Peace

What does the word peace mean to you? Does it include a personal perspective of your spiritual and emotional well-being? Is it an image of a family sitting around a dining table enjoying a meal together without any arguing or hard feelings? Does it indicate a global environment where countries are not at war with each other? I think it is all of that and much more.

When Jesus left this earth, he said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace be with you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus reminds us that he desires us to have a peace that can come only from a relationship with him. And his peace passes all understanding.

Do you have that kind of peace?

In the 22nd Psalm, we are encouraged to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. If you know the history of the Middle East, you can appreciate what a big ask that is. The psalmist is on a pilgrimage to the spiritual center of his religion and his heart, and his hope are focused on finding that Jerusalem can be a place of peace in the troubled world of conquests and kingdoms. He is excited to go to the temple to worship, and proud of its fortifications and strength:

Psalm 122 (Common English Bible)

 I rejoiced with those who said to me,
    “Let’s go to the Lord’s house!”
Now our feet are standing
    in your gates, Jerusalem!

Jerusalem is built like a city
    joined together in unity.
That is where the tribes go up—
    the Lord’s tribes!
It is the law for Israel
    to give thanks there to the Lord’s name,
    because the thrones of justice are there—
    the thrones of the house of David!

The halls of justice were located in Jerusalem, as the Hebrew Law made its home within its walls. The people went to this beautiful city on the hill as the law required to pay their alms and tithes at the temple and revel in its beauty. It was a spiritual and emotional home for them.

Pray that Jerusalem has peace:
    “Let those who love you have rest.
    Let there be peace on your walls;
    let there be rest on your fortifications.”

We might take a cue from this and pray for peace in our spiritual homes as well. Do you pray for your church? For your denomination? Is there peace in your pews, or does dissension live there? A pastor friend once said that church was like visiting the sausage factory … everybody loves to eat sausage, but you might not want to know what goes in it. Ever feel that way?

If that resonates with you today, take heart. Every institution made of people is bound to have conflict, differences of opinion, and the occasional (frequent) unpeaceful moment. But never mind all that. Where God is present is the only place to be. We are called to make the pilgrimage despite its flaws. Just remember to pray for peace and never cease to pray for your church’s good.

For the sake of my family and friends,
    I say, “Peace be with you, Jerusalem.”
For the sake of the Lord our God’s house
    I will pray for your good.

Let There Be Peace on Earth by Michelle Robertson

Peace Be

There is a classic Dionne Warwick song that says “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” This is biblical. This will preach. This is a timeless reminder that God is love, and the world needs him now more that ever. Fight me on this.

But I also contend that what the world needs now is peace. Peace is a by-product of love, of course, and so it follows that if we have love, we can find peace. But warring countries can agree to peace without loving each other. Warring spouses can find peace when love is thin. Warring siblings can set aside ego and unmet needs in the name of peace. You can have peace without love, because peace is a choice. It’s an attitude. It’s a relinquishing of self for a greater good.

Now we are going to talk about a well-known and well-loved passage without focusing on the person in the story. This borders on the blasphemous, but hang in there with me. This is the story of ”doubting Thomas” and he deserves the spotlight.

But today, I want us to focus on what Jesus says…three times. Once to introduce the idea, the second for repetition, and the third to drive home the point in case you missed it the first two times. Can you spot what Jesus says three times?

John 20 (Common English Bible)

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 

20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.

As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Jesus appears to Thomas and the disciples

24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 

Peace be with you. That was the message Jesus drove home above and beyond the message of doubt vs. faith, miraculous signs, Thomas’ awakening, and believing without seeing. Those are important teachings, there is no doubt. But why do you suppose Jesus repeats, “Peace be with you” three times?

He understood then and understands now that his absence brings a lack of peace. He knows that in those days when the disciples were locked behind a door, unsure of what had happened and scared to death, they would have no peace.

Neither do we, when we are locked behind doors of addiction, betrayal, abandonment, depression, grief, frustrations, and hardship. In the absence of alleluias, in the void that his departure created, in the confusion of life without him, there is no peace.

It is the same for us. When we turn our backs on our faith and wander away into oblivions of our own making, we notice the absence of any form of peace in our minds.

But Christ calls us back

He invites us to touch, see, and feel him. He invites us to enter into his presence. He challenges us to believe, even when we can’t see the blessing of his presence in our situation.

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

We are invited to have life in Jesus’ name. It is the only way to have hope, salvation, eternity in heaven, and peace on earth.

What changes do you need to make to have peace? Where is God calling you to lay down “self” and embrace his Son? Can you believe without seeing?

Peace be with you.

Saltwater Lace by Michelle Robertson

Worries

Last week was filled with worries for all of us. Covid numbers are back on the rise, families are dealing with remote learning struggles, we experienced the debacle of the Presidential debate, many of us are worried over the elections…and to top it all off our President, First Lady, and key leaders in our government have tested positive for corona virus. Can 2020 get any worse? Have we all somehow stepped into the twilight zone?

When the world as we know it feels like it is crashing at our feet, it is always good and helpful to do two things: pray and turn to scripture. Amazingly (yet not surprisingly in the way the Holy Spirit works) the lectionary passage for today speaks directly into this unspeakable time. With the wisdom of the ages, God’s holy word written over 2,000 years ago offers exactly the right advice for today.

Rejoice.

When the diagnosis comes, rejoice. When death draws near, rejoice. When the sting of rejection is so hard you can’t breathe, rejoice. When divorce is requested, rejoice. When the world seems to be going straight to hell as you watch from your sofa, rejoice.

Who in their right mind would rejoice in this season? The people of God. You see, rejoicing casts out worry. Rejoicing opens up prayer. Rejoicing is the foundation for supplication to a Heavenly Father who is ready and able to hear your requests.

Rejoicing brings PEACE.

Philippians 4 (New Revised Standard)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The news this week will likely not be any better. In fact, it will probably be worse. But the God of peace is right here, right in the middle of it, right by our side. Paul didn’t say to rejoice when the news is good. He said to rejoice ALWAYS. Do not worry about anything.

So hang on to the good, the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, and the things that are pleasing to God. Set aside all of your worries and think about these things. Keep following Jesus, reading his word, praying for our nation, and focus on things worthy of praise.

Think about those things, and only those things, and the peace of God will be with you. His peace surpasses all understanding. The world can’t give us any peace, but the Lord is always near.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 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.

Again I will say, REJOICE!

The Peace of God by Mary Watts