Saturday, 3 July 2010

'I just want some peace!' A sermon for Sunday 4th July, 2010 Yr C

Isaiah 66: 10-14
Galatians 6:1-10
Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight o Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

A friend of mine was telling me a story about her older sister.
She’d had a hard day at work:
everybody wanting her attention,
all their needs terribly urgent and needing sorted immediately.
Her own work had suffered as a result.
So, she was very grumpy and frustrated by the end of the day.
She got back home and immediately had to get dinner organised for the family,
put a load of washing on,
feed the cat,
make sure the kids weren’t strangling each other.
And after dinner, sitting down:
more questions, more tasks,
no space to breathe or be...
Finally she snapped and yelled
‘I just want some peace!’
Utter silence filled the house.
A minute or so later, her 2 year old came up, looked at her with his big blue eyes full of care and love,
and in his desire to help his mummy,
he handed her a bag of frozen peas...
And in his doing it, she both got her peas, her perspective, and her peace back.

Ever since my friend told me that story, I’ve just loved it:
Loved it for its sweetness
Loved it for the misunderstanding gesture kindly meant:
Getting it wrong and yet, in the end,
through that risk-taking gesture,
actually getting it very right.

What does it mean to be a bringer of peace to a world full of restless disquiet?
It is a small word that carries an enormous weight of meanings on its back.
It’s a word packed with yearning and longing –
a yearning and longing that has echoed down through all the centuries of human existence...

In our Old Testament reading this morning,
that yearning is expressed by the prophet in terms of a new heaven and a new earth.
We heard about the city of Jerusalem portrayed as a mother in labour... with God as midwife...
And then a child is born:
a child that grows and flourishes,
is nourished and nurtured and comforted by God...
there is prosperity and national peace.
And yet...
It is an odd peace,
a tenuous peace –
The writer talks of God’s indignation against his enemies...
Peace is dearly bought
and in order to preserve it
there is the possibility that it may only be
done through struggle...
and, sadly, we are all only too well aware that the struggle for peace in and around Jerusalem continues even now.

In our New Testament reading in Galatians, peace is also being sought:
Paul calls upon the Galatians to live peacefully amongst one another:
When people have transgressed –
when they’ve ‘crossed the line’,
Paul urges the Galatians to use gentleness in the way they go about restoring the relationships that have been damaged;
They are to bear one another’s burdens;
To ask tough questions of themselves not just each other...
To work for the good of all
and to never weary in doing what is right.
It’s a blueprint for harmonious living –
a way to demonstrate the peaceable,
the peaceful kindom of God.

And what of our gospel reading?
Jesus sends out the 70/ 72 on a mission and they are given detailed instructions...
and the one instruction that really has stuck with me this week concerns words –
the words Jesus tells his followers to use:
the message of the Prince of Peace is that his disciples use words of peace.
The 70 are told that whenever they come to a house, the very first thing they’re to say is:
‘peace be to this house’...
The mission is to go into unchartered territories,
carrying little else than a staff,
and to clothe themselves in words of peace.
To be peace-speakers,
Peace bringers to the places they go.
And to accept the hospitality they find when they go to these places, armed only with their peaceful words.

Now apparently, the root word from which hospitality comes from, takes in both host and hostile:
So in ancient near eastern cultures –
where hospitality was a sacred duty –
it was also a risky business:
Was the host entertaining someone who was hostile... or friendly?
So in that context, it seems to have made enormous sense that Jesus instructed his followers to state their peaceful intentions immediately upon arrival – to allay the fears of their hosts.
Because I strongly suspect that it’s not war which is the opposite of peace, but fear.
Fear of the unknown,
Fear of the different:
Fear of attack which drives people to make a pre-emptive strike...
and hurtle down the path to counter-strike and escalating conflict.
Peace be to this house...

Two thousand years on -
here and now
as followers of Jesus in a post 9/11 time which seems to be so fear-filled, so fearful...
What does it mean for us, to be bringers of peace to a world full of restless disquiet?

