Monday, May 30, 2016

Reflection on 1 Timothy 4:7b-12

The following is a sermon that was delivered to the graduating students of Towanda High School at the 2016 Baccalaureate Service. I pray that you also find some meaning in the words.


1 Timothy 4:7b-12

Train yourself in godliness, 8for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 11These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.


You are finally through…almost anyway. You can feel the breeze of the summer air calling your name. Freedom is just beyond the doors of the school. It is time to break out of this place!

This sort of excitement for the future lingers close by, but it is probably mixed with the sense that you are leaving something behind, friends, beloved teachers, and academic subjects that actually interested you and have already begun to shape who you are.

What you learned in those subjects, whether it be calculus, or physics, or nursing, or auto mechanics and the passion that you have in those subjects are all gifts from God for the sake of the world.

The Apostle Paul tells us that we are all part of one body, but we have many gifts…and though you probably have not thought of it this way, your education is one of those gifts from God.

Granted, I admit, I have a hard time believing that calculus is a gift from God…but there is a reason I am a pastor and not a mathematician. Even now I can hear my mom saying, “You didn’t like math, I loved calculus!” But, that is what I am saying; each of us has a different gift from the Lord and that is a good thing because I am the last person those of you going to college want to call as you try to fill out your FAFSA for next year.

As you probably already know, not everyone in the world gets an education of any kind at all. So, your learning and passions are a gift from God as you head out into the world to serve and do good!

I am not saying this just to make you feel good as you go off to college, to work, or to serve in the military. There is a good reason.

When I finally got my career underway, I was passionate what I would be able to contribute. I graduated with an emphasis in both theatre and religion. And, as a pastor, I saw great possibilities using both. Imagine, moving stage lights focusing their brilliant piercing light on the baby at the waters of baptism, and dual rotating gobos creating the affect of water all over the church, as if the Holy Spirit was descending upon to baptized person with power and glory, befitting of the work of God’s grace. My baptisms could be great! What in the world could threaten such passion?

Well, words like this. “Look here, it’s the kid pastor again. Whatcha got for us kid pastor?”

Ok, so I did not exactly have grey slicked hair and a tie with a powerful voice when I first got into the ministry. I was…well…me. A young pastor with a young face and young clothes.

You are going to get it too.

“Look here, it’s the kid lawyer again. Do you know your stuff?” and “Aren’t you a little young to be a doctor?” and “These tax laws are older than you, can you really help me?” and “It’s the new nurse on the floor, why don’t you get the rest of us some coffee.”

Despite the gifts you have been given by the Lord, there will be those who try to throw up walls against your gifts and your passions.

Because of this, Timothy, a young, young apostle is given some words of encouragement.

“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

The fact others cannot see beyond your lack of years does not in any way negate the gifts God has given you for the benefit of the world; gifts of caring and love along with your knowledge in your own areas of passion.

You are a gift to your neighbor.

You have been shaped by God to be a gift.

Do not let anyone push you away simply because of your age.

Instead, display your gifts anyway, in the purest and most wonderful way possible.

The kid pastor can give comfort to the man who lost his mother and has not stopped crying for the last four hours despite the best efforts of the other pastors present. Now understand, it was not because I was better than the other pastors. That is not the point. The point is that this kid pastor knew he had the gifts from God that could help, and was not held back by the “Kid Pastor” designation. In time, “kid pastor” became a badge of honor, because “kid pastor” started to mean, someone who uses their gifts (not their authority) for the sake of others.

You are a gift from Jesus Christ to your neighbor. You have been shaped by God to be that gift. “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” in all that you do as God sends you out from this place.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Reflection on Luke 7:1-10

"Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”

“I am not worthy.” I’ve heard those words before.

Usually, those words come from the mouths of husbands who have not been to church in years and they sound something like this, “Pastor, if I walked into the church, God would cause the roof to fall in.” It is a bit of humor that covers the actual words, “I am not worthy.”

Why do not people feel worthy? Why does not the soldier feel worthy? I do not know, the bible does not say.

