Monday, April 25, 2016

Sermon: Going Back to the Basics

"Going Back to the Basics"
Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 13: 31-35; 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
April 24, 2016

When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ - John 13: 31-35

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

Whenever life gets too stressful or too complicated, I create a space to go back to the basics of life. I try to simplify my priorities regarding what really matters. Going back to the basics reminds me of how I should be living each day.

So here is my short list:

1. God – God has turned my life around I want to grow in God’s love and faithfulness.

2. Family – The time is passing quicker each year I want to be present in marriage and parenting. I want to pour my love into these significant relationships and make the time count.

3. Ministry (Work) – God has a purpose in bringing all of us together. God wants to work through our lives, reshape us, and make the love of Christ known. This is true for any work we do. We all share this in our common calls when we follow Christ. Christ works through our unique talents and gifts wherever we are in life.

There are days when our priorities are not in sync. None of us lives them out perfectly. And on these imperfect days God seems to be very silent and very distant. There are days when the dynamics in our homes and community are stressful. There are days when work is tiring and chaotic. In these moments when the stress weighs upon us it is so very important to take a step back. It’s good to look at what holds our priorities together. The guiding center for each of us should be love. For if we do all things without having love in the center then nothing that we do bears the weight of grace.

Paul said this to his church flock in Corinth. Paul sensed his community was being pulled apart by tensions and stress. And even as some of the people in Corinth Church were trying to live out their faith and priorities, Paul encouraged them all to take their spiritual pulse. Paul wanted to make sure his flock was centering their daily lives with love.

There is only one reason we are able to pour our love into the people and situations that matter. God took the first step to be intentionally present in our lives. Our God is a relational God. And God was the first to pour out unconditional love for us through Jesus Christ. God’s love is unique and teaches us how to live through the example of Jesus Christ. God wants us to live our faith through the integrity of Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us that God’s Love bears the weight of grace.

God’s Love is patient. Patience sees annoyances and hardships as opportunities to grow. Patience refuses to react out of anger. Patience looks beyond our human limitations into God’s possibilities.

God’s Love is kind. Kindness is deeply connected to serving others. Kindness extends generosity. Kindness seeks to benefit the good of the whole even through one tiny action or smile.

God’s Love is rejoicing in the truth. Rejoicing is gratitude for the way God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

We all know how challenging it is to love the way God loves - to live into Christ’s example. It is not easy to always have an attitude of patience, kindness, and gratitude. I think each of us is aware of our own human limitations – our incompleteness as Paul might say.

There is a shadow side to each of us. Paul describes this side of us with words that are all too familiar: envy, pride, arrogance, rudeness, self-centeredness, irritability, resentfulness. These are our human tendencies. These are our human reactions. When we allow our shadow side to be our primary way of living then it threatens a healthy sense of self. Our shadow side distorts who God intends us to be.

When we do not take the time to nurture this gift of faith and abide in Christ then our shadow side will call the shots. I know when I do not balance my priorities by settling into God’s Word and make time for prayer then I don’t like the person I see. When we allow our negative attributes to guide us instead of love then our shadow side strains our relationships. It threatens the harmony in our homes, the unity of community and even the body of Christ. Our shadow side easily becomes an obstacle to experiencing reconciliation which at the heart of Christ’s ongoing ministry.

All the good that we do on our best days is God’s grace working through us. When we abide in Christ then our lives have a richer meaning because God shows us what we should be focusing on. God’s love shapes us into who we are intended to be.

Christ told the disciples how important it is to keep God’s love at the center of all things. It is not a choice. It is a commandment. It is not a rule but a way of life. If we love one another then the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples. And disciples are not known for doctrine. Disciples are not known for being right. Disciples are known for how well we follow the Teacher’s example.

Jesus’ example is more than just loving neighbor as self. Jesus’ example is loving ourselves and others as he loves us. Christ loves us with the weight of grace. Christ loves us with patience, kindness, gratitude, and truth. God has poured Christ’s love into us with great intention so that we might know the basics of how to live.

Robert Fulghum has a gift of crafting words in a light-hearted way. He took the very essence of life back to the basics of what really matters. His words may be familiar words to you:

Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.

These are the things I learned:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life -
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

Fulghum said these things are what he has learned about the Golden Rule and God’s Love.

This past week I came across a phrase that will not leave me. I do not know who wrote it but it summarizes our Gospel lesson.

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

In our lives, people will not remember what we have said. But people will remember how we have made them feel. People will remember how we have lived.

