Shoes for Peace

 John 12: 1-12   Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

 Isaiah 43: 15-21           April 7, 2019

 “As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”

Prayer:  Holy one, please meet us here in this place, and then send us out to serve you.  Amen.

 Spring has sprung!  Isn’t it wonderful? I love driving anywhere this time of year, don’t’ you?  You can see daffodils and forsythia in full yellow bloom.  The tulips are up, so are the crocuses, and leaves and bushes all have new buds.  Huge fields of wildflowers offer extravagant splashes of vibrant color— we imagine it’s something right off the Creator’s palette.  On the Today Show this past Friday morning, meteorologist Al Roker highlighted a huge portion of southwestern United States in such full bloom that satellites in space were able to see it!  It’s amazing!

Spring comes around every year as an extravagant gift from God’s abundant store.  It helps us break out of the winter’s depressing dreariness.

 And, like any gift, we have to learn to receive it.  Yes, you can say that spring is a fact of life, a season that comes round every year… no big deal.   But, like Alice Walker says in her novel, The Color Purple, “I think it [ticks] God off if we walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”  So, spring invites us to receive it.  To stop and smell the roses, as the song says.  To just be—in it.  To savor its presence.

In a similar way, the two Mary and Martha stories in the Bible encourage the same thing.  The first story is from Luke where, on the one hand, Martha is buzzing around.  She’s got her shoes on and is in high gear, doing all the things necessary to pull off the dinner gathering where Jesus is the honored guest.  Mary, on the other hand, I imagine has taken off her shoes.  She is content to simply sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him speak and teach (see Luke 10: 38-42).

In today’s story from John, Martha again is doing all the serving work, pulling the details of this second dinner party together, this time with their brother Lazarus, who is alive again after being dead for four days—Thank you, Jesus!   And, Mary is once again content to let Jesus be her focal point.  To simply be—in his presence.  To savor these moments with him.  To anoint his feet with expensive perfume.

 Because everyone knew that Jesus was a marked man.  Everyone knew that things had gotten dangerous for him and that his time could be short.  They knew that the upper echelon of Jerusalem’s religious leadership were looking for any reason to take him off the streets, and to do away with Lazarus, too.  So, here he was just on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the outskirts of staging a demonstration and parade, the outskirts of the week that would change history forever.   And, Mary just wanted to be… she just wanted to bless him extravagantly while she had the chance.

 Finding strength in God means figuratively taking off our shoes to be in God’s presence sometimes.  To sit and be—in God’s peace.  To savor the moment.  There isn’t anything to do.  No need to even offer a laundry list of prayer requests to God.  Simply quiet the mind enough to enjoy the beauty and the peace of Christ.  To center in and receive God and God’s gift.

 So, I encourage you, if you want, for the time being, take off your shoes.  Literally.  Right now.  Go ahead.  Take them off.  We are in God’s presence.  Remember what God said to Moses?  You’re on Holy Ground.  So, feel free.  Take off your shoes.  [hold up your shoes]

There will be plenty of time to have our shoes on to do
God’s work later.  There will always be the poor to tend to.  There will always be non-peaceful moments we need to respond to.  There is always injustice that needs a rebuttal.  The time will come to put on our shoes back on so we can proclaim the gospel of peace in Christ.  But, for now, Christ is our peace.  Let’s soak in his presence.  [silence]

In the letter to the Ephesians, that’s what the author says—that Christ is our peace (see Ephesians 2: 14)  Listen: “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

 The both groups referred to here are the Jew and Gentiles—that Christ as peace breaks down dividing walls between the two, but easily it could be between the shoe-wearing, task-oriented Martha, and the shoeless, faith-oriented Mary.  Christ bridges the two and says both are important.  Christ is the peace between the pragmatic and deceitful Judas types and the extravagant ‘now’s-the-time-to-break open-the-good-stuff’ Mary.

 In the church, Christ is the peace between people concerned with brick and mortar, budgets and finances, attendance and participation, and the  extravagant mystics and spiritual thinkers.  We need both.   They are the yin and yang of congregational life, spirituality, and our own maturity in the faith.

In our lives, Christ is the peace we need as we balance housework with romance, acts of service with quality time.  Children’s events and date nights.

 God has gotten us through each day as we attempt to balance out.  As we strive to gather at the table authentically, even with our differences.  We break down dividing walls between those differences.  Because Christ is our peace.

This is the new thing God is doing, I believe.  This is the new thing that springs forth.  Can you feel it?   Christ is our peace that can tear down that which separates and divides us.  All the things God did before—when God got you through the most difficult times, when God made a way when there was seemingly no way… remember all that?  Forget about it!  God has something so much better in store!

 With Christ as our peace, it’s like a river that all of a sudden flows in a dry parched desert giving new life to the dry ground.  It’s like the new energy that comes in the quiet, shoeless times in God’s presence to proclaim the gospel of Christ’s peace to any and all.

 For in the quiet, shoeless times with God, we find strength.  In the deepening of faith, we hear the call to put on our shoes of peace.  It is time—not stay in the quiet place.  Not to stay on the mountain top, not to stay in this sanctuary but to come down the mountain to leave this sanctuary, and enter the valley.  Enter the valleys of suffering, of injustice, the places of non-peace.  It’s time to put on our shoes of peace and walk forward with Christ.

We’ve been energized with our shoes off, now it’s time to put them back on.  Go ahead.  Put your shoes back on, if you haven’t already done so!  We move forward with shoes on our feet because God is doing a new thing with us!

 Our vision forward must always be stronger than our memories of the past.   A couple of weeks ago, my good friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Bill Rader passed away and entered into God’s eternal realm.  I knew Bill for almost twenty years.  He was active in civil rights and fought against racial discrimination all his life.  Five years ago, when he found out I was coming to be the Lead Pastor here at Christ Church, he was quick to tell me that he served here as the Assistant Pastor back in the mid-60’s.  He also shared with me that in 1964, he worked on forming a human rights commission to combat racial discrimination in public school hiring.  He took a stand for racial justice, but that resulted in him losing his job here as the assistant pastor.

Think of how far we’ve come since those days!  Our church’s track record since then shows that we respond with hospitality and welcome to those who long for inclusion.  Years ago, we took in Karen refugees from Myanmar.   For many years we’ve welcomed and embraced members of the LGBTQ community.  Now we’re an Open and Affirming church!   A couple of years ago, we reached out to the Muslim community in Harrisburg with our prayers, love, and mail when they received horrific hate mail.  Remember when we welcomed, ate, and conversed with “Dreamers” who are undocumented immigrants stuck in our nation’s broken immigration system?   And, back in November, we became a Creation Justice Church!

Good memories.  Good movement. But,  our vision forward must always be stronger than our memories of the past.  We put on our shoes of peace.  Because we are going forward believing that God is still speaking, and still acting, today, and we cannot even begin to imagine the new great things that God is about to do, right here at Christ Church.  Right here in E-town!  Right here in PA!  Put on your shoes of peace!  Here we go!  Amen.