Friday, 3 May 2013

Peace: not as the world gives!

In the movie Miss Congeniality the contestants of the Miss America contest are asked, ‘If there is one thing in the world that you could wish for what would it be?’ One after another the contestants respond ‘world peace’, ‘world peace’, ‘world peace’¸ ‘world peace’… The answer is the expected one, it is the obvious one and in its own way it is the shallowest one.

Now whilst many people have hope for world peace the gospel reading today challenges us with a different
notion about peace than the peace that the world gives and that the world seeks. It speaks of the peace of Christ. So what is the difference?

If we think first about the peace that the world offers I would consider this peace on a number of different levels. First there is the idea of political or national peace. Second is the idea of peace in my personal relationships with family and friends. And third is the concept of inner peace.

To give a couple of examples of the kind of peace established by political means I would start by giving you the example of the world in Jesus time. In Jesus time people across much of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe were part of the Roman Empire. The Emperor Augustus established a vision of peace called the pax Romana or the peace of Roman. Rome established and kept this peace by invading territories and ruling those territories with might. True, the regions conquered by Rome were offered some concessions but ultimately it was on Rome’s terms. Peace was kept through the use of force and fear. This was the peace that the world offered in Jesus time. I wonder whether it has changed that much.

When I was growing up in the late seventies and early eighties people lived in the time known as the cold war. The two so called super powers, the USA and the Soviet Union, were having an arms race, building weapons of mass destruction to keep the peace. Peace was maintained through the threat of the annihilation of the planet. I can remember during my high school years believing that the world would be destroyed by war and I would die before I reached 18. As detached as I was from these great political events, I and many of my friends spoke of our fears. Just as in Jesus time a fragile peace was kept through the use of force and fear.

And, what about now? Well we know there is a still talk of a war on terror. Now I am not particularly interested in whether or not you agree with the ‘might is right’ approach to political power but ultimately this is the kind of peace that the world offers. It is unstable, often unsustainable and often very expensive. This kind of peace can inadvertently impact on the lives of millions.

What else can we say about the peace that the world offers? Do we have peace in our personal relationships and communities? I can remember hearing my own mother and many a teacher appealing for some peace and quiet. In most families relationships between brothers and sisters, parents and children, cousins and so on are never perfect. We may have good families but there are still times when there are problems. The same is true of friends, of colleagues, of teachers. Try as we might none of us develop perfect relationships. And even if we believe that we are getting on with everybody else we cannot control how others might be getting on with us. Is this the peace the world offers?

But what about inner peace? Spiritually and personally the world expects us to find inner peace, to have peace with ourselves, but how difficult is this when there is so much pressure? Reading any magazine, or watching the TV you will discover happiness lies in for example for a guy like me having a great set of pecks, and a good solid rack, enough hair, charm, good looks, intelligence, and charisma.

Questions continually confront us. Are you too fat or are you too thin? Do I wear the right brands of clothes? Is my hair perfect? What about my make up? The pressures to conform ourselves to the image of other people, especially the stars, is immense and contributes to great stress for many people – depression, anxiety, loneliness, isolation. The standards are unattainable.

Many individuals search out spiritual answers. Spirituality expos are on the increase. Meditation, crystals, oils and balms all directed at assisting people find their own sense of peace and well being. But even here the focus is often isolated from people’s experiences of life and when things don’t work out the sense of peace is too hard to sustain.

On all levels the peace that the world offers is limited to say the best.

So what does Jesus offer? Jesus says my peace I give to you. Drawing from his Jewish heritage Jesus when he speaks of peace is speaking of the fullness of a right and perfected relationship with God. Jesus had just such a relationship with God. His is a relationship which was not affected by sin, by turning away from God and God’s ways.

It is the relationship whereby God dwells in him and he in God and this has implications for Jesus relationship with the disciples and all other people. This is the peace that Jesus gives his disciples as a gift. The peace Jesus offers is not something that is to be strived for but accepted with thanks and praise. The peace that Jesus offers is our homecoming to God.

I am not sure where you think your true home lies but Jesus and the Bible speak of our true dwelling place, our home, to be in and with God. The reading from the book of Revelation this morning pointed us towards our future with God when we will live in the fullness of God’s presence. We sung of it in the song before the sermon.

Then we shall see a newborn sky,
A newborn earth below,
A newborn city, lit by love,
Where nothing false will go.
And God will live with humankind –
They will be his people sure –
And he will wipe their tears away,
And death shall be no more.

The promise of God’s future is that people will dwell in the presence of the glory and holiness of God: God who is the source of life in place that is abundant with food, with water, and with the light of God’s presence. It is a place where nothing false will grow. This is the destiny of all things reunion with God as God intends.

Yet in the reading from John it is clear that Jesus was going away from his disciples and that the new age was still to come. The fullness of the kingdom and peace with God lay ahead. So it is as I said to the children earlier that Jesus promise was that God would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach and remind us of everything that Jesus had said. To remind us of the peace that we have already with God and the peace that is promised.

As Christians whilst peace is given to us as a gift this is not some excuse for us isolating ourselves from the world and its suffering to live in some cocoon of peacefulness. Rather, the Spirit is sent so that through those who follow Jesus’ word others would come to know of God and God’s peace. We walk through the ups and downs of life like everybody else but in the midst of our journey we can know that we are not alone.

However, like the disciples we are still awaiting the return of our teacher, as the song put it we groan in longing and ask how long? In the mean time we are lead into sharing Jesus’ peace which passes all understanding. In the presence of this peace breaking out around, in and through us we become witnesses to the promise of the coming kingdom as it becomes part of our lives right now.

The answer of the Miss America contestants in the movie was a little glib. And more often than not in real life and whilst many of us probably do long for world peace it is too complex for us to see how that might happen. As Christians the peace that we have been given and await for in hope is the peace Jesus offers. Peace with God, which ultimately will bring us the fullness of peace with one another.

(Photo: Creative commons. Flickr Samantha Celera)

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