January 28, 2007
"LOST? Looking For Peace"
(Hebrews 11:1, Matthew 18:21-35, Matthew 6:14-15)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
There's an old story, and it's a groaner but I'm going tell it anyway. It's about three flies buzzing around a messy kitchen table where somebody had just made a bologna sandwich. The knife used to slice the bologna was covered with little particles of the meat and so was the cutting board. Two of the flies decided to work on the cutting board, while the third fly went to work on the knife. He started at the tip of the knife and ate his way all the way to the end of the handle. Then he decided to fly over and help his friends on cutting board, but no sooner did he start to fly when he became dizzy and fell to the floor dead! One of the two remaining flies turned to the other and said, "That just goes to show you: Don't fly off the handle when you're full of bologna." (1)
I told you it was a groaner. But it was the only way I could think of to lead into talking about Bologna. Remember the Oscar Mayer Bologna commercials.
One of the things I remember the most about growing up is that we always had Bologna in the house. It was usually the store brand because it was cheaper. And Mom would buy lots of it because there were three boys.
I'll bet we ate twice our weight in Bologna every year because we took it for lunch almost every day. And we had it for lunch or a snack when we were home. It was a staple.
You'd think after all that Bologna, that I wouldn't want to touch it, but I still like Bologna. How many of you like Bolgna? It's versatile. Sometimes it's used as a filler in ham salad.
Did you know that in Newfoundland, Bologna is a popular breakfast food, served fried as a substitute to ham slices and is called "Newfie Steak". We called it "Tube Steak" in the Coast Guard. And did you know that October 24th is National Bologna Day' in the United States.
There's even a book of devotions titled, "A Fried Bologna Sandwich For The Soul" by Dianne R. Swann
There are lots of ways to serve Bologna besides cold for lunch. When I was in grade school they served it for lunch, hot with a little BBQ sauce. They heated it in the oven and the center would form of bubble or a cup, so we called it BBQ Bologna Bubbles.
I personally like fried Bologna sandwiches. Some places still sell them.
And I like smoked Bolgna sandwiches.
I'm really not trying to gross you out, but my all time favorite is Peanut Butter and Bologna. Honest. It's even good with Pimento Cheese.
And this morning, I have some Bologna Sandwiches. Just Bologna and bread for each of you.
PASS OUT SMALL BOLOGNA SANDWICHES
So, why all this talk about Bologna when the title of the sermon is about Looking for Peace.
Well, for a couple of reasons. First, I think there's a lot of pop culture baloney out there that we swallow as easily as a Bologna sandwich that keeps us from truly finding the Peace we're looking for. It's nothing but a distraction from finding the Real Peace which God offers to each of us.
And second, I think this Real Peace is based on what some would call "Holy Baloney." I think this Peace we're looking for begins with Faith. In Hebrews 11:1 Paul says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." A lot of normal people hear that and say, "That's a bunch of baloney."
But for us, the abnormal people, Faith is what fuels our lives. And that Faith in God through Christ is what empowers our daily life so we can live as Disciples and not just believers. Being a Disciple is the hard part. Believing is easy but living your beliefs and living how our Savior lived is the hard part.
So, what do I mean, by the hard part? The best way to explain that is to look at the passages from Matthew. First, Matthew 18:21-35
 Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"
 Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Or as another translation puts it, "Seventy times seven times." Now believe it or not, Peter probably thought he was being pretty magnanimous by saying seven times. You see, Judaism wasn't used to the whole idea of forgiveness at all. It was a system of keeping things even. "An eye for an eye" and "a tooth for a tooth." So, forgiving and not exacting retribution was pretty radical. So, I'm sure Peter thought he had taken radical to the professional level.
But Jesus didn't just want radical forgiveness. Jesus calls for Extreme Forgiveness. "Nice try Peter, but even seven isn't enough." It has to be more than that. It has to be the same kind of forgiveness that we have received from Jesus. And I don't think God is keeping count. At least I hope not.
The Hard Part, is not receiving God's forgiveness. Instead it's what comes with it, the call to forgive as we have been forgiven.
I know what you're thinking, but what about . . . The answer is "Forgive."
But you don't understand she . . . The answer is "Forgive."
But what about the time . . . The answer is "Forgive."
The answer to whatever questions we have about forgiving others is always going to be "Forgive." Jesus made that very clear a few chapters earlier when he told the crowds in Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
I like the way the Message puts it. "In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part."
