This Sunday’s Gospel is one I often read at funerals, especially the part where Jesus says to his disciples,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”
I read this wonderful promise and then I attempt to capture in words something of the gift of the one who has died. I hope that the remembering will bring them some measure of peace. And I hope that the gifts which are passed along and which continue to take root in future generations will also bring some peace. However, I am deeply aware that this ‘peace’ the world offers is fleeting, merely pointing to the something more that God has in store for us. And even that less than perfect peace is rare — living as we do in a world which knows little of peace at all.
Indeed, I found I was not all that surprised by the conversation I shared with one of our Middle School teachers last week. We were reflecting on the Boston Marathon Bombing and she said that such news really doesn’t even faze the kids any more. As I stood still in this for a moment I realized that those young people in my confirmation class have all grown up in a post-9/11 world. Terrorist bombs and school shootings have always been part of their ‘news.’
Perhaps my memory is clouded by nostalgia, but I like to think that at least here in this country this was not always the case. Oh, I did not grow up in such a small town that we ever left our doors unlocked, but my dad would attach a key to a plastic cool whip lid and hang it in the garage for those times we would inevitably lock ourselves out. Anyone could have found it there and so yes, it did seem like a safer time. And yet, if I take a closer look, I know it wasn’t as ‘peaceful’ as I like to recall. By the time I was the age of those same confirmation youth, I certainly was aware of heroes having been murdered, of cousins and neighbors dying at war, of families torn apart by mental illness and violence. And yes, by the time I was confirmed in my faith, I also knew what it was to be shaped by a congregation which was at war with itself. Peace, any kind of peace and certainly the sort that Jesus offers now, has always been elusive. And as I’ve thought about what it would be to pursue this peace, I find I can’t say for sure if it’s something that begins inside of us, or between us, or if it lives as some kind of rare synergy of the two.
For a lot of years now I have found myself stepping into congregational settings which have been scarred by the sort of conflict of which no one ever wants to be a part. If I had to venture a guess as to just why that is so, I might say I am called to healing work because I was so shaped by a church fight when I was young. It also could be because such situations are so plentiful. Indeed, one wonders why there is so little peace among those whom Jesus first promised peace. Is it about unrealistic expectations? Is it as a result of a changing world where we don’t quite know our place any more? Is it just that we are so very human and so we should expect that there will be problems among us and between us? Have we brought too much of the world to our way of doing things or not enough? As I said, I’ve followed more than one church conflict as a pastor. I can remember the first time as I began I spent a year studying the consultation reports and asking the questions — trying and trying to figure out ‘what had happened.’ As though my understanding or being able to articulate it would make it better. After a year I simply gave up and moved ahead in ministry. This time through, while mildly curious and certainly wanting to hear people’s perspectives, I knew I’d probably never fully get to that ‘truth,’ whatever it was. I’ve learned finally that in the end, the causes of conflict, of war, of struggle, of pain, are much the same and that assigning fault or reason, though sometimes helpful, still only gets us so far. And in the end it doesn’t take away this truth: As God’s people, we are always called to live in peace and at peace. We are called to be models of and bearers of the peace Jesus gives to his disciples now. For our own sakes. And more than that, for the sake of the world.
And so as I sit with Jesus’ words a while longer now I realize that perhaps this is where it starts. Maybe this peace is not something which begins in me or between you and me. No, Jesus would say this peace begins in God’s heart and is always simply received as a gift from God’s own hand. It is ours to receive, to cultivate, to share, but it is not ours to create.
It seems that among the people I am serving now we are beginning to understand the truth of this. I could not have known this when we began, but late last summer in a conversation at our staff table we were reflecting on a spontaneous blessing I had shared with college students who would soon be heading back to school. One among us commented on how much that meant to her. And as a result we found ourselves planning a ‘Year of Blessings.’ So since September we have blessed all sorts of things and people and circumstances: from labor to veterans, from prayer shawls to school kits, from birthdays to upcoming surgeries, from mission trips to our website to visioning conversations and on and on. Some weeks we have one ‘blessing’ planned and then we wind up with another walking through the door.
And here is what has happened in and through all those blessings. We have seen God at work and we have continued to remember it is God at work that makes it happen: the healing, the hope, the promises come true. It is like God’s peace it seems to me. It is God’s doing, not ours.
And here is what has happened as we have continued to remember and celebrate God’s blessings. I’m told it’s taking longer to share the peace. Somehow as together we have embraced and celebrated God’s gifts week after week, we are also able to see God at work in one another.
Is this peace Jesus offers now something that begins inside of us? Yes. Is it something that is lived out between us? Yes, this must be so as well. Most of all, is it something that comes first from outside us? Yes, it seems this is especially so. Indeed, it seems we do best by beginning there. By paying attention to all of God’s good gifts, by staying alert to what God is already doing, perhaps we also know something of the peace God intends for us even now.
- How do you find yourself thinking about the peace Jesus speaks of now? Does anything in this life compare to it? If so, how is it that we realize it?
- In a world which knows little peace, how is it that we understand what Jesus speaks of now? How is it that we describe this to others?
- It seems to me that simply opening our eyes to how God is working among us and through us might just be a way to experience something of the peace Jesus offers now. What do you think?