Peace Be With You

Pastor's Corner - Peace. Be Still.Is there a place in your life where you can find peace? If you’re like me, you find it easy to get pulled into the busyness, noise, and stress of life. I have a sense that many of us are yearning for peace in our hearts and lives. There are the everyday stresses of work and family. There’s the information overload that comes through our televisions, computers, and smart phones. Then, there are the extraordinary stressors like disease, job loss, grief, war, and financial strain. When was the last time you experienced peace?

Every week I get to stand up in front of my church family and say, “The peace of Christ be with you always.” The congregation generously responds: “And also with you.” Then, we share this peace with one another by shaking hands, hugging, waving, or simply saying “God’s peace.” In doing so, we are taking part in the ancient Christian practice of passing the peace.

After his resurrection, Jesus greeted his disciples in a similar way by saying, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36, John 20:19). After Jesus was crucified, I imagine the disciples were scared for their lives and grieving for their friend. When Jesus returned to them, his first words were of peace. The early Christians followed Christ’s example by sharing peace with one another. The Apostle Paul, for example, began many of his letters with “Grace and peace be with you.” Likewise, early Christian communities would greet one another with a “holy kiss” as a sign of peace (Rom. 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 1 Thess. 5:26). Our upper Midwest congregations might stick to handshakes and hugs, but the idea behind the gesture is the same as 2,000 years ago.

For the next four weeks, in this column, I’d like to dwell on how we find peace and how we share peace with others. I believe there is a connection between the peace we experience in our hearts and the peace we create in our communities and world. After all, the same Jesus who says “Peace be with you” also says “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

For this week, I simply want to invite you to reflect on how we find peace in the midst of what can be a stressful life. Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (NRSV). But how do we do that?

For me, I return to the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41. Jesus’ disciples become afraid when a great storm surrounds them and begins to swamp their boat with giant waves. They panic and rush to wake up Jesus who has been sleeping in the back of the boat. Jesus rises and says to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” We may not be in the midst of an actual storm, but perhaps we can empathize with the anxiety and fear of the disciples. I find comfort in Christ’s words and connect them to the words of Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” Maybe one step towards letting Christ’s peace rule in our hearts is simply to find moments to be still. Maybe “Peace. Be still.” could be your silent prayer this week.

The stress of life is real and many people in our communities are hurting. I pray that we find ways to share the peace and grace of God with one another. And in the midst of life’s storms, may the peace of Christ be with you always.

Note: This post originally appeared in the Brodhead Free Press and the Independent Register as part of their weekly “Pastor’s Corner” column.

Christmas Eve

Join us for worship this week. All are welcome.

We will sing familiar Christmas carols, hear the story of Jesus’ birth, and celebrate the light of Christ in our world.

OLC Christmas Eve 2015

Moments of Joy

Pastor's Corner - RomansBack in July, members of Orfordville Lutheran got together for a family fun event to play bocce ball, swim in the pool, laugh together, and, of course, to eat food. It was one of my favorite moments of the summer. Summer can be a time for friends, families, and communities to have fun and laugh together. I wonder, where have you seen God in your moments joy and laughter?

Sometimes we miss the spiritual side of our joy, because we have been taught that religion is serious business for serious people. Just think, for example, of the portrayal of Christians in popular culture. They are rarely portrayed as joyful. I think of the ironically named Reverend Lovejoy from the TV show The Simpsons. Despite his name, he is not often portrayed as joyful, laughing, or even smiling.

In the Bible, however, joy is often described as a part of our relationship with God. Joy, for instance, is listed among of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. In Psalm 65, even the pastures, hills, meadows, and valleys of creation are described as shouting and singing for joy. (Picture that the next time you’re driving through hilly country!) In the Gospel of Luke, Mary moves from fear to joy when the angel Gabriel announces that she will give birth to Jesus (Luke 1:47). St. Paul, as a final example, calls on Christians to share in the joys and sorrows of others, saying: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). In 1 Thessalonians, 5:16, he goes even further: “Rejoice always.”

Laughter is also an underrated part of Christian spirituality, in my experience. Sometimes there even seems to be a fear of laughing in worship and other religious spaces.

One of the best stories of laughter in the Bible is the birth of Isaac in Genesis. When Sarah hears she will give birth to a child in her old age, she can’t help but laugh. When the child is born, Sarah says, “God has brought laughter for me, everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6 NRSV). The child himself is named Isaac, which means “he will laugh.”

After Christ’s resurrection, I believe we all get to share in Sarah’s kind of laughter. It’s the laughter of those surprised by God’s grace and goodness. The Reformer Martin Luther joined in this deep humor when he told his students to laugh and scorn the devil away. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul even begins to mock and laugh at death, saying: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Sometimes when God pulls new life out of death, like some kind of cosmic magician, all we can do is laugh like Sarah did. If we can’t crack a smile after saying, “Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!,” I don’t know what we can smile about.

I’m not saying that we should pretend to be happy all the time. Certainly, there are times of grief and times that call for seriousness. God is with us in times of joy, sadness, fear, anger, confusion, or wherever you find yourself this day.

But I am saying that moments of joy, fun, and laughter can be holy moments. People who laugh and rejoice together will be ready to weep together when the time comes. People who are humble enough to laugh at their mistakes are often willing to extend grace and forgiveness to others as well. It means that I can look back at that afternoon eating food, playing bocce ball, and enjoying the sunshine not just as a “good time” but also as a holy time, a time of God’s palpable presence. May God be with you in your moments of joy.

Note: This post originally appeared in the Brodhead Free Press and the Independent Register as part of their weekly “Pastor’s Corner” column.