Screen-Free Sundays

Shortly after moving to Iowa our family implemented a new rule: screen-free Sundays. The ideal was good, I think.  My wife and I hoped to help our two children learn and maintain healthy electronic device habits.

Everything in moderation. Or something like that.

Besides, we had science and best practices to draw from.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has this nifty approach to raising healthy kids using 5, 2, 1, 0.   Each day they recommend:

  • 5 fruits or veggies,
  • 2 or less hours of recreational screen time,
  • 1+ hour of physical activity, and
  • 0 sugary drinks

And Sunday is the sabbath, after all. It’s a holy day. A sacred day. A day of rest.

Maybe that means resting from our devices too. If there’s one day a week we should be able to find balance in life, well, in theory, Sunday should be it.

As you might imagine the transition, to screen-free Sundays, was not without hurdles. The kids, used to their devices, were less than enthused. Tho we stuck with this ideal, relying on the best information available to us, our hopes of being good parents, and the notion of sabbath to guide us through.

We’d done our homework.
Decision made.
Rule implemented.
And that, in theory, should be that.

After a month or two of strictly adhering to screen-free Sundays, the concept seemed to have stuck. Our two shorties were playing more outside, playing house inside, splashing in the hot tub.  Generally enjoying screen-free life, one day a week.

But then the NFL football season hit. And we wanted to watch our beloved Bears play. So we did.

Then our nine-year-old daughter expressed interest in having a family movie night. It turns out Sunday evening was the best fit for our weekly schedule. So we did.

The kids also never really stopped asking to watch screens on Sundays either.

When Graham started asking if he could play a Mario video game with pops, which seemed entirely reasonable to this particular video game enthusiast, I knew the little dude had my number.

The more our kids bugged us about Sunday screens the more Kathi and I had to ponder. Did it make sense to be so rigid with our strict Sunday sabbath rule?

As parents the American Pediatric Association was on our side, right?
As people of faith we have Sabbath ideals of rest on our side, right?
We should just stick with our rules, they must be good ones, right?

Over time we became less and less sure.

Synagogue
The Luke 13 narrative also has to do with which activities should, or should not, happen on a sacred day. While Jesus taught at Saturday synagogue, a crippled woman appeared before Christ. She was bent over; unable to stand straight.

Jesus then approached her.
He then spoke with her.
And laid healing hands on her.

Immediately she stood straight.
Immediately she began praising God.

She had, after all, just been healed. In the words of Christ, she had been set free from the bondage that held her.

And then everyone cheers because a beloved child of God has been made whole, right?

Not exactly.

Sabbath
Instead, the leader of the synagogue begins to trash talk Christ to the gathered crowd. Jesus had healed, on the sabbath. On the day of rest.

Jesus, in this leader’s eyes, had not kept the Sabbath day holy.
Jesus, in this leader’s eyes, had worked, healing the sick.
Jesus, in this leader’s eyes, should have healed some other day of the week.

A rule is a rule is a rule, after all, right?

The leader’s response makes sense, in a way. When we commit to preserving the positives of our faith we often set up rules. We then desire to obey the rules, to protect the faith. Which can sometimes make us resist new ideas. Particularly if the new idea represents a greater good.

Like reaching out to heal another.

Intent
Christ knew of that very human rule-based tendency, and Christ responded to it.
He then pointed out that each person gathered there gave their animals water to keep them well. And if caring for animals, on a day of rest, is ok, how much more important is caring for people needing to be made whole?

The story is a showdown between –
– tradition, and the intention behind it;
– traditions of the past, and freeing people for a better future;
– laws based on obedience, and a gospel grounded in love.

Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy.

That includes worship. And rest. And caring for one another. Just as Christ cares so deeply for us.

Redux
Our family still does screen-free Sunday.  And our kids still play outside, play house inside, and splash in the hot tub.  It’s a nice, relaxing day.  But it looks a little different now than what we first had planned.

We watch Sunday football, together.
We watch Sunday night murder mysteries, together.
We play a bit of Sunday Mario, together.

