can soothe us into feeling better about ourselves. This is a God shaped by our dominant culture and almost completely divorced from the God we meet in scripture.

            What is the picture you have of God? What does a conversation with God look like for you? Who are you praying to? Does God in your prayer life reflect both the creator God who has the power to shake the earth but also speaks through silence?  A God who is a just judge and who mourns over the wrong doing of God’s people.

            The second big question that this passage asks us to consider is what is prayer? If what the widow does in this parable shows us how to pray, then we are being told to pester, to come back again and again and to continually repeat our request to God till God responds or gives in.

            This week I felt myself needing to go back to the basics asking questions like: what is prayer, who is it for, how should we pray, does prayer change anything? Can our persistence change God? I know as a pastor you think I have this all figured out but really as Christians we have to keep wrestling with these things and understanding them in new ways.

            When I was a seminary student I served as a camp pastor at a summer camp. One night as I was praying with a few young people by the fire a 12 year old ask me “why should I pray if nothing changes?” I think every seminary student should have to deal with answering that question to a 12 year old. How would you have answered? I know I stumbled and struggled.

            We are in a culture that pushes us to be an individual, to get results and to want thing immediately. If I have to wait two minutes for a website to load I am prone to deep sighing, eye rolling and wondering why the universe is against me. Two minutes of waiting! If our picture of God is that of a God who comes to our beck and call, then no wonder we think that pray doesn’t work if we don’t get answers.

            But do we get answers? Does prayer change things? We know that when we study something we have to go back and review and repeat things so we learn them yet with prayer coming back again, especially to pray the same prayer can feel empty and meaningless. Didn’t God hear us the first time? What kind of a God makes us repeat ourselves especially when we are crying out over a justice issue? But we are shaped in and by the praying.

    We want instant gratification, we want our own way! But one commentary tells us that we are “Being shaped through the long persistent prayer to be a vessel that can hold the answer that comes”. That same commentary told this story “an elderly black minister read this parable and gave a one-sentence interpretation: ‘until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what prayer is.”

            Prayer is giving up our idea that we have the power and can change everything and holding ourselves out to a God who can shape the world beyond our understanding. Prayer is us giving up the idea that we are in control. In prayer we are able to see where God is working in our world – learning to know God and thus that knowing shaping our desires and actions.

            As storms raged in Haiti this past week I was pestering God with my prayers. Why in a country where there is such poverty are they hit with something like this? I know that there are faithful people in Haiti who were praying even more fervently than I was so was God not listening to their prayers? If God is a God of care and justice how could God let something like this happen? Why is God waiting to answer while people are dying when the parable we heard today says “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

            But God isn’t a controlling and manipulating God. Our world is broken and as Phil talked about last week we are between the exodus and the Promised Land – we are in the already but not yet. God is present and acting but is not our fairly godmother waiting for our call to come fix things.

            The passage ends with a question: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Is this us having faith in the slow work of God’s justice. Us having faith that even when our pray is not answered the way we want it to be, that God is still working, still acting, still the just and loving judge and not the unfeeling unjust judge. We are not to lose faith and we are called to come back to God in prayer persistently, to be shaped by that process, to be part of how God is answering pray.

    What is the prayer you need to pray right now. Is it a prayer that needs to be prayed prostrate before God or in tears? Do you need to throw your hands up in the air with a loud cry or shake fists in frustration? Do you need to kneel with head bent letting your body take the shape of submission and concentration? Who are you crying out to God for and what situations do you need to keep banging on God’s door making sure your persistent knocking is heard? What is the prayer you need to pray in these wilderness times of injustice?

    In this parable, through this widow, Jesus is telling us to pray in hope and with persistence. Our faith is that we don’t lose heart even when that means coming back again and again to our God who is listening.

    Lets commit ourselves to prayer and action as we respond by singing together "How can we be silent?"

