God Imagines: Peace on Earth

Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash – January 8, 2017 –  Matthew 24:1-31

Is this passage anyone’s favorite passage of scripture? Heavy reading isn’t it? It takes me back to time spent with my conservative Baptist grandmother who often lamented that we were moving into the end times, the signs were all around us.

I came to this passage in response to my Annual Conference experience this year. Back in May, New Jersey United Methodist laity and clergy met for Annual Conference. This year our theme for the conference was “Imagine.” Our Bishop, John Schol called us to imagine a new generation of disciples, vital congregations and a transformed world at the 2016. For me one of the most meaningful parts of the conference was a presentation by Dr. Robin DiAngelo who helped us imagine a world without racism. It was revealing and challenging. She challenged United Methodists to develop the skills and mindset necessary to create a world free of racism.  As Skitch, Catherine and I thought about how we as your pastoral team would begin 2017 we felt led to consider what God might imagine for us, for the world, thinking about Peace on earth, all are welcome, all are equal, and all creation in harmony.

,Yet, Is peace possible in a world like this?

That is a question many people are asking, it’s the topic of conversation at lunch tables in Panera and in the nail salon. Don and I even heard a group of 3 or 4 older men seeking an answer to the question this past summer on the boardwalk.

Today, let’s look at what the Gospel according to Matthew says as we consider world peace. The 24th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is filled with Jesus’ predictions about the future. Let me set the scene for you. The disciples had been admiring Solomon’s massive and magnificent temple in Jerusalem. They must have been shocked when Jesus said, “That temple will be utterly destroyed. Not one stone will be left upon another.” Jesus’ prediction did come true forty years later, in the year 70 A.D. The Romans utterly destroyed Jerusalem. Matthew 24: verses 2 and 15 through 22, relates to those awful events of 70 A.D. Indeed, most of that chapter deals with the end of that period in history, the end of time.

You may wonder why this passage// when thinking about whether there is hope for world peace?”

In verses 5 and 11, Jesus tells us that MANY FALSE MESSIAHS AND FALSE PROPHETS WILL APPEAR to deceive many people. Yes, false prophets and false gospels are all around us.

In verses 6 and 7, Jesus also predicted that there would be WARS AND RUMORS OF WAR until the very end. Today there are wars or rumors of war in many countries around the world –  Syria, Turkey, DRC, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Middle East, Central Asia.

Jesus also predicted that before the end of time Christians would face MUCH PERSECUTION. We are told that  more Christians were martyred in the 20th Century than in all of the previous nineteen centuries combined.

The Methodist bishop of Indonesia, reports that his congregations have to post a look-out during worship services. If a roving band of extremists finds a Christian congregation in worship, they will attack them, and the police do nothing. In virtually every country where Christians are a minority, they are persecuted.

Jesus also predicted that there would be AN INCREASE IN WICKEDNESS. But he also said, “Do not be alarmed, for the end is still to come.” Jesus wanted us to be alert and aware, but not fearful. Jesus doesn’t want us to despair or hide under a rock.

Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill was once invited to present the graduation address at a local high school. He gave the shortest address on record, just three words, repeated three times. “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!” God is also saying to us not to give up but to continue working for the salvation of  the world.

What then can we then do to promote peace on earth and help God to cleanse this hurting conflicted world?  Here are three things we can do:

  1. Pray for peace continually
  2. Participate in the political process
  3. Stand against prejudice, spread forgiveness, understanding and reconciliation

If this morning you feel the Holy Spirit urging you to be a peacemaker, then  pray with me this prayer of St. Francis. Let us pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.


John Boopalan: Bias is an ancient problem

catherine, John, Esther Boopalan

The Ethnic Other was John Boopalan’s topic for the sermon series Gospel of the Nobodies and the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) was his text.  Boopalan (shown with his wife, Esther, at right, and Rev. Catherine Williams on the left) is a student at Princeton Theological Seminary. Some excerpts follow– and the for the complete text click here: Boopalan, UMC Sermon, Edited for Print

The topic for today—ethnic other—is one that is both important and urgent, not because it is a new problem but because it is an old one, an ancient one—one that is etched into our patterns of thinking, our reflexes, our everyday dispositions, our ordinary reactions to things and people, even our very selves. We have always struggled to live meaningfully with difference, with others who are different from us in more ways than one.

I come from India. And difference is in the very air we breathe. Although many people think that we Indians all get along, we don’t. If you don’t know already, we are some of the best when it comes to discriminating people. . . . 

When we look at strangers who are different, we are struck by their peculiarity—those eyes, those lips, those cheek bones, that skin, hair, speech and all of those things that distinguish them and remind us that there is someone else there with us, someone who is different from us, an “other.” 

And then we have a few options. We can say, “Remarkable! How beautiful! “How fearfully and wonderfully you are made!” and then look into their beauty and peculiarity with wonder and love and childlike curiosity….

Or, we can be overcome by fear of difference or some unarticulated prejudice, or some other failure of the imagination or the inability to envision a world that is different from the world that we are used to….

Boopalan considers the parable from the point of view of the lawyer who is familiar with the Torah and, indeed, summarizes its teachings. The lawyer is a good person, and we are generally good people. ..

What does God have to tell us who are generally good people? The parable shows us that while goodness is found in each of us, goodness is also found outside of us, often in places and persons we don’t expect. The parable is a rejoinder to many of us who have the tendency to find the center of our gravity within ourselves and within our in-groups. In contrast, God reminds us that we have to find the center of our gravity outside of ourselves.


UMC bishops for pro-humanity church

At a conference in Berlin, 70 years after World War II, The United Methodist Council of Bishops issued a pastoral letter on racism to the 12.8 million people of The United Methodist Church affirming the sacredness of all lives and renewing their commitment to work for an anti-racist, pro-humanity church.

Racism is prejudice plus intent to do harm or discriminate based on a belief that one is superior or has freedom to use power over another based on race. . .

The evidence is overwhelming that race still matters, that racism is woven into institutional life and is problematic to communal health. This reality impacts every area of life – in the church and in the world. . .

We commit to lead, model and engage in honest dialogue and respectful conversation and invite people of faith everywhere to join us.  Let us repent of our own racial bias and abuse of privilege. . .

 We renew our commitment to work for a Church that is anti-racist and pro-humanity, believing that beloved community cannot be achieved by ignoring cultural, racial and ethnic differences, but by celebrating diversity and valuing all people.

For the complete letter, click here.

Our own bishop, Bishop John Schol, just returned from that conference in Berlin. In his pastoral letter, he writes

You cannot visit a concentration camp and ever be the same again. I plead with you that when you see prejudice and hatred in the world to do something. As a people of faith we are called to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. – Micah 6:8.