UCBR May, 1, 2016
Last week, during a conference on mediation training for churches, someone shared the following story: Mark Twain, the 19th century American author and humorist, described in his essay, “The Lessor Animal,” why man is the cruelest animal, the only animal that takes pleasure in inflicting pain. He imagined the following:
“Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.
Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones--not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.”
International sources estimate that over 67 armed conflicts or wars exist in our world today that not only include official governments, but involve separate militias-terrorist-separatist or anarchist groups. When we add into that mix class or racial ethnic conflict within individual countries, family or clan conflicts, church conflicts, and other group conflicts, intra-personal conflicts, internal conflict all this adds up to a whole lot of conflict – within and without! How do we find peace in the mess of our lives and all around us?
Jesus knew this. Our gospel reading from John describes how Jesus, on the night before his death, during the greatest conflict of his life, sat at table with his friends. Over the meal he talked to his disciples. He reminds them of the past: his proven love for them and now his commandment to love one another. He speaks of the future, the coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will teach everything. Jesus ties all this together in the present moment with the gift of his peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” As he faced death, Jesus lived in peace.
Jesus gives us his peace, not the peace of the world, which comes through force, fighting, or through false security of material items or success. Jesus’ peace is rooted in relationship that is anchored in God, creator of all beings, who holds all things together by the power of his Love, poured out in Jesus.
So peace is more than the absence of conflict or war. If we were to sum up Jesus’ life we would see that the Peace that Jesus gives is characterized by the presence of right living focused on right relationships, knitted together by love and a sense of respect for the prosperity and care of all beings.
Jesus never promised an absence of conflict. Jesus never promised an absence of struggle. Jesus never promised the absence of uncertainty, risk, or doubt. Jesus promised his peace. A peace that can face any conflict, uncertainty, risk or doubt and triumph. Peace which is a by-product of and living expression of love.
It is the peace of Christ that enabled Paul to follow his vision to go beyond Asia Minor into Europe -- Macedonia. It is the peace of Christ that enabled Paul to travel to Philippi, a Roman colony. It is the peace of Christ that led Paul to search out a synagogue, and finding none, to try going to the river, where some small groups customarily prayed. It is the peace of Christ that enabled Paul to not walk away from the gathered women he discovered there. It is the peace of Christ that enabled Paul to overcome any chauvinistic feelings and to preach the gospel to these women. It is the peace of Christ that enabled Lydia to become the first Christ follower in Europe – a successful Gentile businesswoman. It is the peace of Christ that enabled Paul and his group to stay with Lydia – and form the first church at Philippi.
If Paul had been overcome by doubt, fear, judgement or anxiety – the gospel may not have spread so fast or as well to the Western world. Paul was rooted and grounded in the peace of Christ – that driving force that motivated him to bring the love and gospel of Jesus into an unknown territory to unknown people in unknown situations. Jesus said, do not let your hearts be troubled or be afraid – and the peace Jesus offers enabled Paul to live courageously and prophetically. Jesus gives us this peace too – to face our anxieties, all our unknowns, all our fears.
Here is another illustration about peace from the conference I attended: 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. That is true peace.
So this is the peace that is Jesus’ gift to us today. Whatever we face today can be faced with peace. We can face the uncertainties around us, not with troubled hearts, not with fear, knowing in all turmoil, we are loved, accepted and held by God who holds the entire universe together. That is peace, and no matter what we face, may this peace of Christ live in our hearts today. Amen.