And that's what I mean when I say the Hard Part. The Hard Part is what makes us the Abnormal people because the normal people seek retribution and revenge. But our focus as Disciples is neither, our focus is Redemption. Remember, Jesus doesn't just want radical forgiveness. Jesus calls us to offer Extreme Forgiveness.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Could you forgive the person who murdered someone you loved? A United Methodist minister in Connecticut had to make that decision. Watch this Clip from UMTV.
CLIP: Forgiving A Murderer (2)
That's not just Radical Forgiveness, that's Extreme Forgiveness, that's Abnormal Forgiveness. That's the kind of forgiveness you and I experience every day form God.
Rev. Everett came face-to-face with his son's killer and had to offer Extreme Forgiveness. I know those three simple words, "I forgive you." were the hardest words he'd ever written. I'd like to think I'd be able to do the same thing but I sure don't want to put it to the test.
And as hard as it was for Rev. Everett, when he was finally able to forgive, he found Peace. Everett said he's often questioned about how he could forgive someone who killed his son.
He Answers: "If it's something small, I say, 'You broke it, now you fix it, and then we'll be even.' But with something too big to be fixed, the only thing left for healing is forgiveness." (3)
A. Once we've been reminded and accepted that the Meaning of Life is Loving God and Loving our Neighbors; Once we've experienced the Unconditional Love God has for us and been able to love ourselves unconditionally and through that love, once we've experienced God's Forgiveness, then the next step to The Life We've Always Been Looking For is to offer Extreme Forgiveness to those who have hurt and wounded us; to offer Extreme Forgiveness to those who have sinned against us.
It's only after the work of God's forgiveness and Grace cleans out the garbage of our anger and hurt that we can experience the Peace that passes all understanding as Paul said
B. All of that baggage we carry, the grudges we lug around, the sacks full of hurt and piles of pain that we just can't let go of, not only weigh us down. But they keep our spirits stirred up and restless. They pollute our passion for Christ, and leak into every aspect of life. And like acid, they work at eroding the forgiveness we have experienced through Christ
The only way to be set free from all of that. The only way to truly experience Peace is through Forgiving others.
That's Extreme, I know. Some of us would feel naked without the grudge we've carried for the last 30 years. Some of us wouldn't know what to do without it. But believe me, that burden doesn't belong in your life if you've given your life to Christ. So, let Him handle it for You. Experience the Peace Christ offers to you. Dare to be Different. Practice Extreme Forgiveness.
I know, listening through the filter of the world, that all sounds like a bunch of baloney. But listening through the ears of Faith, listening through the filter of Faith, what I'm really talking about is Holy Baloney.
As an act of letting go and practicing Extreme Forgiveness, I have the makings of another Baloney Sandwich for you. This one is made of paper. You'll notice it's in a zip lock bag just like you'd carry a sandwich for lunch in. In it you'll find 2 white squares representing slices of bread. And a pink circle, representing the Baloney. On one side of the baloney, I want you to write the name of a person you need to forgive. And on the other side of the baloney, I want you to write "I forgive you."
It doesn't make any difference if you can honestly mean it 100% at this point, this is a first step. But writing it down is important. You can write just their first name or their full name. You can write it big or you can write it tiny. You can write one name or as many as you want. This is your sandwich.
Then place it between the two white sheets. And place the sandwich in the bag and seal it up. The hurt caused you, has just become Baloney in your life through the Holy Baloney of your faith. And I'd like you to bring each of those hurts forward and place them in this bowl that sits under the pitcher which is a sign of servanthood and the outpouring of God's Spirit and love in our lives.
As you come forward, listen to these words from Paul's letter to the Colossians 3:8-15 (NRSV)
 But now you must get rid of all such things--anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.
 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices
 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
 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.
And now, I'm going to pour out the hurts and pain and all the Baloney of life that has kept the Peace of God from being ours into the trash where it belongs. Let the Holy Baloney of your Faith fill you with Peace. And because you have been forgiven through Christ, may the Peace of God flood your soul.
Let us pray: Lord, so many times the baloney in other people's lives has spilled over into our lives and caused us pain and hurt and anger and an unforgiving spirit which has kept us from experiencing the Peace offered by Jesus on the night He was betrayed and gave Himself up for us. Today we have left a portion of that baloney in our lives at the foot of the cross. Today we have offered our own prayers of forgiveness for those people who have hurt us. Today, Lord, we let go of all that baloney and ask that you help us truly forgive as we have been forgiven so we can know and experience the Peace of Christ. For it's in His name that we pray.
1. Leadership, Summer 2001 Adapted
3. Links in the story:
www.SermonWriter.com (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000)
www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermon.html (Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources)
Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)
Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)
Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)
The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)
Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)
Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)
The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)
The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)
Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.
Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.
Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.