Peace Train

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

I saw a bumper sticker in Colorado once that made me laugh out loud. It said, “Christ is coming, look busy!”

Some denominations spend a great deal of time talking about Christ’s return. They predict it regularly, using the certainty of it to scare people into ‘right’ living.

I’ve almost tended to be the opposite way. I figure Christ comes when he will come. I can’t control that and so I don’t think much about it or preach much about it. Maybe it’s all the family systems theory training I took as a younger pastor that emphasized that we can’t control what anyone else does, only what we do. I took that to heart.

And yet, Scripture talks a lot about the surety of Jesus’ return and the necessity that we be ready. In the gospel for this coming Sunday, Saint Matthew tells a parable about Christ’s coming – comparing it to bridesmaids who went out to meet the bridegroom. Five were wise and five were foolish. All the bridesmaids brought lamps, but only the wise ones brought extra oil. The foolish bridesmaids ask the wise ones for some of their oil but they say ‘no” and so the foolish bridesmaids have to go out and get more oil. When they do, they miss the arrival of the bridegroom. He brings the wise bridesmaids into the wedding feast with him and shuts the door. When the foolish bridesmaids arrive, they are not allowed in.

It’s a puzzling little parable. I do not like the not-sharing of the oil, the latecomers not allowed in – I like my Bible stories to be full of sharing and room for everyone no matter when they arrive. This is not that kind of Bible story. So as Martin Luther would say, “what does this mean?”

It’s a story about how to wait. You see, the bridegroom is coming, the bridesmaids know this – the only thing they don’t know is exactly when. They know they will have to wait, but not how long. While we might think this parable is calling us to constant vigilance, looking for Christ on the horizon every day, remember that even the wise bridesmaids fell asleep. The only difference between them and the foolish bridesmaids is that the wise ones were prepared for the bridegroom, whether the wait was short or long. They were intentional, still focused on the bridegroom even in their waiting.

And here we are in the waiting time. As Christian people, we know that Christ is coming again someday, but are we waiting purposefully or are we waiting as if we have forgotten or don’t really care that much that he is coming back?

There’s a post-it note that I have stuck to the wall in my home office that reads, “Your day is your week is your month is your year.” It’s one of those quotes to remind me that how I spend this day matters, because if I exercise this day and the next day and the next day and most days, in the long run, I’m healthier. It reminds me that if I write today and the next day and the next day and most days, in the long run, I’ve written a lot. If I save a little bit today and tomorrow and the next, eventually it adds up to enough to go on that trip. You see the point. Your day is your week is your month is your year.

And how we live each day determines how we are doing in this waiting period – if we are waiting like people who believe that Jesus is returning someday or if we are waiting as if we have forgotten he ever promised to come back.

And every day we get so many opportunities to live out our response. What do we do when we hear someone speaking a racial slur? Do we stay quiet or do we speak up and say, “That’s not okay or funny. Please stop.”  What do we do when we hear someone tell their story of being sexually harassed? Do we listen and help them seek justice or do we ignore them, or worse, mumble that maybe they had it coming? What do we do when gun violence erupts again and again and again in our schools, malls, workplaces, homes…churches? Do we shrug our shoulders and say ‘nothing can be done.’ Or do we respond by working for peace with our time, our voice, our votes, and all that we have?

Because these moments of response? These moments show whether we our lamps are trimmed and ready with oil enough to spare, or if we never really believed the bridegroom was returning anyway.

When I first heard about the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas where 26 people died last Sunday, I was at the musical at Detroit Lakes High School. It was an excellent production, full of life and happy music and laughter – and then I glanced down at my phone to see the headline pop up about the shooting. I sat there with my children on either side of me in that crowded theater and thought about how this world can hold so much all at once. So much joy, so much sorrow. So much good, and so much unspeakable violence.

In the days that followed, I heard the usual news reports and endless gun debates that followed. I felt the usual despair and grief I feel each time another one of these shootings happens. While we shake our heads at the horror that 26 people died in that church last Sunday during the morning worship service, statistics show that over 30 people die each day by gun violence in the United States. Sutherland Springs just made the news because the violence was all condensed in one place.

And I felt the usual sick dread and certainty that soon we will hear of another mass shooting. It’s not an “if” anymore, it is a “when”.

How do we respond as Christian people in the thick of this violence?

First, we do not give up on prayer. We need to be praying now more than ever – crying out to God for wisdom and bravery for how to speak to each other and spread peace in these desperate times.

Second, listen to each other. Let’s talk about guns and our fears about them or our fears about stricter gun control. Let’s be people who can talk in Christian love, have our opinions, and still sit side by side, united in Christ who loves us and grieves over this violence, too.

Third, we work for peace, and work hard. How this looks will be different for each of us. One person might work for peace by daily making calls to his congressperson. Another might work for peace talking with their Sunday School class about the great value of each human life. Another might work for peace by making amends with someone in their own family with whom there has been discord. Another might work for peace by patiently listening to the opinions of someone with whom you disagree and trying to understand. Another might work for peace by getting to know someone very different from them – because every time we work to tear down the walls of division, that is peace-making.

Your day is your week is your month is your year. How will you work for peace today?

Peace Train

written by Cat Stevens

Now I’ve been happy lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begunOh I’ve been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be, some day it’s going to come

Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

Now I’ve been smiling lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun

Oh peace train sounding louder
Glide on the peace train
Come on now peace train
Yes, peace train holy roller

Everyone jump upon the peace train
Come on now peace train

Get your bags together, go bring your good friends too
Cause it’s getting nearer, it soon will be with you

Now come and join the living, it’s not so far from you
And it’s getting nearer, soon it will all be true

Now I’ve been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating, why can’t we live in bliss

Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again



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