Speaking peace

8th Sunday after Pentecost (August 7, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
I Kings 19:9-18; Ps. 85:8-13; Rom. 10:5-15; Matt. 14:22-33

This week we welcomed home two young Jordanian women who have spent the past year in Canada, serving through MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). We also said farewell to a third young woman who will be spending the coming year in Vancouver, Canada, also with the IVEP program.

Dina (right), who spent the past year in Calgary, with Rola, who plans to spend the coming year in Vancouver

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began August 1, during which time devout Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from dawn till dusk. Ramadan, based on the lunar calendar, moves forward about 10-11 days each year, as part of a 34-year calendar cycle. It now arrives during the long and hot days of August. Those who maintain this discipline of fasting – especially in the heat of summer — have earned our deep respect.

Women in Jakarta attend a mass prayer session marking the start of Ramadan at the Istiqlal mosque (Supri/Reuters on Al Jazeera website)

But Ramadan is about much more than not eating or drinking. “Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance,” says Muslim author Christine Huda Dodge. “We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits — essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings.”

Also in the region this week, the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak began in Cairo. Palestinian officials announced mass marches on Sept. 20, in conjunction with a bid at the United Nations to recognize Palestine as the 194th member state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes the Palestinian bid at the U.N., announced that he would reconsider negotiations based on the 1967 borders. But at the same time, the Israeli government approved 900 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Har Homa. In spite of Ramadan, large demonstrations and a violent government crackdown continued in Syria.

The Common Lectionary readings are about speaking peace.

In the Old Testament reading, Elijah flees to Mt. Horeb, fearful of Queen Jezebel’s threats on his life. There God speaks peace to Elijah, not through a mighty wind or powerful earthquake or blazing fire, but through the sound of sheer silence (I Kings 19:11-12). Rather than chastise Elijah for his misplaced fear, God asks him a simple question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah vents his frustration, exhaustion and feelings of loneliness and God announces a plan for the transition to Elijah’s successor.

The psalmist, well aware of the people’s unfaithfulness, pleads for God to restore them (Ps. 85:1-4). Then he listens for God’s response (Ps. 85:1-4). “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,” the psalmist writes, “for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” (v.8)

In the Epistle reading Paul says that the Gospel is equally for Jew and Greek – there is no distinction – “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him”(Rom. 10:12). But, unless some are sent to proclaim this message of peace, how will people hear and believe it? (vv. 14-15)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples are caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus walks on the water toward their boat, they are even more terrified. “It is a ghost!” they cry out in fear (Matt. 14:26). But Jesus speaks words of peace, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (v.27) When Jesus climbs in the boat, the wind ceases.

Dina (left) and Ghadeer, who spent the past year in Vancouver, British Columbia

Broad-scale violence, government corruption, volatile markets, and high unemployment – were only a few of the news headlines this week. In such a world, may God speak words of peace to us and may we speak similar words to one another.

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