23 July 2000
He is our Peace
From Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 14: "For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." "For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."
Paul, of course, was talking about the long-standing hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles; for him, one of the many things that had happened at the Cross was that the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile had been broken down. And by implication, I suppose, we should be able to say that all the dividing walls between tribes, between nations, between races, between ethnic groups, has been broken down.
Oh dear! What, I wonder, has gone wrong?
Actually, of course, what has gone wrong is that we haven't let Jesus do it. We have - I don't mean Christians, necessarily, but, sadly, Christians too - we have insisted on keeping barriers between people, even where our dear Lord will see none. The Jews were allowed no contact at all with the Gentiles, for fear of being unclean, and that, of course, was swept away, although with some difficulty, if some of Paul's letters are to be believed. But what of the barriers that remain?
2. He is our Peace
So what does "He is our peace" mean, anyway? We think of peace mainly in terms of the absence of war, but I think in Christian terms there is much more to it than that. The Greek word, that Paul uses, is "Eirene", and the Hebrew word is "Shalom".
Shalom is much more than just the absence of strife, although it does mean that. But it also means completeness, soundness, well-being. Heartpeace, if you like. It may even mean material prosperity or physical safety, or spiritual well-being. This peace comes only as God's gift, and it is what people prayed for one another, and what they still wish one another in Israel today. It's a great shame that if we do it in English it is apt to sound as if you were a refugee from the 1960s: "Peace, man!" Although, come to think of it, we do wish one other God's peace every time we make our Communion.
God's gift of peace. Jesus is our peace. And yet we rush round in ever-decreasing circles like the proverbial bird, and end up in the same place, as often as not! We always have to be busy. We aren't able to "let the love of God enfold us", and to experience his peace.
Did you notice in the Gospel reading that the first thing Jesus says to his disciples is "Come and rest!" They had just got back from going round the countryside preaching and teaching, and he wants to debrief them, but when he's done that, it's "Come and rest!" Jesus knows just how important it is to rest, to refuel after a hard slog of work. Being tired isn't necessarily a sign that you are a spiritual Christian! The disciples don't get a chance to rest and eat at this stage, but that's beside the point. The point is, Jesus wants them to have peace, and they won't have it unless they stop racing round like demented hens and go somewhere quiet for rest and refreshment.
And prayer, too, of course. So often, in the Gospels, you see Jesus going off by himself to pray - not that the crowds always let him, of course, so you find him getting up really early to go off before anybody else is up. He needs that time alone with God to recharge his batteries, too.
And we also need, as Jesus did not, God's forgiveness, if we are to know God's peace. We know that we need forgiveness, but it's often not very easy to know that forgiveness in a real way. Remember Jesus' story of the two sons? The prodigal comes home, expecting a really chilly reception, and quite willing to be one of the servants - but instead his father throws a massive party for him, and welcomes him home with real joy.
But, of course, the son had to accept that. He could easily have refused to accept that his Father had forgiven him, and insisted on living like a servant, doing all the dirtiest jobs, refusing to believe that he could be reinstated to his rightful place as the son of the house. He wouldn't have been accepting the forgiveness he was offered. He would have been settling for something less.
Well, that's not what the Bible said he did. We aren't told, either, whether, after the party he went walking on eggs for a while, being terribly careful not to offend anyone, working his socks off to try to prove he was sorry. I reckon that's what I would have done, don't you? I would have found it very difficult to forgive myself - and if you can't forgive yourself, and you can't believe that God's forgiveness is real and total - the two are linked, by the way - then you can't know His peace.
If you're always trying to prove you're really sorry, where's the peace in that?
Moreover, I don't think the disapproving elder brother would have known much peace unless and until he could have brought himself to welcome his brother back as a brother.
And in the same way, we need to forgive people who have hurt us. Jesus is our peace, who has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. So we need to forgive others, just as we have been forgiven. And we need to forgive ourselves. We can, because of what Jesus has done.
But it isn't always easy, of course. We have to choose. We have to choose to receive God's forgiveness; we have to choose to forgive those who have hurt us, and we have to choose to forvgive ourselves.
It isn't easy, but if we tell God we have made that choice, we will find it possible.
Sometimes it helps to have a witness - a friend you can trust, or a minister, or an elder of some kind - to that sort of prayer. Someone who will pray with you and remind you that God has forgiven you, and who can be trusted not to go and tell everybody else! Because it's only through forgiving ourselves and forgiving others that God's forgiveness becomes a reality to us. And it's only when God's forgiveness is a reality that we begin to know his peace.
4. We Need to Trust
Jesus is our peace. But we cannot know that peace unless and until we can learn to trust him. And that is the most difficult thing of all!
Years ago, there used to be a wayside pulpit outside St Leonard's Church in Streatham, and for quite a long time they had a poster up outside it that said "Why pray when you can worry?" Think about it a minute - "Why pray, when you can worry?"
And, of course, we do tend to worry about things. And in one sense, of course, that is quite right; we do often need to be proactive about things. If we are fundraising for a special project, for instance, we will certainly pray about it, but we won't expect to find five pound notes tucked in among our socks next time we open the underwear drawer! At least, not unless we had put them there and forgotten about them! I won't say God couldn't put them there - of course He could, since when was anything impossible with God? - but it's not very probable! God tends to work through us, and money, if it is to be raised, is raised through our own efforts.
But the point is we haven't got to worry about it! We trust God that the money will come in, and get on and enjoy the jumble sale, or whatever we have decided to do. And we experience God's peace.
Similarly, as some of you know Robert and I very much enjoy ice dancing, and we have just begun to compete as a couple. I don't know about him, but I often pray before a competition - usually that I won't make quite such a fool of myself as I usually do! But the point is, I still need to practice and practice, if I am ever to be any good, even at the most basic of levels. I can trust God, but I also need to practice.
Who was it said you need to pray as if prayer is the only thing that works, and work as if work is the only thing that works? I can't remember, but it's a good maxim. But the point is, pray all you like, and work all you like, but DON'T WORRY! Worrying is not trusting God. Remember what Jesus pointed out: you can't make yourself grow one inch by worrying about it! And God who clothes the lilies of the field and the sparrows and so on will surely take care of us, too, if we but trust him.
So, then, if we are to know God's peace, we need to make sure we get sufficient rest, and time to pray - not only physical rest, I think, but time to enjoy hobbies, and to generally have some fun. We need to experience God's forgiveness as a reality in our lives, and we need to learn to trust God and not worry.
And then, I think, gradually we will learn to know the reality of Jesus being our peace, of Jesus breaking down the barriers between us and other people. We, as individuals, may not be able to do much about world peace - but if we can all bring peace to our own communities, our own churches, even our own families; if we can do that - then who knows what God cannot do?
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