SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT
I don’t remember much of what my maternal grandmother, Ethel Gray, said in actual words when she was living; but there is a phrase that she used to say that has stuck with me. “Peace in the world begins with you and me,” she said. It’s nothing original but it has had a very great impact upon me. The context of her saying it probably had something to do with a minor war between a brother and myself, of which there were many, but the reason I remember it is because my grandmother was a peaceable woman - quietly strong and peaceful. My brothers and I felt guilty of fighting in her presence - sometimes. As the Hebrew king in Psalm 72 lived under the scrutiny of God, I lived under the scrutiny of my grandmother, and I suppose in some ways still do. As potentially violent people we need constant reminders to exercise peace in our day by day relationships with those around us. And peace we need.
The underlying principle of the Christian gospel is the love of God for all of the world’s people. Is that not what John 3:16 says? Those of us who know that have the responsibility of informing those who don’t know it. For we believe that in knowing God’s love through experiencing the friendship of God’s Son, Jesus, that people can have release of guilt through forgiveness, they can have freedom to use their abilities in accordance to the will of God, they can have a new sense of meaning to their lives, and they can have a feeling of peace and hope.
But, in spite of twenty centuries of Christian preaching, there are still millions of people in this world who live lives of hopelessness: parents who watch their children die of malnutrition, knowing they are next; people who live in constant fear of bombings, torture and enslavement, so have to take a dangerous boat ride across the Mediterranean to begin an equally unknown future; folk who see no expectation for freedom of speech, worship or vote; those who are unemployed with little hope of finding a job; and people who are so poor that they have to scavenge cardboard and tin from a city dump in order to make a house. In this community there are people who live lives of hopelessness because they are slaves of various addictions, fears, materialism, unemployment, physical and mental illness, prejudice, grief, depression, and guilt.
Is this the kind of world our Creator God wants? What then is God going to do about it, we ask? Well, we ask with shame. Those who are Christian should know God’s plan, for God’s plan is us, as we work together with Jesus the Prince of Peace. “Peace in the world begins with you and me,” said Grandma.
And as it says also in the Word of God, in Ephesians 2:13-14: “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility...”
The things that I mentioned a few seconds ago that result in hopelessness for people are hostile obstacles to peace - peace in the world and peace of mind for individuals. These are things that we who have been changed by the blood of Christ must fight against. They are powers in themselves that people cannot seem to contend with in their own power. They are forces of evil that can only be fought with the power of the Spirit of God which has been offered to those who call themselves by the Name of Christ.
We can contend with these powers of darkness and win because we have available to us the kind of power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave and enabled His disciples to preach and act out the gospel with courage and effectiveness. How do we gain access to that power? Through prayer, through knowledge of the Word of God; through faithfulness to the commands of God, and through a closer daily walk with the Son of God, Jesus. When we have that life-giving power where do we begin to exercise it? How do we pursue it? How do we use it to seek peace in our world?
A few minutes ago I read part of Psalm 72. It actually is a prayer that is a challenge to the king, as all petitionary prayer is a challenge to those who utter it. Behind the prayer is the hope that if the king rules with justice and righteousness, the troubles of the poor will cease and the whole of God’s people will prosper. It is the only Royal Psalm that concentrates on the king’s responsibility towards the poor and weak of his kingdom. The king is challenged to rule the people with justice, defend the poor, have pity on the weak and save the children of the needy. Such a kingdom will be refreshing, like rain on the meadow. The results of such rule will be dependent on the constant support of the king in prayer by the people. From the beginning of the Psalm there is an identification of the king’s rule with the justice and the righteousness and the peace of God, who is the ultimate Sovereign. It’s in obeying God, this Psalm is saying, that righteous behavior leads to peace.
During the summer months, here in Canada, our Members of Parliament are on a break from their normal duties in the House of Commons, but this Psalm reminds us to continue to pray for those who rule over us. Whether or not we agree with all of the policies of the Conservative Party of Canada or the Liberal Party of Ontario, I believe that it is our responsibility as citizens to support our leaders in prayer in the hope that they will do all in their power to promote peace and justice in our world, our country, our province, our community. It is true that those who rule over us will often deserve our criticism, but they even more deserve the inspiration and the power of our prayers. “Give our mayor, our Premier, our Prime Minister thy wisdom and justice and desire for peace, O God.” And perhaps through the prayer we will also find the power and inspiration for peace within ourselves and our communities. For whenever our own interest in justice and peace is lost, what then can we expect of our leaders? It is in the prayer that hope lives, and it is in you and I, as well as those who govern us, that Christ our King has chosen to work out its fulfillment in His kingdom of Peace.