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Phil Kniss: Out of Empire, into gratitude

Between Exodus and Promised Land
Luke 17:11-19; Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

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Today, and the rest of October,
    we’ll use the same lectionary scripture readings
    that many other churches use.

But we will read them through a particular lens.
    Focusing on the Gospel reading each Sunday,
        we will seek to be formed by the teaching and ministry of Jesus,
        as we learn how to live in the “between time”—
            between Exodus and Promised Land.
    And we will name this between-time “wilderness.”
    And we will embrace it as a gift and grace of God.
        I say that as a statement of faith, and of hope.

Now, how did I decide to read the Gospels—these chapters from Luke—
    through the lens of wilderness?
    There is no specific mention of wilderness in them.

Part of it is just where my mind naturally went,
    as I thought about the space we inhabit right now,
        as a culture, as a church, as God’s people.
    To me, it feels a lot like wilderness.
        We are walking through uncharted territory,
            over unmapped terrain.
        We don’t know where the world is taking us,
            in terms of the global threats of terrorism, climate change,
                economic meltdowns, nuclear war.
        We don’t know what the church is going to look like, as a whole,
            how it will be functioning in five years,
            much less, a generation from now.
        And we are a few weeks away from a presidential election
            that is getting more bizarre, and more horrifying, by the day.

        The news these last two days compels me to comment,
            from my platform as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
        My comment isn’t about politics, per se.
            But as followers of Jesus,
                we should all take stock of the public discourse
                    happening right now.

        My comment is this:
            A sizable portion of our country and culture
                idolizes someone who is grossly immoral
                    in more ways than we can count,
                and wants to elect him to the highest office in the land.

            How is it that someone who has
                encouraged personal violence,
                insulted and objectified women,
                used his power and wealth to harm other people,
                made public statements stereotyping and demeaning to
                    Muslims, Latinos, and African-Americans,
                and now—we have learned—
                    boasted about engaging in behavior
                    that can only be described as sexual abuse—
                how is it that such a person
                    has not been relegated to the margins of society—
                        ignored, humiliated, or facing punishment—
                    but instead, is lauded as the people’s hero?

        Well, for one thing, Trump’s morally offensive behavior
            is not unique to him.
        Let’s not pretend this is about one immoral person.
            He’s not mainstream, thank God.
            But he’s not an outlier, either.
            Misogyny, racism, religious bigotry, violence, greed,
                and yes, sexual abuse,
                all are prevalent in our culture,
                    and even present in the church,
                and well-meaning people, like us,
                    too often look the other way.

        Don’t forget—Trump’s sickening, abusive comments
            were made in the company of another man
                who should have objected,
                but laughed like it was funny.
            How often does that very thing get repeated
                in private conversations among men in our community,
                    that never get leaked to the press?

            I am encouraged that now leaders of both parties
                are finally coming out
                and vigorously condemning his behavior.

        And of course, none of us are morally pure.
            Not Hillary. Not me. Not you.
            But enough of this craziness!
            Can someone push the reset button on our culture?

        How did a supposedly civil society get to a sordid place like this?
            Some of us feel like exiles in our own country,
                like we are wandering in a wilderness.
                I’m emotionally spent . . .
                    just having to say what I’ve said.

Which brings me back to my opening comment,
    that now you may be wondering about . . .
    when I said that wilderness should be embraced;
        that it can be, in fact, a gift and grace of God.

Note that I did not say everything that happens in a wilderness
    is beautiful and good.
    What I just described is a case in point.
        Wilderness can be dark.
            Evil can lurk there.
            Navigating wilderness requires wisdom,
                caution, discernment, and the strength of community.
        But wilderness is also where God calls us to live. Here. Now.

We spend too much of our time trying to avoid wilderness.
    Wilderness is not a thing we naturally embrace.
        Wilderness is, by definition, wild.
        There is little room for control or management,
            or even, stability—something most of us appreciate,
                and need, in order to thrive.

So let me launch this series with a disturbing claim—
    at least it’s disturbing to me—
    that we need to make our home in the wilderness.
        Not just put up with the wilderness.
        But embrace it, and become at home in it.

