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Ceasefire

Ceasefire

Opening Prayer

Grant, O God, that Your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that the barriers which divide us may crumble, the suspicions disappear and the hatreds cease; that, with our divisions healed, we may live together in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Call to Worship

(From Joel 2:28, Micah 6:8, Amos 5:24, and Hosea 14:2)

Leader: Creator God… Call us all.

People: You declared, O Lord, that our sons and daughters would prophecy;
the young will see visions, while the elders dream dreams.

Leader: Resurrected Christ… guide us all.

People: You have told us, Great God, what is required:
to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with You.

Leader: Holy, Holy, Holy Spirit…move us to action.

People: So that justice rolls like water
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Leader: Take away all guilt; accept that which is good.

All: We offer our worship — the fruit of our lips to you, our God. Amen.

Hymn: Love Divine (Cokesbury 22; V1,2 & 4)

Praises & Concerns:

Let us pray.

Father God, Creator of all, Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers. We come to you today, heads bowed, hands open and uplifted, carrying the fruits and burdens of our hearts, those spoken here today and especially those that were kept unspoken.
• We shout praise and joyful thanksgiving for those blessings you have bestowed on us, most especially for the blessings we have yet to recognize.
• We lift up to you those who are hurt or ill and ask that you be with them, comfort them, guide their care providers and, if it be your will, heal them completely.
• We lift up to you those who are grieving. We ask that you ease their minds and hearts, and give them comfort for as long as they need, and that you remind us to be patient, kind and understanding for as long a time as they need to grieve.
• We lift up to you those who are struggling with depression, anger, frustration, addiction, temptation, finances, relationships or personal problems. We ask that you strengthen their will and help them stand strong against any darkness. We pray that you provide for and bless them. We ask that you soften hearts that have hardened and are unforgiving, and mend hearts that are broken.
• We lift up our communities, our country and our world, Lord. There is so much turmoil, so much division, so much negativity, so much greed and corruption, so much hate – hate we don’t even really and fully understand. Humble us, Lord, and help us clear the logs from our own eyes so that we can see clearly our fellow brothers and sisters. Tear the fear and hate from our hearts and open them so that we can truly love one another, even our enemies.
• And now, in the words your Son and our Lord and Savior taught us, let us pray …. (Lord’s Prayer)

First Reading (Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7)

29 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Hymn: In the Garden (Cokesbury 62; V 1-3)

Second Reading (2 Timothy 2:8-15)

8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

11 Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Children’s Time (Pam Comer)

Hymn: Just As I Am (Cokesbury 151; V 1-3, 6)

Third Reading (Luke 17:11-19)

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Ceasefire

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing unto you, oh Lord, our rock and redeemer.

Just a word of warning before I begin: I still haven’t mastered the Bishops’ twelve minute sermon.
Everyone take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Do you feel that? The quiet, the restfulness, the calm? The feelings of love, caring, kindness are literally tangible in this church, like ripe fruit you can reach out, pluck and savor. There is a sense of family here. Of goodness. Of oneness.

But in about a half hour, we have to go out there. Out into a world increasingly filled with anger. A world that’s loud and brash and rude. A world where telling it like it is has become more important and acceptable than being kind, respecting others, or simply not destroying someone else’s dignity or value. A world where it’s more important to be able to say, “I saw that coming” than it is to give a preventive warning or show any sincere empathy or sympathy.

People are suffering and even dying out there for the most senseless reasons! They were different, they were acting suspicious, they weren’t the right religion, they knew too much, they knew too little, she cheated on me, he hit me, I thought he was going to hurt me, she wouldn’t stop crying, they bullied me, they’re living on land on want, they have land I want, they’re the enemy. Suffering and dying. For no good reason.

Entire communities are dying. Institutions are dying. In some places, entire generations are dying. Hopes, dreams, gains from years of struggle and sacrifice and progress are dying. Even a lot of churches are dying.

And, as all these people and things and entities lay dying, those of us left standing are so busy blaming each other for their deaths that we tend to miss their funerals. Rarely do you hear someone who stands up and says, “I take responsibility. I need to own my mistake. That was my fault.” Nope. It’s always“he did it, she did it, they did it”. Rarely, if ever, do you hear “I did it” or “we did it”. Always, no matter the situation, the blame is going to be placed on “him, her, or them”, but almost never on “me, myself or I”. Heck, we’ve even taken to blaming natural disasters like hurricanes or floods or wildfires or earthquakes on people … on SOMEBODY.

Especially on the really big stuff. Those people in charge of the REALLY big stuff are like the kings and queens of blaming someone, aren’t they? And fast on the draw, too. They’re like pfeeeww! She did it! No! pfewww, pfewww, pfewww, he, him and THEY did it! God help us all if they ever really load those fingers. We’d probably all be dead.

But still, even as we sit here this morning, praying and worshiping and praising God … the dying continues. And so does the blame.