We realized at some point, that screens weren’t our biggest sabbath day problem.
It was the isolation, from each other, that they caused.
We realized that, ultimately, is what we needed healing from.

Let me encourage you to remember the sabbath, and keep it holy.

Lord knows we need to worship.
Lord knows we need our rest.

But don’t honor the Sabbath strictly from a sense of obligation.
Or by merely following rules.

Keep the sabbath holy by being with each other, in Christian community.
Keep the sabbath holy by caring for each other, when needs arise.
Keep the sabbath holy by spending time, with beloved friends.

With beloved family.

For in keeping Sunday sacred we honor our creator.

A creator that desires nothing less, than for each of us, to be made whole. Amen.

ZOONAR GMBH/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Rest

The benefits of getting a good night’s rest are fairly well documented. Research has found that getting enough sleep has all sorts of positives. Positive sleep health:

  • Improves productivity and concentration
  • Increases social and emotional IQ
  • Enhances athletic performance
  • Strengthens our immune system
  • Helps prevent depression, and
  • Lowers the risk of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and inflammation

Getting enough sleep is so important many medical professionals consider it as vital as regular exercise and eating a balanced diet for optimal well-being.

Yet for all these great benefits, when it comes to how long we rest our head on the pillow, many of us don’t get enough of it. A CDC study from 2016 found that over 1 in 3, or 35% of Americans, don’t get the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep, a night, on a regular basis.

And a separate CDC study finds that 70% of Americans report not getting enough sleep at least once a month. Which makes for an awful lot of us that struggle with this particular issue, at least on occasion.

Sleep stories
To learn more about how sleepless nights affect people, I posted a message on my Facebook feed two days ago, asking for personal stories about sleep deprivation. Responses came pouring in; it seems most everyone had something to share. Here’s a bit of what people posted.

Heads up that many of these are pretty funny 😊

Kids
Some restless stories involve parents and their young children.

When her daughter Callie was an infant Lori remembers husband Tony wearing a polo shirt inside out, to work. He’d even fixed the collar like it was right side out. Neither of them noticed until he got home that night.

Amanda, who had a newborn and a toddler at the time, one morning only shaved one leg.

Jonna remembers one night her son, who was four or five got up in the middle of the night, staggered down the hall, opened the lid to the garbage can, and proceeded to pee in it. She was laughing so hard she didn’t have a chance to stop him 😊

Adults
Other stories involve people just trying to make it through the day. Pam somehow fell asleep in high school band class. While the trumpet section played right behind her. How is that even possible?

Trish was tired enough, one night, that when she finally fell asleep, she was still eating French fries. With one hanging out of her mouth. Now that’s a good look.

Judy was so tired once she was convinced she’d inhaled a nail clipper. Convinced enough to call an ambulance at 3am, ride to the hospital, and get X-rays. Reflecting back she jokes that doctors probably should have tested her for illicit chemicals. Instead, medical staff gave her a clean bill of health and suggested she go home. Their prescription? Get some sleep.

Thinking about what sleep deprivation has looked like for her, Keri Carstens, coolly replied, “I plead the fifth” 😊

School
A couple of the stories people shared are from divinity school, where future clergy oft pull crazy hours to get through.

Pastor Kim, who I went to seminary with, remembers taking Greek, that was our very first divinity class. To learn Greek she’d get up every morning, at 4am, to prepare. One evening, after staying up late, the alarm went off, predictably at 4. So she woke up, on less than four hours sleep, stumbled downstairs, and poured herself a cup of coffee. She then sat down in front of her computer and took a big swig of the coffee. It was only then when she realized she’d instead poured an entire cup of Jack Daniels whiskey. Yikes! Suffice to say she was awake after that.

Seminarian Steve remembers this one time, after being extremely sleep deprived, when he completed five semesters of grad school 😊

Poetic
Other sleep deprivation stories hold truths within them downright poetic.