So be kind.
Be the kind of person God is shaping you to be.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source Referenced:
Robert Fulghum, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” (New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1986, 1988, 2003), pgs. 2-3.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sermon: Redirecting Unworthiness

"Redirecting Unworthiness"
Third Sunday of Easter
Psalm139: 1-18; John 21: 1-19 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
April 10, 2016

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
- Psalm 139: 1-18

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
- John 21: 1-19

Peter went back to where it all began. He went back to Galilee. He went back to what he knew and that was fishing. Fishing gives you time to think about things. When you are sitting in a boat surrounded by an expanse of water time becomes suspended. And in that space there lays a deep opportunity to find yourself. Peter was at a loss. He felt the real absence of his Teacher and friend. He was still processing all that had happened to Jesus Christ.

And then there was the hard part – the regrets he held. He had not lived up to the name his Teacher gave him. Remember at the beginning of John’s Gospel when the two first met? Jesus looked at the apostle and said, “Simon, son of John, you are to be called Cephas” which means Peter (John 1:42). And Peter meant rock.

He had not yet lived into this new identity of being a rock of faith. He had denied Jesus three times. He felt more like a failure than a follower of Christ. He held a lot of shame for turning away from his Teacher, his Rabbi. His unworthiness seemed to create an impasse. Peter didn’t know which way to turn so he tried to go back to what he knew. Peter went fishing and his dear friends followed him.

Many of us can identify with Peter. Throughout some point in life we have all felt unworthy. We feel the weight of this adjective in lots of different ways. It describes us as lacking self-worth; not good enough; having low self-confidence; not deserving; feeling like a burden. The voice of unworthiness is real. And it speaks to us in such a way that we so easily follow its lead. Unworthiness takes us to places where we feel alone, isolated, lost, and helpless. Even when our friends follow us as we try to find ourselves, as in Peter’s case, we still feel this invisible weight.

John’s story of Peter’s unworthiness has spoken into my life many times and it still amazes me. The Risen Christ appeared to the disciples and met the disciples where they were. Christ met them in their emptiness. And then Christ provided what Peter and the disciples needed more than anything at that very moment. Christ provided God’s abundance. First Christ provided the tangible – the net filled with fish. Can you imagine how amazing it would be to catch all of those fish and then break bread and eat grilled fish with Jesus and his posse on the beach? A beach bar-b-que lifts everyone’s spirits right?

But then as Christ and Peter and the disciples sat around that charcoal fire, Christ provided what Peter’s spirit needed. Christ looked at Peter and asked, “Do you love me?” Christ asked Peter this three times.

And our English translations do not do the Greek justice. Jesus actually uses two different understandings of love. The first two questions he asks Peter speak of “agape” love which is God’s unconditional love. The third question he asks Peter speaks of “phileo” love which is like a close brotherly or sisterly love.

Listen to the three questions this way:

Do you love me like God loves you? Do you love me unconditionally? Do you love me like your brother – like family?

Many believe there is no coincidence that Christ’s three questions point back to the three times that Peter denied Jesus Christ. Maybe Christ was holding Peter’s lesser things in God’s grace to assure Peter of God’s forgiveness. Maybe Christ’s questions and Peter’s answers were like a prayer of confession and an assurance of pardon. Rowans Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury says that in this conversation Peter comes to know God as a reconciled sinner and also comes to know God as a reconciling Savior. [1]

But there is something else at work here too. There is only one thing that could speak into Peter’s unworthiness. There is only one word that could redefine and redirect Peter’s shame and lack of self-worth. And that is love.

Christ says, “Do you love me like God loves you – like I love you?” And Peter says, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you. You know everything.”

It’s interesting that Peter never answers Jesus using the “agape” love. He never says “Yes Lord, I love you unconditionally like God loves me.” Peter says I love you (phileo) like a brother, like family. I think Peter was just beginning to learn what God’s unconditional love looked like in his life. I think Christ’s questions were helping Peter’s spirit to reframe his own life and grow in God’s love and grace.

Peter was growing in the love that Jesus had been talking about all along. We can only know the unconditional love of God because God has first loved us (1 John 4:19). God in Christ had searched Peter and knew him. Christ knew Peter’s thoughts from afar. Christ knew Peter’s every move and every word even before it was on his tongue and Christ loved Peter still. Christ had hemmed Peter in, behind and before, and laid the hand of God upon Peter as they sat beside the charcoal fire. There was nothing that Peter could do that could take away God’s love.

And in that moment the Risen Christ was providing God’s abundance in what Peter’s spirit needed. Christ was redirecting Peter’s unworthiness. Peter was moved from a heart of emptiness to a humble heart. In that moment Peter was claimed in God’s love, forgiven for what he had done and left undone, and was being made new.

Christ needed to work through Peter’s unworthiness – this impasse. The most important thing was that Peter needed to love himself again - to feel worthy. And also, God had plans for Peter to go on and to be and to do greater things. John's story says that Peter would shepherd God’s growing flock.