Maybe, the soldier is a cruel slave owner and in some way contributed to the illness of a very valuable slave. Perhaps, because of that, he feels guilty.

Maybe, the soldier is not cruel at all, but considers the slave one of his family and cannot stand to see him suffer. Yet the soldier feels unworthy to approach God because of his occupation and the violence that it entails.

Maybe, it is simply because he feels as if he is the wrong race. He is not Jewish after-all. Maybe, he does not feel like he belongs in the synagogue he has helped to support.

Maybe, he has killed many people as a soldier, and perhaps, he has at times killed the wrong person.

Whichever possibility is the real one (if any of these), they all boil down to the same muttering of truth, “I am not worthy” to be near you Lord. “I am not worthy.”

“If I entered your church pastor, lightning surely would strike me dead, and probably you too,” he said when I invited him to come to church with his wife.

We laughed. I told him to come anyway,

“No one bites…well almost…just stay away from the babies.”

I thought it was an exquisite joke, but, he did not laugh.

“Pastor, have you ever been in the military?” he asked.

“No, but my younger brother is,” I answered.

“There are some things you just can't understand unless you’ve been there.”

“Give me a try,” I said.

“We were guarding a crossroads,” he started. “We would check people as they came through to make sure they weren’t armed. It sounds boring, but it’s not. Enemy combatants who are hiding arms are either highly nervous and dangerous, or they try to ambush you.

One day, I was a ways off from the crossroads, protecting the whole scene. I could see that one of those nervous and dangerous types was approaching. I was ready to fire when he made a sudden move. He did. And, I did. Shots were fired.

Turns out, he wasn’t the nervous and dangerous type, he was just the nervous type. I won’t say too much more about it other than two innocent people ended up dead that day.

So pastor, what does God think of soldiers who kill innocent people? I’ll still send in my church envelopes periodically, but I won’t be coming. The church is not a place for people like me.”

In other words he said, “I am not worthy.”

In quite a different way, I once heard of a confirmation student who refused to come to her confirmation service, though she completed all of her course work. No one knew why she refused to be confirmed, until years later when she revealed that she didn’t have a nice dress to wear and it broke her heart to ask her struggling parents to buy one.

Again, “I am not worthy.”

There are so many reasons why people cry out, “I am not worthy.” There are so many reasons why people voluntarily build a wall between themselves and the church…and in so doing can involuntarily build a well between themselves and God.

What would Jesus do in such a situation, where someone voluntarily closes themselves away from God’s people? What would Jesus do if they needed help?

You already know the answer, so before I state the obvious, I would like to point out another truth that I see in church.

I have seen the glances that are flung toward the people who do not feel worthy to be in church. I have heard the rumblings from church people when someone who does not fit the mold wanders in. Heck, I have probably thrown some of those glances myself.

Of course, I have also seen lots and lots of welcome and care given to these very people; lots of it. There are always people like the Jewish elders who were thankful for all that the soldier had done for their community.

But, one thing to always remember (as I was taught in a psychology class) is that for every negative experience that we have, it can take 20 positive experiences to overcome the negative one.

It is hard enough to make the decision to come to a place that is uncomfortable for you in the first place. It is hard enough to have faith that all will go well with you. One comment or sideways glance can destroy your courage…your faith.

However, one day many years ago, one man’s faith was not destroyed. His fragile “I’m not worthy” faith was not harmed. As he sat at home next to his ill slave, the slave was suddenly healed. The soldier asked, and it was given. The soldier sought and he did find. He did not feel worthy for good things to happen to him, but Jesus provided the good things anyway. His faith was honored, and his hope was fulfilled.

That is the way God works after-all, giving grace and healing to the unworthy. Going the extra mile for those who do not even know where the mile is. Going to the cross for the unworthiness in us all.