Jess, in a pre-smartphone, pre-GPS era, worked nights as a nurse. One morning, as she slept, her husband decided to take the kids to Denny’s for a grand slam breakfast. Looking for direction, he woke Jess up to ask her how to get there. Jess then gave turn-by-turn directions, which, when followed took hubby and the kids all over Cincinnati. But nowhere close to Denny’s. When Jess woke up later she didn’t remember a thing.

And then there’s friend Mike, an ultramarathon runner. Which means he runs races of between 50 and 100 miles. Which amazes me every single time he tells me of the sport. Recently, after running for over 35 hours straight Mike was scrolling through photos he’d taken during the race. Every one of the pictures, as far as he could tell, were messed up. Some were extremely pixelated, others mixed with the previous picture, still others blurry. He was certain his phone camera had failed. After a night’s sleep, he looked again and all the photos were fine. He’d thought his camera had lost focus. Instead the lack of focus, due to sleep deprivation, came from within.

Teaching, Healing, Sabbath
Jesus, too, knows the importance of rest.
Rest just not for the body, but for the soul.
Christ knows what’s at stake when we don’t get it.
And knows the good that comes when we do.

Before today’s Matthew 11 text Jesus had been busy teaching and healing. Busy sending the twelve out to teach, and heal, in his name.

Right after today’s text Jesus spoke of the importance of being nourished on the Sabbath. And spoke of the disciples having enough energy for the road ahead.

Between all this teaching and healing and Sabbath day feeding sits the text we are to reflect on today from Matthew 11:25-30.

Identity
It is at this point Jesus thanks the Father, and makes a claim:

He is the Son of God.

This identity is revealed, slowly, throughout scripture.
Throughout the arc of human history.
Sometimes, rather slowly, even now.

Initially, the Son of God is revealed to those without.

Christ’s identity is revealed first to –

Mother Mary, who sings the Magnificat, praising a God who fills the hungry with good things.

The woman at the well, who has had not one husband, but five. She seeks to drink not just well water, but the living waters Christ offers her that day.

Infants and children. Let the children come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
The identity, of Jesus, as the Son of God, first comes to those –

Without food,
Without social status,
Without a full voice in the world around them.

In this Jesus takes aim at a cultural assumption as true then as it is now: that wisdom belongs to the conventionally wise. Belongs to the conventionally intelligent. Belongs to the cultural elite.

Alas, this assumption, per today’s text, per so much other scripture, simply is not so.

Wisdom comes from Christ.
And it is for all.

Rest
Christ then asks us,
Whoever we may be,
To come to Him.

We, the people that are weary.
We, the people of heavy burdens.

Regardless of age, or gender, or socioeconomic status.
Regardless of who we are, or are not, in this world.

It is in the coming, to Christ, as tired and as burdened as we may be, that the gift is then offered:

Rest.
Christ offers rest.

Rest for we, the 70%, that don’t always get enough physical sleep.
Rest for we, looking for directions to be fed.
Rest for we, looking for focus on our journey.
Rest for we, the 100%, that don’t always get enough spiritual reprieve.

We are not at our best when we are restless. God knows.

When we receive this rest –
We take Christ’s yoke upon us, pairing ourselves with the divine.
Not giving up our burdens.
The mechanisms of life don’t magically go away.
Instead, we share those burdens, with One well-equipped to carry them.

For it is in this sharing, of our burdens, with Christ, where we learn wisdom.
Not from books, or degrees.
But from the Source, of all that is.

For Christ is gentle, and humble, in heart.

We too, are called to be gentle.
With each other,
With ourselves.

We too, are called to be humble.
With each other,
And before our God.

This world will hit you, upside the head, at times.
This is most certainly true.
It will challenge you.
It will exhaust you.
It will make you question, on occasion, why it is that you’re here.

In these moments, and in good times too –
Come to Christ, you who are weary.
And Christ will share your burden,
Giving you strength for the journey.

Come to Christ, you who are restless.
For rest is granted,
Wisdom imparted,
Gently,
Humbly.

