Called to Peace


We are now in week 3 of our dare2move series and this weekend we are looking at how we are are called to Peace. Often we preach on topics that are sensitive issues of life, managing money, sexual purity, healthy relationships and while the topic of ‘peace’ does not seem like one of those issues — after all who doesn’t like the idea of peace — yet it turns out it is a very difficult idea because despite our ideals, our words and even our good intentions, we are not very good at it and quite often are unwilling to submit ourselves to what peace requires.

The Hebrew concept of peace is not just the absence of conflict, it refers to completeness – a totality of well-being – toward God, toward each other, and toward creation. That’s a tall order. What is interesting is that shalom and being a person of shalom, a person of peace — is not first and foremost something that is done, it is an expression of something deeper at work in a person, just like violence though seen as actions — is actually just an eruption of what lies beneath.

There can be no doubt that Jesus calls us to be people of peace. We are to live as people of peace. Over and over again the Bible speaks to this but we tweak the texts and rationalize the results. It is our nature as fallen human beings. We have come to the place where we are enamoured by the …

The Wisdom of Violence

“Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”” (Genesis 4:23–24, NIV)

When Adam and Eve sinned, it took only a generation to go from disobedience to murder. Cain murders his brother and what is his greatest concern? That others will kill him. God marks him as a warning against others to not kill Cain (Gen 4:1-16). After Cain, we have a genealogy where Lamech rationalizes the murder of a young boy and says if Cain is avenged 7 times, he will be avenged 77 times. He sees God’s mercy to Cain as justification for his murder and the multiplication of violence continues and God’s evaluation is clear:

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” (Genesis 6:11–12, NIV)

The bible understands violence as an expression of corruption – an expression of the Fall. It is a corruption of creation. A corruption of what God intended for human beings. The problem is that violence makes sense to us at a very deep place. There is why cycles of violence continue for generations at an increasing intensity over time. Round and round it goes, you kill my brother, I will kill your family, to I will kill your extended family and on and on and on. The aggression continues, the hatred grows and the actual violence that we see is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is wrong. Deep within us, there is a place where violence makes sense.

Now, some people will say “I would never harm another person. I am against physical violence” and that’s good, congratulations. But shalom is more than the absence of violence — that’s why Jesus said that when we call someone an ‘idiot’, we identify ourselves as children of hell, not children of God’s kingdom (cf., Matt 5:21-26). This puts us in a tough spot, because it is so easy and natural to judge and be angry and become bitter. Peace, or ‘shalom’, is an expression of a life in tune with God and engaged in love. The wisdom of violence runs deep within the human heart and makes sense at a visceral level. And this is the challenge, but the way of the cross — the way of love as God defines it — does not really make sense.

The cross shows us …

The Foolishness of Love

As Paul wrote about God’s way…

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 25, NIV)

The Cross is the supreme expression of God’s love, it is an expression of both his strength and wisdom, yet Paul is correct it seems like weakness and foolishness unless it is viewed with the eyes of faith.

From a human perspective, nothing about the cross makes sense. Peter responded during the arrest of Jesus in the way many would respond. He grabbed a sword and began solving the problem in the most human way. . .violence. No matter how valiant or courageous we may think of Peter’s actions swinging his sword and aiming for the head, the ultimate judge is Jesus himself calls out to Peter — “no more of this”. You can hear the urgency in Jesus’ command. The disdain in the word ‘this’ is almost palpable. The reason for this is clear enough if we pay attention to what Jesus says about what love looks like in God’s kingdom. It is a love that forgives enemies. It is a love that prays for those who cause us harm.

When Paul writes the Ephesians, he call upon them to imitate God as dearly beloved children (Eph 5.1) and self-sacrificing love is the essence of what we are to imitate, Jesus gives us some sense of what that would look like:

““You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48, NIV)

This kind of love of enemies finds its expression in shalom – peace. When we love others to the point where we will forgive, when love to the degree that we pray for those who do us harm — the result is a definitive lack of violence. Even one’s words, instead of being harsh and uncaring are marked by patience, kindness, goodness, & self-control.

