Community Christian Church of Marana, Arizona
December 8, 2013
After a very long and boring sermon the parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the preacher. Towards the end of the line was a thoughtful person who always commented on the sermons. “Pastor, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!” The pastor was surprised, as no one had said anything to him up until then. “Thank you. What is it about the sermon that reminded you of the peace and love of God?” “Well – it reminded me of the peace of God because it passed all understanding. And it reminded me of the love of God because it endured forever!”
We’re going to talk about peace today, and hopefully it won’t pass understanding, or endure forever. I looked up images of peace on “google images,” and found some interesting pictures.
Most people have a desire for peace. It’s how to get there that’s the question. I used to work for a non-profit organization called Peace Action that was dedicated to reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons in the world, and reducing the global arms trade. Others take a different point of view on world peace, opting instead for the idea of peace through strength. In either case, many people have a desire to see peace on earth.
There are other ways that we seek peace. We taught a course in our church a number of years ago called “Financial Peace University,” helping people learn to eliminate debt and save for the future, and it was successful in giving several people who took the class tools to be less anxious, more at peace, from a financial point of view.
We want things like world peace, financial peace – and peace in our communities, our families, our schools. We seek it now, and we seek it for the future. Thomas Paine once said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” (Thomas Paine, www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_peace4.html#8gS2kRqC1qWdmASm.99)
Despite a general desire for peace, it seems that we are not very good at peace. All we have to do is take a look around the world. There are dozens of on-going armed conflicts between nations or that are civil wars at any given time. In our nation, a quick view of the news reveals murders, beatings, and other forms of violence everywhere. And not just physical violence, but the pressure of financial instability, anger, and other things that can leave us stressed, upset… less than peaceful.
We certainly have good reason to look outside of ourselves for the lack of peace in our world and in our lives. When bad things happen, it often is someone else’s fault. And we can legitimately blame all sorts of culprits for the woes we are going through. Let’s name a list of culprits: Democrats; Republicans; the media; corporations; labor unions; the cops; the schools; atheists; Muslims. How about things that have happened in our families? We blame others and often our blame is justified.
But the problem of lack of peace in our lives ultimately does not lie outside of ourselves, but within. It’s me. It’s you. You don’t have peace within yourself, and that’s why you don’t have peace. I don’t have peace within myself, and that’s why I don’t have peace. “A man of some wealth overheard a lady remarking, ‘Oh, if I only had fifty dollars I would be perfectly content.’ He thought about that for a few moments. If the lady only had fifty dollars she would be content. He thought to himself, ‘Well, I can help her out.’ So he walked up to her and handed her a fifty dollar bill with his best wishes. She was very overt in her show of gratitude. She really appreciated his gift. As she walked away he heard her mumble under her breath, ‘Why on earth didn’t I say one hundred dollars?’” (King Duncan, sermon, “The God of Peace,” www.sermons.com) It takes a lot to satisfy us, and even when we think we’re going to be satisfied if this or that happens, finally it does happen, and… we find ourselves with the same feelings and attitudes. In so many ways we are not at peace.
We can look around at our families, our churches, our communities, our nations, and our world,, and it’s the same: there is a lack of peace because in individuals, all over the world, there is not peace within.
Paul, the inspired writer of the letter to the Philippians, tells us: 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7; NRSV)
Do any of you worry about something? I do too! But we are told here to not worry about anything! What to do instead? Pray to God, make requests to God, give thanks to God. Give it all to God. Then what? Then, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That’s peace. Do you see? It has nothing to do with what someone is or is not doing to you. It has nothing to do with the Middle East, the stock market, or what you suffered as a child. I know that some of you are saying, “But… but you don’t know my situation… my worries.” I know that some of you are saying that because I do the same thing. That’s our human condition. What I’m telling you, and myself, however, is that God gives us the answer: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Therein lies peace. It’s simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
Now, I want you to hear that this peace is not passive. There is a peace that is really no peace at all. Kenneth Leech writes this: “… there is a false peace which comes not from rootedness in God but from a kind of analgesic spirituality which seeks to remove the pains and conflicts both of the world and of the
heart by dulling the consciousness. Marx correctly identified much religion as the opium of the people: today it would be more correct to see much spirituality as the religious equivalent of… Valium.” (http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Two-Types-Carl-McColman-08-07-2012.html)
In other words, Jesus did not save us so that we might live in a Christian bubble apart from the woes of the world. Jesus saved us so that we might experience peace in the midst of the woes of the world, and share that peace with others.
John McArthur puts it this way: “God can work peace through us only if He has worked peace in us… Those who are in the best of circumstances but without God can never find peace, but those in the worst of circumstances but with God need never lack peace.”
Paul continues in his letter to the Philippians by saying this: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9; NRSV)
As many of you know, Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, passed away a few days ago. He is known primarily for his fight against apartheid, the system in South Africa that formalized segregation of the races, and severe discrimination of the primarily black society by the minority white society. Was Mandela angry and bitter about this discrimination? Yes indeed. And he fought it. Early in his career, his methods to fight apartheid were violent. He wanted to violently disrupt the ruling regime. Then he was sent to prison for several decades; and his time in prison, and his Christian faith, began to change him. Upon his release from prison in 1990, he said this: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Once out of prison, Mandela began working tirelessly not on ending apartheid thru violence, but on ending apartheid through peace, and also to bring healing between people with different skin colors. After he was elected President, 4 years after his release from prison, an event happened that is captured in a movie called “Invictus.” The event was the Rugby World Cup, 1995. The South African team, called the Springboks, had a long history as the nation’s team – but it was a white team – hated by the black majority, who would root against the Springboks whenever they played anyone else. As President, however, Mandela began to lend his support to the Springboks.
In 1995, the Springboks were good… really good. They reached the finals. “When the Springboks reached the finals against New Zealand, it was a heart stopping moment when Mandela walked onto the pitch wearing the green Springbok rugby shirt and cap, and shook the hands of the mostly white team.” South Africa went on to win – they became the world champs – but there was a greater victory. “Barriers spanning decades were melted in an instant when black South Africans watching the game on TV heard the largely white crowd in the stadium shout ‘Nelson’, ‘Nelson’.”
“Pienaar later recalled their exchange of words in that moment as follows: ‘He said to me ‘Thank you for what you have done for South Africa.” I said to him, ”No, …you’ve got it wrong. Thank you for what you’ve done for South Africa.” And I felt like hugging him.’” (http://www.christiantoday.com/article/nelson.mandela.and.his.faith/34956.htm) He didn’t start out this way, but Mandela pursued the path of peace in peaceful ways, and the God of peace was with him.
There will come a day when we have peace. There will be no more tears, pain, suffering, or death. There will be peace in a new heaven and a new earth brought about by the coming of Christ. We can look forward to that day. Until then, may the peace of God guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, so that you can be a person of peace; and may the God of peace be with you now and always.