This week we turn our attention to something that everybody talks about and few have really known...peace. From the suicidal who can find no inner peace, to war-torn places like Afghanistan and the Middle East, to courtrooms across our nation, we see the lack of peace everywhere we turn. We keep talking about it. We create peacekeeping forces, give peace prizes, say that blessed are the peacemakers...and yet real peace seems as elusive as ever. What do we do? How do we find peace...peace in ourselves, peace in our relationships, peace in our world?
The Bible talks a lot about peace, and in this season we celebrate the coming of Jesus with the title Prince of Peace. Jesus is the revelation of God, so if Jesus is the Prince of Peace then peace is part of the revelation of who God is. Since God is love, we are back to looking at how peace is a form of love. While last week I defined hope as "trusting in love," I define peace as "resting in love." Peace is a state of rest, but it is much more than rest. It is more than the absence of activity or work, and it is certainly more than the absence of conflict. In fact, we can have peace in the midst of work and even in the midst of conflict.
Let's look at that a little more closely, because like with hope, we have come to use the word peace when it is not really appropriate. If Arafat suddenly finds a way to stop suicide bombings and Sharon manages to stop his own brand of terror against Palestinians, the sudden cessation of bombs and missiles does not mean there is peace. Peace is not the absence of war. Just because your spouse has stopped yelling and the children have gone to their rooms, does not mean there is peace in the house. And just because you have a good job and there is nothing tangible in your outer life to complain about, it doesn't mean there is peace in your soul. There is more to peace than that.
Peace is not just a break from war, rest from argument, or a period of silence and quiet. Peace is a state of soul-rest, knowing that love is in and with you. Sitting quietly in a room where you can cut the tension with a knife is not peace. It is only peace when you feel love flowing out from you and coming back to you. That is why almost everywhere you look, talk of peace has become inseparable from talk of justice.
Justice, you see, is also a form of love. Justice is love in the face of conflict, and it is only when you have lovingly addressed the conflict that you can bask in the loving rest that we know as peace. Portions of the Arab world were not just suddenly at war with us on Sept. 11. Whether actively harming us or not, there has been no peace...probably for centuries....because they do not feel that we have treated them justly. We have not worked through our conflicts with love, and therefore there has been no peace.
This week I searched through my Bible for every passage about peace. In almost every case, it was tied to justice, obedience, and righteousness before God. In the law, in the prophets, in the words of Jesus, peace begins with obedience to God's laws, because God's laws are founded in love. The passage in John where Jesus promises peace first gives the reminder that to love God means to obey God. When Jesus told us to love our enemies, he was not trying to make our lives impossibly difficult. He was trying to give us peace. The way to peace is paved with justice, and justice is merely the way that we express love in a situation of conflict.
I could quote you lots of inspiring sayings about peace. We could talk about the lion lying down with the lamb, the new heaven and new earth, and immerse ourselves in peaceful images that would take us, for a time, away from the stressful reality of our lives.. You would go out of here feeling good, but by tomorrow...if not by the time you get in the car....life would be back to its non-peaceful, anxious state. So instead of just talking about peace, I want to focus on how we get there...how we find it when we have none...and how to help others do the same.
The theory is as simple as it could be. Jesus sums it up in what we have come to call the Great Commandment, although Jesus is merely quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures. He says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." It is fun and enlightening to delve into all the mysteries of faith and religion, but all you ever need to know to have life abundant and life everlasting is right there. Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself. The message itself is not hard, and it is not complicated. It is the application of the message that takes all the courage and heart we can muster.
If you do not have peace in your life, I'm willing to bet that one of the pieces of that three- part formula is out of place. If you do not have peace because you are worried about your future,it might be the "love God" piece that is out of balance. That's what last week was about...trusting in the love of God. Hope. Your future may or may not bring the things on your wish list. Remember hope doesn't mean optimism...it doesn't mean we always get what we want. It means that the love of God will never leave us. God's love will be part of our future, no matter what.
Yesterday I did a funeral for a 91-year-old woman I had met only days before on her deathbed. The grief in the room during the funeral was just about as deep as grief can go, as each member of Ruth Hjortland's family wrestled with the unique way in which they had lost someone immeasurably special to them. But there, even in the midst of grief that was felt at everyone's core, there was an overwhelming sense of peace. You could feel it in every part of the room.
