Colossians 3: 12-17
The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 1918 there was silence. There was a temporary cessation of hostilities, an armistice, between the Allied nations and Germany thus ending ‘The Great War’ or WWI. Kurt Vonnegut speaks of this armistice in his book, “Breakfast of Champions”:
“I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy… all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.”[i]
In the silence of armistice, God speaks.
In fact it is in the sheer silence and cessation of embittered talk and battle that our still speaking God comes to us and utters words of hope and encouragement.
Our scripture this morning is from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. They too were a community in conflict, dispute and despair as is our nation. Among them were doubters as to the efficacy of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They wondered whether what was accomplished in Christ had actually liberated them from the powers of the universe since things pretty much were the same as usual. They questioned whether or not Christ helped them achieve access to God. Paul, in his inimitable way reassures them that they are loved and he tells them to be thankful because they ARE connected and that is through Christ.
Hear now the word of God through Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Ironically this passage is one of the passages that lovebird couples often choose as the scripture for their wedding homily. What they don’t often know is the context in which it was written and what Paul was trying to accomplish within his community. And I suppose that is ok because the essence of the passage speaks to how we are to treat one another regardless if we are a conflicted community or some star-crossed lovers. It’s good words and values for all times and circumstances.
Treat one another with compassion, which is to be kind and fair, and loving and forgiving, to show mercy, and to be as a conduit of God’s benevolent grace to others. And above all to clothe ourselves in love – not the syrupy, romantic, Hallmark sort of love but the kind of love that will roll up its sleeves and toil hard working through things when times get tough, as they are destined to do when in relationship. Life, you know has its ups and downs as the familiar cliché reminds us, it’s disappointments and satisfactions. And through all of this Paul encourages them to be thankful, to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. Truly God was with them.
If ever there was a passage that is downright essential for our lives right now it is this one. Because who among us has not been adversely affected in one way or another by negative political expression no matter if your candidate won or loss the election? We are tired as a people. This election and these weeks after have put a drain on us all. I am weary and so very apprehensive about our future as a nation and as a people conceived in liberty and justice for ALL.
And so this passage is apropos for our nation divided right now too and for us as we sit down to our Thanksgiving tables - tables that have the potential for divisive talk, hard feelings about those we love and care about because of who they voted for, and potential potato slinging barbs. Tables that could possibly turn into metaphorical food fights rather than a coming together to give thanks to God our creator of diverse thought, diverse skin color, diverse sexual orientation, diverse ethnicity, diverse religious affiliation and belief and diverse political party and opinion.
Civil discourse has taken a turn for the worse. Codes of conduct and the lines of mutual respect for others have been relaxed almost to the point of non-existence. Where will we go as a people and as a nation if this continues? What will all of this do to our spiritual well-being if it continues? How will we sit down at a table of Thanksgiving and look into the eyes of someone who, perhaps, thinks much differently than you? How will we ever find hope?
Do not despair, our country and our thanksgiving tables have survived the civil war, 2 world wars, the great depression and Vietnam and we will survive this tumultuous time too but undoubtedly will be changed. So we have to work hard at civility, and the simplicity of kindness and fairness. It is the time to practice armistice. To call for a cessation of damaging rhetoric and listen for that still small voice of God. It is to focus on words that heal and strengthen us as families, as communities, as individuals and ultimately as a nation. To bring out the flag of peace and call truce because it is in that truce, that armistice, a beautiful silence can be heard, when God comes to us and speaks words of wisdom and hope. In this silence God’s spirit, the dove of peace infuses our hearts with faith, and resolve to form a ‘more perfect union’ as our constitution tells us. A union based in love as we endeavor to love one another.
Let us remember what scripture tells us,…. clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Taking these words into your heart and remembering them will help you to achieve a bolder sense of civic engagement. One that is not damaging but uplifting of all people for we live our lives in community and with others and our Christian heritage calls us to be harbingers of justice, peace, understanding, and acceptance.
I leave you this morning with the few ending verses of Maya Angelou’s Inaugural poem, “On the Pulse of Morning”:
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes,
Into your brother's face, your country
And say simply
I give thanks for you and pray that your table of gratitude be blessed.