Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

The Gospel of Peace

Sunday, December 18, 2005

 

 

Ephesians 6: 10-17
Luke 1: 46-55


Rev. Dean Snyder

 

Stopping to get gasoline on 13th Street last week, a church van pulled up in back of my car, and a neighboring pastor got out.Our paths hadnít crossed for some time.I asked him how he was.ďSad,Ē he said.ďDepressed.I am finding it hard to think about celebrating Christmas when there seems to be no way out of this war.Ē

 

Then I was chatting passionately with someone at a social event.He knew I was a minister.He told me he had not attended his church in more than a year.ďI canít stand going to a church,Ē he said, ďthat by doing nothing and saying nothing seems to be blessing the war.Ē

 

Then I got an e-mail from Jim Vitarello on behalf of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace.It said, ďJesus was born in Bethlehem, but today Bethlehem has become an open-air prison surrounded on all four sides by a wall twice the height of the Berlin wall, cutting its people, Muslim and Christian, off from jobs, schools, churches, and hospitals.Please pray for the people of Bethlehem

 

More than two thousand years after the birth of the Prince of Peace, the world today appears to be just as violent as ever.Nations where Christianity has been the dominant religion appeared to be no less violent or prone to war than other nations.It is hard to believe in the possibilities of peace two thousand years after the birth of Christ.I am afraid our problem is this: we donít believe in peace anymore.We donít believe anymore in the possibilities of peace.

 

Iíd like us to turn this morning, once again, to the book of Ephesians one last time.We have been reading the book of Ephesians all fall and winter, and Iíve been preaching on texts from the book of Ephesians all this time.We have now come to the part of the book which, like when a sermon that has gone on too long, finally comes to the word ďfinally.Ē

 

ďFinally,Ē the book of Ephesians says, ďfinally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of the Lordís power.Finally, be strong in the Lord.ĒOne of the defining characteristics of the book of Ephesians is that Ephesians was written by the students of the apostle Paul, who had come to the realization that the present age would not be ending as quickly as the apostle Paul had supposed.We would not suddenly be rescued from the difficulties of life in this world and taken up into another, better world.Instead, the writers of Ephesians began to see that Christ is working in this world, in this cosmos, that Christ is working from generation to generation to generation through time into eternity.God is working in space and time.Christ is present in the universe and in us.

 

One of the concerns of the writers of the book of Ephesians is how the Church will remain faithful over time, throughout the generations.How will we keep the hostile spiritual forces of this world around us from defeating us?How will we keep the negativity, the doom, the evil of the world, how will we keep that from filling us so that we get caught up in the forces of doom and evil so obviously at work?

 

The image that the book of Ephesians uses to describe how the Church is to be faithful is the image of the armor of God, the whole armor of God.Ephesians concludes by saying: ďTake up and put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand the forces of doom and evil in the world around you.Like a soldier dresses in armor to protect him or herself, the Church is to dress itself in the spiritual armor of God and armor of spiritual attitudes.Ē

 

Ephesians lists the parts of the armor:

 

  • A belt of truth.The foundation of the Churchís existence is truth, a belief in knowing and telling the truth.A belt of truth.

 

  • A breastplate of righteousness.A commitment to integrity and honesty protects our hearts.

 

  • The helmet of salvation.The knowledge of our salvation and of Godís love for us protects our heads, keeps us from our thinking becoming that we somehow are lacking Godís love or not adequate to receive Godís love. Itís the kind of thinking that takes away our confidence, our belief, and our acceptance of Godís love.Put on a helmet of salvation to keep your thinking from getting twisted.

 

  • The shield of faith.Faith protects us from the dark spirits of despair and hopelessness thatís all around us.

 

  • And then this: as shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.The Church is to be always ready and quick to proclaim the good news and possibilities of peace.The problem is that it is so hard for us to believe anymore in this world that peace is even a possibility.

