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Recent Sermons

Peace Be With You!

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
December 4, 2016

Peace be with you!....And also with you!

Jesus said this every time he entered a home or left one. We call him the Prince of Peace. Soon we will celebrate his birth on that ‘Silent Night/Holy Night’ at Christmas. We long for that kind of peace in our lives and in our world. Whenever I feel off center or troubled I remind myself of Jesus’ wonderful promise: “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.” (John 14:27)

But Jeremiah cried out to a people in exile: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14) We live in the in-between time when Christ is with us and still to come. We experience moments of peace but our world is still deeply troubled.

Our scripture lesson today, Isaiah 11:1-10, has been used as proof that the ancient prophet Isaiah was expecting a Messiah just like Jesus; and maybe he was. But most scholars now believe he was hoping for help a little sooner…He was hoping for a great leader, like Cyrus, the Persian conqueror who would rescue the Israelites from the Babylonian Exile in 598 BCE.  Cyrus brought the Hebrew people out of exile and decreed that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt.

Isaiah was also hoping that the Davidic Kingship could be renewed: “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” David was Jesse’s son, and Isaiah hoped his line would be re-established. Jesus is said to be from this hereditary line; perhaps he was.

But Isaiah described a great man in a time when kings and rulers were expected to be the greatest of people. Jesus, instead, taught us that greatness is a birthright of all God’s children, “Greater things than I have done, you will do.” He never said “Worship me,” but always said, “Follow me!”

I invite you to hear these words as inspiration and challenge, not about some past leader, and not just about Jesus, but about us, if we allow God’s spirit to fill and guide us:

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on YOU,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (call it awe)
YOUR delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. (awe!)

YOU shall not judge by what YOUR eyes see,
   or decide by what YOUR ears hear;
but with righteousness YOU shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
YOU shall strike the earth with the rod of YOUR mouth,
   and with the breath of YOUR lips YOU shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around YOUR waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around YOUR loins.”

As an aside I’d like to point out that the idea that wild animals and domestic animals might live together in peace and eat the same food is no longer as far-fetched as we once thought it was. Anyone with the internet has seen wonderful pictures of interspecies friendships. And grains and vegetable now make up most of the food we feed our meat-eating dogs and cats. Anything is possible!

We used to think of the United States as a nation ready and able to set an example for the world of what democracy, justice and equality looks like. That may have been a bit of a delusion. But we still hope to be a “city on a hill” as our Congregational ancestors proclaimed we could be.

Peace be with you!...And also with you!

"As-Salaam-Alaikum" … "Wa-Alaikum-Salaam!" This Arabic greeting is common in Muslim communities and reveals that we are children of the same long tradition.

Most of you heard the news last week of the terrible threat made to the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose. A hand-written letter sent to them and many other mosques warned that Donald Trump would do to them when Hitler did to the Jews. My letter of outrage and support and their lovely response are in this month’s Messenger. (http://uccbelmont.org/newsletter.pdf)

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center that keeps track of such things, there have been over 900 hate crimes reported in the last two weeks. Some are saying we should accept this “new normal.” But as children of a loving God it is truly unacceptable.

I was inspired this week by a gathering of clergy leaders here on the Peninsula who have pledged their support to one another to respond in every way we can to any threats to our citizens whatever their faith or immigration status, color or sex. We promised to share this commitment with our congregations and continue to build bridges of understanding and support,  working together for peace!

Peace, of course, is an inside job! And all week long I’ve been humming this song to remind myself of the work I long to do. Join me if you know it…

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With Love as our Mother, brothers and sisters are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment with peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

It is a real challenge to live in peace within when there is so much mean-spiritedness and fear around us. But Jesus said “Love your enemies!” (Was he a little crazy?) He reminds us to “Be peace.” In every circumstance. He set a courageous example of speaking truth to power and standing with those who were hungry, oppressed, in prison.

I have never been so grateful to be part of this church as I am today. I was sharing a yogurt with Irene Hall this week and as we talked about the troubles in the world we both suddenly realized how blessed we feel to be in this church!
The United Church of Christ has been standing for justice and growing in its witness for justice for a very long time:
         * It was the first to ordain an African American (1785) and set up schools for freed slaves in the South, and helped free Amistad slaves made famous in the movie of the same name.
         * It was the first to ordain a woman. (1853)
         * It was the first to ordain an out gay man (at the San Carlos Church in 1970).

The UCC has been working to make amends to the Native Americans who were decimated by the arrival of the Pilgrims, our religious ancestors. Many of our leaders in our national office in Cleveland and from Pacific School of Religion are now at Standing Rock with the Water Protectors. We know that we are one human family and part of the web of life. We know that the Missouri River, a source of much of our nation’s water supply, could be destroyed by one spill from the pipeline in construction through native lands right now. We want our nation to honor its treaties with native peoples.

Every UCC church is independent and attracts people who are strong willed and often very courageous. We don’t tell each other what to believe, but we do encourage each other to walk our talk.

Not all churches will be a place of radical welcome during this time of national crisis, but ours will. We will not agree on all things, but we will support one another in doing all that we can to help the stranger in our midst and beyond our doors.

We have been active in the Peninsula Multifaith Coalition since it started five years ago. We have shared meals with our Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and many different Christian friends. I have been passionate about building these bridges of understanding for all the years I have been your pastor and you have supported me in this work. Now we are ready and able to reach out and do more.

Peace be with you!...And also with you!

Here once more these words from the Prophet Isaiah and consider them ours to embrace this day:

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on YOU,
 the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
 the spirit of counsel and might,
 the spirit of knowledge and awe of the Lord.
YOUR delight shall be in awe of the Lord.

YOU shall not judge by what YOUR eyes see,
   or decide by what YOUR ears hear;
but with righteousness YOU shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
YOU shall strike the earth with the rod of YOUR mouth,
   and with the breath of YOUR lips YOU shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around YOUR waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around YOUR loins.”

Peace be with you!...