And I begin my case with the Exodus.
    The Exodus is at the core of our Judeo-Christian understanding
        that God is about liberating us from whatever binds us.
    God’s design for humankind, since the dawn of Creation,
        is that we flourish on this earth,
            in a relationship with God and others,
            characterized by freedom and love.

    But God’s people were enslaved by an oppressive Egyptian Empire.
        By definition, Empire is management and control,
            by way of domination.
        God’s design, on the other hand, is the opposite of Empire.
            God’s design is for human freedom,
                defined and sustained by sacrificial love.

    The people of Israel,
        whom God had chosen to demonstrate God’s love for the world,
        were being crushed by the forces of Empire.
    Pharoah and his Empire robbed the people
        of their worth, and their identity as God’s beloved people.
    They knew not who they were.
    They knew not they were loved by God.

    So 40 years in the wilderness, post-Exodus,
        were not just punishment.
        Yes, we read in the biblical narrative
            that the 40 years were punishment for their lack of faith.
        And that’s true.

    But I think we can see more in it than that,
        as we read the narrative in the light of the whole of scripture.
    I think we can see that God had in mind
        that the wilderness would be a place of spiritual formation.

    In the wilderness they would rediscover something, spiritually,
        that they had lost back in Egypt.
    They would come to re-learn how dependent they were on God,
        and how faithful God is in providing for the people God loves.

    Only in the wilderness,
        where being able to control things is not even an option . . .
    Only in the wilderness,
        where we can never survive alone . . .
    Only in the wilderness,
        where we grow deeply aware of our fragility, and dependence . . .
    Only there can we break free of the oppressive powers of Empire,
        and take the first real steps toward the Promised Land.

The Empire runs on what Walter Brueggemann calls
    the narrative of scarcity.
    That there is never enough for everyone,
        so those in power control access to resources,
        to make sure they get what they want.
    And access is controlled by violence, or the threat of violence.
        Empire is about management by domination.

The wilderness, at least the wilderness we encounter in scripture,
    runs by a different narrative.
    Ironically, in the wilderness—
        in the desert, a place of barrenness and nothingness—
        there God’s people learn the narrative of abundance.
        God provides what is needed.
            Manna. Bread. Sweet water.
        We can stop striving.
        We can enjoy Sabbath rest.
        We can open ourselves to God’s good gifts,
            and live in God’s good time.

    That’s the biblical story.
        It is told in the story of the Israelites,
            as they sojourned between Exodus and the Promised Land.

        It is told and retold,
            in the story of the prophets,
                who lived in the wilderness,
                depending on others for food.
            And it came to them.
                Sometimes from the hand of a poor widow.
                Sometimes from the beak of a raven.

        It is told in the story of Judah’s Exile to Babylon,
            which we heard today from Jeremiah,
            in which God’s people,
                carried away into the spiritual wilderness of Babylon,
                were urged to make themselves at home there.
            To open themselves to whatever God had for them there—
                homes, crops, families.
                They were urged to invest in life,
                    not waste away waiting for something to change.

        And the story is told again in the life of Jesus,
            who spent 40 days in the wilderness to prepare for ministry.
            There he learned to flourish in a state of dependence,
                not independence.
        At least in the case of the prophets, and of Jesus,
            we know God was not punishing them.
            God was helping to form them, spiritually.

    God does not want any of us bound by the powers of Empire.
        Because God hates bondage. Of all kinds.
            Physical. Political. Spiritual.
            Captivity is not God’s design.
        But sometimes—dare I say usually—
            the path that carries us
                from the captivity of Empire to the Land of Promise,
                passes through wilderness.
        In this wilderness, our task is to learn openness and gratitude.
        We need not strive, need not fear, need not be anxious,
            need not resort to violence to protect what we have,
                or to gain what we don’t have.

