Passing the Peace

March 1, 2015

Does your church have a time of greeting during worship? What do you do? Why do you do it?

I’ve been in churches where this time was a time to say hello to the people around you. This always seemed odd to me, didn’t we say hello when we came in and sat next to each other? Sometimes this time gets used to introduce visitors to the congregation as well. An exercise in anxiety and discomfort for introverts.  A time of greeting can seem like a sort of intermission  -time to stand up, stretch and chat.

In more liturgical churches this time is even more odd. Instead of saying normal things, like “hello”; we say “The Peace of Christ be with you”. That is such an odd thing to say to someone “The Peace of Christ be with you.” Who are you and I to say such a thing?

But now, after months and years of saying this odd thing, it doesn’t seem so odd. Now it seems odd not to. If I am in a worship service where there is not passing of the peace, I actually miss it.

It is a strange and unique time of the week. And it seems odd that we could be allowed to pass Christ’s peace around. Why would we do that? How could we do that?

In my tradition the passing of the peace comes right after confession and the assurance of forgiveness. We have as a community and as individuals confessed our sin, we have recalled and repented of the times and ways we have separated ourselves from God’s desires for us. Then we together and out loud remember and claim that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are forgiven. And so we are at peace. We have Christ’s peace. How could we not share that? How could we not greet each other in the name of Christ? How could we not be reconciled to each other? What a wonderful and yes, odd thing to do.

This isn’t trivial. To gladly offer Christ’s peace to someone you don’t know and to mean it takes some intentionality. To offer Christ’s peace to someone you may not particularly like and to mean it can be challenging. If you and a loved one  have had a difficult morning or a difficult weekend or a difficult week when tempers have been short and feelings have been hurt- to offer Christ’s peace to them and to mean it is not easy. To receive Christ’s peace is not easy. But it is healing.

If you are not used to it, the passing of the peace can be awkward, at least for a while. But the good news is that Jesus can pop up anywhere, even in the awkward moments of life.

The passing of the peace has changed me. Slowly, very slowly, perhaps even imperceptibly slowly. The act of giving and receiving the peace of Christ in this formal ritual opens me to the possibility to give and receive the peace of Christ in informal and casual ways. The ritual tells me that it is okay and allowed and even encouraged to take the peace of Christ into the world and to give it away. This ritual encourages me to receive Christ’s peace where ever I encounter it and to receive it from whomever is offering it. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I am not paying attention. Sometimes I can’t. And sometimes (Lord forgive me) I won’t. But each week, I am reminded of Christ’s peace. Each week I offer and receive Christ’s peace.  And I am grateful. The peace of Christ be with you.

The Unchanging God

February 22, 2015

Sometimes progressive Christians area accused of over accommodation of the faith. Our more conservative sisters and brothers worry that we are too swayed by whatever the current culture suggests is appropriate. Sometimes those discussion are framed by the statement that God does not change and that God’s laws do not change.

But what do we mean when we say God does not change? It can’t mean that God never changes God’s mind. A careful reading of the Bible reveals that God has changed God’s mind. Anybody who has prayed an intercessory prayer hopes to, in some way, influence God- to get God to act in a particular way. If God is not influenced by God’s interactions with us, we left with a distant, uninvolved God or a God who has control of everything. Either “god” makes prayer useless. Our actions are at best indifferent or at worst useless with either “god”.

When I say God does not change, I mean that God’s essence, God’s truest self does not change. God is love. God is triune. God is merciful. God is just. I think God’s ultimate intentions for us and for the world do not change. God’s desire for salvation and shalom do not change.

God is love. That is true. But exactly what God’s love looks like at any particular time in human history may change.  Here are two simple analogies.

As a parent I love my children. The way I express my love to them and for them changes as my children change. When they were young, one of the ways I expressed by love for them was by setting boundaries to keep them safe. For example, I didn’t let them cross the street by themselves when they were two. Now they are 19 and 21 and I let them cross the street by themselves. The “law” about street crossing needed to change as they grew. To keep the rule about street crossing the same from 2 to 21 would not be a healthy expression of love.

When my children were young I was more involved in their friendships. They needed supervision and guidance. Now (as much as I might want to be involved) I need to let them make their own decisions about who their friends are and what they do together. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care. But my involvement is different.

Analogies are not perfect ways of thinking about God, I know. Anything and everything we can say about God is less than the full reality of God. But all we have available to talk about God is our limited experiences and language. These analogies fall short at some point, but they can help us think about how what was appropriate at one time may not be appropriate for another time.

The most convincing evidence that at least some of God’s rules can change come from the Bible. We sometimes forget that Jesus often was accused of ignoring God’s law. Jesus, of course, didn’t see things that way. Jesus believed himself to be the fulfillment, the culmination of the law. The way the law appeared in its fulfilled state with Jesus looked quite different than the law appeared in Moses time, or in David’s time. ( For example, see Matthew 5:17 ff)

Peter, in Acts 10 is given new “rules” about what to eat and who to eat with.

Consider also the decision of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). They needed to decide what to “do” about non Jewish believers. Was there a certain level of adherence to Torah that was needed? The council decided that only a few things would be required. The situation, now, was different. God’s love didn’t change. God’s care for God’s people didn’t change. But particular practices and standards and ideas did need to change because of the new reality of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

The difficulty, for us as it was for the Jerusalem council, is figuring out what ought to change and when change is appropriate. This always brings confusion and anxiety with it. Jesus upset people. He didn’t upset people just to annoy them or because he was accommodating the culture. The Jerusalem council’s decision must have upset some people. They weren’t trying to water down the faith, they were trying to be faithful giving the world they lived in.

It is not easy, figuring out if change is the right thing to do. It is especially difficult because change involves thinking and acting differently than we ever have before.

How can we figure out is change is appropriate? I think we need to recall what is unchanging about God- mercy, justice, love.  God is not static. God is not living in the past. God is here, now, present and urging us to deeds of mercy, justice and love. Old things have passed away, new things have come.


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