This past year my wife and I began using a new kitchen appliance. Of course, there’s nothing earth-shattering in that. Who among us hasn’t cluttered up their kitchen countertops and cupboards with the latest gadget that promises all kinds of cuoinary wizardry? But this one may be different.
While “Instant Pot” is actually a brand name, it’s probably destined to enter popular vernacular the same way Band-Aid and Kleenex are typically used for adhesive bandages and facial tissues. You see, this little appliance has delivered on its promises (at least so far): it can braise, slow-cook, and pressure cook. It’s useful for pasta, rice, and boiled eggs. I’m sure there’s all kinds of stuff we haven’t even thought of yet. In short, it cooks just about everything, usually in an astonishingly short period of time.
If only there was something comparable to an Instant Pot for PEACE. But there’s not, of course!
The topic of peace encompasses an astonishingly broad range, everything from personal inner peace to worldwide nuclear disarmament among nations. And, of course, there’s that standard joke of beauty-contest participants desiring “world peace” in answer to whatever question they’re asked.
Here’s the thing: peacemaking is not easy, it’s not quick, there’s no simple formula, and don’t expect an easy-to-follow timeline or process. In short, it can be very hard work. Getting into raging arguments or going to war, on the other hand, appears to be much easier. That’s the way the world operates, sadly.
The lectionary this week offers two prophets talking about a pathway appearing in the wilderness: Malachi (who’s best known that his “book” is right at the end of the Old Testmanet), who counseled the exiles returning from Babylon that the road ahead would be filled with perils. But the Lord would send a messenger to prepare the way: “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire….”Then there’s John the Baptizer (yes, he belongs in the long line of Hebrew prophets!). Both men knew what they were up against. John’s story is presented in opposition to the leaders of empire in his day: Caesar, Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas. The Gospel writer Luke has John quoting the prophet Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ” To his followers John proclaimed a message of following the way. There was certainly no timeline, no detailed roadmap, for the coming forth of God’s kingdom on earth. He called for faithful disciples venturing forth into the unknown.
A much more recent prophet, martyred Catholic Archbishop (and now canonized saint) Oscar Romero paid the ultimate price for standing up to the power of empire in his own place and time. His prayer is a poignant and insightful message for those who confront the awesome powers of empire today:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete; which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds that are already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own. Amen.
Here’s a link to a previous ForeWords blog based on this week’s lectionary scriptures for Advent 2: https://richbrownforewords.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/1262015/
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and