Ask yourself something:

How do we save a life by pointing fingers? How can we end the fight this way, when blame is the truth we’re preaching, and lies are what we’re believing?  No one ever wins when the goal is to settle the score. When the only goal is to settle the score. To get even.

  • 1914, World War I – someone shot an Austrian duke, and the whole world went to war.
  • 1939, World War II – one country attacked another, and the whole world went to war.
  • 1950, Korea – one half of a country attacked the other half of a country, and we went to war.
  • 1954, Vietnam – the same thing happened in another country, and we went to war. Again.
  • 1991, Persian Gulf – one man defied the UN, and we went to war.
  • September 11, 2001 – 2,996 people died and more than 6,000 others were wounded in a terrorist attack, and we have been at war ever since.

 

And that’s just the “military” wars. There are so many other wars and conflicts and confrontations. So much anger. So much and so many kinds of death and destruction.

Did you know that law students are taught that, in any court case, and case tried before a judge … no one wins? No matter what the final decision of the case is, everyone on all sides loses something or someone.

No one ever wins. So what do we do stop this madness? What can we do? Most importantly, what does God want us to do?

Similar to the Israelites in our passage from Jeremiah this morning, we seem to be exiled to an angry, hateful world that’s increasingly hard to recognize and often, we seem to wake up in some alternative universe or foreign land where everything is upside down. Golly, there have been many times lately that I was sure I woke up in a Mad Maxx movie!

But, in that passage delivered through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells us what to do. He tells us that we should learn to cope, to deal with it. Jeremiah writes, “Build houses … plant gardens … take wives … multiply there …. (and … this is the important part) … Seek the welfare of this city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its [Babylon’s] welfare you will find your welfare.”

So God says we should continue to live our lives going about our business, making our homes, feeding our families, making families. BUT … really big but … AS we go about those things, we should pray for and “seek the welfare” of this world we find ourselves in. “Seek the welfare” which, by the way, means to work diligently to further the common good because, in doing that, we provide for our own good.

A few verses past our reading today, we’re given God’s assurance that our hard work for the welfare of our community and the world is not in vain nor left to chance when Jeremiah writes “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Our other verses have similar advice. Persevere. Stay the course. Endure. Stay faithful because He is faithful, even when we are not. Don’t quarrel about words, don’t be ashamed of who we are as Christians, and promote truth. Have faith. Trust. Give God the glory for any blessings. Praise Him in the midst of the storm.

But it’s Jeremiah that I want to focus on. “Seek the welfare of this city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its [Babylon’s] welfare you will find your welfare.”
How do we … how CAN we … how SHOULD we … seek the welfare of this world we’re in? Meditate on that for a moment while I share a prayer[1] with you.

We’ve prayed the prayer with no reply
Words float off into the night
Couldn’t cut our doubt with the sharpest knife
Oh God forgive us

Silence isn’t comfortable
We want to drive through peace and instant hope
Our shallow faith, it has left us broke

Oh God forgive us
Enslaved to our uncertainty
Help us with our unbelief
Oh God forgive us

Young and old, black and white
We’re rich and poor, there’s no divide
Hear the mighty, hear the powerless, singing

Oh God forgive us
Oh, God … forgive us. Forgive us for letting the earthly world tear us apart individually and collectively. Forgive us for closing our eyes, our ears, our hearts to the suffering of others. Forgive us, Lord, for not remembering what you taught us in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:9 when you said:
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Sons of God.”
Forgive us, Lord, for not learning, for not striving to become peacemakers and for too often becoming instead peace takers. Oh God … forgive us. Amen.

In that prayer is the answer to how we can “seek the welfare” of this crazy, cranky, upside down world we’re in. We can become peaceMAKERS.

You might ask why should we, what is a peacemaker, doesn’t the UN have guys that do that for us, and how would we possibly do that, anyway?

Well, there are numerous scriptures that help make sense of it. According to Colossians 3:15, we are called to peace. In Galatians 5:22, we learn that peace is one of the seven fruits of the Spirit. Hebrews 12:14 tells us to “make every effort to live in peace with EVERYONE.” First Peter 3:11 tells us to turn from evil and do good, to seek peace and pursue it. James 3:18 tells us to sow in peace in order to reap a harvest of righteousness. Proverbs 12:20 tells us that those who promote peace will have joy. Romans 14:19 tells us to make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.

And that’s just a sample. There are more. But those clear up the why part. God, through his prophets and apostles, told us to seek peace and pursue it, make every effort to live in peace, sow peace, promote peace, and do what leads to peace. And we’re to be obedient about what God tells us to do, right?

Next comes the what part. What is a peacemaker, anyway?

Well, according to the dictionary, peace means freedom from disturbance; it means quiet and tranquility. It means freedom from or the cessation of war or violence.

Maker means someone who makes or produces something. When you put them together, peacemaker means someone who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries; an arbitrator, mediator, negotiator, conciliator, go-between, or intermediary.