For Christ –
Offers us wisdom, gentleness, and humility,
Offers us rest that we so desperately need.
Renews our minds, renews our bodies,

For the –
Occasionally quirky,
Oft funny,
Long, winding,
Magnificently beautiful
Road ahead. Amen.

Investing in Faith

Investing in the US stock market, over the course of a lifetime, has historically been a financially fruitful way to grow your money. While annual returns vary, sometimes wildly, you can expect, on average, over the course of your life, about a 7% yearly return after adjusting for inflation.

Financial advisors generally offer a few rules of thumb to maximize your returns:

  • During good times celebrate, of course. But also be alert too. When stocks are running high remember, the near-term is likely to be less good than the recent past.
  • During bad times celebrate as well. Why? Because your future returns, invariably, will look better than they do right now.
  • Arguably the most important one – stay in the stock market. You only get those great lifetime returns if you stay in the game. Study after study shows that cashing out of the market lowers returns, long term, sometimes drastically so.

Many of us lived through stock market highs and lows earlier this century with the Great Recession. In early 2008 the Dow Jones was over 13,000. After a series of high-profile bankruptcies and high levels of home foreclosures, by the end of that year, the Dow had dipped below 8,000. Stocks had lost almost half their value in less than nine months.

I remember hearing of friends pulling their money out of the stock market during that historic low. My wife and I opted to stay put and stayed invested, hoping for brighter days ahead. So glad we did. Because come back the market did, as always.

And that’s about all we’ll talk of the stock market in this message. My hope is to keep at last a few of you at least somewhat awake 😊

Faithfulness
Today we continue our sermon series on fruits of the spirit, landing this week on the fruit of faithfulness.

Jesus, who spoke of money and possessions more than any other topic, uses a financial allegory to help us understand what faithfulness looks like, in the flesh.

The parable, from Matthew 25:14-30, is about a wealthy man going away for a while, that entrusts three workers with his property. The NRSV translation uses the term talents to describe the amount; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one.

Talents, as an English word, makes for a fitting pun, even if it isn’t in the original Greek. We’ll get back to those kinds of talents a bit later.

For now, let’s focus on what a talent, biblically, is. It’s the equivalent of about six thousand days wages. Or between 15-20 years of work. In current US Dollars, with an annual salary of only $30,000, that’s $600,000. Just for one talent.

Story
So in this parable –

One person was entrusted with $600,000.
Another 1.2 million.
And another 3 million.

None of which is exactly chump change.

The person with 3 million put his money to work, making 3 million more.
The person with 1.2 million put his money to work, making 1.2 million more.
The person with 600k dug a hole in the ground, hiding the wealthy man’s money.

When the wealthy man returned –

The investor who’d started with 3 million now had a cool 6 mil. He gave it all to the manager.

The investor who’d started with 1.2 million now had an enviable 2.4 mil. He gave it all to the manager.

The hole-digger retrieved the 600k he’d been given from where it’d be buried, perhaps cleaned the dirt off it some, and gave the original amount back.

To the investors that doubled their investments the wealthy manager had praise:
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with little; I will put you in charge of much. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

To the hole-digger the wealthy man had little good to say. And that’s an understatement.

This, Not This
To better understand this parable it’s worth discussing some common misperceptions of it.

First, the story isn’t about money. At least not directly. Each parable person is given wild sums of wealth to use. Remember the smallest amount, in today’s dollars, is a cool 600k. The narrative turns on how people respond to such a great gift.

Second, while this text contains the language of slaves and masters, it doesn’t condone slavery. This is a topic some circles of Christianity have struggled with, mightily, for millennia. Instead, Jesus uses language to describe a social hierarchy, one common at the time this was written the original audience can relate to.

Third, the wealthy man, the master in this parable, isn’t God. It couldn’t be. The hole-digger in today’s text describes the master as harsh; the master doesn’t disagree. In fact, the master responds that “for all those have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing it will be taken away.”

