“Hope, Sow”

“Hope, Sow”

Peace.
Peace is a word that we say a lot,
or perhaps think about a lot.
We want some peace and quiet we say,
well, at least we say that a lot in our house.

We paint signs and hang banners
expressing our desire
for this elusive thing called peace.
There are basically two definitions
to describe this “peace” that we desire.

The first refers to freedom from disturbance.
It is our desire for the world around us
to be quiet and tranquil.
Like when the kids finally go to bed
or the fireworks finally stop being shot off
in the neighborhood.

The second refers to freedom from
or the cessation of war and violence.
The time when violence and bloodshed
come to an end – or more often, a pause.
A friend once told me that peace
is that brief, glorious moment in human history
when everybody stands around reloading.

Peace is an ideal that most of us
claim to be looking for. The end of war.
The ability to be quiet and tranquil.
And we would think
that with so many of us looking for it
we should have been able to find it by now.

But alas, the bombs and bullets keep flying,
sending our kids to school
has become a terrifying gamble,
and the number of self-help books,
claiming to help us find inner peace
even if outward peace evades us,
lining the shelves at bookstores
has never been higher.

Peace has become a point
of primary focus for our family lately.
All of the decluttering
and winnowing of our “stuff” is, at its core,
an attempt to find some of that
quietness and tranquility in our lives.

It has also become something
we are working on with our kids,
but not just about how we deal
with the physical clutter
but the emotional clutter as well.

Our oldest girl, Michaela,
has a kind and sensitive heart.
This is a girl who gets upset
when characters in movies or books get picked on. Part of that sensitivity though
also makes her have moments of panic
and anxiety in her life.

Just mention that someone
has to get a shot at the doctor’s office,
it doesn’t even have to be her,
and she has a panicky reaction.

Or if she sees
that as part of having to put the dishes away
there are sharp knives
that need to be put away as well,
there is a fear reaction that wells up
as though she thinks the knives
will come alive and try to bite her of their own will.

Part of helping her deal with the panic and anxiety
is helping her to know
what is going on inside her mind.

My parents,
my parents never had to discuss
the psychology of fight or flight responses
and our ability to engage in higher reasoning.

Just try explaining those concepts to an 8-year-old.
It’s not easy.
But my wife is brilliant
and so we have couched this discussion
in terms of two animals that live in our brain
that struggle for control.

The wise old owl, who helps us to remain calm,
and think through the problem,
and come up with a reasoned response.

And the dragon,
the great winged monster of myth and legend,
always ready to fight, to breath fire,
or to fly away when the problem is too big.

So now, when we see her panic,
or any of us for that matter, rising,
we say
“Take a deep breath.
Put the leash back on the dragon.
Listen to the Owl.”

And it has helped a lot, for all of us.
The ability to recognize the dragon
and when it is getting ready
to do what dragons do, has allowed Michaela,
and the rest of us,
to spend more time with our owls in control.

But in order for that to work,
in order for the peace,
the quiet and tranquility that the owl brings
to come, we have to be constantly aware
that in our hearts and minds
there is a battle wagging
between the owl and the dragon
and most of the time,
we get to choose which one wins.

Romans chapter 5 begins
with Paul declaring that our faith in Christ
has won for us, peace with God.
Given the context, Paul is telling us that once,
we were enemies of God,
at war with the creator,
but now, through faith in Christ,
the war with God has ceased.

And while this is very good news
I think we have to recognize
that while we have been at war with God,
God has never really been at war with us.

Think about it for a minute.
We turned from God. We disobeyed.
We worshiped and served the creature
rather than the creator.

We turned up our noses at what God offered us.
And in every act of idolatry
and selfish pursuit and evil invention
against our neighbor
we were firing shots at God.

Remember Jesus told us
that “whatsoever you do
to the least of God’s people,
that you do unto God.”

So we are constantly warring against God,
firing missiles of hatred in God’s direction.
But God, it is important to note,
is not at war with us.

This God we speak of,
this God who we make war against,
is the God who speaks the universe into creation,
who parts the Red Sea,
and raises the dead,
what chance would we really stand
if the power of God were set against us in war?

The answer is none.
The war, always has been a one-sided battle.
Since the beginning
God has been working to bring us back.
To help us to see the futility
of warring against God
and the peace we could attain
if we would simply return to God.

Paul is telling us that,
as far as God is concerned, the war is over.
God had been fighting, not to destroy us,
but to make us a way back.
And that has been accomplished.
Through Jesus, we have peace with God.
We have a way back.

So then,
why do we still feel as though we are at war?
Why do we sometimes feel
that God or the universe
have stacked the deck against us?
Why does peace not reign upon the earth?

Well, the overt war between ourselves and God
maybe over, but the war inside of us,
the war we fight within ourselves,
is still going strong.
And still causes us to act as though
the war with God is still the problem.

One of my favorite musicians,
Todd Agnew, has a song called “War Inside”
all about this idea.
One of the verses says this:

“I do what I don’t want to do,
and don’t do what I mean,
I end up chasing all my nightmares,
and abandoning my dreams.
‘Cause there’s a war inside of me
between who I want to be and who I am.”

The war began in the garden with a choice.
The battle was waged
between Eve and the serpent,
that old dragon,
who made us doubt the love of God.

