Peace and Service- What Do You Choose?
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year c, 9-11-16 Exodus32:7-14, Ps 51, 1Tim 1:12-17, Luke 15: 1-10
I had my desk piled high with books & commentaries about the Book of Exodus, looking for ideas for today. Then I read today’s opening prayer. Let me read it again: “Let us pray for the peace which is born of faith and hope. Father in heaven, you alone are the source of our peace. Bring us to the dignity which distinguishes the poor in spirit and show us how great is the call to serve, that we may share in the peace of Christ who offered his life in the service of all.”
Well, this week Mother Theresa of Kolkata was canonized as a Saint, and today we have a Day of Remembrance for the attack on September 11th. How much more clearly could the Holy Spirit have urged me to talk today about peace and service?
Moses was God’s servant bringing the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The people all had been born in slavery, as had their parents. It was the only life they had ever experienced. Freedom was new, and difficult. They were accustomed to being dependent, to having decisions made for them. They escaped from Egypt only 3 months before, and now Moses had been up on Mount Sinai for 6 weeks with God; they were afraid he wouldn’t return. They fell back on their experiences from Egypt; they made and worshiped a golden cow, and their behavior became wild & uncontrolled. Worshiping something they made did not bring them peace.
The people still thought of God as being made in their image, like an idol. So God is described as having a human fit of rage. They expect God will destroy them, just as their Egyptian masters would have done. But in the next chapter, Moses presents the 10 commandments to the people, and they promise to do their part of the covenant with God. This is actually the high point of the Old Testament story. The people commit to worshiping only God and God commits to protecting and loving the people. Their worship space is filled with the Ark of the Covenant and they work together the make the space ornate and beautiful. The Glory of God fills the meeting tent & peace returns to the people.
So, I think we can say this: that service is to bring the word of God to one other. And peace comes from God’s word and from trust and obedience to God’s word.
Our Psalm is the confession of King David after he broke God’s law and took Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. David was God’s servant, making the nation of Israel a strong and great nation, leading the people into a time of peace, ensuring the people were faithful to their covenant with God. But there would be no peace for David until he confessed his sin.
Likewise, our 2nd reading is a confession by St. Paul about murdering Christians prior to his conversion to Christianity. Paul had been a Pharisee, proud & arrogant. He had actively and violently worked to stop the followers of Jesus after the resurrection. But then Jesus appeared to Paul, and asked, “Why do you persecute me?” So Paul became a servant of God, taking the Word of the Risen Christ into the world. He helped form the faith as we know it. His peace came from not from hatred and violence; instead he found peace even as he became the subject of violence and hatred. He was beaten and jailed, all in service of the God he praised and worshiped.
Finally, in our Gospel, Jesus, the ultimate servant of God, tells us two parables of not only peace, but heavenly joy. The Pharisees, like the Israelites led by Moses, wanted God to be in their image. They were angry and disgusted that Jesus didn’t put people in their place – mainly the people who didn’t make a great pretense of being holy, people who didn’t or couldn’t afford to follow all the complex rules the Pharisees helped create to set themselves above other people. So Jesus says, “What if a woman looses a tenth of all her money? Won’t she tear the house apart, frantically looking for it, not stopping until she finds it? And won’t her happiness in finding it be known to everyone? The angels in heaven, Jesus says, are the same way over just a single person who repents of their sin.” Like the woman who found her coin, the repentant one will find peace and joy in finding forgiveness.
The shepherd likewise finds his lost sheep, and rejoices, telling all his neighbors and friends. He finds relief and peace, just as there is joy in heaven over a single sinner who comes to repent and find forgiveness. I always have thought this has a touch of sarcasm from Jesus. Did Jesus suggest that the Pharisees see themselves as the 99 righteous people, when really their pride and their prejudice creates a barrier to the so-called sinners finding peace? But still I hear of churches refusing sacraments to people.
My neighbor has a bumper sticker that reads, “We need a Department of Peace.” Peace, like charity, begins at home. Peace, like service, is a choice. I don’t plan to move to India to pick up the dying off the streets there. I have found enough abused and forgotten people dying in sub-standard nursing homes right here at home. There are enough hungry children at our local Elementary school and enough refugees and immigrants in the housing development within walking distance of this church; there are enough social agencies, church charities and social justice groups crying for volunteers and donations to keep us all busy all day every day.
Every death, every injury, every mourner from 9-11 deserves our prayerful remembrance today. As does every one of the hundreds of thousands of innocent children and adults who still now continue to die from hunger and acts of war and hatred. We know the one source of peace, and we know a life of service to be the Christian life. I suggest to you, as well as to myself, to make our act of remembrance in the coming days by finding new ways to be of service, and new openings to bring peace in our own families, our own neighborhoods. Surely the Holy Spirit whispers in your ears chances to do this service, so let us encourage each other to do it.