During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
Long ago a man sought the perfect picture of peace. Not finding one that satisfied, he announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from far and wide. Finally the great day of revelation arrived. The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the viewers clapped and cheered.
The tensions grew. Only two pictures remained veiled.
As a judge pulled the cover from one, a hush fell over the crowd.
A mirror-smooth lake reflected lacy, green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely this was the winner.
The man with the vision uncovered the second painting himself, and the crowd gasped in surprise. Could this be peace?
A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky precipice; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy-gray clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind and rain. In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a spindly tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached out in front of the torrential waters as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power.
A little bird had built a nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones, she manifested peace that transcends all earthly turmoil.
-Berit Kjos (A Wardrobe From the King)
What does it mean to seek God’s peace in the world???
Peace is a slippery word. To imagine a world of peace—for many of us, if we are honest, this sounds like sentimentalism, the sort of naïveté we reserve for the young. That word peace; well, it is far easier to meditate on its opposite—our minds are driven to images of war, conflict, struggle, the absence of peace, really, and the complicated feelings that many of us may have about war and the many good people—soldiers and civilians alike—who are caught in its path.
And many of our cultural images of peace—undisturbed natural scenes, a solitary walk on the beach—are characterized by the absence of, frankly, us. Many religious visions of peace have been relegated by definition to the afterlife, leaving us in the present stuck with this question: is peace really possible?
Too often, the question of what it means to seek peace becomes defined by what peace is not. It becomes an exercise in identifying all of the places where peace is absent, all of the reasons why peace is difficult, illusive, or just plain impossible. And so we never get to the question of what peace actually looks like. Here. Now. Today.
We need to confront this issue, because it is to here, to now, and to today that Jesus speaks these words:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
We would do well to remember that Jesus speaks these words to a motley crew of beleaguered disciples hiding out in an upper room. To the core of a faith community that has been shut out of its own temple and the synagogues and condemned by its leadership. He directs his words of peace to an oppressed people living under the thumb of a Roman Empire that achieves “peace” by force, its streets littered with military personnel and its hillsides dotted with crosses. A world that we can identify with.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
The full force of violence and human brokenness churns and roils before Christ’s disciples. And yet, before them also stands the One who has overcome it all—Jesus has faced the darkness of his friends, his faith, and his country, and he has endured. He has walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and emerged on the other side. He has faced the world at its worst, and into that pain and anguish, he sends forth peace.
In the Hebrew, the word peace is encompassed by another word, and that is shalom. And while Shalom is often translated as peace, it is far more than that. Shalom has to do with wholeness and completeness. It is a moral value, a cosmic principle, a divine attribute.
My understanding is that to seek God’s shalom is to manifest divine grace in every sphere of your life. It is to walk through this life holding the question before you always: how would God have me live? It is as much an orientation as it is a destination. And it is the difference between seeing peace as an absence of the Other, and seeing peace as a hymn sung in six-part harmony.
When Jesus offers us the peace of God, he is offering us a gift of a new orientation. A God-shaped compass. God’s peace is an invitation to hold within us the image of something other than the the world that lies broken and bruised before us. To paint a picture of what could be, so that even when the world looks dark, we will have something to guide us. A light in the darkness, if you will.
This does not mean that the pursuit of peace will be entirely peaceful. Jesus never says: I give you peace, now you get to go spend your life doing yoga on the beach and drinking fruit smoothies.
Instead, It may look like Paul’s journey in our lesson from Acts. It looks like a life filled with purpose. For it is God’s shalom that directs Paul’s path, sometimes in unexpected directions. It is the vision of peace that leads Paul and Silas across the sea on an ancient boat and into Europe, the same sea that many refugees today are risking and losing their lives to cross. It is God’s shalom that leads Paul and Silas to the house of a wealthy Gentile woman named Lydia is waiting to embrace the message they have been given.
Or it may look like the witness of faithful people like Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran priest and peacemaker who put his life at risk in pursuit of peace for his people during the Civil War and had this to say of peace:
Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is a dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is a right and a duty. May it be so, and may we pursue peace with the heart of God.
It may look like broken shards of glass and pottery, puzzled together and put in place by many broken hands, some of whom we may never know, until together they create something beautiful, something new, the work of art that Dr. King Jr called the beloved community, created by a loving God for a beloved creation.
May it be so, May it be so, may it ever be so. Amen.