Pastor Shawn Hannon
Hope Lutheran Church Arcade, NY
My Christmas Eve message this year was my prayer. It was simply this: that the peace the angels proclaimed to those shepherds on the hillside that first Christmas night, might be know in all the earth. Now, I know that I risk sounding like a 1990s Miss America contestant asking for world peace when I say that, but, remember, before it came from the mouth of Miss Alabama it was promised from a multitude of the heavenly host. So maybe a little more peace in our world and in our lives is not as unrealistic as we’d like to think. Who knows? Maybe you have personally been looking for a bit of that peace lately. Maybe you have been looking for some solid ground.
If that sounds like you, and, honestly, even if doesn’t, these ramblings are for you. Because finding peace this new year may be as simple as connecting (or reconnecting) with a community of faith and God. And I say that knowing that the only place more intimidating to go (or go back) to this January than the gym, is church. But before I make this simple, let me first acknowledge the realities.
Reality #1: You’re Tired.
Wait, you too?! Trust me I get it. And I know that “Sunday is the only day of the week you get to sleep in.” I know that the rest of the week you spend working and chasing after kids and trying against all odds to have a personal life, because my life is the same way (except sleeping in on Sundays, of course).
Reality #2: Church is Broken.
Tell me something I don’t know. I know it seems completely backwards that a broken place like a community of believers could be the best place around to find wholeness, but trust me it’s true. After all, being broken means we have a lot of practice. And part of why we’re broken is because we’re made up of broken people like you. People call Christians hypocrites, and some are. But you know how we start church at my church each week? By confessing our sin, because we know better. You don’t find peace in escaping brokenness. You find peace in what God does with the pieces.
Reality #3: It’s Hard.
Really hard. If it were easy we’d all be sitting around campfire right now singing “Kumbaya” and making s’mores. Jesus didn’t say he was the easiest way, just that he was the Way. He said we would even have to make a few sacrifices of our own along the way. But he also said that he would always be with us even to the end of the age.
Reality #4: It’s Not Awkward.
If you haven’t been a churchgoer before, this one isn’t for you… yet. And please don’t read into that ‘yet.’ It’s just an acknowledgement that nearly everyone experiences a time (a few weeks to a few decades) of moving away from their faith life and not going to church. And I won’t promise it’ll be like you never left when you go back, because, well, when you left it changed. But I will promise that when you go back it won’t be nearly as awkward as you play it out in your head. You were missed when you were gone, but when you come back there won’t be a fatted calf for the prodigal son or someone keeping score to account for your absence. You’ll just be back.
Here’s the part where I make this simple.
What To Do #1: Go.
The man who taught me how to run electrical wire, though he might not claim that himself, actually taught me a much greater lesson. Right after we started running it in our first room he looked at me and said, “Look at that, we started and we’re already half way done.” Don’t worry. You didn’t miss anything. I was equally confused when he mentioned it. But then I realized, starting really is half the battle. Have you thought about going to church? GO. Have you thought about praying? PRAY. Thought about seeing what the Bible has to say to you? READ. The hard part isn’t doing it. It’s starting. It’s waking up on “the only day you get to sleep in.” Just go.
What To Do #2: Go Again.
See! I told you I was going to make this simple, but “Rome wasn’t built in a day” isn’t the most popular cliché in the world without reason. Faithfulness and peace don’t happen upon us, they are nurtured and developed by the Holy Spirit working in us when we read that word of scripture and when we read it again. When we receive the sacrament and come back for seconds next week. Maybe I should have mentioned this above, but the second half to “It’s Hard” is “And It’s Gonna Take Time.” But if you think of anything else worth doing (See: Love, Parenting, Work, Sports, Hobbies…), you’ll realize you already knew that.
As you look back on the last year and look ahead to the changes you hope to make in the next, finding a little more peace in a pretty chaotic world might be on your list. If it is, remember, that’s not unrealistic. Luke says, “And suddenly there was with that angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.’” “On earth peace.” That’s not the result of Miss America’s tour of small towns and nursing homes, it’s God’s hope for us. And it can be ours. It can be yours. God gives it to us with a host of gifts we definitely aren’t good enough to receive through Christ born, died, and raised for us. God gives it to us, because God loves us.
And in this new year, I hope it finds you. A lot of people are thinking about hitting the gym these days. Maybe you’re thinking about hitting a church. If that’s you, know like the gym it may be hard to muster the energy to get there (to start), but you definitely won’t regret a moment of it once you’ve gone.
Others are wishing they could break a bad habit. Maybe you’re thinking about starting something new like a prayer life or reading the Bible (the gospel of Matthew is a great place to start). And plenty are looking to lose a little weight. Finding faith is a bit like dieting. Every diet isn’t for every person, and not one diet works in a day. It’s the same thing with communities of faith.
The realities are it won’t always be easy. But the solution is really pretty simple. Jesus, who saves his people from their sins, also came to bring us peace. That’s not a pipedream, it’s a promise. And it’s my Christmas prayer. May it find us. Amen.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.