Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“Covered In Powdered Sugar”
Sermon, Year C, Easter 6, May 5, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: John 14:23-29 and Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

In a time of bombs on Boston, factory explosions in Texas, factory collapse in Bangladesh, sabre-rattling by North Korea, conflict in Syria, 30 or more Americans murdered every day, gang violence and other violence that happens in our world; In a time of violence, anxiety, and strife, Jesus comes and says, “My peace I give to you.”

“I give to you peace. Peace be with you.”

For Jesus gives not as the world gives, but as God gives. And what God gives is peace. God does not give anxiety, or suffering, or stress. God gives peace.

And in a time of the Roman Empire, when soldiers walked the streets, and order was maintained through excessive punishment, when the “Peace of Rome” was anything but peaceful, at least for non-Romans, and what peace there was came from overthrowing the neighboring countries to make the borders more secure for the Romans. In that time, God came to the world in a sleepy town in a manger, to say “My peace I give to you”.

“This is my gift of peace.”

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

“And know my peace by being peace-full. By being still. By being still.”

It is hard to notice peace in the midst of strife, or busyness, or anxiety. “Know my peace by being peace-full. Know my stillness by being still.”

That might sound counter-intuitive, even obnoxious, to say it that way. “I want peace, and I want it now, and you’re telling me, pastor, that I can only know peace by being peaceful? It’s not something that will thrust upon me? It should just come. It should be given to me. I gotta work at it? Is that what you are saying?”


That is part of the deal. It’s an exercise in excessive patience for we who want everything right now, to be told that peace comes through being peaceful. But it is true. We who want everything right now, who like easy fixes, who like immediate solutions might be frustrated by that. But I can’t think of any way to be what you want to be except to be what you seek. If you want to be a certain way, then live that way. It’s not just going to come. If you want to be a certain way, live that way. Instead of expecting it to come all at once, start building it now. And one day soon you will see that it’s there. That you and God have built it together through practice. Through making it a discipline.

It will come in the quiet moments, in the peace-filled and peaceful moments, the holy moments, the still moments, and then when it comes it can work its way out of us into the world around us, into the people around us.

We who bear the message of peace, we who are Christians, bear the message of peace. Other religions do as well, we aren’t the only religion of peace, but we are the ones who have the Messiah who is the Prince of Peace. We have the message of the Prince of Peace, and that message is that anxiety, worry, fear, violence, bullying, sabre-rattling, profit over people, injustice, etc. etc., none of these are God’s intent. That might be how things are, but it is not things are supposed to be. God’s intent is peace. A peace that is known through love and grace and a peace that is known by being... peaceful. By being still.

In the midst of a world at war, in the midst of nations trembling, people fighting, individuals struggling, God says, “Be still. Be at peace.” God says, “I am setting a table before you in the midst of it all. This table of bread and wine. So stop. Be still. Take a moment and eat. Come to the table and eat, for by eating we enjoy the sacrament so that we can then become the sacrament for others in holy moments of peace.”

“I set a table before you to show you a sample of what is to come in the New Jerusalem.” That vision that we read Revelation. “I set a table before you to show you a sample of what is to come in the New Jerusalem with the River of the Water of Life, and the fruit of the Tree of Life, from which we will drink and from which we will eat.”

This is not the image of some New Jerusalem in a far off place. Maybe a far off time, as we do not know when it will be. But it is about a New Jerusalem here. It is the fulfilment of God’s Word here. On earth. Where we live. Here and now. And we have a taste of that, and a charge to work toward that.

We celebrate communion here. We celebrate it this morning with the bread and wine around this table. But there is no reason that we cannot celebrate Communion elsewhere; in fact, there is every reason, I think, that we ought to celebrate Communion elsewhere whenever we can. Because it is the sign of peace to commune with one another. To come to the table together. To eat together. To feed one another.

I think of the sacrament of communion that we have when we are downtown outside Sojourners, with our ministry with people who live on the streets. That’s a moment of Communion. A sacred moment. Or the communion, that sacred act of sharing and feeding, when we visit one another in the hospital, or when we call someone is sick, when we console one another in grief, when we make a funeral lunch for a family who is mourning, or send a casserole to a recent widower or widow for their family to enjoy. It’s all forms of Communion. There is the Communion of inviting a college roommate home for a holiday meal because you know they don’t have a family to go to, or they are from so far away they cannot afford to go home for the holidays. That is a Communion. Or the teacher who buys winter clothing out of her own pocket to give to the child who comes to school with nothing warm to wear. Or the community that comes together and says “We have too many children who do not get to eat breakfast in the morning, so we will feed them.” And it is the time we spend on a Sunday morning setting up tables for a potluck, or preparing the bread and wine for this table. All Communion.

And Jesus says, “My Kingdom looks like this. This is what my Kingdom looks like,” as he shares the bread and cup and breathes his peace. That’s what the Kingdom looks like. That’s what this New Jerusalem looks like. The River of Life and the Tree of Life.”

And this can happen in many moments of our lives. Not just in our sanctuary.

I want to read a poem that has been getting passed around this week on Facebook that I thought was so perfect, as it talks about what Communion is like and what it can be. it was written by poet and writer Naomi Shihab Nye. She is an American woman of Palestinian descent. She wrote this poem sometime post-September 11, 2001. I think maybe 2006 or 2007. Sometime when an airport can be a tense place. A poem that she called, “Wandering Around An Albuquerque Airport Terminal”.

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I heard the announcement: If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately. Well – one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.

Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly. Shu dow-a, shu-biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew – however poorly used – she stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the following day. I said, No, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late, who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him. We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her. She talked to him.

Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out, of course, they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought, just for the heck of it, why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering questions.

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies – little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts – out of her bag – and was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament.

The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California, the lovely woman from Laredo – we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers – non-alcoholic – and the two little girls for our flight, one African-American, one Mexican-American – ran around serving us all apple juice and lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar, too.

And I noticed my new best friend – by now we were holding hands – had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, “This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in this gate – once the crying of confusion stopped – has seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too. This can still happen, anywhere. Not everything is lost.

A poem of how things could be, and how things often are when we let it be that way. About a sacrament that is about how things ought to be. That what we do here – at this table – what we do at this Communion table is but a suggestion of how it ought to look out there beyond this space, and beyond this time. How it ought to look out there with God’s people.

When we follow Jesus’ Way of saying, The kingdom of God looks like this – my body, broken for you; my cup, poured out for you; eat and drink, and have life for another day. And a bunch of strangers who thought they had nothing in common realize that they are all of the same sort, all covered in the powdered sugar of God’s holiness, and not so distant, really, one from the other. Except in our minds.

Shall we pray? “Peace, peace”, you say, “Be still,” you say, “Come to the River and lay every burden down” that we may know your grace and be fed by the Water of Life, to eat your bread and drink your cup of salvation and offer it to our neighbors in sacred holy sharing of your gifts of peace to a world that needs much comfort, may it be so, we pray. Amen.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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