This harsh language, ultimately, is impossible to reconcile with our understandings of the first being last, and vice-versa, and the beatitudes that bless those without. Instead, the master in this parable is as Jesus describes, a wealthy landowner. A landowner acting in ways wealthy human landowners often do. Acting in ways the original audience can relate to.

Extract
This parsing leaves us with a story about:

  • The extravagant gifts we’re given, and what we do with them.
  • A doing based not in enslaved obligation, but in faithful response.
  • The definitive landowner, and creator, of all that is. A creator who provides and cares for us, in ways so complete, it’s difficult to comprehend from our limited, human lens.

How extravagant are God’s gifts to us? Remember how the master spoke to the two entrusted with over a million bucks each, “You have been faithful with little.”

Over a million is a little? God’s gifts are so much more than we can possibly imagine.

Respond
With heavenly gifts given, in quantities almost infinite, how then shall we respond?

We can choose to invest the gifts God’s given to us, being extravagant in our use of them. We can choose to selflessly share these gifts, infusing Christ’s good news the whole world round.

That’s the story of the two investors in today’s tale. Their actions represent what it is to be faithful. Faithfulness is a response. It is a response based in awe and gratitude, of all that has been given.

Or, we can get out the shovel and bury our talents, be they financial, or in service to the other. When we bury our talents we leave God’s investment in us unused. That’s the equivalent of putting your life savings under the mattress. Aka don’t expect much in return.

Ultimately it comes down to our trust, or lack of, in the God from whom all blessings flow.

Do we trust God enough to take the gifts we’ve been given out of the holes we dig for ourselves?

Do we trust God enough to take our spiritual life savings out from under our mattress?

Our US currency says prominently, in all capital letters, IN GOD WE TRUST.

Do we?

Getting more personal, do you trust God enough to use your gifts, faithfully, to more fully live into God’s call for your life?

The two investors used what they were entrusted with to better an earthly kingdom. How much more valued are our gifts, handed down from above, when used in faithful response to the divine?

Close
Investing in God’s kingdom, over the course of a lifetime, has historically been a divinely fruitful way to spend your days, while here, on earth. With the Holy Spirit at your side, you can expect, with all certainty, never to be alone.

Scripture generally gives three rules of thumb as you faithfully live into God’s call on your life:

  • During good times celebrate, of course, but also be alert too. Mountaintop moments, in this realm, can come and go.
  • During bad times celebrate as well. Because the future, invariably, will look better than it does right now. This is the promise, given unto us.
  • Most importantly – Don’t bury the gifts God’s given you. Don’t hide them under the mattress. For when we live, in faithful response, to all we have been given, our Creator chimes in.

Well done, good and faithful one!
Come, share in your Creator’s joy.
Amen.

Sowing Goodness

Last weekend, on a crisp October morning, a dozen members of the church that Gathers, Grows and Goes met at Reiman Gardens. We arrived, in groups of ones and twos and fours. We were then given a how-to on what we were there to do.

The task at hand? Planting tulip bulbs.

Our equipment was simple; gloves, trowel, foot-long foam mat.

Hands now gloved, mat now on ground, we kneeled.

Technique for our task was then shown.

Point trowel toward dirt.
Grip trowel, thumb-side up.
Thrust trowel down, six inches deep.
Pull toward you, creating a hole.
Place bulb in hole, pointy side up.
Fill hole with soil.

Make the earthy canvas flat, once again.

Point, grip, thrust.
Pull, place, fill.

One bulb now planted, then move to the next. Which ideally is 4-6 inches away.

Point, grip, thrust.
Pull, place, fill.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Until the job is done.

Reiman Gardens has offered this annual volunteer tulip planting event for years now. And it showed: this crisp morning had been planned to perfection.

The equipment was ready. The flower beds cleared. The bulbs sat atop the soil, evenly spaced, row upon row upon row. Everything was prepared. What else was needed? Just us.

Point, grip, thrust.
Pull, place, fill.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

It was a daunting task, admittedly. Thousands of bulbs lay ready for planting as we got to work.

