My message this morning at Church in Bethesda for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, lighting out Peace Candle…
We’ve been lighting candles each week for the themes of Hope, Love, Joy and now Peace.
I pray that your holidays are blessed, safe and joyful!
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Peace
December 20, 2015
I’m a life-long Shakespeare fan. Back when I lived in East Africa at the ripe old age of nineteen I bought a paperback complete works of Shakespeare at a bookstore in Mombasa, Kenya, and I read many if not most of his plays. Perhaps you know the opening scene of conflict in Romeo and Juliet, when young men of the Montoague and Capulet families square off for a public brawl, and one young man tries to keep he peace…
I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword,
Or manage it to part these men with me.
What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word,
As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.
Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, Act 1 Scene 1
How easy it can be to choose another path than peace. How easy it can be to choose conflict. How exciting and romantic it can be! And how elusive peace can be in this world when we can so easily fight and rip and tear at one another. It seems too often that live in a world which when we ask for peace replies, “We hate the word!”
Our peace candle is lit, but peace is still far from so many in our world. So, let’s talk about peace, about our passing the peace, about the little choices we make which bubble up into a redeemed world. One of the things that has been catching on in the Protestant Christian world for the last few decades is the practice of passing the peace in worship, sometimes called a “love feast” or just a few moments of greeting. This is an old practice for the Catholic, Orthodox and older Christian communities.
In fact, it’s sometimes been a point of controversy for communities as it is can be considered too raucous a celebration that breaks the solemnity of the worship service! I guess we can have controversy about anything, including passing a bit to peace to one another.
But I’m a fan. I like the passing of the peace. As a worship element and as a celebration it’s not something explicitly seen in scripture or commanded of us, but it is such a beautiful expression of scripture and a way of life that was taught and modeled by Jesus. Scripture references associated with the passing of the peace begin in Matthew 5 when Jesus blesses the peace makers and then goes onto explain in the same chapter the importance of reconciliation between us, even over and before worship and religious obligations.
Scripture also shows us that Paul begins his letters to churches in a very formulaic way, offering peace each time to his audiences. And so the idea of reconciliation and offering peace becomes today’s ritual and exercise of greeting. I have also heard that it is importantly placed before the Table practice of worship to realize the admonition of Jesus to do reconciliation before approaching the altar. So before we gather at the Table we make sure that we have restored our relationships. Can it be a bit perfunctory and less meaningful as a weekly practice? Of course, like anything we say and do, we carry the burden of making it meaningful with our intent and sincerity. And I hope we always do just that… sincerely offer peace to one another.
I like the peace passing because it reminds us of a couple of important ideas. First, God is our peace. Peace is God’s inclination toward us: peace in reconciliation and peace in our lives. Secondly, peace is one of our prayers that we begin to answer even as we speak it. Peace is not relegated to a far-away time and place, a hope and a dream of days to come… peace is our now when we choose it. We pray for peace and can immediately begin with God’s help to answer the prayer in our words and our actions, today.
Paul eloquently warns of the other side of our choices, when peace is left far behind… to the Galatians, a church wherein he himself has been held suspect by some and come under accusations: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:13-15
There are consequences to choosing conflict over peace, but the real motivation is the wealth of dividends that are paid by choosing peace. Peace is bound up in the presence of God and peace is the chance we give to one another to restore brokenness, advance joy and heal the hurting. Peace is a gift that we can share among ourselves, like a fine meal, like a treasure. It’s a prayer that we not only say, but do. Peace is a plea that we ask and beg, and then begin to answer and realize, with God’s help. We are not without the ability or the opportunity to be the peace. Everyday, every greeting, every person in our lives, every disagreement we have: these are opportunities to plant the peace we would see cover the earth.
In the next line of the play Romeo and Juliet, Tybalt says to Benvolio, “Have at thee, coward!” and attacks. Tybalt sees peace and an effort to keep the peace among neighbors as a weakness and a cowardliness in Benvolio. How little we’ve changed since the days when Shakespeare played out our prideful lives on his stage. We too are often lulled into the romance of conflict, the adrenaline of violence and the hope of domination. We fall into the Tybalt Trap of seeing peace as a weakness or a fear. It is in truth a strength. And as Benvolio in Shakespeare’s story, we will pay a price for standing for peace. But unlike a fictional character upon a stage, we stand in the reality of God’s good world and God’s kingdom business of making peace. With God’s help, we will be the peace. We will do the peace. We will plant the peace. Amen.
Peace, my beloveds… Todd