Now that old dragon lives within us,
battling against the truth of the love of God,
still trying to convince us the God doesn’t love us,
that God doesn’t care,
or even that God doesn’t exist.
It is the war between our wise old owl,
the Holy Spirit of God
and the crafty serpent of a dragon
who desires only to destroy all we hold dear.

There is an old Cherokee story
that sums this up well:

“One evening
an old Cherokee told his grandson
about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said,
“My son, the battle is between two “wolves”
inside us all.
One is Evil.
It is anger, envy, jealousy,
sorrow, regret, greed,
arrogance, self-pity, guilt,
resentment, inferiority, lies,
false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is good.
It is joy, peace, love, hope,
serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute
and then asked his grandfather:
“Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied,
“The one you feed.”

And we choose which wolf to feed,
we choose to feed the owl or the dragon,
we choose, we decide what happens,
and we make that decision
based on our perspective of the world,
how we choose to see things.

Paul jumps right into this idea in chapter 5
as he begins to speak of our suffering
as something, we can boast about.

For the most part, we would consider our suffering
something to complain about or at best,
stay silent about.

But Paul likens suffering
to something we can boast in
because suffering is not forever,
suffering is not the end,
suffering leads to something more.

Suffering leads to endurance Paul tells us.
When we suffer we learn to endure the pain.

I have never been a runner.
I never liked it at all.
I have had a hard time relating to people
for whom running is a passion.
They just weird me out.
Who wants to put themselves
through that kind of punishment
if they aren’t being chased by bears or zombies,
or heaven forbid, zombie bears.

But recently, as I have regained my health,
I have started to run, and run with intention.

At first, I put myself through small doses of suffering,
a minute or two of running at a time,
and then I added more, and more,
and now I can run for about 20 minutes
without stopping.

All because I decided to view the suffering
as something else. As a path to endurance.

And endurance produces character.
Character, I have been told,
is who you are when no one else is watching.
Are you the same person in a room full of people
as you are when you are home alone?
That sort of thing.

The more you endure,
the more you will understand that these things,
these sufferings will pass,
and the more your character will weather
the storm of the suffering that comes.

There was a time in my life,
before my wife and I met,
that I was pretty sure my faith
had a clock on it and it was running down.

I felt as though I was being battered on all sides
with one form of suffering or another.
My faith was failing, and fast.

I revived some great advice and guidance
from some wonderful people and I hung on.

And while things seemed to be going well
I never forgot how close I came
to walking away from faith and God
and all of it forever
(at least what I thought would be forever).

I know plenty of people who have.
Plenty of people for whom
God is merely a fairytale they once believed in.

When our son Carl,
was diagnosed with cancer,
I thought I heard that clock on my faith
begin to tick again,
that it was only a matter of time
before I was on empty.

But that didn’t happen, in fact,
that whole mess of suffering that we endured,
only seemed to solidify my faith,
to make me even more sure
that God loves me
and that God is always with me.

In the end that character,
proven through enduring suffering,
leads to hope.
Hope that, no matter what, God loves me.
God loves us.
God loves you
and there is nothing you can do about it.

And that love is proven,
Paul tells us,
in that while we were still at odds with God,
while our one-sided war was still being waged,
God sent Jesus, not to destroy us,
not to chastise us, not to make us feel bad,
but to demonstrate God’s love.

The love of a God who dies for those
who think they are God’s enemies.
To make a way through all of the rifts and obstacles
we have placed between ourselves and God.

The good news is that the war is won.
But we still have a lot of work to do.
We have to do the hard work
of retraining ourselves.
Retraining ourselves to feed the right wolf,
to trust in our inner owl,
to stop listing to the dragon when it roars.

Another of my favorite Todd Agnew songs
talks about peace and says:

“When I look at the world
and see We got a problem,
we’re seeing the surfaces too often
Whether race or religion,
it makes no difference
The blood paid penance,
forgiven the death sentence

No lines no more, no rich, no poor
No Jew, no Greek and no slave, no free
When I look at you
and see someone just like me
There might be… peace

When the Lord of all is the Lord of each
And I love you like God loves me
There might be
No, there will be… peace.

Friends, the dragon roars loud.
And it seems, a lot of the time,
that it is the loudest voices that we listen too.

But that is not where God speaks.
Time and again we find God speaking
through the still small voice,
through the gentle breeze,
not in the violent tempest.

So it is in shutting out the dragon,
in listening for God in the quiet places,
that we begin to not only find the peace we crave,
but we begin to live in it.

A good friend of mine,
another Pastor, Jeff Nelson,
once said
“Jesus only ever spoke about two types of people,
enemies and neighbors,
and he told us to love them both.”

When we choose to love as God loves,
to love our enemies,
to pray for those who persecute us.
When we choose to view
the one who attacks not as an enemy,
but as a wayward brother or sister
in need of our love and compassion,
then we will see peace.

We will live the peace
we have been given by God
we will live in the promised peace of Christmas,
we will live in the peace
for which God intended us to live.

Which voice do we listen to?
Which wolf do we feed? The choice is ours.

So let’s decide today,
let’s decide to not merely dream about
or long for peace,
but let’s start to live in it,
to train in it, to choose it every day.
Let’s start to love as God loves,
to bring peace as God brings it.
Not by engaging in conventional warfare
but by living in and spreading abroad
God’s unconventional and unconditional love. Amen? Amen.

Listen

Romans 5:1-8

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