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Philippians 4:4-7
 
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(ESV)
Peace, Peace!
Monday of Advent 3
14 December 2015
Life in the church can evoke the strongest responses in people. The very people who are to be distinguished by their love, often betray that love as they conduct the business of the community of love. This is an abiding source of bafflement for laypeople and pastors alike. If we are not the world, nor of it, how is it that the relationships within the church are marked by the same rancor and animosity that relations outside the church are? Over the years of my ministry among God's people I have been comforted by the insight that Christian people think and act passionately about the church, because their church is such an important part of their lives. The result is that people often open their mouths before they put their brains in gear when involved in church life. This, of course, is true of both laypeople and pastors. So much wreckage could be avoided if we were just a bit more careful when we tried to defend our church, her faith, or her practice. While it is common to be overly passionate about such things, it is never right. We become overzealous and betray the truth of what we are saying. We may say the right thing, but we may say it in a way that is not helpful. This is why church people are willing to say things to a fellow believer that they would not say to a co-worker or a neighbor.
 
While laypeople are quite capable of hurting their fellow members, it does seem that when church leaders err in their zeal, the fallout is far worse. It is worse because failures of leadership affect far more people than the failures of the rank and file members. Careful stewardship of the flock by leaders is so crucial to congregational life, that when they fall short they become a major cross for the community, even a cause of "holy war" in which the tactics not only hurt the people involved, but also do irreparable damage to the church's long-term health. When a "no holds barred" death match ensues in congregational life the carnage is significant. If we are willing to do virtually anything to defend our position, a position often identified with "God's will," then we will produce an amazing amount of havoc. We will pass on our warring madness to those who are near enough to catch it like a black plague. Holy war forgets that those waging it are fallible, flawed, and fractured human beings. God is wholly other.
 
Those who attempt to make peace in such circumstances, are considered mad men. In the aftermath of the cowardly 9-11 attacks on the United States no politician dared to sound a note of caution to a war-frenzied nation. Only when it was safe to express doubts did they come out of the dove's nest, becoming full-fledged peacemakers. Christ is the one who came to speak peace to humanity's warring madness. He was considered quite daft, even by His own earthly family, because He refused to use the tactics of power on His enemies. He gave Himself over into the power of those who hated Him, and absorbed into His own holy person their holy war against God. He preached peace when the world had only ears for rapine and crushing legal burdens. He gave the truth when power bent the pruning hooks of truth into spears. He turned spears into the weapon of His grace when the centurion opened His side to issue blood and water from Him, returning the spear into a pruning hook in the process. He has given peace that we might give it to each other.

 

Gregory Nazianzus

"How can I bear this holy war? For there was said to be a holy war (355-346 B.C.), as well as a Persian war (492-478 B.C.). How shall I unite and join together the hostile bishops, the hostile pastors, and the people broken up along with, and opposed to them, as if by chasms caused by earthquakes between neighboring and adjoining places. Or as, in the case of pestilential diseases, it befalls servants and members of the family, since the sickness readily attacks in succession one after another.  Even the very corners of the globe are affected by the spirit of faction, so that East and West are arrayed on opposite sides and strive to differ in opinion no less than in position. How long are parties to be "mine and yours," "the old and the new," "the more rational and the more spiritual," "the more noble and the more ignoble," "the more and the less numerous?" I am ashamed in my old age, when, after being saved by Christ, I am called by the name of others.
 
"I cannot bear your horse races and theatres, and this rage for rivalry in expense and party spirit. We unharness, and harness ourselves on the other side, we neigh against each other, we almost beat the air, as the horses do, and fling the dust towards heaven, like those which are excited. Under masks to satisfy our own rivalry, we become evil arbiters of emulation, and senseless judges of affairs. Today we share the same authority and opinions, if our leaders thus carry us along. Tomorrow we become equally hostile in position and opinion, if the wind blows in the contrary direction. Amid the variations of friendship and hatred, our names also vary: and what is most terrible, we are not ashamed to set forth contrary doctrines to the same audience. We are not constant to the same objects, being portrayed differently at different times by our contentiousness. They are like the ebb and flow of some narrow strait.
 
"When children are at play in the market place, it would be most disgraceful and unbecoming for us to leave our household business, and join them; for children's games are not becoming for the mature. So, when others are contending, even if I am better informed than the majority, I should not allow myself to become one of them, rather than, as I now do, enjoy the freedom of obscurity. Beside this, my feeling is that I do not agree with the majority on most points and cannot bear to walk the same way with it. Rash and stupid though it may be, such is my feeling. That which is pleasant to others causes pain to me, and I am pleased with what is painful to others. So that I should not be surprised if I were even imprisoned as a disagreeable man, and thought by most men to be out of my senses, as is said to have been the case with one of the Greek philosophers, Socrates, whose moderation exposed him to the charge of madness, because he laughed at everything, since he saw that the objects of the eager pursuit of the majority were ridiculous; or even be thought full of new wine as were in more recent days the disciples of Christ, because they spoke in tongues (Acts 2:4, 13), since men knew not that it was the power of the Spirit, and not madness."

Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 42.21-22
 
Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 
For Waldon Stigge, who is undergoing heart bypass surgery, that he might recover his health
 
For the family of Jo Lodholz, whom the Lord has transferred to His nearer presence, that they would put their hope in the living Lord Christ, who has defeated death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel
 
For President Lawrence Rast, the faculty, and staff of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, that they would continually proclaim the peace of God that surpasses human understanding
Art: VOUET, Simon  Annunciation  (1640s)

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