Peace in Our World?

For the last two weeks the images coming out of Afghanistan have been awful. Whatever your political persuasion, the sight of a mother handing her child to US soldiers over a wall for the sake of that child’s safety is heartbreaking. The death of 13 US soldiers and dozens of Afghans as the result of a suicide bomber was devastating. Any peace that may have existed in that country on account of the presence of the US and its allies has evaporated. The people of Afghanistan and those who have yet been unable to get out safely need to be in our prayers.

Peace is precious but elusive in our world. Nations can be torn from within and without. This is one of the reasons we pray, as Jesus taught us, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Or as it says in Revelation 22:20: Come, Lord Jesus. Because to whatever extent God’s kingdom and will are becoming a present reality, ultimately they point us to the day Christ will return “to judge the living and the dead.” Only when Jesus comes again will the kingdom of God arrive in its glorious, peace-filled fullness. Only Jesus the Prince of Peace can secure lasting peace.

Living in the meantime always means living in the tension between “the now and the not yet.” We live in between the times, between the first and second coming of our Lord Jesus. While we look forward with hope to a future that will be conflict and violence free, human history will continue to be riddled with gunfire and soaked in blood. There is a Cain for every Abel. No amount of diplomacy, uneasy ceasefires, and political maneuvering will change this.

We need God himself to usher in his peace.

When I was growing up as a Roman Catholic, each Mass included the passing of the peace. We would turn to those around us and say, “The peace of Christ be with you.” The other person would respond by saying “And also with you.” In most Protestant churches we have turned this into a time of shaking hands and greeting one another. But they are not the same thing. To pass the peace is to declare and share the source of genuine peace. Peace comes from outside of us. The passing of the peace is a prayer and a perspective.

In the Bible, Jerusalem is the city of God. It is both historical and symbolic. Psalm 122:6–9 says this: Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure; may there be peace within your walls, security within your fortresses.” Because of my brothers and friends, I will say, “May peace be in you.” Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will pursue your prosperity.

One of the interesting shifts we see from the Old Testament to the New Testament is that all of the language of sacred buildings–say, the Temple or house of the Lord–gets transposed and refers to the actual people of God. For example, in 1 Peter 2:5, the community of faith is being built into a spiritual house. So perhaps we can think of Psalm 122:6–9 in a similar way. If so, then the prayer of the psalmist is that God’s people would be filled to overflowing with peace. Those who gather together as the church are to become outposts of peace in a conflict-filled world. When in the midst of a fellowship of believers, those whose lives have been rent asunder by violence and hate ought to find security. May peace be in you.

On the eve before his crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples: Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful. The peace Jesus gives to us now isn’t the empty promise or futile effort of a cynical politician. Nor does it involve the present elimination of all strife, whether between individuals or nations. Instead, it is the peace we can have in knowing that one day his kingdom will come and that the hostility of our world will come to an end. It is the peace the prophet Isaiah spoke about so beautifully. Speaking of the nations, the prophet says:

They will beat their swords into plows
and their spears into pruning knives.
Nation will not take up the sword against nation,
and they will never again train for war.

Isaiah 2:4

Such a vision almost seems impossible to believe or too good to be true. And were we to count on ourselves to bring about such a reality, we’d be right to think of such a state of affairs as beyond our grasp. Thankfully, however, not only is God able to accomplish this, he will indeed do so. That is his promise. That is the trajectory of biblical revelation. In the meantime, we can have peace now by trusting in the one who will eventually–in his timing and power–usher in the fullness of peace we so desperately want our world to know.

My Resurrection Sunday Message

This morning during our Easter service, I shared the reflection below by Karl Vaters. I then shared some reflections of my own.

“The Gospel Of Failure (A Good Friday Reflection)” By Karl Vaters / April 1, 2021:

“The gospel was built on failure.

The good news started as very bad news.

It was never supposed to work. For a long time it looked like it never would.

It started with a young, pregnant, single girl in a backwater town too small to be mentioned in most ancient records.

She gave birth in a barn far away from home.

The most powerful man in the country tried to kill her baby.

Her people, the Jews, were ruled by an empire of such stunning strength and ferocity that a local governor could (and did) execute thousands on a whim.

They had

• no idols

• no monuments

• no army

• no right to try their own capital cases

• no power

Just a book – which told them about a deliverer.

