Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Planting Seeds of Peace

Message preached September 23, 2012
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon James 3:13 - 4:7

Order of Worship

listen to this in mp3 format

        In his book, Who Speaks for God? [New York: Delacorte Press, 1996, 67-69], Jim Wallis, the founder of the Sojourners Community in Washington, D.C., tells of being mugged one night right outside his home by four kids. They rushed him, slashed his face, and then yelled ‘Keep him down! Get his wallet!’

"I popped up quickly, which seemed to surprise them," he writes. "Seeing no weapons flashed, I squared to face my attackers. This was the first chance we had to really see each other face to face. I saw that my assailants were just children -- three about 15, and one little one who couldn't have been more than 13.... The boys backed up a little when they saw I was bigger than they had expected. I'm a strong believer in nonviolence, but have learned that being a weight lifter often helps in these potential conflict situations! The one who had hit me moved into a boxing stance while the others circled. The little guy began attempting some ineffectual karate kicks, which I assumed he had seen on television.

"I decided to confront them, not intending to hurt them, but only to fend them off. Instinctively, I began to scold these lost young souls. I told them just to stop it, to stop terrorizing people, to stop such violent behavior in our neighborhood. Finally, I shouted at them, ‘I'm a pastor!’ And I told them if they wanted to try to beat up and rob a pastor, they should come ahead and take their best shot. ... I knew that invoking the authority of the church in the street is hardly a sure thing these days, when our churches often have such little involvement there.

"Whatever it was that changed their minds, the youthful muggers turned and ran. ‘Get back here,’ I shouted after them -- then instantly realized it probably wasn't a good thing to say at that moment. But then something unusual happened.

"The littlest kid, who couldn't have been more than 4½ feet tall, turned back and looked at me as he ran away. With a sad face and voice the young karate kicker said, ‘Pastor, ask God for a blessing for me.’

"He and his friends had just assaulted me. The little one had tried so hard to be one of the big tough guys. Yet he knew he needed a blessing. The young boy knew he was in trouble. I think they all did...."


        "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves," Jesus once told his disciples, "Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16 NKJV). Of course, our Lord wasn’t referring to adolescent would-be muggers when he said that. Instead, his sights were set upon those who knock down with words, whose accusations and pointed fingers try to thwart good news - supposedly "wise" people who, unlike that young boy that attacked Jim Wallis, don’t know the trouble they’re in.

        As brother James reminded us last week, it’s possible to mug somebody with words. Therefore, we need to become wise in our use of them... Wisdom... "Who is wise and understanding among you?" brother James asked long ago (3:13). A rather pointed question, wouldn’t you say? Who, indeed? Is there anyone in this room who might lay claim to that title? From my experience, the wisest persons I know are the ones who recognize their own foolishness, who realize the limits of their own understanding, who comprehend that what little wisdom they possess is but the size of a tiny mustard seed. However, didn’t Jesus have something to say about a comparable amount of faith? (cf Matthew 17:20)

        "Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves," Jesus said. He also told his disciples something else, a reminder of a greater wisdom and strength that would travel with them wherever they went. When facing up against those who seek to mug, with words or actions, the bearers of good news, Jesus said, "don’t worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Matthew 10:19-20) That promise remains true for today’s disciples.

        Truly wise people know how foolish they really are, how much in debt they are to a wisdom and a power that is greater than they. I’ve met Jim Wallis, shook his hand. He is a bear of a guy, and a powerful speaker. Still, it was foolish to talk as he did on the street that night. It wasn’t street-smart, not something I’d encourage my children to do, let alone try myself. Still, his words disarmed a small gang, and opened the door to blessing - as topsy-turvy as it sounded at the time.

        Wallis is no stranger to such things, however. He has spent much of his life speaking the truth to powerful people who mug with briefcases and laws. Yes, he has walked the streets of Capital Hill, but he’s also traveled the streets of East L.A. and other inner cities, in this latter case seeking to bring an end to gang warfare. Foolish, yet wise - "wise as serpents and harmless as doves."

        Wisdom. That’s the territory our brother James travels. If you’ve been with us the last few weeks in our journey down the streets with James, you’ve heard me describe what he has to say as "down-to-earth theology." Whoever this James was, whether he was the brother of Jesus, James the Just, a key leader in the Jerusalem church, or some other James, the writer of these words (which have by faith been passed on to us) is a rubber-meets-the-road sort of person. He doesn’t mince words. He tells ‘em like he sees ‘em and lets the chips fall where they may.

        It’s hard not to like such a straight shooter. He seems to possess solid common sense. As I’ve been saying, what our brother James tells us often seems to fit us like a comfortable pair of jeans. And yet, so often his words scratch like the dickens - they "itch like heaven." In them we sense a greater wisdom and power that go beyond James, and beyond us. Because of that, this is more than plain, old, common sense. True wisdom is like that. It’s always got a "bite" to it. Once we think we possess it is precisely the moment of our greatest peril.

        "It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts," brother James tells us. That makes sense, common sense. However, there’s more. The further we walk into his words, the more uncomfortable we get. The more it itches. We start seeing ourselves. "Mean-spirited ambition isn't wisdom," he says. "Boasting that you are wise isn't wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn't wisdom. It's the furthest thing from wisdom - it's animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you're trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats." (Translation used here is from The Message, by E. Peterson)

"Real wisdom," James says, which is "God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

"Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

"You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you'd be asking for what you have no right to. You're spoiled children, each wanting your own way. You're cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn't care? The proverb has it that ‘he's a fiercely jealous lover.’ And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you'll find. It's common knowledge that ‘God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.’ So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he'll be there in no time."

        Such is the wisdom of our brother James... In the following moments of quiet reflection, as you listen to James’ words put to music, think about your own "yes" to God. How are you living it out? What may need to change? These are especially important questions for this time of year, when the crops in the field are being gathered in - a seasonal activity with which our urban and suburban hearts may have grown out of touch. Brother James wisely reminds, however, that "a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace." (3:18) Have you been sowing wisely? The good news is that it’s not too late to start.

song - "Planting seeds of peace"

©2012 (revised from 2000) Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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