If we wish to be formed for a flourishing life in the wilderness,
    there are disciplines we are called to engage in,
        which give God something to work with.
    God is the loving potter working and shaping.
        God does the work of formation.
        But the disciplines soften the clay.

The discipline we focused on today,
    in scripture, song, and story . . .
        is gratitude.

We heard the story from the Gospel of Luke
    about Jesus healing ten lepers,
    one of whom was a Samaritan.

They were healed not immediately, but later, walking down the road.
    And the one who came back to thank Jesus was the Samaritan.

This is a remarkable story,
    one that I have heard my whole life,
    since I was old enough to listen to a Bible story.
When the story was told to us children,
    it was told as a lesson in saying “thank you.”
    We were encouraged to be like the one who came back to Jesus,
        and said “thank you.”
    And not like the other nine, the ungrateful wretches,
        who maybe—I sometimes wondered—
        got reinfected with leprosy
            because they failed to say “thank you.”

But this story isn’t really about the other nine.
    They may indeed have been grateful.
    We don’t know their motive, attitude, or circumstances.

The point Jesus makes, according to the Gospel writer,
    is that the only one who came back was the foreigner—
        the despised Samaritan.
    There was one in that group of ten,
        who, despite being doubly ostracized—
            as a leper, and as a Samaritan—
        lived with an open and receptive and appreciative spirit.

    Maybe this thing of being pushed to the margins,
        being forced, for years, to live in a wilderness,
        made him especially alert to God’s spiritual provisions.
    Perhaps he experienced the wilderness as a place of God’s grace,
        and instead of continually fighting against it,
        opened his heart to it.
    Maybe, as a Samaritan, he had the advantage
        of not going through life with a sense of entitlement,
        but of utter dependence.
    So when the gift came,
        his first response was gratitude.
    Rather than thinking, “Finally, the health I always deserved!”
        he may have thought instead, “Once again, God has provided.”

I can’t get inside the head of the Samaritan,
    any more than I can the other nine.
But the sheer fact that he stopped, turned around,
    went back,
    and fell face down in gratitude and praise to God,
        does tell us something about his spiritual formation.
    He was positively formed by his wilderness,
        I think it’s safe to say.
    He was formed to experience God as generous provider.
    And over the years,
        he cultivated of life of gratitude,
        by engaging in the practice of giving thanks.

This is not about finding some formula for a happy life.
    This isn’t about the power of positive thinking,
        although positive thinking can have powerful effects.
    This is about a choice to engage in a spiritually formative practice,
        while we are in the wilderness.
    It is about learning to live with an open heart,
        a receptive mind,
        an appreciative spirit,
        expecting God to be faithful,
        expecting God to show up in the wilderness.
    Whether the wilderness is personal, cultural, political, or spiritual.
    The spiritual practice of expressing gratitude
        can go a long way toward helping us thrive in our wilderness—
        whatever the cause of the wilderness may be.

Life is uncertain.
    Anywhere this side of the Promised Land—
        and to be sure, we are not there yet—
        we will, always, be unable to manage or control our lives.
    Management and control are the way things work back in Egypt,
        under the domination of Empire.
    Yieldedness and receptivity and vulnerability
        are the way life can flourish in the wilderness.

As we get closer to Election Day, and beyond,
    as the world keeps turning around and time passes,
    may the gift of gratitude be ours in abundance.

And may our prayer, our hope, our faith,
    be that God will meet us in the wilderness,
        in the very place of emptiness,
        and fill us with peace.

—Phil Kniss, October 9, 2016

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Hang in there, keep calm and carry on

World Communion Sunday
Psalm 37:1-9

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          It is easy to become cynical and discouraged these days....about most anything. Just listen to comments and conversations of people around you.  John and I discussed Monday afternoon whether we were going to watch the first presidential debate later that evening.   I wanted to.  He didn’t want to, but we ended up watching it together.  At 11pm we turned the TV off and went to bed.  Sleep did not come quickly nor easily.  You could say we were ‘stirred up’.  Will we watch the next two debates?  I don’t know?  It is hard NOT to get ‘stirred up’, even angry or cynical when we hear what is coming out of the mouths of our politicians.  Where is truth and goodness and respect?  But then, I must confess, I found myself saying some things the next day that were not constructive nor edifying about the candidates.  God forgive me for being so pious, for I am no better than they are. (As I reminded the children last week in children’s time,  out of the same mouth comes good and it was, only two days later and I was guilty of not controlling my tongue!)