Christ’s church, after-all, is not a museum honoring saints, it is a hospital for sinners. As clich├ęd as that statement it, it points us to the truth of the eternal one who died for us all. It points to the one who cares about the unworthy. It points to the one who can see the faith within the unworthy one. It points to the grace of Jesus Christ, the one whose name we wear upon our forehead, a mark given at baptism to last for eternity.

“You are right, I’ve never experienced anything like that, but I swear I am no better than you. There is a reason my clerical shirt is mostly black with just a tab of Christ’s white righteousness. You can always come church,” I told the soldier. “But, even if you can’t come, is it OK if I still come out to you?”

“Of course, that’s OK pastor,” he responded. Sometimes faith is found among “the unworthy” of the world. It is amazing the places God’s grace can reach.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reflection on John 16:12-15

Truth.

“What is truth?” That is the famous cynical question from Pontius Pilate just after Jesus indicates that everyone on the side of truth listens to him.

Truth.

The idea of “the truth” has fascinated me much of my life. What is truth?

My first serious venture into the question of truth fell upon me when I was in fifth grade. I loved playing outdoors in the woods. Most of that time playing was spent having light saber battles in the woods with my brothers, as if we were on the Planet on Endor, fighting the storm troopers of the Republic. If you do not know about Start Wars, then that means nothing to you.

That is OK, the only thing you have to understand is that there were moments, in between the galactic battles, when I would just sit and enjoy the beauty of nature around me. And, while sitting, breathing in the smells of the wind and feeling the breeze on my face, I noticed a remarkable truth: squirrels talk! Well, not exactly talk, as if I had stumbled into a live action Disney cartoon, but squirrels actually communicate.

I watched the squirrels as they hid their treasured acorns away in the trees. Right after doing that, the little creatures would make a very distinct chirp while facing fiercely out into the world…as fierce as a squirrel can be anyway.

But, here is the thing, the sound was the same each time. And you could hear a reply in the distance each time. They were talking!

“What were they talking about?” I wondered.

Though I usually do not go around telling people that squirrels started me on a path of philosophical inquiry; they actually did!

There was this truth…this whole world that was going on out there that I did not understand or know about. I had just discovered it and I yearned to learn more. I yearned to learn the truth.

That sent me on a path where I learned a lot about nature, but that was not enough. I still yearned for more truth.

I ventured into the world of art the day I realized that paintings are more than an extremely time consuming and expensive way to do a photograph.

I learned that there was meaning in the art. There is meaning in the way the people face each other. There is meaning in the colors chosen and the shapes taken. There is meaning in the emotion that is evoked through the colors.

Yes, because of that, there is meaning even in the splattered and smeared colors of modern art that lead those without an artistic eye simply to say, “My granddaughter can do better than that.”

But, as deeply moved as I was with art, and I really was, it did not given me the answers to the truth. Rather, it only did what all good art does; pointed beyond itself to a higher truth and created a yearning to reach for more.

I still yearned to know the truth.

Some of that art pointed me to the world religions. I was fascinated by humanity’s attempts to understand and commune with truths that were higher than we could possibly imagine.

Buddhism especially struck a chord in this Lutheran boy’s heart. The very idea of quieting the mind, to simply become one with reality…one with God, if there is a God, one with the source of all compassion was so appealing to me. The truth seemed so close to my grasp that I could virtually taste it.

There was the day that I mixed my Buddhist meditation with my love of nature, just knowing in my heart that I would finally become one with the truth.

The only thing I have to say about that experience is that one should search for the truth in a place with fewer misquotes. I became one with nature and reality alright. I was a big hunk of immovable, juicy steak in a world of mosquitoes who were convinced that they had found the meaning to all life.

Needless to say, I still yearned to grasp the truth.

There is a reason for all of this self-referential story-telling, of course. It is about the truth, and where that search led me. It is about where the search leads you.

There were other forays into truth of course, which included learning a deep respect for science and understanding the depths of human psychology. Though I am happy that I wandered through all of these truths in life, I find great value in all of them, I never found the truth.

