Monday, December 2, 2019


Advent is the season of not yet,
the season we practice patience
because patience is the virtue essential
         to another Advent theme – peace.

Isaiah was Jesus’ favorite book.
Isaiah gave Jesus his main theme -- the Kingdom of God.
The coming of that Kingdom is what we are waiting for.
In Advent we learn how to welcome God’s Kingdom
-- prepare the way, open the door to God.

The key to Isaiah’s vision of the Kingdom is in today’s lesson:
         They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
         and their spears into pruning hooks;
         nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
         neither shall they learn war anymore.
The gateway into God’s Kingdom is peace.
 It’s like an Old West saloon
         where we check our gun at the door.

We invite the Kingdom to come 
         by practicing Kingdom Ways here and now.
That starts with the intentional practice of peace.
Is this about the war and peace made by governments?
Absolutely. But it doesn’t start there.
The wars of nations are bloody flowers on a cultural tree
         with deep, deep roots of violence.
Beneath political violence lies spiritual violence.

We won’t have much luck persuading 
         our governments to practice Kingdom Ways
         until we get the plank out of our own eye
and become people of peace ourselves.

In the Creed we say, We believe in God . . . .”
But in the real world, we believe in war. 
Before the Wars in the Middle East, 
we had a War on Terrorism.
Before that, we declared war on drugs.
We have declared war on inflation, on poverty,
         on salt, on pineapples and even on war itself. 
If we don’t like something, we declare war on it.

Maybe, that’s just a metaphor.
But metaphors create reality. They shape action.
They cause us, for example, to spend fortunes 
         on so-called drug enforcement
         while cutting drug rehabilitation Medicaid funding.

Is war ever the right response to a crisis?
Maybe, but it’s hard to know when war is such a dominant metaphor
         that it is our knee jerk response.
New Testament scholar Walter Wink said
         that the central point of the Gospels is to repudiate 
a religion he calls the myth of redemptive violence.
That religion teaches that violence sets things right
         and vengeance is the sweetest repast.

Jesus said just the opposite.
Violence begets violence. 
There is no end to it until someone like Jesus
         suffers but does not strike back.
Only then can it stop.

But tv shows, movies, and video games brainwash us 
with the myth of redemptive violence.
So, we keep spending far more money 
on our capacity to kill people
         than feeding, healing, and educating them.

How do we change it?
How do we practice Kingdom Ways while living 
under what Paul called the Powers and Principalities?
The answer has two equal and closely connected parts
-- peace within and peace with others.    
Let’s look inward first.

The Dalai Lama – who may not be a Christian but he’s good friends 
with the Archbishop of Canterbury --  says, 
         We can never obtain peace in the outer world
                  until we make peace with ourselves. 
The outer world doesn’t just mean hostile nations. 
It means our families, friends, and neighbors.
We blame each other for our unhappiness,
         but the balm for our pain is inside us. 
That balm is a kind of patience – not pretending our pain away –
         but learning to let it be. Stop picking at it. 
         That’s peace.

The seductive appeal of violence is its speediness.
Peace is a kind of stillness born of patience.
Paul put patience right beside peace
         in his fruits of the Sprit list, because, 
as St. Bernard of Clairvaux said,
Patience leads to peace.
Patience with each other begins by learning
patience with our own thoughts and feelings.
St. Francis de Sales said,  Have patience with all things,
         but first of all with yourself.
Rilke said,
         Have patience with all that remains unresolved in your heart.

To make peace, we have to become people of peace.
Jesus said you don’t get good fruit from a bad tree.
Peace starts within, through disciplined patient prayer.
So prayer: centering prayer, breath prayer, 
         loving kindness meditation, Taize chant,
         yogic asanas, tai chi chuan, any kind of prayer that brings us 
         to the Serene Center of Reality – peace starts there.

Peace doesn’t mean we always feel calm.
It isn’t some blissed out zone.
Peace means when we feel sad or afraid, 
we can just be sad or afraid awhile and not panic 
– terrified we will feel that way.

Usually hurt morphs into fear that we will 
         get never get over it. 
That fear turns to anger. Anger lashes out. 
Someone retaliates. 
Then we get hurt worse –and it all snowballs.

Deep prayer lets us just feel what we feel when we feel it,
         then let it go.
We don’t get lost in the fantasy of forever.
We let the hurt, the fear, the anger sweep across the surface
         – but not capture us and carry us along.
We have our feelings
         but our feelings don’t have us.
That’s what it means to be patient with ourselves. 

In Byron’s poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, the ocean symbolizes our mind
         and those thoughts and fears are ships.
He wrote,
         Roll on thou deep and dark blue ocean -- roll.
          Ten thousand ships sweep over thee in vain.

Prayer rolls on like Byron’s ocean. 
So the passions sweep over us in vain.
They don’t carry us into aggression.

Shakespeare’s Viola in 12th Night
         repeatedly trusts unfolding time to resolve
         the dilemmas that are beyond her.
Prayer teaches us to say with Viola,
         O time, thou must untangle this, not I.
But if inner peace doesn’t manifest outwardly,
it’s just spiritual narcissism.
Peace is essentially and ultimately about relationships.
While we are learning patience with ourselves,
we can simultaneously learn patience 
         by befriending people we don’t agree with.
Anyone can make a shallow easy friendship 
             with like-minded people.
That’s just enjoying our own reflection. 
Reinhold Niebuhr said such friendships 
just make us more dangerous.

That isn’t what Church is about.
Speaking of this congregation, Mother Kim said,    
we are not like-minded but like-hearted.
We don’t base the Church on agreeing with each other,
         but on caring for each other.
Spiritual practice includes befriending people who disagree
and letting our differences lie at rest between us
without dividing us.

Some want the clergy to keep quiet
about the political part of life,
and I’ll gladly do that if we can 
first get the politics out of the Bible. 
Until we can do that, God help me, I’m stuck with it. 

Our differences these days are often political.
Bishop Kym says,
         In this world of division and hate,
         of chasm digging and wall building,
         a faithful church will be . . . connected//
         to God, to each other and to our community.
Staying connected takes patience. 

Isaiah doesn’t answer all our political issues.
But he does tell us how to treat each other 
         across our differences – with patience and respect. 
Church isn’t the only place to practice  Kingdom Ways.
They are for our whole life.
But we start here,
         maybe because if we can make peace in the Church,
                  we can make it anywhere.

So I invite you, this Advent, to the patient practice of peace.
Start slowly beating your sword into a ploughshare.
Do it prayerfully, gently with the quiet grace of waiting.