And Christ was not going to let Peter remain in that state of being. Christ wanted Peter to see beyond this cross roads and to fully know that Peter was greater than any lesser thing in past. Christ wanted Peter to fully believe that God’s grace defined Peter – not his unworthiness.

The core of unworthiness is this: it deceives us to believe we are less than we are. When we listen to the voices that say we are not good enough or that we are a burden on others then we feel stuck. Unworthiness leads us to a place where there is no way out. But God's love leads us upward and onward.

No matter what is going on in your life right now I want you to know one thing - and I want you to know this with your head and your heart: God is not content to let you or me stay in a place of unworthiness. I know God is not content to let any of us remain stuck because God risked being vulnerable to put on the thin skin of humanity in Jesus Christ. God has walked in our shoes. God knows our joys and our trials. God knows our highs and lows. God meets us where we are and reminds us of God’s unconditional love revealed in Jesus Christ. God says that we are loved and that is enough.

There is a difference between knowing God’s truth with just our head or just our heart.To know God’s truth with our head takes practice. To know God’s truth with our heart takes prayer. We must combine the two of practice and prayer to learn who God says we are – to find our true selves. We cannot do it in one day. We do it with God’s help one day at a time.

As God works through your situations and mine let’s not forget the best part of John’s story. God will work through our weak places and strengthen us so that we might be and do greater things. And the greater things are to be encouraged ourselves and to encourage one another.

God just might work through you to feed God’s sheep. The humility that you and I receive from God’s love serves to offer compassion and guidance for a sister or brother in faith. Humility helps us to extend that brotherly or sisterly love. The strength that you and I receive from Christ’s presence becomes words of encouragement and spiritual nourishment for ourselves and others. Spiritual strength helps us to receive and extend God’s unconditional love. Both types of love – agape and phileo – are important to the way our faith reshapes us and is lived out.

Do not let unworthiness block your way. Do not listen to the way unworthiness distorts the way we see ourselves. Unworthiness can be a real and an invisible weight that holds us back from all God desires for us in our lives. Let’s not allow the lesser things of our lives define who we are today.

Who are you? Who am I? God says that you and I are accepted, forgiven, loved and freed to forgive others. Nothing less.

Know with your head and your heart that God is hemming us in, reshaping the past and the present, and that God is laying his hand upon us to give us encouragement and hope for the future. Praise God – for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are God’s works – that we know full well in this season of Easter.

And knowing that is enough.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source Referenced:
[1] Rowan Williams, “Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel” (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2002), 31.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sermon: Believing Beyond a Good Friday World

Believing Beyond a Good Friday World
Second Sunday of Easter
Psalm 150; John 20: 19-31by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
April 3, 2016

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
- Psalm 150

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
- John 20: 19-31

They were living behind locked doors. It was the evening of Easter Sunday. They had heard the first sermon ever proclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!” And yet they were still living in a Good Friday world. Fear had taken hold of the disciples. If death is what happened to their Teacher and beloved Jesus, then persecution would certainly come for them too.

Many are hiding today behind locked doors just one week after the Easter message was proclaimed. My heart has been aching for our international sisters and brothers who have been living in fear cast by terrorist attacks during Holy Week and Easter. You and I left our service of Easter celebration last Sunday to enjoy time with our families and friends. Meanwhile on the other side of the world, Christians in Lahore, Pakistan were at a park celebrating the joy of Easter when suicide bombers took more than 70 lives and 29 were children. Hundreds were injured.

Fear and hatred live among us. While terror and religious persecution seem to be on the loose, we have our own hurts to hold here. Every day we read national and local news reporting of unthinkable ways that we inflict hurt and pain upon one another. It’s not just physical violence either. We slay each other with words that cripple one another’s spirits. Or worse – we do nothing and our apathy allows violence of any kind to continue. Our faith becomes disengaged.

We look out into the world and into our personal lives and Good News is not what we immediately see. We see the dismay and the despair that never really left once the Risen Christ left the tomb. We have our Thomas moments and ask ourselves did Jesus’ death and resurrection really happen? Did God’s sacrificial love change anything? We are still trying to believe the hope of resurrection beyond a Good Friday world.

Jesus Christ knew that the disciples would lock themselves behind fear. He knew they would have questions and doubts. He knew the disciples needed to be reassured of God’s faithfulness. So he walked through the barricaded doors and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).

And I cannot help but wonder if the disciples remembered Jesus’ words about peace back on that Thursday night of the Last Supper. Jesus tried to prepare them for the way fear would take hold of them after the crucifixion and resurrection saying:

The hour is coming, indeed it has come when you will be scattered each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world (John 16: 32-33).