At least, not until I discovered what was in plain sight my whole Christian life. Unfortunately, like an idiot, I had not seen it; just like the time a beautiful classmate came up to me and said, “There’s this boy that I really, really like, that I talk to every day, that I am talking to even now that I really want to date,” I never saw it.

Maybe, I never saw it because, like the truth of the girl who yearned for me, The Truth…in capital letters…is not about a philosophy or a feeling or a law of nature or law of the universe that can be grasped, held, and fully understood. The truth is more about a relationship.

You will understand what I mean when I tell you the words that blew me away one Sunday morning.

That is right, my epiphany concerning the truth came to me during a boring church service. There truly was nothing great about this service. The hymns were all those unfamiliar ones where the notes reach higher than the seats of the angels. The pastor’s monotone voice was simply captivating…I mean…you really have to practice hard to be that uninteresting. It is an art I tell you.

But, despite all of that, I still heard these few words and they rocked my world right there in the pew. Here they are:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

My breath was taken away. For all of these years I had searched for the truth as if it were something that I could grasp and understand and hold and own even. But, I realized in that moment that the truth is not something, it is someone.

Jesus is the truth. If you want to understand God...if you want to understand the heart of all eternity...you need look no further than Jesus.

Wow.

We always joked in Sunday School that the correct answer is always Jesus, but I never realized that the answer actually is Jesus. You want to know about the truth? Look at Jesus!

Naturally, my yearning turned to wanting to know everything I could about Jesus. And this is where the John 16:12-15 comes in.

You thought I would never get to that did you?

Obviously, we cannot see Jesus today. He is gone, ascended to God the Father.

That would seem to be a problem, to find out that the truth used to be right here on the first floor, but oh, “Just before you got here he ascended up to the 118th floor. And, just so you are aware, the elevator is broken.”

Ahhh!

We almost had the truth! He could have been right in our hands!

It is like a season finale cliffhanger, only having to do with actual, important, eternal things.

But, all is not lost. The spirit of truth…the Spirit of Jesus...the Spirit of God...has been left behind. The Spirit is here. The Spirit will lead us just as Jesus would have led us. The Spirit will love us just as Jesus would have loved us. The Spirit will do all of these things, because the Spirit is one with Jesus.

It is the Spirit that creates a yearning in us to search the scriptures to learn more about Jesus. And, when we do, we will see what The Truth cares about and who The Truth cares about.

The Spirit will open our closed eyes to our neighbors. The Spirit will fill us with a forgiving love that is almost impossible to grasp.

The Spirit is here.

Jesus is here.

God the Father is here.

The truth is here, right now, among us.

I have to admit, I do not have a complete grasp of The Truth. I do not understand Jesus fully. But, that is no big deal, because just like I do not understand my wife fully, I still have a relationship that is important and life changing.

Now that I know who the truth is, I know that the truth has a firm grasp on me. That gives me a yearning to know the truth more and more.

I pray today that the Spirit fills you with that same yearning, because I want to do this exploration of The Truth...this relationship with Jesus...together.

Jesus would have wanted it that way.

No, let me rephrase that, Jesus wants it that way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Reflection on Romans 8:14-17 (from Sunday, May 15, 2016)


It was not just the fear of flying that was causing her heart to race, though that was definitely a part of it. As the graduate stared out the car window at the flights taking off at the airport, she wondered what her life was going to be like.

The village she was assigned to work in had nothing more than small round huts for buildings. What that going to be her life? Was she leaving the security of her home with its refrigerator and washer and dryer for the luxury life found in a 10 foot wide home made of sticks? Was she really leaving the luxury of her smart phone, along with the contacts of all her friends in order to go help out complete strangers?

As a Young Adult in Global Mission, she would be the hands of feet of the church in a foreign land. But, more than that, she would be the hands and feet of Christ to a people who struggle to live day to day on their small farms.

It all seemed like a noble calling. It all seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity, which it was. But, now as she walked toward the security gate of the airport, she started to fear.