There is a non-profit organization called Nation At Prayer, led by one of our Baptist pastors, Rev. Mel Finlay and his wife Susan, and they meet regularly with MPs and MPPs of all parties to encourage them and pray with them. They state on their Website: “We believe that every believer has the potential to transform Canada through the power of the Holy Spirit which is released in every prayer for our leaders and our nation.” End of quote.
So, what makes peace? - reconciliation with God and each other makes peace.
Where is peace? - in our own behaviour: through patience, through the willingness to forgive, through kindness, through companionship, through justice, and through truth, hope, trust and love. And peace will only be found in our world, in our nation, and in our communities as it is found in our homes and churches and personal relationships and individual contentment. This past week we celebrated the 148th birthday of our nation, Canada. I suppose that I am somewhat typically Canadian in that I don’t usually make a big fanfare over Canada Day. I may view a fireworks display in whatever community we are in on that day, along with millions of others in towns and cities across the nation, but generally we Canadians are rather subdued in our expression of national events and holidays and history. Many have tried to pinpoint the reasons for this and the editorialists try to outdo one another in analysing the Canadian psyche, but the only general agreement is that we are very complex.
The word Canada was derived from the Spanish word meaning a dale or glen between two mountains, and was first recorded as Cannaday by Capt. Smith in his book Virginia in 1624. I rather like the image of a peaceful dale between two mountains. The mountain size problems that we face sometimes become overwhelming until we realize that between them is a multi-faceted meadow of beauty and culture and lifestyle and freedom that the United Nations has deemed one of the best place in the world to live. Canada - a nation I love, and can say I am proud of. But what do I value the most about living in this nation? It’s not the medicare system; it’s not the comfortable lifestyle; it’s not the incredible beauty of the land and lakescapes - all very valuable and appreciated in themselves. What I value the most is the freedom - the freedom to choose where I live, who I married (excellent choice!), what I read, and where I go to church. But, though I very much appreciate the tangible aspects of freedom just listed, in many ways freedom is a state of mind.
In his tract on Christian liberty Martin Luther said, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none. A Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone.”
The Apostle Peter was concerned about freedom, even though there wasn’t much of it politically in his day. In I Peter 2:11-17, he says that Christians should honour the Emperor and submit to political authorities in order to maintain order in the community. Mind you, there may be times for the sake of conscience and the continued welfare of others that a Christian should stand up against a corrupt and unjust government in the name of freedom, but such a person must not then use his freedom to engage in evil himself. The Christian is to demonstrate to the world that with freedom goes responsibility. The highest freedom is that which God gives to an individual; and the highest use of freedom is that which demonstrates righteousness and justice and love towards other people.
In chapter 3, Peter quotes Psalm 34, which is a hymn of life for those who long for these things: “Whoever wants to enjoy life and wishes to see good times, must keep from speaking evil and stop telling lies. He must turn away from evil and do good; he must strive for peace with all his heart. Let him speak peace and pursue it.”
True peacemakers are not those who practice only non-resistance to evil, but those who overcome evil with good, and create peace where there is strife, settle quarrels and reconcile enemies. Those who say “Peace, peace” when there is no peace are deceiving themselves. But those who work at making peace are those whom God listens to and helps.
Then in chapter 4:8, Peter goes on to tell us how to live according to the will of God and to prepare ourselves for the return of Christ. “Above all,” he says, “hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.” It is the Greek word agape that Peter uses here: unselfish love, giving love, God’s love. As someone has said, “Christianity is caring; most of all, it is caring.” Such love covers a multitude of sins. Caring love overlooks the faults of others and enables us to live with them, work with them, help them and enjoy them. The source of such love is Christ, who loved the unlovely, and covers our sins too. Under such love forgiveness takes place, past sins are forgotten, sinful tendencies are put aside, and guilt is blotted out by the forgiving and healing power of God.
For the individual Christian this love shows itself through the practice of kindness and through being good stewards of the things that God has given us through Christ’s love. Whether we are sharing our faith with another, helping those in need, serving through a church committee, giving support to a broken family, or sharing our abundance through charitable gifts, we are to regard ourselves as good stewards under God’s direction and acting through God’s strength. And then Peter adds that the purpose of our service to others is “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” It is in keeping this purpose in mind that prevents us from exercising our abilities selfishly or with pride, and allows others to accept our help with dignity.
As we in the church continue to serve Christ faithfully I can think of no greater challenge for us than to be reconcilers and peacemakers - to introduce the people of our community, who do not know Him, to the Prince of Peace, and to demonstrate that we know Him by dispensing His love and justice and peace to all with whom we come in contact.
“Peace in the world begins with you and me.” It must be right, my grandmother said it.