Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thoughts on Peace for Lent


“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid.” - Jesus of Nazareth (John 14:27)

What sort of peace is Jesus talking about here? If it is not the kind of peace that the world gives.

Maybe we first have to think of the kind of peace the world gives. Worldly peace runs on a continuum from “a cessation of hostilities” like an armistice at the end of a war to a détente if one is not really in a war or is pretending not to be in a war. This is probably the most superficial kind of peace—but still better than the alternative. The absence of war is a good thing. Trying to get along with difficult neighbors, whether individuals or nations, is a good thing. But this is probably a kind of peace that
“the world gives”.

Old fashioned weddings had that line that said, “Speak now, or forever hold your peace.” Basically that means, no matter what you think you know, keep it to yourself. This is a good contrast to those who say things or do things just to provoke others. I recall one of my seminary professors, when referring to someone who was pretty well known as an author, saying, “Ah yes, he has never had an unpublished thought.” And we all know people whom you can depend upon to have something scathing to say on any subject—the ones whose favorite type of tea is “Constant Comment”. When it comes to holding one’s peace, let’s all agree that there are lots of things we think that we had better not say or do. So yes, that is another kind of “peace” that is valuable (and a great relief), but it still, I suppose, is of the kind that the world gives.

Peace and quiet are often lumped into a short phrase. So peace and quiet are not the same. We know that quiet means the absence of noise, and we have hinted that peace means the absence of conflict, both are valuable and worth striving for. Even so, the kind of peace Jesus gives is more than this.

Let’s hear what St. Augustine has to say about this passage:

"Peace He leaveth with us, that we may not judge one another of what is secret to each, while here on earth: His own peace will He give us, when He 'will make manifest the counsels of the heart; and then shall every man have praise of God'."

I didn’t really expect St. Augustine to take me to the inner reaches of the human heart, with this passage. I really was expecting him to tell us about peaceful coexistence with one another. And yet, somehow in this brief commentary, the ancient Church Father upon whom the great leaders of the Reformation relied, manages to include both.

“That we may not judge one another” is so valuable a phrase for Christians. Yes, we are to be discerning, but not to judge one another, lest we be judged. I must confess that I cringe when I hear some of the rhetoric that issues forth from “super Christians” who believe they have the only take on God’s truth. I can almost hear the Lord saying to them, "Friends, you are more than that; you are better than that." As Karl Barth has rightly said, "If we think there is no other way, we are always wrong." A measure of a mature faith, it would seem, is something of an attitude of charity and yes, an open mind, toward those other believers whose faith and practice may be different than our own but whose Lord and Savior is without a doubt Jesus Christ.

“What is secret to each while here on earth” is a very elegant way of saying “God is not finished with us yet…” We are all still on the faith journey. We have not yet arrived. It is like ascending from the floor of the Grand Canyon toward the rim. We are all climbing, and some are a bit further along on the switchbacks and, therefore, have experienced more, while others are still not far from the Colorado River, and have a long way to go. Why would those who have climbed a bit higher think they know and see all, when the rim is still a long way off? And why might they criticize those who have not yet managed to travel as far as they are? And why, for that matter, would any who are on that path criticize those who are climbing to the same rim but by a different route? The secret matters of the human heart and mind and psyche must be tenderly cared for, here and now, if they are to become the mature Christians God is calling them to be. In God’s perfect timing, not in our own impatience.

Augustine trusts that Christ will make manifest the counsels of the heart and then (and not before, we must add) shall every one have praise of God.

Peace, then is like a soufflé. If you try to peek in to the heart, by opening up the door too soon, it will not rise. It is bound to flop.

So let us remind ourselves that Christ gives us peace, but not the kind of peace that the world gives. Peace is like a rare, valuable blooming shrub, that is planted within us, and grows in season. God does the planting, does the tending, and offers all that we need for peace to grow, whole-heartedly and freely and blossom as it was meant to do.

If you would see signs of God’s peace, look for those who are more and more devoted to the good of the other, who learn that the best way is when nothing is held back, and nothing is demanded in return, simply because that follower of Christ seeks to be more and more like God, who SO loved the world ...

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