The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
“O for a world preparing for God’s glorious reign of peace, where time and tears will be no more, and all but love will cease.” That is a beautiful vision from a hymn we often sing at Plymouth. It was written by Miriam Therese Winter, a Catholic sister and professor emerita at Hartford Seminary. Even though it isn’t an Advent hymn, per se, it speaks to the proclamation of John the Baptizer, which you heard a moment ago. Quoting Isaiah, we hear that a voice is crying out in the wilderness, as if to say, “O for a world where every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill made low. O for a world where the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways smooth.” Isaiah was writing of preparing for a better world. The people of Israel were in exile in Babylon, but exile isn’t just a historical concept…it is still with us. Where have YOU felt as if we have been living in exile?
O for a world where racial prejudice is not ingrained in our national identity. O for a world where the nations of the world come together to address climate change. O for a world where national unity supersedes faction. O for a world where everyone has a home. O for a world where the pandemic is a footnote of history.
Covid has meant exile for many of us. Last week I was talking with my friend, Radwan Kalaaji, and remembering that before the pandemic struck, we had plans for him to prepare a Syrian meal for our Dinner Church, but those plans were dashed by Covid. He told me about his own bout with the virus and being hospitalized. Our conversation made me realize fully some of the things I miss most as we as a congregation continue to live in exile: dinner church — worshipping and eating together; potlucks — the third sacrament in the UCC (just behind baptism and communion); seeing all our members face-to-face, hearing the voices of kids running around the church; personal connection and hugs. I grieve the loss of these aspects of our life together. O for a world where are delivered from exile and we can reconnect fully as a church.
Last week in her sermon, Jane Anne posed a question about where we find hope and whether some signs of hope are internal to our experience, rather than outside us. And I spent a good, long while thinking about that. I’m still working on the internal dimension of hope, but I feel hopeful when we welcome wonderful new members into our family of faith, when time and again, I see the generosity of our congregation, when I see youth sleeping on our front lawn to raise funds and awareness about homelessness, and when I receive words of encouragement from members about what Plymouth means to them and about my cancer journey.
In the church office, we have a large piece of calligraphy by the Vietnamese Buddhist sage, Thich Nhat Hanh given to us by Jane Ellen Combelic, one of our members who now lives in Scotland. It says, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.”
How do we prepare the way? We can start with ourselves.
Even as we long for a world where “time and tears will be no more and all but love will cease,” we can practice living into it. We can practice peace in our own lives, with our families, with our colleagues, with our kids, with our teachers, with the clerk at King Soopers, with our fellow parishioners, with our spouses, and especially with ourselves. I read something online last week with this suggestion: “In your small circles of influence, choose to be the peace you seek.”
Think about that: in this next week, what are ways that you can do more than simply wish for peace, but to BE the peace you seek? What are two or three very practical ways that you can embody peace this week? Are you willing to commit to do them?
Sometimes I have trouble finding a way to internal peace, to being at peace with myself. I have a very strong self-critical streak and sometimes I really work at trying not to be judgmental with myself for not doing things perfectly, whether it’s our various methods of livestreaming or not losing weight as fast as I’d like or feeling as if I’m not as good a dad and husband as I could be. It’s hard to be at peace when those messages are trying to sabotage us. Do you ever have those self-critical thoughts? As I said in a sermon a few months back, I’m putting perfection on hold for the duration of the pandemic…and maybe forever. Can I get an Amen? None of us is a perfect vessel of God’s love, and we aren’t going to find peace unless we accept ourselves just as God accepts us, warts and all.
Perhaps one of the ways we can “be peace” during this holiday season is to quiet our self-judgement and our judgement of others and instead offer some grace to ourselves and to those around us.
If peace is the way — the way of Jesus, the way of God’s realm, the way of righteousness — we need to get on the path and just do it. Even if every mountain and hill has not yet been made low and every crooked path has not yet been made straight, we can still walk the path of peace. But it needs to start within us and emanate from us.
Here is a short meditation that I learned many years ago from my mentor, Marcus Borg, and which I use to start my prayer time each morning: “Lord Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world, fill my mind with your peace, and my heart with your love.” I’m going to invite us to pray together with that: I’ll offer the words of the prayer and ask you to breathe in as I say, “Lord Jesus Christ,” and breathe out on “you are the light of the world.” Breathe in on “fill my mind with your peace,” and out on “and my heart with your love.” Let’s try that together a couple of times. Put your feet on the floor, sit up as straight as is comfortable, close your eyes, and just breathe. “Lord Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world, fill my mind with your peace, and my heart with your love.”
It’s a great, short prayer that you can offer anytime, especially when you are having one of those moments when you are feeling neither particularly peaceful nor particularly loving!
I want to acknowledge that this is a difficult time of the year for many of us, whether from busyness or in our grief or missing people we cannot see in person. And I want to acknowledge that you may be feeling very weary, exhausted, and depressed with the pandemic. All of those things are normal.
AND we can still take steps toward inner peace, even in contest with such circumstances. Walking the path of peace might even help you feel some hope and light.
“O for a world preparing for God’s glorious reign of peace, where time and tears will be no more, and all but love will cease.” May it be so. Amen.
© 2021 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.