Some of you may have noticed that I like to sign my emails with the word, Peace. I often wonder how that is received. Sometimes I will add the word, Grace, because I believe those are two concepts that require one another. We need grace - the unmerited and undeserved favor of God - in order to truly experience peace.
Still, I will confess that I sometimes add Grace to Peace because I think that makes the salutation sound a bit more ecclesiastical and a bit less hip. It’s my own little way of reclaiming something our culture has stolen from the church - or maybe we have given it away. The result is the same either way.
Some time ago I was venting about some injustice to a group of colleagues. I signed the email with “disturbance” instead of peace. It was, again, my own little way of saying that I do not wish for equilibrium in the presence of injustice. My hope was not for the sublime tranquility of the status quo. My hope could only be recognized by a change in the way things were.
Have you ever felt that way? It is not a happy way to feel, but I would suggest that it is not a bad way to feel. We tend to think of peace in terms of tranquility or restfulness and contentment. We do not tend to think of peace in terms of conflict. Strangely enough, Martin Luther King Jr. - the architect of the civil rights movement in our country - believed that peace was not simply the absence of conflict; instead, peace is the presence of justice.
Justice can be a loaded term these days. I believe Dr. King meant that justice is the end of oppression. Justice happens when the voiceless are given a forum to speak. Justice happens when those who have limitations placed on them by others are released. Justice also happens when those who have not been held accountable become accountable.
All of these things - the voiceless speaking, the limited becoming free, and the free becoming limited - all of those things lead to a disturbance of the status quo. This is not a bad thing - assuming that the disturbance meets the end of moving toward agreement, community, and greater faithfulness.
The Psalmist says, “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.” Another translation says it this way, “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” Clearly this is a statement about our relationship with God. In saying “do not sin” the Psalmist is not simply saying, “be nice.” The Psalmist is saying, “Do not turn away from God. Do not let the actions of others keep you from faithful, disciplined practice. Remember that the will of God will be completed in the end, and if you can’t handle waiting publicly then find a quiet place to consider God’s active presence in your life.
Because God is with you in all things. God is actively working, influencing the world around you - and not for your benefit alone, but for the accomplishment of God’s will. God is influencing the world and making opportunities for each of us to be known as God’s children.
That’s why Peter addressed his “fellow Israelites” - to let them know that the God of the covenant had come through ultimately and finally in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In fact, so strong was the power of the name of Jesus that just mentioning his name in reverence and faith resulted in a man being healed.
And healing still happens at the sound of the name of Jesus. It happens when we become disturbed by something in our community and we are moved to find a way to help. Maybe that is not as dramatic as a laying on of hands and lame people walking - especially when are not able to see the results of our efforts, or maybe we are not able to make the kind of effort we really want to make.
Then again, maybe the temptation to focus on our own benefit is why the Psalmist warns us so sternly not to sin. Maybe that is why Peter urges his fellow Israelites to believe that it was through Jesus that God restored a sick man - as if to say, “Imagine what could happen in your life!”
Although he doesn’t say that, actually. What he says is, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” Turn away from self-centeredness and turn toward God-centeredness. Turn away from the actions and attitudes that led to the crucifixion of Jesus: self preservation, belief in institutions over care for individuals, and the loss of identity as a people of God. Turn away from these things, and turn toward the promise of redemption. Turn toward a more communal identity. Turn toward the love that is so great and so powerful that it wipes out any previous attempt to reject it.
Thinking about the power of God’s love to redeem, somehow I am reminded of the classic children’s book, The Run Away Bunny. You know the story. The bunny comes up with all kinds of ways to run away. He becomes a fish in a stream, and the mother becomes a fisherman. He becomes a boat, and his mother becomes the wind. It goes on until he finally says, “Shucks. I might as well stay right here and be your bunny.”
And so he did. And so the author of 1 John implores us to do, for in Christ we all become aware of our status as beloved children. This status does not mean that we will never try to run away. It does not mean that we are kept from our vices or from harm; instead it means that we are free from the expectations of selfishness. We are free from a condition of sinfulness, because we are claimed by a love that is selfless, tireless, and always abiding within us as we abide in it!
As we abide in the love of God, we have the opportunity to express and share that love with others. I think that is hard to do unless it has been done for you. I wonder how many of you know of someone who demonstrated unconditional love to you? Think about that for a minute - who first showed you how to be loved? That person may have passed on to the church triumphant, or maybe not. Either way, imagine what life would be like (or was just after) if this person died.
That’s about where the disciples were. This teacher - this friend - had taught them and shown them all they thought they could ever know about God. And the powers that be killed him for it.
Then Jesus came and stood amongst them and said, “Peace be with you,” and they were disturbed. And he assured them with his wounds and with his hunger that he was more than a spirit disguised as their friend. Like the plucked strings of a harp, Jesus created a disturbance to offer peace. When the strings of the harp are plucked they create waves of sound that rip through the air, connecting time and space and creating a new reality in the minds of those who hear. More strings are plucked to create the resonance of a melody. And in between there is silence and rest to allow the various sounds to become complete.
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” It was common in those days, and it was particularly important in the settlement of disputes. Jesus offered them, as he offers us today, a way to settle the dispute of our soul - the great question of our purpose and identity.
and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
And so it was begun in Jerusalem. And so the beat goes on, even here, even now. For as a community of forgiven sinners we are here to reach out into the world. We are here to sing our song of hope, and love, and redemption! We are here to proclaim, in our own little way, that we are deeply disturbed by the presence of Jesus in our midst. We are disturbed in such a way that moves us to even seek out conflicts that enable us to experience the presence of the One whose name means Justice. And that is Jesus, the One through whom we have redemption, salvation, and through whom we experience - in our own little way - resurrection in the here and now, just as we will there and then. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen.