Peace as Action

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Readings: Psalms 24; 150, Amos 9:11-15, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17, John 5:30-47


In the musical Rent the character of Mark sings: “The opposite of war isn’t peace; it’s creation.” The narrow definition of peace as merely the absence of destruction is turned on its head in a story about art and artists, but it has more universal application.  True peace is not something we passively experience; it is something we do.

After World War II, the United States initiated the Marshall Plan to help a devastated Europe recover economically. This aid included former enemies Italy and Germany, as well as neutral countries like Iceland. At the same time the U.S. oversaw the reconstruction of Japan, including a security arrangement that still exists today. These decisions were not altruistic on the part of the U.S. Leaders understood simple withdrawal from conflict was not the same as peace, which requires an ongoing effort. They understood peace as doing justice.

If we want to have peace – personal, interpersonal, or international – in our own lives, we can’t rely on outside forces to retreat from conflict and leave us alone to our apathy. Acts of creation and generosity can transform enemies into allies, battlefields into sources of shared harvest. To have peace, we must do peace.

For all his message of doom, the prophet Amos does paint a picture of what the peaceful Kingdom will look like:

they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. (Amos 9:14)

It is not that these activities are possible because we live in some conflict-free vacuum we label peace, but that these activities are peace and create the conditions for its survival.

We all have conflicts. What cities of friendship have we left in ruin? What vineyards of opportunity have we trampled? What refugees of family have we driven away? We can choose to simply retreat from these battles, but let’s not mistake indifference for peace. Rather, let’s regroup and prayerfully consider how we might do peace. When we do peace rather than wait for it, the harvest will be abundant.

Comfort: We are not helpless in the face of conflict. We can rely on God to show us how to live peace.

Challenge: Explore organizations in your local community which work toward peace. Look for ways you might contribute.

Prayer: Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. (Psalm 25:17-18)

Discussion: Where have you settled for indifference instead of peace? What can you do about it?

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Love Selfishly

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Readings: Psalms 50; 147:1-11, Amos 8:1-14, Revelation 1:17-2:7, Matthew 23:1-12


In the midst of adversity, we may find it difficult, almost impossible even, to practice love. Imagine being a widow or beggar during the time of Amos, when the religious leaders were “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat*” (Amos 8:6). Consider what it must have been like for the faithful of Israel when their leaders put heavy burdens on the people while never inconveniencing themselves (Matt 23:4). Why would the common people bother loving their enemies when their own leaders preached righteousness and practiced hypocrisy? Can we imagine? Or do we call that “the evening news?”

Yet in both eras (and may we assume today as well?) through his prophets and the messiah God cried for redemption through justice, mercy, and charity – the practices of agape love.

One stumbling block to practicing this type of love is the notion that the recipient should deserve it. We may understand on an intellectual level that all people are deserving because they are children of God, but part of us chafes at the idea that not only have some people not earned it, but they have squandered any right to it. Vindictive ex spouses. Violent criminals. Hate mongering racists. Duplicitous politicians. In human terms, none of these people may merit mercy, but the divine demands it.

It can seem so very unfair. But is it?

What if the command to love our enemies – foreign, domestic, and familial – isn’t just about the dignity of our enemies? What if it is also about the state of our own souls? In Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche said “be careful when you fight monsters lest you become one.” Fred was no friend of Christianity, but he wasn’t wrong. When we allow feelings of fear or anger to override the convictions of our faith, and when we sacrifice those convictions of peace and love to protect our money, our homes, or even our lives, we have lost what God values most in us.

We love our enemies not only for their sake, but for our own.


* When the harvest was taken, the scraps were supposed to be left in the field to be gathered – or “gleaned” – by the poor and alien in the land.

Comfort: We are not burdened with determining who deserves our love.

Challenge: For an entire day, when you wish to complain about an enemy, instead say a silent prayer for them.

Prayer: O Lord, teach me to rely not on my limited capacity to love, but upon your unlimited promise of love. Amen.

Discussion: Do you pray for your enemies? If so, how? If not, why not?

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Love Better

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Readings: Psalms 24; 150, Amos 6:1-14, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12, Luke 1:57-68


Traditionally the theme of the second week of Advent is Love. Often “love” evokes warm feelings of family, friends, and romance. However, depending on a person’s life circumstances, those feelings may be mixed with longing, loneliness, hope, and other emotions.

Sorting out feelings about feelings? Well, love is complicated. Advent adds yet another wrinkle: love as the world falls apart.

The prophet Amos and the apostle Paul both share harsh words about the future. Amos tells the people of Israel they have offended God so mightily that He is “raising up against you a nation, O house of Israel, […] and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi Arabah.” Paul in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica tells them they who do not obey the Gospel “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” While these passages definitely drive home the message that God desires righteousness, they don’t much describe a God who define Love as a gooey confection of simple affection.

Except in these examples, God’s anger exists because people are too focused on false righteousness and not enough on love. The people of Israel were making ritual sacrifices like clockwork, but ignoring and exploiting the poor. “Obeying the Gospel” wasn’t about rules but about loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. These prophets warned us separation from God occurs when we fail to love God and each other.

Throughout the Bible, God sends warning after warning about the consequences of failing to love. He sends us Jesus so we may be reconciled to him in love, and before that sends us John the Baptist to tell us Jesus is on the way. Love is complicated. Think about your own relationships where love has been broken: it’s rarely a sudden snap, but a slow dissolution with opportunities for one or both sides to repent. God begs us to love better.

Advent is a season for reflecting on how well we love God and each other. Before the world falls apart, God call us to love. Afterward, it is the only thing that saves us.

Comfort: God loves us even in anger.

Challenge: Work on a relationship where love has been broken.

Prayer: Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)

Discussion: How has your understanding of love changed over time?

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Hope. Always.

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Readings: Psalms 90; 149, Amos 5:18-27, Jude 17-25, Matthew 22:15-22


Ever since the world began, people have been predicting its end. For many that “end” is not so much a final obliteration, as a renewal when the evil, violence, and injustice will be swept away to make room for something better. The prophet Amos speaks of the day when God will “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” When we read headlines and watch the news, don’t we long for the same?

We can react to adversity with despair or with hope. While we may naturally tend toward one or the other, it is ultimately a choice. In the midst of suffering hope may seem futile or naive, but it has real consequences. Repeated studies show that a positive attitude promotes healing from illness and surgery. On a fundamental level, hope is essential to survival; hunger, thirst, and fear may seem like negatives, but they are hard-wired into us with an assumption that we will continue to live.

Though hope is more than a belief in continued existence. Despair also assumes existence but resigns us to inaction and victimhood, where hope spurs us to positive action. Hope makes charity possible, because it allows for positive change. Without the promise of hope could we even contemplate mercy?

In an age when tragedy around the world is broadcast into our homes 24 hours a day in high definition, hope can be hard to maintain. The truth is that on the whole violence in the world has been decreasing steadily for decades. Data and statistics are not necessarily comforting in the face of immediate crisis, so how do we work (and it is intentional work) to maintain hope? Minister and children’s television host Fred Rogers famously quotes his mother who told him the best thing to do in times of disaster is “look for the helpers” – people who move toward a tragedy to improve the situation. While it seems counterintuitive, could the Kingdom actually be ushered in when we move nearer to tragedy, where we are also nearer to mercy and charity? That is the end we hope for.

Comfort: We are closer to the promises of the God’s Kingdom every day.

Challenge: You can’t help everyone, but somewhere nearby there is a tragic situation waiting for you to inject hope into it. Find it and act.

Prayer: Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:7)

Discussion: Is hope something that comes naturally to you?

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Hope Astutely

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Readings: Psalms 102; 148, Amos 5:1-17, Jude 1-16, Matthew 22:1-14


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of volunteers arrived to help the residents of New Orleans recover. Among them were con artists who accepted large down payments for construction work then skipped town. Every year Americans with terminal and/or chronic diseases spend hundreds of millions of dollars on unproven and frequently dangerous “cures.” People who can barely afford to eat donate money they can’t afford to televangelists who teach a  fraudulent prosperity gospel. Politicians convince generation after generation to blame the latest wave of immigrants (Irish, Asians, Jews, Syrians, etc.) for societal ills because they know fear mongering is good campaign strategy.

When people are desperate or afraid, they are especially vulnerable to the false comforts of people who tell them what they want to hear. The author of Jude warned early Christians to be wary of people spreading false doctrine that taught self-glorification over submission to Christ: “These are grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.” Today we don’t worry much about the religious orgies contemporary with Jude’s audience, but we should be wary of leaders who conflate secular concerns like capitalism (and other economic systems), democracy (and other government systems),  or nationalism (and other tribalist systems) with Christianity in order to exploit our fears and insecurities.

In the parable of the wedding banquet, Jesus describes the wedding of a king’s son where many were invited but chose not to attend, and this lack of commitment resulted in their deaths as commanded by the king. The king’s slaves collected a second round of guests including everyone they found on the street, but even these guests were not all safe, “for many are called but few are chosen.” Those chosen few sought hard truths over a diluted and convenient message.