I watched as husband and wife kneeled down to plant, side by side. Their two young children ran nearby, making joyful noises. Helping a bit, then running and laughing some more.

Not too far off a father and son worked together on another section. Dad became the instructor, of this crew of two, as they made progress toward a mutually-agreed-upon goal.

I listened as a mother told of her husband and kids off at a youth soccer game. I found myself sharing that my wife and children were also at another game, doing the same.

We were busily improving on the world around us. Some with trowels, others with goalkeepers and cleats.

As talk and running and laughing continued bulbs were planted. A row was completed, then two, then three. A section was finished here, then there. And it wasn’t just our group. Volunteers from several Iowa State groups helped too.

An hour in it started raining, making the already saturated soil even wetter. Making the task at hand a bit more of a challenge. Thirty minutes after that the instructor, sounding dejected, told us the soil was now too wet to plant.

Because of that our work that morning, planting bulbs, was now done.

But not complete. We’d made progress, yes, but there was still so much yet to do. Curious about this now unfinished project I asked the instructor what would come next.

“We were supposed to top off the soil on these beds Monday,” he replied. “But this season has been really difficult to plan for, there’s just been so much rain. We’ll get these bulbs planted, one way or another,” he assured me.

“We always do.”

Sowing
Today’s text, from 2nd Corinthians 9, the apostle Paul names a concept familiar to any farmer or gardener.

If you sow sparingly, so goes your crop.
If you sow greatly, so goes your crop.
If you don’t sow, well, don’t expect crop.

Goodness
Put another way, you reap what you sow.

The author then continues: give as if you’ve made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion. For God loves a cheerful giver.

But really? Who doesn’t love a cheerful giver?

As a pastor I’m blessed to run across cheerful givers all the time.
– From the planters at Reiman, trowel in hand, dropped into soil, to
– the givers at church, check in hand, dropped it in the plate, to
– our food pantry and clothing closet volunteers, happily meeting the needs of God’s children, regardless of who those children may be, to
– our facilities team, scurrying about, beautifying this space with assorted tools and gifts too numerous to name.

All of them giving, in so many ways. And doing so cheerfully.

All of them bringing people together, in right relationship with our Creator. In right relationship with each other. Helping, in ways great and small, to remake this world.

Reforming it closer to Eden.
As originally designed.
As promised, once again.

God is able to provide you with every blessing, in abundance, the scripture continues. So that, always having enough, of everything, you may share, abundantly, in every good work.

It sounds like we’ve been blessed, mightily.

It sounds like we’ve been called to share, mightily.

Generosity
In preparing this message I noticed a difference in the language used for the fruits of the spirit. While many modern translations use the word goodness to describe this fruit, many others opt, instead, for generosity.

This difference caused me to go back and check the language as recorded in the original Greek. The Greek term, agathos, is translated active goodness, or generosity. It connotes actively doing good deeds.

After seeing this distinction I can no longer decouple the two. Goodness is generosity. It is active, not passive. God gives us goodness. We are then called to be generous with that, sharing our abundance with others.

Not out of obligation. For that only causes bitterness. But by giving, cheerfully.

Goodness is in the doing. Whether it’s with our hands or our wallets. When we act in goodness we follow the heart of God.

Reiman
For the many of you familiar with Reiman Gardens you know the ending to this story. Those thousands and thousands of tulip bulbs will get planted, one way or another. The master gardeners there will care for those beds with precision, making sure the soil, water and sunlight are mixed together with just the right blend.

And when spring comes you’ll drive, or bike or walk by and see the result.

You’ll appreciate the pop of newness coming from dormant earth.
You’ll be met with awestruck wonder, at a tapestry of brilliant colors.
You’ll experience, firsthand, death to life Easter resurrection.

And for those that gathered for the planting, with gloves and mat and trowel, you’ll look upon this flowery landscape even more fondly. Knowing you’ve given, both as individuals and as a community, generously, to beautify God’s world. Helping make it possible for others to be renewed as well.

