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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