Midweek Faith Lift
December 7, 2022
The Peace of Conviction- Advent”
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
November 29, 2022
For more than two decades, the U.S. tech industry was booming and, when the pandemic hit, Facebook and other tech companies hired many thousands of staffers. But in recent weeks, they’ve laid off more than 120,000 workers. “At the start of Covid, the world moved online. We thought this would be permanent,” Mark Zukerberg said. “But we were wrong.” As the world reopened, many consumers have returned to their offline lives.
“We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist its ebb. We insist on permanency; when the only continuity possible in life is love.” – Leo Buscaglia, “Loving Each Other’
Affirmative prayer: Today, I give thanks for the give and take of life, and for the great centering point of pure Spirit. In the midst of change, I am anchored in the love of God. I live and move in this sacred steadfastness. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
The season of Advent is the story of a journey, of a birthing, and during Advent we take that journey once again in the story of the birth of Jesus. It is no accident that it happens at the darkest time of the year for us in the Northern Hemisphere. It causes us to look within to find the light, to find peace. Each of the themes during Advent is a marker for our journey. Last week, our message was about the energy of hope and leaning in to listen with the heart. When we do that, the energy of hope carries us into the power of faith that sustains us when the going gets tough and we want to give up hope.
This week, our journey is to explore and seek to understand what peace is all about. One of the challenges that we face today is that there is SO much in our world that we would call “NOT Peace!” That is nothing new however. In first century Palestine, when Jesus was born, it was during the time of Roman rule in the Mideast. It was called Pax Romana because the Roman emperors ruled with an iron fist and did not tolerate dissent, rebellion or war. It was peace defined by the absence of war, of external conflict that would disrupt society. Non-Roman citizens were tolerated and allowed to practice their faith traditions so long as they did not challenge Roman authority or power.
It was a time of external peace, which allowed people considerable freedom and safety and special privilege for the wealthy Roman rulers at all levels. If the non-privileged did not like how the Romans ruled or the laws that they had to follow, there was not much they could do about it. Peace came at a price for those who were oppressed and on the margins. They had no recourse and little remedy for injustice, which we can see in the present day as well.
People did not seek inner peace, which is a very new concept that Jesus would offer and one that greatly puzzled his listeners. Most of his teachings focused on how to live with each other in peace and love; how to navigate conflict in an effective and more empowered way. Near the end of his life, Jesus was very clear and direct about how his followers were to continue to live once he was no longer with them in person. Peace is clearly a practice, something that comes from within and needs deliberate and intentional focus for us to experience it.
John 14: 25-27
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (NRSV-UE)
In this passage, we are assured that the whole Spirit of God is always with us to support and sustain us in living in this more peaceful way. Jesus does not say it will be easy or pain free, just that it is truly the only way to true peace, inner peace.
Ok, so where does that leave us today? How is it that we do not experience inner peace? Well, we can take comfort in the struggles of the apostle Paul who in his letter to the Romans writes of his own inner conflict in Romans 7:14-20.
The Inner Conflict
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that the good does not dwell within me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do the good lies close at hand, but not the ability. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me.
Oh, my, I can so relate to the inner conflict of Paul! When I really want to show up in a peaceful way, why do I say something snarky or use a stronger word that is needed that causes tension or conflict? Oy!! What Paul is struggling with is his shadow self, his very human self. He says his human self is enslaved and that his spiritual self is how he wants to live. He is struggling to find the balance, the interplay of the two that would bring him peace. His solution is to say that when he does the very thing he hates, he concludes it is “sin” or not part of him. I don’t think we can get off that easily. He is missing the teachings of Jesus that tell us to look at the log in our own eye before we look elsewhere for someone or something to blame. Paul doesn’t quite have the whole picture.
The message of Jesus was all about how to navigate conflict in a more empowered, respectful way. He did not advocate put up and shut up! He did not teach his followers to keep silent and tolerate mistreatment, but he did not advocate violence in response to mistreatment. He said to do good to those who persecute you, even if it is you persecuting yourself! He was constantly calling out the powerful and wealthy and challenging their worldview and beliefs and values. He was an iconoclast, challenging the status quo, and like our friend, John Lewis, Jesus was often one who got into “good trouble,” and like John Lewis he did it in a non-violent way, but with powerful conviction.
When we stand for what is honorable and the highest and best good for all with conviction, we are practicing peace. We can only do that effectively from a place of inner peace, which is a place of real power. Friends, true inner peace is a practice! It is a constant mindful practice that asks us to look at our part and own our shortcomings, our snafus, our mess-ups and our mistakes. It is coming to a place of acceptance of our humanness whereby we can embrace our spirituality in a healthy way, not a way to “by-pass” what we don’t like or enjoy in our human selves. It is a place of healing whereby we no longer need to hurt others to feel better about ourselves.
Hurt people hurt people. Healing our hurts is truly the path to deep and meaningful inner peace, the peace that is beyond our human understanding. It is the kind of inner peace that sustained a man like John Lewis in the midst of the turmoil and strife of the Civil Rights marches and non-violent demonstrations. What does John Lewis tell us in his book Carry On about “good trouble” in his chapter of the same name? On page 19 & 20 he writes:
I have been arrested over 40 times, 45 if you include the arrests while in Congress…..I have been kicked and beaten. But I never grew angry. I sought good trouble not as a form of revenge or retribution or to settle any score.
Good trouble is about dramatizing something that needs correcting and changing. My arrests help to raise awareness about something that needs changing and correcting.
John Lewis is a powerful model for navigating conflict while anchored in peace, which is our learning journey this Advent season.
As we reflect on the opening story of the 120,000 tech workers recently laid off due to the miscalculations of Facebook and other tech giants, we hold space for peace even as these people are hurt and angry. What is so real is the statement by Leo Buscaglia about learning to live with the ebb and flow of life. In the midst of all the turmoil of modern life which offers a lot of what is NOT peace, we are asked to turn within and find our anchor in Spirit, in the possibility of love, of being a loving presence in the midst of all that is. Since the time of Jesus, peace has truly been a mindfulness practice that empowers and informs how we show up, how we respond to injustice and how we live. As John Lewis so powerfully articulated, things do change, and we show up to help that happen in a peacefully empowered way!
I want to leave you this morning with a poem called “Small Kindness” by Danusha Laméris that went viral at the start of the pandemic in 2020.
By Danusha Laméris
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”
Blessings on the Path,