Garden
Our faith tradition teaches God is the creator of all that is, caring for all our needs. Providing the sun, the soil, the rain, the tulip bulb seeds. Providing everything needed to reclaim this world’s beauty, as it was in the beginning, and shall be again.

God then sent a Son, the master instructor, the Christ. The instructor showed us, in the flesh, how to plant the seeds of love, joy, peace. Patience, kindness, goodness. Faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Christ then shared with us God’s Spirit. She who leads us back to the garden, if only we will follow.

God’s work is happening in, and through this place. And God’s work, to reclaim this world that God so loves, one way or another, will happen. The work has been planned, to perfection. The divine job, of reclamation, will get done. Tho God could certainly use some gardeners, to help plant all these live-giving seeds.

Will you be one?
Will you be active in goodness and generosity?

If so –

Head out to the garden.
Get on your knees.
Grab a trowel.
And cheerfully begin. Amen.

Imagine Peace

One morning, in early 1971, on a Steinway piano, in a bedroom in Berkshire England, Beatles alum John Lennon composed a song.

The song’s word count is less than grand, clocking in at a mere 129 words. The song’s length, at just over three minutes, is nothing grandiose either. The song didn’t even take that long to produce. A handful of musicians practiced for a few hours, recording only three takes before choosing one for release.

Tho quick to compose, short in length and simple to produce, the song has left quite a mark these past five decades. It became the best-selling single of John Lennon’s solo career. It’s topped multiple music charts globally. And more than 200 artists have recorded cover versions of it, to date, including the likes of Elton John, David Bowie, and Queen.

Heck, the original music video was digitally remastered a couple of years ago, and has already been viewed on YouTube almost 125 million times. Pretty impressive for content almost fifty years old.

So what makes Lennon’s inspiration that 1971 morning so memorable?

Perhaps it’s the song’s title, a lyric repeated six times in the tune, more than any other word.

Here Lennon asks us to imagine a world of different design. One with nothing to kill or die for. One with no greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man. All the people, sharing all the world.

Can you imagine?

The song even asks us to imagine a world with no heaven or hell; theological constructs that won’t be challenged or explored here. Those are questions worth pondering and expanding on separately, for sure.

Yet when asked about the song’s meaning during an interview, Lennon says he was given a Christian prayer book that inspired the concept behind the song.

The lyrics contain a depth of Christian ethos that simply can’t be ignored.

“Imagine all the people, living life in peace,” he envisions.

Can you imagine?

Marks
Romans 12:9-21 has a heading, in many modern biblical translations, of Marks Of The True Christian. A quick count among these thirteen verses reveal no less than twenty-three separate marks. Each imperative an important aspect of Christianity, that, when applied as not merely belief but behavior, provides a visible sign, for all to see, of your faith in action.

Bless those who persecute you;
Rejoice with those who rejoice;
Weep with those who weep;
Contribute to the needs of the saints;
Extend hospitality to strangers.

And that’s just five of them. They make for great memes; bitesize takeaways of wisdom, readily quoted on the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest.

There’s so much meat in this short passage it well could be a twenty-three-week sermon series. Or a six-hour message. You are hereby absolved of experiencing either 😊

Instead, let’s home in on just one imperative from this section. Just one verse, 18. Just fifteen little words.

If it is possible,
So far as it depends on you,
Live peaceably with all.

Peace
Which kind of makes me wonder, at first blush, and second, and third – is it possible to live peaceably with all? I mean if Paul had more confidence we Christians could, his word count in this verse could have been cut by a factor of four.

Live peaceably with all.

That sounds so much simpler.
So much cleaner.
So much more readily memed.

But Paul, as excellent of a God-inspired writer as he is, doesn’t leave it that concise, does he. And we’re left to wonder why.

Paul, of course, had the arc of human history up until that point to reflect on.

A history where Jacob steals from Esau, Israelites enslaved, Christ crucified.
A history where lands are pillaged, people plundered.
A history of oppression, genocide and patriarchies for the few.