If we listen to, and watch, the news from around the world
it can feel like the mission of peace is hopeless in the face of such overwhelming conflict and human tragedy.
The media visually bombards us with the
sights and sounds and effects of war
on a daily basis.
In order to cope with the horror of it all
we can become... numb to what seems almost the inevitability and normality of it.
We can find ourselves asking:
What’s the point?
How can I, one little person, possibly make a difference in the face of all of that?
There’s a fear that we can’t do anything at all
and that fear can paralyse us from even entertaining thoughts of trying to do something, anything that might make a difference.
On the other hand....
I believe it was Anita Roddick who once said:
If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room!

We are followers of the Prince of Peace,
who bids us, as he did the 70 so long ago
to be peace bringers...
it is our prophetic task:
to speak the words of peace in a world crying out
‘I just want some peace!’
And fumbling and falteringly,
armed with nothing more than peace words,
somehow we must take the risk and bring peace into the world.

And I wonder how we even begin to get our heads around this task -
this overwhelming, awesome task that Jesus entrusts us with.
And my own sense is, that we can only start from where we are and who we are.
There’s an old song that goes:
‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.’

Peace be to this house... 
The process of peace starts with ourselves: 
Paul asks the Galatians to examine themselves, before pointing fingers or expecting too much of their neighbours,
or puffing themselves up with thoughts about how utterly excellent they are....
The process of peace starts with ourselves as we ask hard questions about what it is that causes the disquiet that we might have within us...
can we be people of peace if we are not at peace with ourselves?
I wonder if peace is like ripples in a pond:
Jesus at the centre as Prince of Peace
saying to each one of us:
Peace be with you...
And as we find the peace of the Prince of Peace,
the ripples spreading out, touching our households as peaceful and harmonious ways of living together are found
and spreading further to ...
our street –
our neighbours, our local area,
our church community gathered here...
eventually spreading until the words of peace touch the very edges of the world.

Or perhaps the process of peace is a little like a domino effect:
as each one of us determines to never grow weary of doing right, and follows the path of the Prince of Peace...
and speaks words of peace...
perhaps it causes all the little dominoes of fear to begin to topple?

I don’t know.
But what I do know is that each one of us, whether we like it or not,
is not utterly independent:
as John Donne put it:
‘No man is an island... ‘
We are each of us part of the whole of humanity:
Whatever we do
whatever choices we make affects others.
How each one of us chooses to deal with the fears that attack our own peace,
impacts upon not just ourselves but others.
So, do we set up a spiral of violence when we choose to lash out and attack - when our fears get the better of us?
Do we snap at someone and take offence where there is none,
because underneath our own fear of our inadequacy has been getting to us?
Do we condemn others for not doing something in a way that we think is the ‘right’ way,
because underneath,
we are fearful that our own way is being challenged?
Do we dehumanise people who are ‘different’ to us by giving them labels such as
‘asylum seeker’, ‘druggie’, ‘ned’, ‘feminist’ or ‘homo’,
because underneath, we are afraid of that which we cannot understand
and afraid that in some indefinable way these people threaten our very way of life?...

What are the fears that lurk deep within which bring us disquiet and disturb our peace...
Do our own undealt with fears set up a storehouse of potential conflict?

Or, do we choose instead, to test our fears, grounded in the peace that is given to us by the Prince of Peace?
And having tested ourselves do we choose instead to be counter-cultural –
to reverse the spiral of violence with words of peace?

Peace be to this house...
On that first Easter day, words of peace were uttered in the garden by the angel of the Lord to the women: ‘Do not be afraid’...
Later, in an upper room, appearing to his disciples, Jesus’ first words were: ‘peace be with you’

The Prince of Peace speaks words of peace to us,
and to our ‘houses’ –
both internal and external.
And as we accept those words of peace into our own lives we begin a life-long task of speaking peace,
bringing hope and bringing peace into our world full of restless disquiet.

Of this lifelong task, Brazilian theologian and poet, Ruben Alves says:
‘Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
It is a ...stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaries, and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.’
Peace be to each one of us
And peace be to this house...

Let us pray:
Peace-giving God
Take away the fears that hold us paralysed,
Unable to be about the mission of peace that you have given to us.
Teach us to be your people of peace –
In our homes, in our neighbourhoods,
in our town... in your world
We ask this in the name of the Prince of Peace


Diane said...

i think it's fine. and I especially like the closing quote and prayer. I'll be looking for an excuse to use that soon.

Juniper said...

Nik -thanks for sharing this! I love it!