Folks, a bit of background to what I am about to post. Yesterday, for my final Reformed Worship class I preached the following sermon about peace. In light of the shooting in Connecticut this morning, it feels even more timely and relevant so I thought I should share it with others. I just will never understand people and their ways sometimes. I hope and pray that God will work in our lives to make a better world where things like this don't happen ever.
PS: The Scripture text was Phillippians 4:4-7
What does peace look like? What does peace feel like? If you were to attempt to draw a picture of peace, what would you draw? If peace were a person, what would it wear? Where would it live? What kind of car would it drive?
These might seem like rather silly questions and to a certain extent, they are. However, I think it is important for us to attempt to visualize what peace actually looks like and feels like. Then, I think we can get a better sense of what this passage from Philippians is referring to. “The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.”
Let’s let that sink in for a minute. “The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.” Obviously, Paul lived in a much different, less tumultuous time.After all, peace doesn’t even seem to exist in our world as it is today. Try saying this phrase to a mother whose son has just been murdered in a random act of violence. Try saying it to a woman whose husband just died in Afghanistan. Try saying it to the father whose daughter will be spending the next year of her life in the hospital with a rare, untreatable form of cancer. Or how about saying it to the husband whose wife died unexpectedly leaving behind four children for him to raise alone? Where is their peace?
We turn on our televisions and we see the images of war and violence and man’s inhumanity to man everywhere we look. Another violent shooting in Oregon. Another mugging in Chicago. Another teenager in Texas that has taken his own life because of bullying and abuse. It’s easy to see why it becomes increasingly hard to believe that God’s peace is anywhere to be found, let alone in our hearts.
Again, I say to you: what does peace feel like? Is it the warmth of a mother’s hand as she holds her newborn baby for the first time? Is it the touch of a child’s face against our skin as we bathe them? Does it feel like dog hair after a good, brisk run with our dogs in the park? Can that really be peace? Or the look in a doctor’s eyes as he tells the young couple that yes, they are pregnant? Is that what peace feels like?
Sister Joan Chittister once said that “Peace is the sign of a disarmed heart”. That’s a pretty great way to put it, if you ask me. What I interpret her to mean is that peace means that we have lowered our defenses and allowed others to open us up to the gifts that they bring us. Every time we allow ourselves to open up to others, we allow the peace of God into our hearts and our minds.
The Greek word “Eirene” means peace. It can be translated as “peace between individuals i.e. harmony or concord.” It’s also where we get our English word eirenic which means “to promote or conciliate peace.” Makes me wonder if one could be an ironic eirenic? While the word “eirene” can mean this kind of peace, it can also refer to the “way that leads to peace”. Famed anti-war activist A.J. Muste once said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
If you were to draw a picture of peace, what would you draw? Anti-war protests? A Palestinian and a Jew having a meal together? People united around the communion table? Could all those be what peace might look like? “Peace is the way.”
So, having said all that, what does this passage say to us now? “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds forever.” What it says to me is that when we allow God’s peace into our hearts and our minds, we will feel some sense of contentment: with ourselves, with others, with the world. Wars may rage, rivers may run, people may kill but God’s peace always provides. It means we should get out of our houses and meet the new neighbors, even though their ways may seem strange and foreign to us. It means we should comfort the crying kid on the street corner even though he smells bad and might try to mug us. It means we should open our homes and our hearts to those who we don’t like. It even means that we are called to love Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson, horrifying as that may seem to some of us! When we do these things, when we embrace the stranger and break bread with the outcast and share our joys with the single mom on welfare, then we have truly understood God’s peace and have begun to fully embody it.
If peace were a person, what would it wear? Where would it live? Would it wear the latest fashions and live in the nicest house in the Hamptons? Or would it wear the rattiest clothes and live in a one bedroom, bug-infested apartment in Harlem? Or perhaps something in between: some Old Navy and J. Crew outfits living in the middle of Oklahoma, perhaps? Maybe all three of these? What kind of car would peace drive? A Hybrid Prius? A beat-up pickup truck? A Ferrari, even?
The answer is: all of the above. Anywhere where people strive to embody the peace of God, the peace that surpasses understanding, there is where peace is. It can happen in the Hamptons or Harlem and even Oklahoma. Peace can and does happen everywhere. That’s the real beauty and the real joy of our lives. And it is worth remembering at all times and in all places. “There is no way to peace. Peace is the Way”. Let’s be the peace. Let’s remember to always live into God’s peace, whatever that may look like. Holding hands with a stranger. Having dinner with your mortal enemy. Promising to watch over and protect a single mother’s new born baby. When you do any or all of these things, you fully embody God’s peace. Peace be with You. Amen!