12/08/2019: Peace, from the Beginning
December 8, 2019
A Sermon by Reverend Gretchen Jones Switzer
Peace, From The Beginning
I rarely enjoy writing my sermon for the Advent Sunday of Peace. Not because I don’t believe in peace, but maybe because I am so completely attached to the idea of peace.
For many generations, we pastors took this opportunity to address the political-worldly aspects of peace: International relationships, politics, anti-war/anti-violence messages that are easy to go by in the gospel.
In recent years, my mind has been on where violence and war begin, and whether we like it or not, it begins with you and me! Perhaps that is why so much of what Jesus teaches us is about our relationships with other human beings – sometimes family, sometimes friends, sometimes in our communities, like towns and churches.
Many of you inquired last week about how my Thanksgiving was, and my response was “Pretty good, lots of food and lots of family drama.” And nearly everyone I said that to seemed to know exactly what I meant because they have had similar experiences.
So, do violence and war begin with our military might or our political leaders? I don’t think it is either one. Politics can certainly make conflict bigger and more profound, but the fighting and the broken relationships begin with us, in our homes, and our offices and our relationships, as well as in our communities, our churches, and our towns. It seems to me that many of us live lives that are marked by unkindness, impatience and intolerance. Nearly everybody I know “hates” something: we hate other races; we’re offended by people with varying sexual preferences. Democrats can’t tolerate Republicans and Republicans can’t stand Democrats. Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters see nothing at all wrong with being intolerant of those with whom they disagree, and because of that, we have stopped listening to each other, stopped having civil conversation from which we could both learn a lot!
The violence we see in the world begins in our kitchens, and our living rooms, with our inability to disagree and still be civil and respectful and compassionate with one another.
Perhaps the Peanuts cartoon said it best: Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “I hate everything. I hate everybody! I hate the whole wide world!!! Charlie says, “But I thought you had inner peace.” Lucy replies, “I do have inner peace, but I still have outer obnoxiousness!”
We claim to be at peace within ourselves and yet our lives are still often guided by anger, resentment, and negativity. Jesus knew this – his own family was kind of a mess, too, and Paul understood. Although we know nothing about his family, we do recognize understanding in his letter to the church community in Rome: “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor…May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant that you live in harmony with one another.”
God asks us to live in harmony with each other, so we often try to be polite and kind and respectful out in public (candidly, many of us don’t even succeed at that). However, when we get home with those closest to us, we can become selfish and start tearing one another down instead of building each other up. We are irritated with our children, angry with our spouse, downright nasty with brothers and sisters, parents and friends. If we cannot find peace with those we love, how will we ever be part of creating peace in the world? If we are perpetuating anger and hostility in our personal lives, how can we ever be part of building peace and harmony in this country, and on the earth as a whole, including the Church? Christ asks us to love one another. He never said it would be easy, but He does say our willingness to love one another and treat one another with patience and tolerance and respect, will enhance our lives and will build peace in all of God’s creation. You and I have the power to build peace in all of God’s creation!
When John the Baptist proclaims the coming of the Messiah, he describes all that Christ’s love will do for us. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the leopards shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, the lion shall eat straw like an ox. They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
I don’t know about you, but I want to be part of this new world order Isaiah predicts. I long for the peace he envisions. But I also know that in order to get there, I need to learn how to live kindlier and more lovingly, and with deep, deep compassion and understanding of, and caring for other human beings. It’s that simple! And it’s that hard, and that is where world peace begins and finds its root!
A Biblical commentator says it this way: “Can there be peace on earth? Yes. There is a peace that Christ offers…but it’s one that is far different from anything the world has to offer…and for that matter, for them to understand. What is the peace that Jesus gives?
Well, it’s not a cabin in the mountains or a peaceful little cottage by the ocean way from all the troubles and problems of the world.”
True peace is the internal, soulful knowledge that we are not alone, and that God stands with us in any and every challenging or seemingly impossible situation. That we stand with each other no matter what!
This is God’s everlasting promise of peace. Amen.