- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

The following are excerpts of a sermon preached recently by the Rev. Michael Catlett at McLean Baptist Church:

The Gospels tell us that John the Baptist was a unique character who boldly proclaimed that people were sinful and in need of God’s forgiveness. He made enemies as well as friends; baptized Jesus and countless others; and was taken seriously by common folks, religious leaders and politicians. He was a charismatic leader who had a following, was thought by some to be the Messiah no matter how many times he told folks he wasn’t. He spoke out against injustice and immorality, and as a consequence became a victim of an unjust and immoral act. He was beheaded by a man who respected him for his ardor and candor, his head presented to a dancing girl as a gift. He was a man who ushered in peace by causing most everyone around him to be uncomfortable. I suspect he was the kind of person you admired and respected from a distance, though it would have been hard to invite him home for a meal. He was a prophet of God; I imagine it would have been difficult to have him as a friend.

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78). Those words are easier to offer when your child is an infant in his mother’s arms rather than a headless corpse. The way of peace is littered with hurt and anger, with violence and horror. I wish it were not so, but wishing does not change it. Turning the other cheek can leave one bruised and battered. Loving one’s enemies can make one a victim of one’s enemies. Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self can provide one’s neighbor an opportunity to take advantage. Loving God with all your heart, soul and mind can consume one so that one overlooks other responsibilities and needs. Treating all people as God’s children will anger some who think all are not. Working to eradicate injustice will upset those who cannot or will not see injustice or will profit from injustice. Asking those who have to give to those who don’t have will sometimes upset those who are asked to give and those who are asked to receive. Yet isn’t that the way of peace: to love those who are not easily loved, to care for the downtrodden, to offer justice and mercy, to eradicate physical and spiritual poverty?

I think it is the way of peace, but the way of peace is not always peaceful. The way that John prepared for Jesus led down a road and up a hill. Every valley was filled in and every mountain brought low, according to the prophet’s promise, every mountain except for that small rise just outside of Jerusalem where Jesus died between two thieves. Jesus was often criticized for the company he kept, confirmed by death even as it was in life. Jesus lived and died with sinners. Peace is never isolated; it is always surrounded by the clamor of the crowd who wants something more than peace, who wants an advantage more than equality, who desires peace on their terms rather than the peace that others offer.

Perhaps peace is not the absence of violence, hatred, dishonesty, duplicity and greed. Perhaps this side of heaven there is not a place, not a state of being that is ever absent the torments of life. Perhaps we do not ever live in peace, but live with peace within us that beckons us to find a way to live so that we can incarnate integrity and grace. Jesus didn’t live in peace, if one thinks of peace as the absence of conflict or the constant presence of God. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me!” shattered the illusion of that kind of peace. Yet He was and is the Prince of Peace, the One who bears witness to the promise of peace, the One who lived with integrity and offered grace to all.

Perhaps the best we can hope for and trust in is a disquieting peace, a disturbing peace that reminds us that we still have not trusted fully in the promises of God or lived fully as God would have us live. Yet God loves us, and beckons us to find comfort, help and hope in that love. God challenges us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide shelter for those who have no roof over their head. God asks us to find a cure for AIDS, to provide comfort and treatment for those who suffer from disease, to put an end to the slaughter of so many people for so many different causes often baptized with God’s name.

God beckons us to live in peace, which is to live with the tension of knowing that I am sinful and forgiven, sinner and saint, hateful and loving, merciless and merciful. It’s to live with memories that are grief- and joy-filled. It’s to live with a promise not yet fulfilled, disbelieving and believing the promise. It’s to live in the midst of disease and work for its eradication; it’s to live in the midst of plenty and work to alleviate poverty in our midst.

It’s to follow the path that Jesus trod, a path that led to a violent death and a glorious Resurrection. That is the path of peace.

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