She is not alone. There is a lot to be afraid of in this world. Her plane could be taken over by terrorists and blown up. She could be mistaken for another person and not allowed back into the country of her birth. Her funding for the year could dry up and she would have nothing more to live on than those struggling farmers with hand tools. Cancer could strike one of her parents, and she would not be there to hold their hand. There is so much to fear in this world.

“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”

The words of her confirmation memory verse comforted her as she looked for gate B25 and sped along the moving walkways of the airport. She is a child of God. She has been given gifts that can help others. She has been called to be a neighbor to those who have few. She is a child of God, led by the Spirit into an uncertain future.

Jesus was led I the same way (by the Spirit) out into the wilderness. He too did not know what he would find there. It might have been a good thing too, because evil resided there. Had he known, maybe fear would have overtaken him. Maybe, he would not have gone out into the wilderness in the first place.
No, that is wrong, Jesus would not have given into fear.

Jesus had been given the Holy Spirit. Jesus was given the Spirit at his baptism, and the Spirit walked beside him.

The Spirit walked with him as healed the sick on the Sabbath Day in front of the furrowed brows of the men with power.

The Spirit walked with Jesus as he taught about God’s kingdom in front of those who plotted to get rid of him with sideways glances.

The Spirit stayed with him all the way through the pounding nails and spitting from soldiers to his last breath on the splinter rich wood of the cross.

As a dead grain planted in a tomb, the Spirit infused Jesus with new life, and he burst from the tomb.

Jesus did not fall back into a life of fear. He took that first step out into the wilderness. And, Jesus did not back down when the road seemed uncertain and dangerous. Jesus knew who he was. Jesus was the son of God. And Jesus knew that he was not alone. He was empowered by the Spirit.

With that in mind, she held onto something tightly as she handed her boarding pass over to the flight attendant. She held onto it tightly even as the fear threatened to form a lump in her throat as she walked the narrow path to the waiting plane…as she walked the narrow path to a new life with new people in a new world (a new world to her at least.)

You too have been given this same gift…the same gift to which she clung tightly.

It is what allows you to look beyond the fear of financial ruin, and still give a little to your neighbor when you see them walk in the door with an almost empty grocery bag.

It is what allows people like you to look beyond the fear of the stranger, and have compassion on a mother who cannot even speak English, but still needs someone to help watch her children while she works.

It is what allows a church that is shrinking in people and money to still be the people of God right here, right now.

The gift to which she clung tightly is what allows a young confirmation student to say, “Some people say they feel sorry for someone but don’t do anything about it. Therefore, if I feel sorry for someone or believe I need to help, I will do it.”

The gift to which she clung tightly is a lot like another confirmation student’s bold proclamation: “We are all a part of God’s family, even if some don’t want to think it. We will all be given what God has promised us eventually, just maybe not at the moment.”

As she put her luggage in the overhead compartment and gingerly sat down next to a smiling man with a full beard, she took the gift in her hand, put it on her thumb, and drew on her own forehead; one line down, and one line across.

With that small cross, she reminded herself that she is not a slave to fear. She is not a slave to the sin of doing nothing. She is a child of God, adopted as a child of God, and she will never go alone. Even now, the Spirit flies with her as she takes her first step out into her own unknown wilderness to love her neighbor.

As they watch the plane lift into the air, her parents could not be more proud of their child…their child of God.

For more information on ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission:
https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Global-Church/Global-Mission/Young-Adults-in-Global-Mission

Monday, May 2, 2016

Reflection on John 14:23-29

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”...

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

- Revelation 21:1-5a and 22:1-5

As we read and reflect and float in these images from Revelation, it is easy to get an immediate sense of peace. God will be there with us. There will be a tree that feeds anyone who picks the fruit, and the leaves may be picked to heal the nations. There will be no more pain and crying.

And, it is all a gift. It is a gift of peace for free. God’s peace is free!

That is only surprising to us because peace in this world is not free. Nations make peace deals that involve millions of dollars of economic benefits. Mafia families make peace deals that cost the marriage freedom of daughters and sons. Heck, when I go to get peace massaged into my sore muscles in a dark, candlelit room, it sets me back at least $65!

