[Note to the reader: This sermon is designed to accompany a service of remembrance. It could follow the reading of the Great Litany from the Book of Common Prayer, or the Gospel lesson.]
Suggested Proper for Peace, lessons on page 930, Book of Common Prayer
Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth, that in tranquillity your dominion may increase until the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love; through Jesus Christ our lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Sermon prepared by the Rev. Canon Ben E. Helmer
It has been a challenging year for most of us since last September 11. That day dawned fair and gentle across our country, but by evening we had all been horrified at the violent deaths of many, and chillingly aware that there were people in the world who hated us so much they were willing to die to destroy us. The economic and social turmoil that followed the attacks on New York and Washington are still part of our lives. And we live with the prospect of further war and upheaval in the Middle East, tension between India and Pakistan, and the threat of our own government to force Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
In the Ephesians passage we just read we heard the words, "For he is our peace who has made us both one, and broken down the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:13).
Most of us do not want to live in hostility with our neighbors, whether they be next door or halfway around the world. We are not interested in making war on them, any more than most of them want to make war on us. But the hostility continues, abetted by a few and championed by others. We are still a long way from peace. How do we get there?
Christians have struggled with that question, and in the end they always find the answer in Jesus. There are some common strategies to help get us there, but finally we depend on Jesus himself who brings peace to us, not as the world gives peace, but as only God can, with a love for us all that we can never equal.
First, those common strategies:
1) We never give in to jingoism, that ultra-prideful, nationalism defined by Webster's dictionary as an "extreme belligerent foreign policy." Instead we recognize that our culture, based on divine concepts of freedom though it may be, has a lot of things in it that are offensive to much of the world. While extremists use this as an excuse for their violent behavior, the conditions of our own greed for possessions and power at the expense of others are issues we must face and atone for if peace is ever to be in our grasp. Jesus dealt with zealots and jingoists in his day, but he was the light of God's love for all creation; he insisted on everyone recognizing their limits and empowering their gifts. We can do no less.
2) We do not live as people in fear. We are a people of faith. We believe in the essential goodness of Creation, and we seek and serve Christ in all people, not just in those who think like we do. While we are cautious about safety and security, we do not let it become an obsession. Again, Jesus points the way. He was more interested in being with people, all people, than he was in keeping to himself. He wanted others to see God in all people, and serve God in them. He was not afraid because he understood that perfect love casts out fear. While we may not expect to be totally fearless, we can decide as people of God to live in faith that God is at work through us, bringing about the plan of salvation that is extended to all.
3) Finally, we Christians accept that we do not have to fix everything, clean up all the messes, or determine the order of the world according to us. When Jesus was feeding the multitudes he perceived they were about to seize him and make him King. He was smart, realizing that would not have solved anything and surely would bring Roman reprisal upon the people quickly. Jesus instead withdrew. He knew that the abundance of God was being interpreted by the people as success. In fact the abundance of God is generosity beyond our understanding, generosity for everyone. So, can we be generous, tolerant, and forbearing of one another as Jesus encouraged us to be? That is what turned people to Jesus; and that is what we can offer to those who neither seek him nor believe in his name.
It was a little lesson, with a great power behind it, when Jesus turned to the disciples and said, "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33). Saying this passage from Scripture daily and living as though we believed it might make more sense than anything else we could do at this time. If we live as though Jesus really has overcome the world, then the possibilities for peace are endless.
Let us not leave this service without renewing our common commitment to peace by honoring the Prince of Peace in our hearts, minds and deeds.