Of course, some will be quick to speak of when they believe violence is justified, but honestly as I look to the news feeds and read the headlines, it sounds a lot like a pastor preaching his or her heart out on the dangers of praying too much. Seriously. . .is that the problem that we might be praying too much? I honestly do not think so. Shalom is the end-goal of God’s plan for his creation and Jesus invites us to join him in the foolishness of love. A love that would go to cross to save an enemy — because that’s what each and every one of us is until that time we believe in Jesus Christ. Paul says:

“For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.” (Romans 5:10, NLT)

The brotherly-love, that followers of Jesus are to imitate – is an enemy forgiving, reconciling love – not the love Cain had for his brother Abel.

The bible says that we are to embrace a life of love and that we can measure all Christian virtues in our lives by the extent to which we are willing to submit our hearts to the rule of peace – the rule of Shalom.

All of this leads NT Scholar and Ethicist, Richard Hays to remark:

One reason that the world finds the New Testament’s message of peacemaking and love of enemies incredible is that the church is so massively faithless. On the question of violence, the church is deeply compromised and committed to nationalism, violence, and idolatry. (By comparison, our problems with sexual sin are trivial.) (Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, p. 343.)

Church has often been concerned about worldliness — yet somehow the core teaching of Jesus on enemy-love and peace have escaped appropriate notice over history and even into the modern era.

The Rule of Peace

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:14–15, NIV)

Paul first writes in Colossians 3 that followers of Jesus are to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We are to bear with each other and forgive one another just as Christ forgave us. And that this point he moves into vv 14-15 that we are to put on love because it holds all the other virtues together — it becomes fuel for all those other things. And if the fuel for these virtues is love, the peace — shalom — measure of our love. Do our actions correspond with God’s peace? This is the constant question. Did my words express love or anger or bitterness — are they marked by the shalom of Christ?

As we read more and more in the NT about the Shalom of Christ – the peace of Christ, we understand better why some Christians have disavowed all violence against others. In fact, they have committed to suffering and dying rather than following in the violence around them. They are following the example of Jesus — who chose the cross rather than the path of retribution and violence. We learn from Matt 26:53 that Jesus could have called down 12 legions of angels to destroy his enemies and set him free. 12×6000 angels. A single angel went through Egypt in a night and killed all the firstborn children of the Egyptians. . . what would be left if 72000 angels came down to avenge the abuse of Jesus. Some will undoubtedly want to spiritualize everything and say Jesus was on a mission and the cross was his salvation plan — of course, of course, but it is also an example to us because Paul refers to the cross as self-sacrificing love that husbands are to have for their wives. Jesus himself said that followers were to pick their cross and following him. Imitate him. The love of Christ leaves no room for revenge. It leaves no room for sin. It is filled to the brim with shalom — the perfection of relationship by grace and power of God.

WE can never be these kinds of people on our own. We cannot love enemy on our own — perhaps if they cease and desist and ask for forgiveness, a person might find a place to have mercy — but when Jesus say love and pray for those who are actively doing harm. . . Jesus says “those who are persecuting you”. It is a present participle . . .it stands out referring to a present on-going action. I can’t love like that on my own. And neither can you. We all need to be saved precisely because the example of Jesus, the example he wants us to follow and imitate is a life-long project.

When Paul says take every thought captive to Christ, when he says “Let the peace of Christ rule your heart” it is a demand that both reveals how far we fall short but also marks a goal that we must be moving toward in our lives. It ultimately is an act of obedience and an act of submitting our will to the will of God. And nothing in this life, absolutely nothing, is more difficult than bring the wild beast that is our will under submission to Christ — but wrestle it we must or we are not truly engaging the upward call of Jesus Christ to let the peace of Christ rule our hearts. The Greek word there is very clear. . .it means ‘control’. The peace of Christ is to be the controlling factor in our hearts. Is peace central to the message of the NT — yes. It is central to salvation and God’s entire plan for his people. He is the reconciling God, he brings peace to those who are enemies. He brings love where there is hate. He brings forgiveness where there is bitterness. This is what Jesus–the “Prince of peace” brings into our lives.

And over all the virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. AMEN

You can watch a video of this message here: Called to Peace

Salt & Light (Mother’s Day 2016)

BLESSINGS on the hand of women!
       Angels guard its strength and grace.
     In the palace, cottage, hovel,
         Oh, no matter where the place;
     Would that never storms assailed it,
         Rainbows ever gently curled,
     For the hand that rocks the cradle
         Is the hand that rules the world.  
William Ross Wallace, (pub. 1865)  

One hundred years before I was born, William Ross Wallace published a poem about the far reaching influence of Mothers.  We may find his poem a bit rigid or lacking artistic flare — we may even find the words dated and expressing a patriarchal view from a previous age  — nevertheless, there is a truth to fact that no single group of people have done so much sacrificially for others as mothers.

