Go With Peace
How do we go with peace? Can our worship and our church family fill us with peace that we face the threats of conflicts as peacemakers? Peace is not the absence of conflict but in spite of the reality. Peace is not absence of destructive forces around us - forces of disease, war, hatred and evil - peace is within us despite realities of such forces around us and moves us forward as peacemakers.
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you, I do not give to you as the world gives. These words Jesus speaks to his disciples (John 14) in a time where I can imagine there was little peace in their lives. Just earlier in chapter 13 in John's gospel, Jesus speaks to them about his betrayal, his impending death - where I am going, you cannot come, he tells them. Where is peace when peace around us is hard to find?
A little over 1900 years later, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this in his Christmas sermon on Peace in 1967: Peace on earth. This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fear harrows people by day and haunts them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities.
And last Friday, - a little over a week from the shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, two more shootings has erupted, this time on Northern Arizona's and Texas Southern University's campuses. Just last Monday, there were threats at Philadelphia region universities, and my husband, a professor at Ursinus college, faced a new situation: students who asked to be excused from class because of the fear of violence. Reports of violence in Syria and Afghanistan stream across our television screen, and if we hear Rev. King's words out of the context of his day, nearly 50 years ago, we would imagine they might be written for our own.
And yet, Dr. King doesn't stop with this analysis of his world's situation. He continues to preach that it is precisely because of the lack of peace, that we seek and work for peace, that it is no longer a pious dream but a necessary for our survival as a species. And peace, he preaches, begins with the realization of our interconnectedness as children of God. Peace within for me, for my brother and sister, translates into peace for my community, and my world.
So we struggle with the second portion of our mission statement today; Go with Peace. What does it mean to go - from this worship space, from a safe space, into the world with peace? Last week we discussed the first portion; Come in Faith. Faith is not fantasy, a faith that never waivers or doubts or has threats of being crushed. Scripture has defined faith as belief in spite of the evidence, hope against hoping. In this way, we have faith not because there are no threatening forces against it, but faith in a greater power of God against those forces, faith that there is a way with God. Faith in spite of the reality.
Peace, I believe, is the same. When we seek peace, it is not in an isolated bubble, a place where there are no threatening forces around us. Peace is not the absence of conflict but in spite of the reality. Peace is not absence of destructive forces around us - forces of disease, war, hatred and evil - peace is within us despite realities of such forces around us and moves us forward as peacemakers.
There is a story of a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. After many artists tried, the king looked at all the pictures. But there were only two he really liked, and he had to choose between them. One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace. The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky, from which rain fell and in which lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the king looked closely, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest - in perfect peace. The king chose the second picture and explained "peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace."
So we cultivate peace within, perhaps through the breathing exercises, a mind-centering activity, like meditation, yoga, exercise, prayer, and so forth. We again realize that like faith, peace is a practice that can grow within us when we engage in it. We can become more faithful and more peaceful as we learn from those around us, engage in practices for peace, make behavioral changes, and think through decisions. The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans about changing their behavior in the passage we heard today. He asks them to consider how their behavior will affect the behavior of those around them, not to put a stumbling block in front of another. And then he reminds them of the active role we need to take in changing our behavior - our peace-making as he writes: Pursue peace - pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding. Over and over in Scripture, from the psalmists to epistle writings, words encouraging us the same - seek, work for and pursue peace.
And I think that if we get into the habit of cultivating peace within, the peace outside will shine forth. It will effect how we behave toward others. It will affect our priorities in life. It will affect where we invest our lives, our jobs, our passions, our finances, and so forth.
The world sometimes seems so far from peace. And this is the picture that the prophet Isaiah paints, as his people too are faced with invading tribes in the 8th and 7th century before Jesus. "a land where the palace will be forsaken, the populous city deserted . . and so forth"
And yet, his picture doesn't end there. He tells of a time when the spirit will be upon the land, peace with righteousness and justice. Right living - behavior and actions - will produce peace, he says. Effect of righteousness will be peace.
So I don't have all the answers to forces of "warring madness" that we see around us and within us. But I do believe that we each have the opportunity to choose peace, in how we live, how we react to life's forces, and so let us go with peace. Amen.