When Peace is Not Desirable
Most of us want peace, peace of mind. The American public spends a fortune, even more than the Pennsylvania lottery, trying to find peace. We buy drugs, drink liquor, fill our lives with comfort and gadgets, go to counselors, practice Eastern meditation, go on spiritual retreats, practice prayer, trying to find peace.
Most of us desire peace; but, what right do we have to ask for peace? We who are disciples of Jesus Christ, what right do we have to peace?
Is it right to want peace of mind and harmony when probably not too many doors from your house, a child is being abused, mercilessly whipped and/or sexually abused?
What right do you have to peace of mind when youths are blowing their minds on drugs,
when violent crime is increasing in order to fund drugs,
when guys grab assault weapons and gun down little children,
when thousands of people live on the streets of "civilized" U. S. A.,
when the government puts mentally ill people out of hospitals onto the streets to fend for themselves,
when wealthy white males are given preference for heart/lung transplants over women, minorities and the poor,
when American children are rapidly joining the ranks of the malnourished and poorly educated.
In such a world, what right do we have to peace? What right do we have to seek a way to escape from the problems and hurts of people, to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over our heads, and ask God to give us peace of mind?
No wonder Jesus said, "Hey, don't expect peace from me. I give you division, disruption, challenge, discomfort." In the lesson read this morning, Jesus said, Luke 12: 49, 50-53
I came to send fire on the earth...Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.
For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
How much peace of mind did Jesus experience? He wept for people. He anguished. He sorrowed. He suffered. He bled. He died. Did Jesus seek peace?
What is peace? If I asked you to define peace, probably you would say something like, "peace is the absence of war or conflict." Or, some might define peace as harmony, the lack of disturbance and disruption; harmony between countries, harmony in families, harmony within a person.
The absence of conflict, and harmony between persons are not always desirable. Such peace is not necessarily desirable. I've known families who live in harmony with each other. There are no disagreements, arguments, fights or squabbles. But, the peace is only superficial. The harmony is maintained by one member of the family dominating the rest. Underneath the surface, there are resentments, bitterness, anger, and the desire for revenge. Children in such families eventually explode or turn in on themselves and withdraw.
Defining peace as harmony and the absence of conflict is Greek rather than biblical. The ancient Greeks looked at life quite differently from the Hebrews. To a Greek, life is static; it can be looked at, analyzed, examined, and categorized like a recipe for fruitcake. Peace, in the Greek view, is harmony between two static beings.
But, to the Bible Hebrews, life is dynamic. Life is going somewhere. It is in process. It is moving. It is alive. The Greeks asked, "Is there a God? What started everything? What is the basic element out of which everything came?" The Hebrew couldn't care less about such inanimate, philosophical, theoretical questions. The Hebrews never asked such questions because they were too busy living. They did not ask if God existed. "Such a dumb question," they would retort. "We're too busy trying to get along with God to ask if God exists!"
The ancient Greeks believed that a religious person withdrew from the world to free the soul from its prison in the body. A religious person denies the body, subjugates the body, in order to free the soul to relate with God.
The Bible, however, does not teach withdrawal to find God, but engagement; engagement with life, not withdrawal. The Bible does not differentiate between body and soul. The body with all its appetites--sexual and food--and life with all its sin and problems are the arenas for engagement, for relationship with God.
Peace in the biblical tradition is much more than static harmony, or lack of conflict, or denying the body to free the soul. The Hebrew word is "shalom". May God grant you health, children, fulfilled dreams, the chance to find prosperity without hindrances or obstacles, joy, wholeness, fulfillment, completion.
And such shalom--peace--is contingent upon certain other things occurring. Peace in itself is not desirable, nor is it attainable in and of itself. Peace is not isolated. The prophet Isaiah preached, Isaiah 32:14-18:
For the palace will be forsaken, the populous city deserted;
the hill and the watchtower will become dens for ever,
a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks;
until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever.
Isaiah says there can be no peace until God pours out his spirit. There can be no peace until there is justice and righteousness. The wholeness and fulfillment the Bible calls peace includes the struggle for justice and righteousness. That's why Jesus used words and images like confrontation, discomfort, disruption.
A major theme of the Bible is that a good life involves sacrifice and struggle. We who follow in the footsteps of the Greeks like to think that life is happy when there is harmony, when there is absence of conflict, peace at all costs. But, such peace is not desirable. The ancient Hebrews saw that life is always in conflict, always dynamic, always in the process of change and struggle. The Bible says that struggle is essential to a happy, victorious, peaceful life. A peaceful life is achieved through struggle. There is no peace without struggle: struggling with yourself and struggling with the world for righteousness and justice.
It requires struggle to live a good life. Anyone who denies there is struggle has never tried to live according to Jesus. It's the coward who gives in and goes along with the crowd. Brave is the person who dares to be different; who has standards higher than those around, and who seriously tries to improve the quality of life. Such people will undergo criticism, ridicule and even persecution. Such people will rarely experience harmony or the absence of conflict; but such a struggler will experience the peace of Christ. Christ's peace involves struggle. That is why Jesus said, "Blessed, happy are you who hunger and thirst, who struggle, for righteousness. Blessed, happy, are those who mourn, who grieve for the world. Blessed, happy are you who are persecuted for my sake."
Jesus knew that seeking the world's peace, trying to withdraw from the problems and injustices of life, is not only undesirable, but evil. Jesus brings disruption. Do you dare to stand up for the child who is being abused? Do you dare to challenge our elected officials to address the problem of providing housing for the homeless, and care for the mentally ill and drug addicted? Do you dare take on city hall or the school board on behalf of people who are being hurt? Do you dare tackle your own shortcomings?
We sang a great hymn before the sermon. The tune was familiar, but the words are new to the hymnal. T. Herbert O'Driscoll's last stanza sounds the theme of this sermon,
In the maelstrom of the nations,
in the journeying into space,
in the clash of generations,
in the hungering for grace,
in our agony and glory,
we are called to newer ways
by the Lord of our tomorrows
and the God of earth's todays.
Isaiah preached, "Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever. As you engage in struggle, you will find the peace, the shalom of Christ.
Therefore, struggle for justice and righteousness, and God will give you the Holy Spirit and peace. Or, it may work the other way. As you pray and open yourself to the Holy Spirit, God may pour out his spirit on you and lead you into the struggle for justice and righteousness; then you will experience peace. It is circular. I see the process as circular, rather than linear. Rather than spirit--justice--peace in a straight line, it is circular. As God pours his spirit upon you, and you engage in the struggle for justice and righteousness, you will experience peace. Or, as you engage in the struggle for justice and righteousness, God will pour his spirit upon you and you will experience peace.
The closing hymn this morning is "Onward, Christian Soldiers." It almost did not make the hymnal because of its militaristic flavor, but popular outcry changed the Hymnal Committee's mind. The compromise is the insertion of the second stanza to clarify that the battle Christians are engaged in is with Satan and the hosts of evil. It's a great hymn, reminding us that we are indeed engaged in struggle. To seek peace without struggling for justice and righteousness on behalf of all people is not only undesirable, it is evil. Shalom is God's gift to all who engage the world in struggle, with the cross of Jesus going on before.
Have you been guilty of evasion? Seeking your own peace of mind, rather than engage in the struggle? What is God calling you to fight--in yourself, family, neighborhood, or social problem?
© 1989 Douglas I. Norris