Ironically, the christian Church has a mission that seeks to balance that with godly men who serve their families and share the responsibility of parenting with time and with tenderness —  being a present reality in their children’s lives.  Thankfully, in this room, that is what I see time and time again.  Moms and Dads  working together.  Of course, generally though, there is still much to be done in the church in this regard..

At this stage in my life, I don’t presume to know much that would be helpful to tell mothers beyond what a good friend and mentor told me and my wife years ago  —  “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, NRSV).

I guess telling people to have constant love for another is always good advice but for parents who love their children more than life itself, it is freeing to understand that as long as that is present in their child’s life, whatever imperfections exist things will work out.  With love, we can overcome the systems we were born into and can truly grow in family relationships in a positive direction.

Today, I will not be handing out advice to moms or to dads.  In fact, I want to speak to something that affects us all — and is at the heart of what Wallace was saying.  I want to speak a little about having a Vision for Influencing our world.

Jesus told his disciples very clearly that they were to be an influence in the world for good.  Let’s listen to Jesus.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–16, NRSV)  

If you have gone to church for any length of time, you will have heard lots of factoids about salt — I have in the past — unfortunately — inflicted that upon my listeners but I’m not going to do that today.  All you need to know about salt in the ancient world is this: It was valuable.  Roman soldiers received special wages to pay for salt and from that we have our word “salary”.  Today salt is a couple of dollars for box, but in the ancient world you needed a special allowance in your wages to cover the expense.  Salt was important and valuable.

When Jesus speaks of salt and light in the world, he is ultimately speaking about influence in the world.  An influence that will demonstrate the love, grace, compassion and justice of God. The goal is not that we get a pat on the back or even that we successfully change the world to usher in an age of peace — the goal is this:

to bring glory to God through concrete actions in the world
that are rooted in the supernatural worldview that Jesus himself believed, taught and lived.  

So often Christians try not to get involved in the world.  Anabaptists have a special place in the history of giving up on this larger influence.  Regardless of the theology that props up such ideas, Jesus words are quite clear that if we segregate ourselves from the world or simply do not join in public discourse at all — we have simply put a basket over our lamp so no light can escape.

This week, Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist scholar and cultural critic wrote these words in a NY Times op-ed

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech did not envision that more than 50 years later “Go back to Africa” would be screamed at black protesters or that a major presidential candidate would tweet racially charged comments. Some American Christians may be tempted to ignore these issues, hoping they are just a wave of “political incorrectness” that will ebb in due time. That sort of moral silence shortchanges both our gospel and our future. 1

While Moore is speaking to his white evangelical constituency, his words are important regardless of context.  When we care only about those who look like us, act like us, and think like us — we are not living out the gospel as Jesus intended us to live it.  In fact, Moore ends his piece with these words:

The man on the throne in heaven is a dark-skinned, Aramaic-speaking “foreigner” who is probably not all that impressed by chants of “Make America great again.” 2

His goal in his context is to convince Evangelical Christians to speak out against Trump.  To choose Jesus over a political partisanship and to actually be an influence in the world.  He is right to do so in his context.

The fact is that we all must look our contexts and ask ourselves the same question.  What must we do to be salt and light in this world.  What will future generations look back and see as the glaring moral deficiency in the church in this generation.  We may not be able to address that completely or even see it clearly now — but we can do ask the question and seek wisdom from God. We can have hearts that are willing to go to the uncomfortable places where we can be salt and light in the situations that we do see.  We can speak up instead of being silent.  We can voice another opinion — one marked by something different than the rabidity that exists in our current culture.  We can do what we can to show the world that God exists, that his love and grace still impacts lives, and that there is hope and acceptance in Him.

The big question is as it always has been:

Will I do it?  Will you and I live as salt and light in this world? And then, how will we influence the world in the ways of Jesus?  

But on this mother’s day, with the focus on family and children and of course, motherhood.  Perhaps the greater question for we parents is simply this:

How  will our example inspire and encourage
children of the next generations
to become Salt and Light in the world?

Will they see something in us that is worthy of imitation.  May they see in us something positive — something valuable — that we chose to follow Jesus as salt and light in the world.  That we were people with a vision to influence the world.

2 Ibid.