Sunday, November 9, 2014
These days our church services end with the congregation singing in a round: "Shalom chaverim, shalom chaverim. Shalom. Shalom. Lehitraot, lehitraot, shalom, shalom." In case you're not up to speed on your Hebrew, that's, "Farewell, dear friends, stay safe, dear friends, have peace, have peace. We'll see you again, we'll see you again, have peace, have peace."
Yes, let's have peace, you and me. But how? I really don't know. This unknowing was one of the meanings of Pastor Karla's sermon, "Unfinished Business" today. The sermon drew on the story of Moses, the Israeli leader who took his people into the wilderness on a journey to the promised land of milk and honey, a land of peace. Though Moses was a good guy throughout the journey, maintaining his commitment to God when others were seduced by praying to a golden calf and hording food, and though Moses even met God face to face, Moses got to wander in the desert for 40 years and got to see over the river into the promised land, but did not get to enter that land. He had to die instead. That's a long journey to take without having the satisfaction of arriving at the destination. Pastor Karla's admonition: Shalom is the pursuit of peace, the pursuit of the dream. Our reward may be in the living, not in achieving the goal.
The sermon brought to mind some of my favorite words from a martyr for peace and justice in El Salvador, Oscar Romero:
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. …
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
Oscar Romero did not live to see peace and justice at the end of his spiritual journey. There is not yet peace and justice in that land where my friends live. And yet, I wouldn’t say he lived or died in vain. He lived for what was right, in a way that was right, like his forerunner Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the dream for peace and justice in another land that had not yet become a land of peace in his time and has not still. Martin Luther King’s words ring with truth like Oscar Romero’s. MLK said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Similarly, Pastor Karla exhorted us, “Don’t give up on the dream. Pray for it.” That is, we may not reach the goal—if it’s a big goal (and it is and should be)—in this life. In fact, she didn’t say this but I will: this world may never reach that goal of a land of milk and honey, a land of peace and justice. But our call is to live in the way of peace, in the way of shalom.
The lesson reminds me of my mantra, words to myself in my final year of teaching: Do the right thing, even if it doesn’t make a difference. The difference, it seems to me, is in the living. The rest is up to God, or the spirit of peace, or the Oversoul, or whatever you want to call it.
In those days when I get too busy with my projects, I am forgetting this call to peace. I am forgetting to walk humbly with my God. I think it’s up to me to make the world God’s world. Then I forget that God made the world already, a gift, and my most important response is to breathe and to feel the crash of the ocean in each exhalation. My most important response is to live in peace and to live for justice. And to know that I am small on the world’s timeline, that I am biggest in the way I live with those around me and in the way I live for a more just world. Not because I’m going to make a peaceful and just world. Because that is the way to live.
Which is another way to say, live every moment. Breathe every breath. Hold every hand that comes my way. Open my heart.
"Farewell, dear friends, stay safe, dear friends, have peace, have peace. We'll see you again, we'll see you again, have peace, have peace."