Given that, forgive me for being shocked that God's peace comes for free. Jesus freely offers it to us saying, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

Obviously Jesus did not get the memo that there's some money to be made here. But, Jesus does not give peace as the world gives. Jesus’ peace does not have any cost. It does not require any deals or negations. It is simply given when he breathes the Holy Spirit upon us.

In addition, the peace Jesus gives even has a completely different character to it than its worldly counterpart.

In the world, peace means escaping from conflict.

When you find peace at the beach, you are escaping your job and your boss and your in-laws. As my uncle says, "I'm getting away."

When I find peace at the spa, I am leaving the cares of my job behind and getting away.

When I find peace in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I am taking a brief moment in the day to enjoy the wonderful bliss of chocolate sweetness mixed with salty pleasure. It is getting away.

Curiously, when Jesus promises his peace to the disciples, he is far from making preparations for a vacation or a day at the spa.

Instead, he is making preparations to be hated, spit upon, and mocked on the cross.

I like the spa better.

But, it is exactly at the time that the shadow of Jesus' death begins to overtake the disciples that Jesus promises peace. Obviously, Jesus’ peace goes deeper than the scented candle version that you can buy from the world.

If you were going to image what Jesus' peace looks like, it would look like a confident man, carrying his own cross, and trudging forth toward his glorification…which by glorification I mean a horrific, slow, strangulating death on a cross.

Jesus peace looks a lot like the image that a WWII vet had seared in his mind. With bombs falling, bullets whizzing, soldiers running, and yellow gas billowing forth, the soldier runs to safety in the foxhole. Hunkering down he is surprised to discover, right there in the in the corner of the foxhole, a mother feeding her child from the breast. As bullets fly, the mother sings and smiles at the cuing baby.

That is a peace that can only come from above. That is a peace that hopes when there is no hope to be had. That is a peace that trusts in God’s ability to create life even in the small, hand-dug valley of the shadow of death.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

You see, Jesus’ peace is not a peace that seeks to escape from the world.

Notice that even the peace found in Revelation…in the end times…is a peace that comes down from the heaven to the earth. People are not raptured away in order to escape into bliss. Rather, God's peace comes down here…to earth. Thy kingdom come.

The world gives you escape.

Jesus gives you peace while the storm still blows. The resurrection of Jesus gives you hope of new life when all seems to be falling apart.

Jesus gives confidence to the mother in the fox hole that it is still worth it to feed her child.

Jesus gives faith that your little moment of hell on earth is not the end of the story….far from it.

Jesus’ peace is here…right here….right now…even if things seems scary…even if things seem impossible…even if.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

Your gift of peace is the same peace that Jesus had as he carried the cross to the hill…trusting that he will die…but trusting even more that he will rise. We all will rise.

Knowing that the crying and pain and death is not the end of the story provides a peace that surpasses all comprehension and allows people to do courageous things like standing up to the gun tips of armed oppressors, standing up to the burning crosses of people motivated by racism, and giving a breast to a baby in a foxhole.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

There is this old, old sermon illustration that I love. It goes like this:

There was a king embroiled in endless war, and he wanted it to stop. He wanted an image that would speak to the reality of peace. So he commissioned two painters to paint a picture of peace.

The first painter gave him a glorious landscape of mountains, trees, birds and butterflies in beautiful, calming hues of blue. It was the type of painting that hangs in spas today.

The king suspected that this must be the winner.

When he received the second painting, he saw an image that was completely different. The artist had chosen hues of red. There was lightning in the background. And, in the foreground the mountain scene was flooded with raging and rising waters. The painting was anything but peaceful.

Just as he was about to declare the first painting the winner, the king saw something in the second painting that he had not seen before. Under a raging waterfall, in a small cleft in the rock, was a mother bird feeding her young. In the scene of destruction, was the hope of a mother bird.

Peace is trusting that life will win even if the world is falling apart.

The second painting won the contest.

Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."