Sermon,  Sermons

Art of Peace

2nd Sunday in Lent

sermon video

I’ve mentioned to you, many times, my conspicuous lack of a green thumb. And when we gathered on Ash Wednesday, we prepared and planted Nasturtium seeds following instructions to not use fertilized soil. Rather, everything I read indicated that poor soil is best. So, we all used the clumpy, bone dry dirt mixed with a bit of mulch that I brought. All of us used the very same soil.

So, when I attended the Trustees meeting last Tuesday and Arletta turns to me and says, My plant has already grown this big (indicating with her fingers over an inch), expounding on how fun it’s been to see how happy her little plant is, turning toward the sun each time she turns the cup for better exposure; and then Gavin says, Oh yeah? Well, my plant has already grown this much (fingers indicating well over 2 inches), and prattles on about how it seemed to grow an entire inch in one day.

And then I have to confess to them: mine has done nothing! What is wrong with me?! How will I ever face Wes???

Well, Arletta encouraged me by suggesting something she tried: it seemed a piece of mulch was a bit too heavily lain over the spot the plant wished to grow. So, when I got home, I immediately examined the topsoil and gingerly nudged the bits of mulch, placed the cup in a different window, spoke lovingly to it (per Carol’s admonition). And prayed!

The seeds could be spent, deadened by my absolute inability to grow anything. But the only way to know for sure was to heed our lovely trustees’ instructions and follow them. I believed. But, only a little.

The royal official from Capernaum, not likely of the Jewish community, heard about Jesus’ healing power. He had an inkling that Jesus might actually possess that power of healing. He believes there’s something about Jesus. But only a little.

  • So he went to find Jesus – marking the 1st step, a movement in faith.
  • Then, he humiliates himself, begs Jesus, pleads for the healing of his son – he is desperate, yes. Still, this perceived humiliation marks a 2nd step in faith.
  • In his desperate state, he makes a request for Jesus to come to his home (an incredible honor for any mere citizen) asking Jesus to merely be present with the son, sorta knowing that Jesus’ presence could very well do the trick – this marks a 3rd movement.
  • Then Jesus commands, “Go! Your son will live,” and John tells us that the man believed and started on his way – he didn’t even have to make it all the way home – his proceeding toward home marks the 4th movement of faith.

For the man who had been ill for 38 years, Jesus goes to him, initiates the exchange. “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asks. One would expect a “Duh! Of course, I want to be healed!” But the man does not say that. He complains that there is no one who will help.

And I imagine, as John tells it, there are many invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed; I imagine those who witnessed this sight were inflicted with compassion fatigue, or a helplessness to know what to do for them, or just plain indifference, perhaps judging them for their condition…

I wonder if you remember the invitation at the beginning of Lent to consider changing our perspective on what God means by Judgment? That we reframe, recreate how we respond by thinking of judging a situation as it is, discerning the invitation from God to be changed by it?

And this is exactly what Jesus does: he invites the paralytic to… just stand up! Take your mat! Walk, for Heaven’s sake!  

That was enough. For both the royal official and the paralytic: It is their belief Jesus is who he says he is (v. signs for their own sake, evidenced by the lack of faith the Pharisees express).

Jesus heals these individuals to coax their faith, walk them through the process, inviting them into the movements of belief. Calling them to participate with him (make peace of their relationship) in the healing –

believe …“in Jesus as God’s Word Made Flesh—God’s embodied sacramental presence tent-pitched in the world so that those who believe in him are empowered to become ‘children of God.’”

(David J. Schlafer, Journal for Preachers, Lent 2020)

The two men who both experience Jesus’ healing power, do what they’re told. And in that process, in the doing, they are healed. It is a physical, bodily action, enacting their faith that Jesus’ command elicits. Not to prove himself, to perform a sign, wonders, but tease out the faith he knew these two individuals held, germinating within. No one else would be able to see that but Jesus. Just as I could not see whether my seed was germinating – but, in faith (desperate, on the brink of humiliation before my Trustees) I moved the cups and continued caring for them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled, don’t let them be afraid: my peace I leave with you, I give it to you” (John 14:27); and, “take courage, there is trouble in this world, but I’ve overcome – made inert – because in me, you already have peace.” (John 16:33) And, “As God sent me, I send you – peace be with you as you go!”

The way of peace is not inert – it is active. To walk in the way of peace, faith is a prerequisite. It absolutely does not look the same from one person to the next. The official had to 1st notice Jesus, then perform an act below his social station, 3rd, follow Jesus’ command by starting home believing his son will be healed, and finally confirm the healing occurred when Jesus spoke those words of healing. It didn’t happen all at once. It was a process.