 

So how do we proclaim the good news of peace two thousand years after Christ was born when the little town of Bethlehem is an armed camp dominated by despair and violence and fear and we are a nation once again at war?I have spent more of my life as the citizen of a nation at war than as a citizen of a nation of peace.

 

Two thousand years after Jesus Christ was born in a country that was nurtured in the crucible of Christianity, I confess that I have a hard time most mornings believing in the possibility of peace.Itís hard for me to believe, to even hope, that we might be a nation and a world at peace.The book of Ephesians suggests that I have become too open and vulnerable to the attitudes of despair and doom around me and that, if I am to be in Jesus Christ, the part of what Christ is doing in the world, I have to look to Christ for what I believe rather than the world around me.

 

Four spiritual attitudes in the book of Ephesians prepare us to be proclaimers of the possibilities of peace, the good news of peace.

 

One is the belt of truth, the belt of truth that looks at truth without avoidance or denial.Thereís no possibility to proclaim peace unless you look at the truth of war and of violence.I mentioned this before.Periodically, I go to the CNN website.CNN lists the pictures of the 2,153 American soldiers who have died in Iraq.You can go down the list and look at most of their faces, men and women.You can read what their hometown is, and you can read a description of the way they died in Iraq.I go there from time to time to the website and do that because it is so easy to forget that we are in the midst of a war and there are people dying.Look at most of the pictures.Forty-two men, no women, in December died in Iraq, American soldiers.Most of them were boys, younger than my children, nineteen-year-old boys dying in Iraq, and it goes on and on.

 

It is a temptation to forget it, to avoid and to deny it. But there is no way to be messengers of the gospel, the good news of the possibility of peace, without facing the truth.16,061 soldiers have been wounded in action, many of whom lost limbs.If you go to the website, www.iraqideathtoll.com, the verified civilian deaths in Iraq are now over 30,000.And those are only the ones that have been verified by two separate reputable news sources, so the amount of death is really phenomenally higher.We go through our days after a while and say: ďWell, itís not like Vietnam.Itís not like Korea.Itís not like World War II.Itís not like World War I.ĒWe need to put on the belt of truth and face the reality that we are a nation, that we are a world, full of violence and at war.

 

The breastplate of righteousness is to protect our hearts from becoming cold and hard.When violence and war go on and on, it is easy to stop caring.It is one thing to look at the pictures of the 42 on www.cnn.com who died in December.It is another thing to feel the pain of the families who have lost their loved one, to feel the pain of the Iraqi people who have died, to feel the pain of the people behind the walls of the little town of Bethlehem.Our hearts need to remain breakable.The breastplate of righteousness.

 

The shield of faith, which keeps us from becoming cynical, this attitude that we canít make any difference anyway, that nothing we could do would matter.

 

The helmet of salvation.We need to experience the saving power of peace in our own relationships.The reason that the early church was able to believe in peace was because they had experienced a wall of hostility coming down between Jew and Gentile. They knew that it was possible for people who had been enemies for millennia to come to be brothers and sisters, people who loved one another in the church of Jesus Christ.One of the things we need to do is to be peacemakers in our own personal relationships, in our own neighborhoods, in our own congregations, in our own work places so that we can know that God has the power to make peace, that Christ is at work in our world making peace between people who are alienated and divided.

 

God longs for peace.It is why Christ was born, to bring peace to our troubled and violent world.God has broken down all the walls of hostility between all people who see themselves as different, against one another, and as enemies.

 

God longs for peace.It is hard, I know, to believe in peace in a world at war, to believe in peace when the little town of Bethlehem is today a place of violence and fear, but it is our calling.It is who we are and what we are called to be, the people who proclaim the gospel, the good news of the possibility of peace, the people who believe it not because it makes sense to us in the world around us but because God was born into our world and has claimed and has made us peacemakers.

 

Godís intention is that Godís people will live in peace.God believes it so we need to believe it and not settle for violence and war in our lives.May the Prince of Peace be born again in the mangers of our hearts, our churches, our homes, and our nations this Christmas.

 

 

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