It matters that the first words of the Risen Christ to the disciples are “Peace be with you.” It is not merely a greeting. Christ wants the disciples to sense God’s deep embrace in their time of need. He wants the disciples to know God’s shalom – or peace. God’s peace is not just the assurance of Christ’s salvation. As Easter people we do have peace that Christ has conquered sin and death in the gift of salvation and eternal life. This is our future hope.

But peace also comes to us in a Good Friday world as we trust God is working through all things - violence, terror, and tragedies. God alone is the author and promoter of peace. God’s unconditional love has been let loose into the world through Jesus Christ and the cross. God’s unconditional love is at work to bring about a sense of divine wholeness in humanity and creation. This is our present hope.

In a more pragmatic sense, the core of peace is not an absence of conflict. Peace gives us a different way to respond to conflict and the troubles of the world. God shows us the way.

As Christ breathed peace upon the disciples he also breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. Christ embraced the disciples in the peace of God to prepare them to open the doors and to be sent out into the world. The disciples are to go in the bold assurance that through this gift of faith God invites them and us as partners in the kingdom of God. God invites us as partners to bring peace.

We heard in our assurance of pardon this morning that “Christ comes with healing light into our locked places and shadowy hurts, resurrecting our spirits and breathing into us new life. Believe the Good News! As God’s own forgiven people, we are sent out into the community to bring peace, forgiveness, and new life to the world in the name of Jesus Christ.” [1] We are claimed in God’s love. We are forgiven in God’s love when we would rather hide in fear. We are sent in God’s love to live a story of hope.

We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. And now is a critical time for people of faith to live into Easter hope. We are to look into the darkness and see the light of Christ. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it (John 1:5). And we are called to be a light shining in the darkness for others to see.

We are a light of peace when we risk opening the doors of our hearts and our homes and our communities to love others as God loves us. Love others and not fear them. We are a light of peace when we seek unity among our diversity. We are a light of peace when we create genuine and safe places to learn about one another’s beliefs and cultures for the sake of mutual understanding and respect. We are a light of peace as we pray for the peace of Christ to guide us in efforts to bring about reconciliation.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to take a field trip to Rock Hill with clergy from various denominations. We visited a compound – a community of twenty families tethered together by the Muslim faith. The community named their compound Islamville.

It was a humbling experience to be there. And it was the very first time I had ever personally met someone of the Muslim faith.

The clergy and I caravanned over to the compound and it was so meaningful to be greeted by our American - Muslim neighbors with warm welcomes and handshakes. Saeed Shakir is the Imam (faith leader) and Mayor of Islamville. He gave us a tour of the shrine where worship is held for the community there. He shared about the Muslim faith. And then Saeed invited us into his home and we all shared table fellowship with other members of the community over a traditional meal.

That day all of us gathered and stood in solidarity with deep concerns about world affairs where terror and fear cast shadows over people of all faiths. We shared stories about our respective families. We shared our hopes to find the spiritual spaces that unite us as children of Abraham. We shared a time of prayer together. I am certain that I experienced the Spirit’s peace in that place. And I hope for more opportunities for each of us to shine the light of God’s peace and love that casts out fear of religious differences and race.

We have to believe that even as terror, violence, and fear seem to be on the loose, that God’s resurrection power is greater than any darkness because perfect love casts out fear. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We must have faith that every prayer we lift on behalf of our sisters and brothers who are oppressed by violence is heard by God. We have to trust with every prayer we lift for our neighborhoods that God is breathing the Holy Spirit there to mend wounds. We must grow in our conviction that Christ is asking us to go with the bold assurance to be God’s messengers of peace – and use words when it is necessary.

America’s longtime favorite neighbor was Fred Rogers. Many of us grew up watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood on PBS. Did you know that Fred Rogers was also a Presbyterian minister? Beyond the television show Fred Rogers was a messenger of peace. He once shared sage wisdom for parents regarding how to talk about world news with young children. And his words are so pastoral to all of us in a Good Friday world:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

Despite our questions and doubts about the world we live in, the Risen Christ is here. Christ is coming through the barricaded doors of our hearts, homes, and communities to breathe the Spirit’s peace upon us. We all need to be reassured of God’s faithfulness in times of fear. Let the peace of God embrace you in the power of resurrection. Christ said to the disciples and to us as well: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

In this Good Friday world we will have trouble but take heart Christ has conquered the world. And Christ empowers us to partner with God to be the helpers and to bear the message of peace. The peace of God guides us to respond to conflict and trouble in a different way than the world teaches. Let us pray for peace with boldness that we may live it out as Easter people. Let us believe beyond a Good Friday world.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source Referenced
[1] Kimberly Bracken Long, "Feasting on the Word Worship Companion: Liturgies for Year C, Volume 1 Advent through Pentecost" (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), p. 148.