Our world can be scary. Our instincts can be base. Many will take advantage of that combination to spread beliefs that are not in our best spiritual interests. False comfort is the enemy of true hope. Let us be wise and make sure our hope is placed in Christ.

Comfort: We can identify true hope by comparing it to Christ’s example.

Challenge: Be wary of people who would exploit your faith for their own gain.

Prayer: I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. (Psalm 16:8)

Discussion: Are there any parts of your life where your secular expectations are in conflict with your religious ones? If not … why not?

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Hope Realistically

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Readings: Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Amos 4:6-13, 2 Peter 3:1-10, Matthew 21:33-46


Wouldn’t it be nice if people of faith were assured peaceful, healthy, uncomplicated lives? Some preachers – mostly of the “send us your money to pray over” variety – claim disease and difficulty can be overcome by faith alone, and that adversity simply fills a void where faith is lacking. The prophet Amos, describing God’s attempts to use drought, famine, and plague to convince the people of Israel to return to him, would claim differently. The faithful and the wicked suffered the consequences of the wicked together. When the world experiences similar troubles today, whether we believe they are sent directly by God or the natural consequences of our own misguided actions, faith is not guaranteed to shield us.

In Jesus’s parable of the landowner, tenant farmers kill the blameless servants who have come to collect the agreed upon share of the harvest on behalf of their master the landowner. One might expect the aura of authority lent by their master would protect the servants, but it does not. One can find many parallels in our modern world, where Christians continue to be persecuted for their faith. From actual martyrdom and execution to depression, addiction, illness, and crime,,, our faith exempts us from none of it.

If we are not spared suffering, why have faith at all?

Faith is the source of hope. We believe in God’s eternal plan of justice and salvation, and trust our sufferings are finite. As part of a larger body, we know the suffering and even destruction of one part does not have to mean the death of the whole. We stand in the center of the wreckage and devastation – and sometimes the wreckage and devastation dwell in the center of us – but we do not allow them to define us. In the face of seemingly endless disaster, is there anything realistic about hope? There is if our hope is dependent not on this moment, but on the faith that the Kingdom of God will not be denied. The ailing body of humankind will be raised to true life again. A stumble is still a step forward.

Comfort: God is with us through suffering, whether or not it is of our own making.

Challenge: When others suffer, let’s offer support instead of empty words.

Prayer: Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me. (Psalm 17:8-9)

Discussion: Do you think there is anyone who hasn’t somehow caused someone else to suffer?

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Hope Cautiously

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Readings: Psalms 24, 150; Amos 1:1-5, 1:13-2:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Luke 21:5-19


Advent is the season when we prepare for the arrival of Christ. This arrival has a dual nature, as we celebrate his birth and Bethlehem and anticipate his eventual return. Every year it is a cycle within a cycle.

The history of injustice similarly repeats itself. Ethnic tensions, disregard and abuse of the poor, corrupted court systems, war crimes, and other ills have existed throughout all of human history. Whether or not we like to admit it, no nation or people is immune. When the formerly oppressed gain power they may take their turn to become the oppressor, and are blind to it because they still think themselves righteous.

Such was the case with Israel when farmer-turned-prophet Amos spoke to them. Israel had struggled long and hard to become a prosperous nation, but Amos told them they were no better than the wicked nations surrounding them. Amos accused the Israelites of “selling the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals […] trampling the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and pushing the afflicted out of the way.” The leadership of Israel declared themselves righteous because they followed the rules of sacrifice and ritual, but they were indifferent to God’s greater demands of love and justice.

The theme for this first week of Advent is Hope. The flip side of hope is recognition that the world can be bleak, for why would we hope if we didn’t long for things to be better? Amos reminds us part of that recognition needs to be an examination of our own hearts, actions, and inactions. It’s human nature to believe our actions are justified … and to provide justification when we aren’t sure. We don’t always want to face ourselves when we’ve been part of an injustice or we’ve been willfully ignorant about our own contribution to societal problems. If in reading that last sentence you assumed it was accusing you of something specific … it wasn’t but maybe your consciences is. Maybe start there.

The good news of Advent is that we don’t end “there.” In the weeks ahead, we will live into the promise of Hope.

Comfort: Hope is promised to everyone.

Challenge: This Advent season, begin an examination of your conscience and begin owning up to the things that get in the way of hope.

Prayer: For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good (Psalm 122:8-9)

Discussion: There are countless things to hope for. Which is most pressing to you right now?

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