          It isn’t only what is happening in the political realm that causes us to feel the way we do.  We become distraught when we watch the evening news and see the violence and fighting going on in countries around the world.  Peace agreements are fragile and don’t last.  Convoys with humanitarian aid and workers are bombed!   Our hearts ache when we see the tears and bodies of children being rescued from underneath rumble because of the destruction on civilian populations.  We have come to anticipate another report on another shooting in another city almost daily in our own country. We read blogs on social media and hear stories describing situations of brokenness or abuse.  It seems to go on and on.

          So what do we do?  How do we live in a time and culture and world when we feel this way and are bombarded daily with things that we can and do worry about, “fret” about, things that stir us up?  I don’t think I am the only one here this morning that is challenged by this. 
           Some of us deal with it by processing our ‘stuff’ with a counselor, or reflecting together with a spiritual director.  Others of us take anti-anxiety pills, when we need them, or another pill to our regimen for high blood pressure.  Some of us try to work out more, running 10 miles)or two) or swimming 15 laps.  Maybe more of us need to spend time in prayer!

          So on Tuesday, day after the debate, I began, once again to pour myself into the texts for this Sunday, with the intention of focusing primarily on the passage from II Timothy 1:1-14, one of my favorite passages.  But it wasn’t working.  I found myself going back again and again to the Psalm for the day, Ps. 37.  Words popped out to me, almost as if they were in bold type.

Trust in the Lord
Take delight in the Lord
Commit your way to the Lord
Be still before the Lord
Wait patiently for the Lord
Hope in the Lord

I read it over and over, commit, be still, wait, hope.  And it is absolutely clear that the trust and hope we are to have is in the LORD, in YAHWEH, our God, not in anything or anyone else!  Not in any earthly king or ruler or president or political party or even religion.   But in the LORD!  I think it is the message for us today. 

          This Psalm, attributed to David, is not written by a young David, but by David with some years on him.  Verse 25: “I was young and now I am old...”  Maybe this is an old grandfather David, with words of wisdom born out of his long life and experiences, that he wants to convey and leave for his grandchildren, for the generations to come.  He seems to be saying, “don’t you be concerned, fretting about the evil in the world, or distracted by those evildoers.  The Lord will take care of them!”  It is clear from the very beginning there is a wrong way and a right way to respond to the wicked.  “Do not leads only to evil.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath.”

          If you read the entire 40 verses of the Psalm, (which is worth reading), we find many places indicating the fate of the wicked...., “ they will be destroyed, cut off, their power will be broken, their own swords will pierce their own hearts and their bows will be broken.”  The psalm leaves no doubt the fate of their future.  James Waltner in his commentary writes, “Life with God is full of hope and strength.  Without God, it is doomed to destruction.” (p. 193)

          Part of our struggle is also that the psalmist uses words like, ‘soon’ and, ‘in a little while’, these things will be taken care of and God will be victorious, but here it is the 21st century!  How do we live in faith, in hope, in a world where it sometimes seems that evil is all around us and is taking over?  How do we build greater trust and confidence in God in a time when keeping faith is difficult?   We need to tell ourselves and remind others, “hang in there, keep calm and carry on”, when we are in the midst of the storm!  We know that in God’s time, God will be victorious and keep the promise.

             But how do we “wait for the Lord” and what do we do in the meantime?