Now, it’s important at this point to understand the difference between peacemakers and peace keepers. Peacemakers work to create or bring about the peace. Peacekeepers, on the other hand, maintain an existing peace – often using the same methods as a peacemaker in serving as go-betweens and intermediaries. Peacekeepers are those guys that work for the UN in certain areas around the world. Peacekeepers are usually military and “enforce” the peace.

But we’re not called to be peacekeepers. Matthew 5:9 was clear. We are to be peaceMAKERS.
Ok, good. We know why – God said so. And we know what – that’s cleared up. So how? How do we right here in Walland, in East Tennessee, in the Southeastern United States, in the United Methodist Church … how do we “seek the welfare” of the world we’re in by becoming peacemakers?

One. By. One.[2]

One by one, we can call for a ceasefire. One conflict, one disagreement, one misunderstanding, one injustice, one issue, one movement, one person, one family, one neighborhood, one community, one school, one business, one organization, even one election.

One by one.

One by one, we can choose to not ignore something just because it doesn’t impact us directly. Choose to not avoid something just because we don’t understand it. Choose to not stand and watch in silence, because we’re afraid to speak out. We can choose to be an intermediary, a voice of reason. Choose to not just listen to but actually hear all sides. Choose to advocate. Choose to support. Choose to stand in the gap.

One by one. It might sound lonely, but it isn’t. Because we can do it standing side by side, even when we’re on different sides. Standing there. Side by side. One by one. We can call for a ceasefire.

I saw something posted on Facebook by a Methodist Pastor[3] that I want to share with you. It goes like this:

“How many [Methodist’s, Baptist’s, Episcopalians, etc.] does it take to change a light bulb?”
[You’ve probably heard this old riddle before.] What makes a joke so often exceptional is that it sheds light on the activities we take for granted in new and exaggerated ways. Of course the real answer is only “one” yet we have so many different answers based on experience.
I wonder if our understanding of God’s forgiveness (mercy) and judgement (grace) can be likened to this old riddle. How many people does God forgive and make whole? Again, the real answer is “one”, and the “one is me. Every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year I have a need to be forgiven and made whole. Oh, I would like to believe I did not require this but that again would be a falsehood, or what we refer to as a lie. You see, it is so easy for my mind to dwell on evil, for my response to be retributive, for my actions to be self-centered rather than to usher in Kingdom living to those whom I am offering myself to. Yes, like so many I face all of the same temptations of everyday life, and just like you, I can admit that I fail often in resisting temptation. But just like you, God stands always ready to accept me. In Christ, I have already been forgiven and a new life has been provided. All I need do is turn back onto the right path, [the path] that always sees Jesus ahead of me on [the] water. I know that every moment I find myself sinking, Jesus reaches out and lifts me back into the boat. In Jesus Christ, God has given us all the changed bulb, no matter when it burns out and without the need for a committee or board to determine if the cost is too high, what type is necessary, or even if we can do without the light (I never can, maybe you can).
So, the true answer is really just one, but it is one at all times and in all places. “[2 Peter 3:9 CEB says] The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.”
Yes, God wants us all, no matter who you are, no matter what you are doing, to recognize what has been freely done for us eternally in Christ Jesus. Amen.[?]

Just like the true answer to the riddle about the lightbulb, the answer to, “how do we become peacemakers” is one. One by one.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.”
It’s our calling, folks, and we need to step up to the plate and answer the call now more than ever. This world we’re exiled to is desperately waiting for us to answer that call.

Let us pray.

Dear Father, we ask your forgiveness for those times when we’ve been peace takers. We come to you now and ask that you strengthen us and guide us as we work to seek the welfare of our community and our world. Father, teach us to live humbly and love unconditionally. Take away our hurt and anger and frustration and pain, renew our hope, and bless us with peace so that we can become peace makers. In Jesus name, Amen.

Offering

Pre: Father, we have heard your words and received your wisdom. Let us now give from our hearts what we can from what we have.

Post: Heavenly Father, You are the Creator and Source of all things good. You have showered us with greatness and love even on the days we turn against You. Through this act of giving, Father, we affirm that we love you and that we will strive to do better at making peace instead of taking peace. We offer these gifts and the service of our lives, praying that they may be used to transform the lives of others. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Doxology

Hymn (Bringing In the Sheaves)

Benediction

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. Make this moment forward the time and season for making peace. With each other, with enemies, with yourselves, and for the welfare of the world so that together, standing side by side, one by one, we all call for a ceasefire.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Notes:

  1. All credit to For King & Country on their album, For King & Country: Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong, song title O God Forgive Us
  2. All credit to For King & Country on their album, For King & Country: Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong, song title Ceasefire
  3. All credit to Pastor Roger Cary, Patton/Sedgewickville UMC, Sedgewickville MO

 

Delivered to the congregation at Walland UMC, Walland TN on Sunday, October 9, 2016.