Nobody wanted Ruth to die, that had not been either their wish or their prayer. But when the day came, there was love that went just as deep as the grief. They loved Ruth, they loved each other, and they loved God. Even death could not separate them from the love of God. You can have peace and grief at the same time. I saw it in full force yesterday, and I have felt it myself the night my father died. To feel peace about the future, learn to love God more. When God is the most important thing in your life, you need never worry that the most important thing will be taken away.
If you do not have peace with others, look for ways to treat them with love. You do not have to have warm, mushy feelings for someone in order to love them. Love is an action verb. You can still perform a kind act, even when your feelings are not in it. When you do that...when you act in love, no matter if you feel it or not...you are making the way for peace. Do not wait for them to show love first. That's what Jesus' example was all about. While we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us. If God had waited for us to be loving ourselves before showing love to us, we would not have Christmas to celebrate in a few weeks. God would still be waiting. The example of Christ is that we should be the first. We should do unto others as we would have them do to us...don't revert back to an eye for an eye. We have been shown a better way.
I'm not saying this is easy. I'm saying this is the way to peace. Do what is fair and just when you deal with others...even if the technicalities of the law say you don't have to. Now, that is not a guarantee that the other person or group is going to respond in kind. They may repay your justice with injustice. They may repay your love with hate. When that happens, peace may not be possible between you.
Jesus recognized that, and he told his disciples that when they brought peace to someone and that peace was not returned to them, they should shake the dust off their sandals and move on. There are times when we have to remove ourselves from a situation. But, even if we are leaving, we are never allowed to act unlovingly or unjustly. We give our love, we treat others fairly, and if it is not returned in peace, we leave in peace...not with a parting shot.
Not many of you know that I was married a second time. Less than 24 hours into the marriage, abuse began and the signs of mental illness showed themselves. By the end of seven months, even his counselor told me that for my own safety, I had to leave. My peace was offered, but it was not received. I could not feel the emotion of love for him, as I went through the turmoil of getting a legal annulment and explaining the situation to my family and the church I was serving. But I did my best to act fairly...loving him by offering justice and loving myself by removing myself from harm. We may not always be able to have peace with others, but if we have followed the law of God's love in our dealings with others, we will have peace within, no matter what the outcome might be.
Lastly, if all around us is calm and yet when we find ourselves alone we do not feel at peace, it may be the third part of the formula that has failed us. We might love God well and never fail in our acts of kindness toward others, but we might never have really learned to love ourselves. Love of self is not some egotistical psychosis. Love of self is not disregard of others. To truly love ourselves is simply to see ourselves as God sees us...beautiful, capable of every good work, and bearing the image of God. To love ourselves is to love God's creation.
We might not love some of the things that have moved into our lives. We may not love some of our habits or behaviors or attitudes. And that's good. When I hate the bigotry within myself, I am recognizing that I was created for something better. When I am angry with the way I allow bad habits to take over my life, I am realizing that my real nature is to do better things. Love of self does not mean we can't see our flaws, it merely means we can see and love the person underneath those flaws and failings. We can see the image of God in ourselves and love the person we were created to be. When we love ourselves in that way, we become free to tell the things within us that don't belong there to take a hike. They are imposters...not the real us. When we love ourselves we are free to be truly ourselves, and then we can find peace.
All of these things can, of course, be broadened to a larger scale. To have peace with the earth, we must love the earth...woodchucks included. To have peace between nations we must not only seek our own good, but also the good of others. For there to be peace in the Middle East, Jews must begin to seek the good of Palestinians and Palestinians must substitute acts of love for acts of terror. As Americans we must realize that we will not eliminate terror by out-terrorizing the terrorists. If we catch Osama bin Laden mere retribution rather than true justice, there will never be peace. He, too, was born stamped with the image of God.
Peace has a corporate as well as an individual dimension, but I have focused more on our peace as individuals, because that is where it begins. Without peace in myself, there cannot be peace in my home. Without peace in my home, there cannot be peace in the city, and there is no peace on earth as long as even one single person remains without it. Without peace in Afghanistan, there is no real peace for us. There is an African greeting where one person asks, "Did you sleep well last night?" The response is, "I did if you did." When a family sleeps together, a fitful night for one means a fitful night for all. When a world lives together, the lack of peace for one means the lack of peace for all.
Jesus says the peace that he gives is not the same as the peace the world gives. The world calls it peace when nobody is dropping bombs. Jesus calls it peace when the world is full of God's love. We can't create that by ourselves...that's what Christmas is about. God gave love to the world...gave himself, so on that night there was peace on earth. Peace was born on earth on Christmas. It is our job to help it grow.
©2001 Anne Robertson
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