          The psalmist seems to encourage us to take a long view of history.  We need to focus on the big picture, to look beyond our own little space and sphere and timeline.  We are part of something bigger than most of us can ever imagine.  On World Communion Sunday, we remind ourselves that the body of Christ includes our brothers and sisters from around the world speaking different languages, breaking different breads, observing communion in different ways, but thanks be to God, in Christ, we are one!

          So as we hang in here and ‘wait’, ...for whatever it is that we find ourselves waiting for..... test results, healing, reconciliation, direction for our lives, waiting for God’s promise to be realized, whatever we might be waiting for, I have 4 suggestions to make that may be helpful for us during this time.

1.)  LOOK for stories of hope and tell them.   Where is hope pushing through the pain or evil or brokenness?  Where is God at work in the world?  The story of hope may be part of your story or it may be something you read or heard from another.  Tell it to others to encourage and inspire and give testimony to God’s love and faithfulness and compassion that are new every morning.
2.)  LISTEN for words of wisdom.  Share them, write them down.  They may come from your grandmother, a church leader, a young adult.  The words might be something you read, even from a cryptoquote in the paper.  Psalm 37:30-31 states, “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just.  The law of their God is in their hearts, their feet do not slip.”
3.)  WATCH for opportunities to speak out, when your voice needs to be heard, when your insights and experience needs to be shared and when injustice needs to be confronted.  The passage from II Timothy 1 for today reminds us that the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline..   especially self discipline.  May we use what has been given to us wisely.
4.)  WORK in your own context to build bridges of peace and reconciliation.  As much as we know and see and care about the global community and what is happening around the world, we realize that we can do very little that has significant impact on the big problems, but we can do some things in our very own city, neighborhoods and state. (It’s happening in H’burg with Faith in Action, and the work of CWS and refugee resettlement)  One of the verses in Psalm 37 states: “Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.  For the lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.” (vs. 27-28)

A story of Hope:
          Last week I read an article in the last issue of Canadian Mennonite that covered what is happening in the country of Colombia.  At the end of August a peace agreement was reached after 52 years of civil war, that took the lives of est. 220,000, and left over 8 million homeless.  That doesn’t include those who “disappeared”.  On Tuesday I was pleased that the DN-R, on page 2, also covered  the story of the signing of this peace agreement that happened on Monday, and included a wonderful photo of the leaders. The President Juan Manuel Santos and the top commander of the Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, Rodrigo Londono, worked through 4 years of hard negotiations to reach this agreement.  Today, Oct. 2, the country of Colombia will vote on this national referendum that will determine if it takes effect.  Cesar Garcia, president of MWC lives in Bogota, and says that when this peace agreement was finalized, “the sense of relief in that country was huge.”  Colombian Mennonites have long been leaders in terms of Anabaptist peace practice.  During the civil war, several rural MC congregations were destroyed, other churches were persecuted from both sides, some served as refuge for the homeless.  Today the people decide whether a restorative vision will take hold in a nation with deep scars and open wounds?  Whether the prospect of peace will prevail after 52 years of struggle?  What will true justice look like in such a complex and bloodied situation that has lasted a lifetime for some citizens?  Paul Stucky, a Mennonite who is from Berne, IN and a former classmate of my husband, has lived and worked in Colombia for many years.  We talked with him last year at MWC.  In the CM article, he asks, “Will the ‘underlying distrust’ that is evident on both sides transform into something resembling reconcilitation?”
          In Tuesday’s paper, the commander of the revolutionary forces repeated the movements’ request for forgiveness for the war.  I apologize...for all the pain that we have caused.” That apology may not be enough for some people, but it is a huge beginning in the long process in implementing the promises, if it is passed by the people today.
          Cesar Garcia stated, “Many victims on all sides will need to forgive.”
I believe this is a story of hope.  For our brothers and sisters who may be observing communion today in countries around the world, especially in Colombia, may our prayers and thoughts be lifted up together, in gratitude for what God has done through Jesus, so that we can join together as one body in Christ, breaking bread and sharing the cup, at God’s table of grace, of peace, of love, of hope, of joy.  AMEN

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