Yikes.

No wonder Paul linguistically hedged his bets.

The past two millennia arguably haven’t been much better. Crusades, World Wars and concentration camps, oh my.

If peace were more commonplace in our world, there probably wouldn’t be awards like the Nobel Peace prize. We celebrate the rare and unique, not the normal.

Imagine this unlikely exchange:
Hey man, you living peaceably with all? Yeah bro, you? Totally. Sweet! Wanna grab lunch?
Wouldn’t that be something to hear more often.

Heck, John Lennon, he of the vaulted Imagine song, was murdered in 1980, by a self-described born-again Christian, Mark David Chapman.

Oh the irony. What a fate for a musical genius preaching a gospel of world peace.

If living peaceably with all isn’t the norm then perhaps it’s worth looking at exceptions. Places where peace, against all odds, prevails. Here’s one.

Lancaster
On the morning of Monday, October 2, 2006, in a small, rural one-room Amish schoolhouse, in Lancaster County Pennsylvania, hostages were taken. Soon after gunshots then rang out. And by the time the 42-minute ordeal was over gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV had shot eight girls, ages 6-13, killing five, before turning the gun on himself.

On the surface, this is but one more example of the senseless loss of life due to gun violence. One more case among thousands. One more mass shooting. One more symptom, of a fully American illness we have yet to properly diagnose, much less treat.

Is it possible to live peaceably with all?

If this were the end of the story the answer is fairly clear.

But, as you may already know, there’s more to this particular school shooting.

The Amish are best known for their simple living, plain clothing, their reluctance to adopt modern conveniences like cars, television, and the internet.

Less known is how importantly the Amish take their faith, bringing it into practice in all they do. This small Christian sect lives together in tight-knit communities, which makes their faithful belief in grace, forgiveness and nonresistance not abstract concepts, but instead, for the Amish, a daily way of life.

Here’s a few examples of what that looked like, in the midst of this horrible tragedy.

• On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the Amish girls warned relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.”
• An Amish neighbor comforted the killer’s widow, Marie Roberts and her children, mere hours after the shooting, extending forgiveness to them.
• About thirty members of the Amish community attended the killer’s funeral.
• Marie Roberts was even invited to the funeral of one of the victims.
• Amazingly, the Amish community in Lancaster then set up a charitable fund for Marie’s family. This, for a family that would be forever linked with the killing of five of their Amish daughters.

Reflecting back on the experience Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors, thanking them for their response. She wrote:

“Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”

Is it possible to live peaceably with all? How this Amish Christian community approached the darkest of days, with grace, forgiveness, and mercy suggests yes.

Help
That kind of peaceful response to a violent world can’t happen without some help from above. History suggests that, left to our own devices, our own broken, selfish human nature, peace is virtually impossible.

God knows. So do Jacob and Moses and Paul and the Amish of Lancaster county.

Which is why God sent a Son, the Christ. A teacher who modeled right relationship with God, with us. A Prince of Peace who showed us how to live peaceably with all. A savior who shared with us the winds of the Spirit that day in the upper room. Spirited winds that still blow strong, pulling us toward a path of peace we need only follow.

Who
Can you live peaceably with friends, family, coworkers?
With the immigrant, both near and far?
With the poor, the hungry, the homeless?
With the straight, the gay, the trans?
With the black, the white, the brown?
With the church member with whom you disagree?

Living peaceably with all, if it is possible, is, after all, a mark of a true Christian.

Yet in a culture that values taking an eye for an eye, and a tweet for a tweet, we, as a people, find it incredibly easy to weaponize words, and then fire them back at each other.

And we, as a people, find it incredibly hard to practice this way of peace.

Our violence, in this way, is not of God.

Is it possible to live peaceably with all?

Imagine all the people,
Living life in peace.

You may say that I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one,
I hope someday you’ll join us,
And the world will be as one.

With playbook in hand, and guidance right here, living peaceably, with all, depends, ultimately, on you. Amen.