Our Sunday morning service was filled good spirit and amazing members of the Calvary community.
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
The cab driver picked me up outside of Calvary.
“Is that a bank?” he asked. (We have been trying to warm up the building over time with better signage, but definitely still have work to do!) After clarifying that 2515 Fillmore is in fact, a Presbyterian church, I began to realize that my ride to the Financial District was going to feel much longer than 15 minutes.
“Oh, Presbyterian,” he said. “I’ll be praying for you.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
“You’re the people who think it’s ok for gay people to be married,” he explained.
“People at the church I serve don’t agree on everything, but I am honored to officiate at weddings for any two people I believe love each other, love God, and intend to stay committed to each other,” I explained.
Then a big but found its way into the car.
“But the Bible says,” the driver began.
He cited the few passages in the Bible that people use against LGBTQ folks.
I went into fight or flight mode. Since I couldn’t flee his moving car, resorted to the pastor equivalent of a 6-year-old saying, “My dad can beat up your dad.”
“According to the Bible, the shirt you’re wearing is sinful,” I charged, citing Leviticus 19:19: “Nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.”
We went round and round in circles, even as we sat parked in front of my destination. We agreed to disagree. The driver explained that he came from a country in which same gender sex is not only considered sinful, many judges will sentence a person to death for the acts.
“Christians in my home country of Iraq are being killed every day for being Christians,” the driver said. “Pray for me. Pray for my people.”
I still don’t agree with the drivers’ views, but I am on board with his final request.
Whether you are new to church or have been around for many years, you know that following the model of Jesus is incredibly difficult. Is loving God with all of our heart, and mind, and soul and strength even possible? How can we possibly love all people as we love ourselves when some of them are so annoying?
The author of today’s Scripture understood the challenges of peace. The Apostle Paul had been a great force of opposition to new followers of Jesus, even to the point of violence and death. Paul went through a major conversion experience that completely changed the course of his life. He described an encounter in which Christ called out Paul for persecuting him and his followers. Paul emerged from the experience using his powers to build up the growing church.
Galatia, in modern day central Turkey, was one of Paul’s stops. People began with a unified purpose, but ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic divisions arose after Paul moved on to start other churches.
Professor David Bartlett of Columbia Theological Seminary points out that Paul’s letters typically feature a fairly lengthy section expressing his gratitude, but the pleasantries are minimal in Galatians. By the sixth verse of the first chapter, Paul writes: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
The Gospel is the Good News, that Jesus Christ, the light of the world, overcame sin and death, and offers that promise to us.
Why are we so quick to try to shape our own gospel and use it to shut out other people?
People in Calvary and churches around the world say “Peace be with you,” every week, just as Jesus said to people. Do we really seek to understand what peace means?
When Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” he would have said “shalama” in Aramaic. Stephen Andrew Missick, who served as a solider and then chaplain in Iraq was moved to write a book, The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic. It is related to the Hebrew term, shalom. Beyond a nice little handshake, shalom speaks of wholeness, harmony. Shalom is not passive, as the term is derived from a verb.
Shalom is becoming complete in right relation to God and through each other.
Shalom takes work. Shalom does not isolate itself exclusively with like-minded people. Shalom can seem impossible.
I have had the honor of getting to spend some time with Haydn Williams, a 95-year-old member of Calvary with a fascinating history. (His health challenges make it difficult for him to attend often, but neighbors like Ferris and Lenore Saydah help him stay connected).
Mr. Williams served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations. He also served as CEO of the Asia Foundation for many years, and has most recently led the effort that resulted in the WWII memorial. Mr. Williams has experienced a full life and navigated many forms of conflict.
I asked him how he processes all of those experiences.
“I pray for peace every single day,” Haydn says. “Not just for Christians or Muslims or Jewish people, but all people”
Praying is an action that leads to more actions. Living into shalom is a perpetual challenge, as my friend Jim reminded me with a story he sent last week:
“Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side-by-side, sharing machinery and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.
Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. ‘I’m looking for a few days’ work,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?’
‘Yes,’ said the older brother. ‘I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, it’s my younger brother! Last week there was a meadow between us. He recently took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.’
The carpenter said, ‘I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.’
The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day – measuring, sawing and nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job.
The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all . . .
It was a bridge . . . A bridge that stretched from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all! And the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming toward them, his hand outstretched…
‘You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.’
The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder.”
Peace be with you. Every single one of you. Amen.