Gospel: John 14:23-27
When St. Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter 5, he mentions love and joy ahead of peace, but peace is the subject we hear about every day. What’s North Korea been up to? The other day, we heard about India and China literally taking shots at each other in Kashmir. Our own country is going through a struggle that’s not always peaceful. Take away the question of peace, and the evening news would be done in 15 minutes.
When we think of peace, we think first in these terms. Peace? Or war? Which will it be? We think of peace merely as the absence of war. Will there be peace between nations? In places like Syria, we may wonder if there will even be peace within the nation?
In our own cities, we may wonder if we can leave the house in peace, or will my neighbor will whip out a gun and blow me away? Even in many homes, the question of peace is a real. When some folks walk through the front door, they wonder whether there will be conflict or peace.
In the Bible, the message is mixed. On the one hand, God expects us to make peace. Psalm 34 says, “Seek peace and pursue it.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blessed the peacemakers and said, “They will be called the sons of God.” Psalm 122 tells us to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
Most of us know three Hebrew words: Amen, Hallelujah and Shalom. The “salem” part of “Jerusalem” comes from “shalom,” the Hebrew word for “peace.” The holy city is to be a city of peace. So God expects us to work and pray for peace, always in the hope that absolute peace will come as the world is transformed by the power of Christ.
In Isaiah 60:17, God promises that, “I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler,” and in Isaiah 66:12, the Lord says, “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream.” Peace like a river!
Yet Jesus says that in our daily routine, there will be “wars and rumors of wars.” Sometimes, God withholds peace as a way to punish evil. In Jeremiah 14:19, the people cry out: “Why have you afflicted us so that we cannot be healed? We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there is only terror.”
But Jeremiah said: ”They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So the Lord does not accept them; he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins,”
As long as there is evil, peace will be hard to come by. It has been said that “war is hell,” and sometimes, it’s only when we see the true face of hell that we decide to look to heaven instead.
But again, God also tells us to work for peace. The clearest Biblical message is that we must find peace within ourselves first. James 4:1 lays it on the line: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.”
There is a battle within us, James says. The peace we should have in our souls is disrupted by our conflicting desires. The genes of Adam and Eve send out their signals: the genes of Eve say: “Go ahead and do what you feel like doing; you won’t get in any trouble.” And the genes of Adam say: ”Don’t think about it. If the opportunity is there, go for it.”
And we’re their spoiled children. We shove others aside and put ourselves in front of the camera. We make noise: We insult and disrupt until everyone pays attention to us. We expect to be served, babied and catered-to. And if it doesn’t happen, we pout, get mad, and go home—but not before we land a few punches. We get our say; we want the last word. We grab for ourselves, and if somebody else gets nothing, tough luck.
In short the battle within is between the law of the jungle or the law of God. The law of the jungle says, If you think you need it, grab it before somebody does, and if you have to knock ‘em off to do it, that’s ok, because it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.
That seems like common sense. These are the basics most people hold sacred. I saw it at the athletic field when our kids were growing up. You’d see supposedly respectable people who were frantic to see their kids absolutely destroy the other team. The parents didn’t feel good about themselves unless someone else was being humiliated. Then they carry that same mentality from the ballfield, and into the workplace and stores.
But we pass it off. We praise the “squeaky wheel” that gets the grease; we honor the aggressive businessman who pushes his way ahead, and we politely overlook those he pushed off the track in the process. Instead of praying for peace, we pray for others to fail so we can win.
When we define peace as merely the absence of war, then once the other side has lost, the war is over, and we think that’s peace. But it’s not. This is the kind of “peace” the prophets mocked. Jeremiah 6:14 says, ”they dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace, they say, when there is no peace.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:3, Paul says, “While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
When Jesus talked about peace, he put a qualifier on it. In our gospel, when Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you,” he immediately adds: ”My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” In Philippians 4:7, Paul speaks of: ”the peace of God passes all understanding.” The kind of peace God has in mind for us is not what the world has in mind. True peace doesn’t come naturally.
God calls us to stop feeding the animal in us and nurture our souls instead. This is the surefire way to peace. The song says, Let there by peace on earth, and let it begin with me. Isaiah 48:18 says,” If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river.” Psalm 37:11 says, “The meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” Proverbs 16:7 says: “when a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.”
But this is easier said than done. If the secret to peace with others is to find peace with ourselves, how do we do it? How exactly do we find peace within ourselves? After all, as we’ve said, the pull in the other direction, away from the will of God, is powerful. We have to swim upstream against practically every instinct and training.
The plain fact is that it is too much for us. We think peace comes only through victory for us and defeat for others: I win, you lose. But God says that true peace comes not through victory over others but through surrender to him. We have to lose something in order to win. So what does that mean?
This brings us to the final step for peace. We can have peace with others only if we have peace in ourselves, but that comes only if we first have peace with God.
Now if you ask someone straight up, are you at war with God, of course they’ll say No! Only the most hostile atheist would admit to being at war with God. But for the rest of us, it’s, Oh, no, we love God! It’s people we can’t stand! It’s like people on the 4th of July who claim to love America yet hate most Americans. We don’t think of ourselves as being at war with God, but we are. As long as our will clashes with God’s will, we’re at war with him.
But Jesus Christ can change that. In verse 13 of our Ephesians lesson, Paul says, “but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” In verse 14 Paul talks about the “dividing wall of hostility” being broken down, the barrier destroyed—the barrier between us and God.
There is much that is mysterious about the cross of Christ. We may never be able to explain exactly what it was that happened that day on the cross—but the upshot is clear. We skipped verse 15, but it says, “His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace.”
Before Jesus went to the cross, there were two groups of people—the people of God…..and everybody else—“Gentiles by birth,” Paul calls them in verse 11. On the cross, Jesus made one new man. He made everybody acceptable to God. He took away the sins of the world.
So if God isn’t fighting you, then you can stop fighting him. “You are no longer foreigners and aliens,” verse 19 says, “but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”
Through faith in Jesus Christ, you can be on the same wavelength as God. You can surrender your will to his. You can subject your own desires to his.
And when that happens, peace breaks out: true peace, the peace of Christ which goes beyond our understanding. When you have peace with God, you can have peace within yourself, and when you have peace within yourself, you can stop making war on others. And that’s when you start doing your part to carve out true peace in this world.
As General Sherman said long ago, War is hell. Why wallow in it? Why keep it going? Resist the devil’s draft. Find peace with God and bring to earth the peace of heaven.