And what happens? Peace is brought to his home – they ALL believe! because this royal official came to his senses, moved with Jesus through the process of belief.

It’s always process, evolving – creative. And isn’t that what healing is all about? Recreating that which is ailing?: the body, a relationship, a system?

Emily Dickinson wrote,

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant… The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.”

Emily Dickinson

If truth sets us free, and truth heals us, it is in the manner in which the truth is told that determines its effectiveness:

“Go be with your son. He’s healed,” “Get up and walk, and be well.” “Move the bits of mulch aside and change the location, and your plant will grow.”

The piece of art for the start of this week’s, The Art of Lent: Peace, is entitled,

“Finding Balance, Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue”, 1930, Piet Mondrian

Dr. Stephanie Chadwick, Khan Academy website.

“[Piet Mondrian] believed that abstraction provides a truer picture of reality than illusionistic depictions of objects in the visible world…

[In the development of his art, he ruled out objects that “were either too static or too dynamic, concluding that asymmetrical arrangements of geometric (rather than organic) shapes in primary (rather than secondary) colors best represent universal forces.

… ‘New Plastic’ to promote his ideas on spiritual evolution and the unification of the real and the ideal, the physical and immaterial. In Theosophy, lines, shapes, and colors symbolized the unity of spiritual and natural forces.

…  art as an expression of relationships, particularly the relationships between art and life.

… composed this painting as a harmony of contrasts that signify both balance and the tension of dynamic forces. Mondrian viewed his black lines not as outlines but as planes of pigment in their own right.”

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant”… bit by bit, or it might blind us to ALL the truth. What is the truth Jesus is calling you to today? How is Jesus coaxing you to relationship, to move in faith along the way of Peace? To what creative process is your spirit germinating, ready to press aside the bits that attempt to suffocate, but persist, so full of life, potential blooms, ready to flourish?

Meditate with me on this work of art, and allow the Spirit of God to coax you to belief:

“True Peace, dependent on nothing external, and hence wholly steadfast, comes from an inner balance between desire and potential. As long as we hunger for what we cannot have and battle hopelessly against what must always defeat us, we are not at peace. In cast this sounds discouraging, the point is that it is not so much that we cannot have all we desire – and more – but that we have to align our desires in the truth. Our spirit is too great for small and specific happinesses: our potential is infinite. The secret of peace is determining where this infinitude is and here is where the need for balance becomes paramount. In this painting Mondrian has used only three colors and a few black lines, and from their balance created a painting of the most subtle passion. Move a line or modify a rectangle, and the balance is lost and the painting becomes dull.”

(Sister Wendy Beckett, The Art of Lent)

Let us pray together this “Prayer of the People” that asks us to use our bodies – to take action in the praying of it:


These Hands: A Prayer

(People stand, hands over chest.)
We take a few deep breaths.
(Pause for at least three breaths. Then make fists and raise them line by line.)
We live in a time of clenching fists:
In anger that threatens,
In greed that clutches,
in worry and fear that tense and tighten.
This is no way to live.

(Open hands and thrust them outward, as if breaking chains.)
And so, we let go.
We take a few deep breaths.

(Pause. Lower hands, palms open, facing upward, raising them line by line.)
Our hands are empty.
We acknowledge our powerlessness.
We are not in control.
We are but humble protagonists in your great story of love.
We receive your grace that heals, forgives, and liberates.
This is the way to live.
And so, we open our hands, our hearts, our minds, our doors.
We take a few deep breaths.

(Facing palms outward, raise them line by line.)
We extend our hands in blessing.
As we have been blessed, so we bless.
We hold no weapons and make no threats.
We seek peace with all and we make peace for all.
It is better for us to give than to receive.
Make us instruments of your peace, Living God.
We surrender our lives to your purposes.
May your Spirit fill our lives and work through these hands.

(Pause, hands pressed together over heart.)
We open our eyes.
We see your light in one another:
a flickering candle in the dark,
a quiet glow at dawn,
a rising sun for this new day.
We call forth that light in one another,
And we honor one another with these hands.
May the peace of Christ rise in you.

(People silently turn and honor one another, praying a silent blessing over each other.)

Brian McLaren in Divine Echoes: Reconciling Prayer with the Uncontrolling Love of God by Mark Gregory Karris, QUOIR, 2018, pp. 198-9.

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