Saturday, May 8, 2010

My peace I give to you

Acts 16:9-15; John 14:23-29
In John’s Gospel, five chapters, Chapters 13-17, are devoted to Jesus’ last supper with the disciples. We read bits and pieces of it on Sundays, so it’s easy to lose the full sense of what’s going on. Jesus is preparing the disciples to carry on in ministry without his physical presence. Over and over again, he says he is the Father, and the Father is he. They are one and the same being. And Jesus assures the disciples that he will send his own spirit to be with them, to remind them of everything he has taught them.
Over and over again, the disciples tell Jesus they don’t understand. And Jesus patiently tries different ways to explain himself. For today, I want to look at Jesus’ promise to send peace. MY peace, he says. Not the Pax Romana peace of the world, but MY peace. God’s peace. Total wholeness and wellness everywhere peace. Shalom peace.
The Pax Romana used laws and military occupation to force peace. The Pax Romana is what killed Jesus – because he disrupted the peace.
In the US, we’ve had some plans for peace, too, over the centuries of our history. There was the Monroe Doctrine which protected the Americas from further European colonization. There were the treaties that ended the Second World War. There was the Cold War, essentially a stand-off which worked only because of the increasing power of major nations to blow up the world thousands of times over. This peace worked so well it threatened to expand into outer space with the Star Wars program. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
The failure of each of these plans for peace is that they depend on human power. Sinful, human power.  In short, based on fulfilling human needs, they don’t work. There will always be those who ignore the treaty, those who look for loop-holes, those who seek to undermine and benefit from the provisions of the treaty.
Jesus’ peace, God’s peace is very different. God’s peace is the Hebrew concept of shalom. It’s peace for all of creation, where each part of creation has the space to be what God created it to be. In shalom peace, every person on earth has enough water, enough food, enough land to be who God created him or her to be. No one has more than they need, nor less than they need. In shalom peace, each person knows God loves her or him, and loves each other the way God loves each person. There is grace, forgiveness, for all people.
The earth is respected as part of creation, too. People live where the water is naturally, and not too far from it. People manufacture what they need in ways that don’t abuse the land or water or air around them, or destroy it for others who also need it. The animals live in natural balance with each other, and in interaction with the land and vegetation of their part of the earth.
This concept of peace is very different for us. We all think we need more than we have, no matter how much we already have. We all tend to judge others as better, or worse, than ourselves. We all tend to view some as more worthy of God’s love, and our love and respect, than others. God’s shalom peace puts God’s plans and purposes first, and individual human needs and wants second, or tenth, or hundredth.
In life, God’s shalom peace can be hard to come by. But we get glimpses of it. In our first reading, Paul and some others respond to a request sent through a vision. “Come to Macedonia and help us.” They went, along a detailed route, and went looking for a synagogue on the sabbath day. Because of persecution, Jews in that time and place often gathered for worship outside the city limits.
At the river’s edge, they met Lydia, a woman who makes purple dye and sells purple cloth. It could be she’s on the river bank because she is harvesting the mollusks that make the dye, or producing the dye, or dying the cloth. All of these activities require water. It could also be that she is doing her laundry with the other women. Or, it could be that she is sitting on the fringe of the Jewish community. The text calls her a worshiper of God, so she could be a convert to Judaism, but as a woman she is outside the men’s worship space with all the other women. In that case, Paul addresses several Jewish women.
Paul shared with these women about Jesus. The more they heard, the more they wanted to hear. The Spirit opened Lydia’s heart and she and her household were baptized. She also offered her home as a base of operations for Paul and the others. The shalom peace these women found in Paul’s speaking and the Spirit’s moving gave them a reason to believe in Jesus.
Shalom peace can be found when we do anything we can to end violence, abuse, and neglect of children. Shalom peace can be found when we work together to build and staff Children’s Covenant Home, as we are doing today. Children’s Covenant Home is a place for children with no other place to go, a safe place, a loving place.
Other ways we get glimpses of God’s shalom peace are in our own human families. While not every day and every moment is peaceful and shalom-filled, there are moments. Think about a mother nursing her infant; a grandma cuddling a child; a grandpa reading a story; a father teaching his children how something works. Shalom peace is present at family gatherings for weddings, birthdays, baptisms, even funerals. The bonds that connect us one to another are strong, and those bonds are the working of the Holy Spirit.
Congregations are like families. Sometimes, we have to work harder than other times to find God’s shalom peace, but it can be found. In the middle of our worship service, we pause, and share the peace with each other. Some people think this is an odd thing to do, and an even more odd time in which to do it. Some of us greet people with a wish for Christ’s peace. Others say good morning. Still others use the opportunity to say, “Call me.” Or, “Let’s do lunch.” J
The sharing of the peace is where it is in the service for a reason. When we come to worship with anger in our heart, or a feeling of hurt caused by someone in the congregation, it takes away from the gift of love and forgiveness offered in the Meal, in the Body and Blood of Jesus.
So, church tradition has scheduled this sharing of the peace to give us an opportunity to make peace between ourselves so we can really and truly receive God’s peace, God’s shalom. I encourage you to take seriously the opportunity and the calling to seek peace. It may take longer than the brief time we have in the service, but then again, maybe not.
Shalom peace can be found in congregations and the communities in which they exist when the focus is on the ministries the congregation is called by God to do. It is found when the hungry are fed, when the naked are clothed, when the homeless have shelter, when the sick are visited, and when there is justice for all. Shalom peace is found when all have access to good government, health care, and safety. Perhaps it is even found in providing diapers for children whose parents are struggling to feed them.
Please pray with me. Gracious God, giver of peace, fill us with your peace. Help us to spread around your gift of shalom so all may know its healing power. Amen