One of the best illustrations of Christian charity and witness operating in the world today:
My comments at a Prayer Vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy this afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky.
God’s will is for peace for all people: every nation, every ethnicity, every political persuasion, every age, every income, everyone, everywhere : peace.
For Christians, the first words heralded by the angels at the birth of Jesus is a word of peace. And years later, the consistent greeting of the risen Christ is the same, as he says, over and over: peace.
Similarly, in the tradition of the Jews and Muslims, and in the hope of all the great religions, we are to be a people praying and working for peace.
So, how ironic and tragic, throughout all our histories, we have been at war within our affiliations and between one another for anything but peace.
Here is a picture of Jesse Lewis, the little boy’s name I read moments ago alongside his father:
Jesse could have been one of my sons…..or one of yours.
And for his family and for those who remember him and loved him, there is little peace here on this earth, as well all the children and families we remember this day along with the first responders, the other surviving students, teachers, indeed the entire community of Newtown Connecticut.
But it could be my community, it could be ours.
Together, we are all joined by people throughout our world who suffer not only because we have yet to learn how to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks; but because we still endeavor in our fear and madness, to put our faith in nothing but bigger swords and deadlier spears.
So, truly and painfully, our gathering this afternoon is an act of faith.
A belief and a resolve to be people of peace and goodwill: to fear no person, only GOD;
To acknowledge those who suffer and are oppressed and work toward their relief,
To remember a message does not need to be popular in order for it to be true;
To elevate our discourse by engaging our enemies, not toward fighting, but by working together for reconciliation,
To be courageous and confident enough to transform cultural perceptions and alter public policy,
To teach and work and assemble and organize and march and pray and live, really live, so that such a gathering as this will no longer be necessary.
By some reports, little Jesse Lewis, believing in cowboys and heroes, ran toward his assailant to protect his classmates.
He lost his life in the struggle. Can we be people of no less courage?
Perhaps one of the shortest and most powerful words in all of scripture is the three letter word:
Isaiah 43:19 – God says, “Behold, I am about to do a new thing.”
Isaiah 65:17 – For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
Ezekiel 11:19 – I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
Early Christians employed this image to describe what new life in Christ was all about, as in;
2 Corinthians 5:17 – If anyone is in Christ, There is (or I prefer)- He/She is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.
While we might think of God as being old: ancient and eternal.
We should never imply God is worn-out, tired or outdated.
While it is more certain how the eternity of God leads to an understanding of God as being the oldest thing in town, by necessity it must include God as the newest thing in town too.
“In the beginning” are the first words of our faith story.
Our joy in the delivery of every new child into the world is a promise God commits to the future.
Every new thought, discovery or idea is sparked by the young and old alike within the freshness of God’s renewing blessing.
All creative endeavors and moments of inspiration find their origin in God’s creative energies.
Each scientific break-through and innovative technology reveals God already there, waiting for its arrival and having inspired its discovery.
In theology, the power of forgiveness, the potential of redemption and the promise of reconciliation and restoration are all possible because God’s spirit is constantly at work to usher in something new.
In and through the ever-creative and inexhaustible God, we are given multiple “in the beginnings” of every new day, every new direction, every new idea, every new year, and yes even every new person.
We might say God causes endings. I affirm God brings new beginnings. If fact, an ending is simply God’s way to clear the decks, all in order for the many new things that might develop to begin. Without the end of something old, something new would never emerge in it’s place.
In God’s grace, no ending is final, no mistake irreversible, and no conclusion ever satisfactory.
Even death is used as means to something better. We confess God is never a God of death — but always and only a God of life, granting us eternal life, that is: life ever new and never exhausted.
So, from our reading today, Colossians 3:10 – Having clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge according to the image of its creator; we are to put on this new expression of our essential being, made new in the presence of Christ and in the power of the Spirit.
Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience becomes our wardrobe; love and forgiveness, our coordinating colors.
This is what new life in Christ represents. And we do this not because we feel like it or wait until we are motivated to give it a try. NO! We put this on; as our calling in Christ, our faith in what is new and possible, our best appearance to the world giving witness to the creative power of God at work to transform our very being.
Max Beerbohm, was a famous cartoonist and writer for the Saturday Review at the turn of the 20th Century. He was described by the elder and better known, George Bernard Shaw with: “The younger generation is knocking at the door and as I open it, there steps spritely in the incomparable Max.”
Beerbohm once wrote a story called “The Happy Hypocrite,” a parable that describes the possibility of seeking to make a new start in one’s life.
The main character, appropriately named Lord George Hell had an appearance to match the consumption of vice and the narrow self-interest he had used to manage his days.
One day, however, he saw a beautiful young woman. Instantly, he knew he wanted her as his wife. But he realized this virtuous and beautiful young woman would never marry him if she knew what he was really like.
So he planned his masquerade. He put on the mask of a saint, to hide his sinner’s face. After a while, his guise worked. He wooed her and married her.
The years go by, when eventually his past catches up to him. A woman, who knew Lord George Hell a long time ago, showed up and saw through his deception. She vowed to reveal him as the unscrupulous and debased character she knew him to truly be.
She waited for her opportunity. As Lord George Hell was with his wife, the woman confronted him and tore off his mask. To her embarrassment and his total astonishment, behind the mask of a saint was now the face of the saint he had become. All those years of doing and being the right thing had transformed his appearance along with his very being.
This is our Christian hope. By acting like the new life in Christ, we actually become the new life in Christ.
Happy New Year! Happy resolution making! Happy new life in Christ provided by the God who makes all things new.
Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Today, the children of the church surprised me at the end of the children’s sermon with some special gifts. In fact, one kid told me he was not going back to his seat when dismissed as he stalled until his brother offered me a gift bag. Inside were many treats including a beer mug celebrating UK’s eighth NCAA championship in men’s basketball. But the overall best treats were the written notes I’ve copied below just as they were written to me:
I like Mark because he is the best precher ever!!
I like Dr. Mark becouse he is funny and makes everyone lagh!
You make the peace of this world.
He wears cool suites!
I lik him beCas he talk abouhut the bibl
Dear mr. Mark you teach us a lot of stuff aboat god.
I like mark because he is the best.
I like mark because he preaches us.
Dear Mr. Mark, I like when you are funny and nice. Your friend.
Mark always waits to say hi to me every day at church.
I can think of no better compliments I have ever received.