But even that hope was fading.

Into this hopeless setting came yet another traveling preacher.

He spoke like a revolutionary. But he had no home and minimal, if any, formal education outside his local synagogue.

Yet he astonished his listeners with his intellect and wisdom from a very early age.

He had the wrong kinds of friends from the wrong sorts of places, including the women he relied on for much of his financial support (Luke 8:1-3).

Not only did Jesus’ own religious establishment not support him, they openly despised and opposed him.

His most reliable followers were so unruly that he had to break up a fight almost every time he came into their presence, then scold them for lack of faith.

They were so poor they had no money to pay their taxes.

The disciples never understood what their leader was trying to do.

His own brothers didn’t believe in him.

His enemies hated each other. But they hated Jesus so much more that they joined forces to kill him.

One of his closest followers sold him for a small bag of coins – silver, not even gold.

When he needed them the most, his friends fell asleep.

When they woke up, most of them ran for the hills.

One of the few who stayed nearby swore he’d never met him. Three times.

His trial was a farce, but his torture was real.

On the cross, he hung naked and bleeding. His flesh hung in strips from his barely-recognizable body.

As he died, Jesus didn’t just feel forsaken by God, he actually was forsaken by God.

Jesus’ life, ministry and message looked like a failure.

Until the resurrection.

That changed everything.

For you. For me. For everyone.

Forever.”

I love Karl Vaters’ reflection. The resurrection changed everything.

What about you this morning? What does Jesus’ resurrection change for you?

Are you trying to live on your own terms?

Are you resisting God’s call on your life?

Are you letting fear and worry control you?

Are you hiding from your need for forgiveness?

Are you trapped in feelings of guilt, failure, or shame?

Are you stuck in past hurts and mistakes?

What do you think God sees when he looks at you?

What do you think God wants for you?

And how does Jesus’ resurrection help us answer these questions?

What does the empty tomb mean for you and me now?

Most importantly: Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?

Let me put it this way.

Roughly 2,000 years ago a dead man walked out of a tomb.

And not just any man—a man who claimed to be God in the flesh.

And because he did, we can have hope.

Because he did, we can know we’re never alone.

Because he did, our wounds can be healed.

Because he did, this life doesn’t have to bear the weight of all our dreams.

Because he did, there is more to life—to being alive—than we can ever see.

Because he did, we don’t have to invent meaning and purpose for ourselves.

Because he did, our sins can be forgiven.

Because he did, our failures don’t have to end us.

Because he did, we can have a joy this world can never provide.

Because he did, we can have peace—with ourselves, with one another, and, most importantly, with God.

Because he did, we can have everlasting life. This is never all there is.

This day—Easter Sunday—we celebrate all of this. This day we celebrate that everyone can have hope.

Do you still need to put your hope in Jesus?

Do you need to have your hope in him strengthened and renewed?

Do you still need to confess Jesus as the risen Lord?

The question is: are you willing and ready to receive the life, the hope, and peace he is waiting to give?

Because he is alive. He is here. And he can give you peace in the present and hope for the future.

Pardon and Peace

While I was doing the morning office, one of the prayers was for the assurance of forgiveness following a prayer of confession. It goes like this:

Grant to your faithful people, merciful Lord, pardon and peace; that we may be cleansed from all our sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (2019)

What struck me were the words “pardon and peace.” Because both are important. Pardon refers to God’s forgiveness of our sins. Peace refers to the assurance of forgiveness.

God doesn’t only want to forgive us; he wants us to know we have been forgiven. He invites us to live in this forgiveness. We needn’t hang on to our sins–through shame and guilt–after we have made confession and received God’s pardon. Receiving his pardon and peace means we can rest in his presence, knowing nothing stands between us.

Psalm 103:12 says that As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

1 John 1:9 says If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Have you ever continued to feel guilty or ashamed after you’ve confessed sin?

Have you ever tried to work a little harder at serving God to pay him back for what he has freely given?

Here’s the truth: We owe God everything; we can give God nothing. At least nothing he needs.

More to the point, we give him our need, our thanks, our praise, and our love. Yes, we serve him. Not to earn his gift, but to express our gratitude for it.

So let’s not hold on to what God has removed. Instead, let us move ahead joyfully because our Redeemer Jesus has indeed given us pardon and peace. Take to heart Jesus’ own words when he says Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.