“The prophets and priests are frauds, every one of them. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying “Peace, Peace,” when there is no peace” -Jeremiah 6:14
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws. You lay me in the dust of death.” -Psalm 22:14-15
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do lot let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” -John 14:27
“Christ is our peace. In his own body of flesh and blood he has made both groups one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” -Ephesians 2:14
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you,” according to the Gospel of John this was part of Jesus’ last blessing of his disciples.
The prophet Isaiah, many generations before, shared a vision for what is possible when that peace that Christ embodied is unfurled across the entire world: “Justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness shall abide in the fruitful field. The effect of that righteousness – the effect of a right relationship with God and with each other – the effect of that will be peace, the result of righteousness is quietness and trust forever. My people will live in a peaceful environment, in safe homes, and in quiet resting places.”
This vision, is the vision of Holy Shalom. “Shalom” is the Hebrew word that often gets translated as “Peace.” If you look at all the ways the prophets and Jesus talk about and live out this Holy Shalom, we can say it means “Peace” in the fullest sense: Peace. Wholeness. Well-being. Fulfillment. Social harmony. Justice. Wisdom in how power is used. Prosperity for all. Health in body, mind, society and soul. Harmony with God and harmony with one another. What can we say but “Amen!’ May it be so. May it be so. May we know that it can be so, with God, the true God, at the center. But we have to also confront how often it is not so. How often it is true what Jesus said, that this Shalom we find through Christ is not like what the world gives. These days, oh these days, we have been feeling the grief, the heartbreak, of how far we are from living out the peace of Christ – the grief upon grief caused by violence in this world, the acts of violent men that have shattered the peace and wellbeing of so so many. I want to honor the feeling of helplessness about this. Helplessness in the face of unspeakable violence and loss, on such a scale in Las Vegas, especially piled onto all the other acts of violence we’ve grieved these few years, that helplessness is what’s most crippling about this grief.
I’ve been praying and thinking a lot this week and, well, throughout my life, about what we can do as a church, as a Peace-of-Christ people, to not be paralyzed by helplessness in the face of this violence.
The fact is, there is a lot we can do, that’s helpful. And there’s a lot we already are doing.
Violence reproduces like a virus, and there are certain kind of medical interventions, you could say, that we can do to prevent that reproduction. There are actually many helpful things that people can do, but what I’m going to propose to us as a faith community and to other churches who are kindred spirits, is something that doesn’t require any money, doesn’t require us starting a new program, doesn’t require more meetings or events, and may not even be controversial. If you want all those things, we can talk. But my proposal is actually hard enough. Here’s the thinking: It’s really about the spirit of what we’re already doing, but amplifying and focusing it to intervene in the reproduction of violence. The people who become killers are, largely, men Who are isolated, socially; Who are bitter, angry, grieved for one reason or another; And who have been taught that violence is the way we express those grievances. We gotta make someone else feel pain in order to express our pain. Violence is how we assert our power. Nothing makes you feel more powerful than to have the power over life and death – which really is God’s alone. There is the idolatry of violence, the worship of a false god, that’s preached in many ways in our culture. It’s a virus, an invasive weed that spreads through bitter, isolated soil. So the question is, how do we find that soil and put better compost into it so it can produce good fruit?
So the question can be, whom do we know that fits that description? Isolated? Grieved? Bitter? Probably of the male persuasion? And under the persuasion of the false gods of violence? In our family? At our work? At the bus stop or bowling ally or block or market or just fishing the same stream on the same day as us … Is there a way, just one person to another, that we can connect a little, and maybe offer someone something to help a hardening heart? Because what we share here, in this sacred community of messy humans gathering before God, what we enjoy here and celebrate here, is the antidote. It’s a great gift that saves souls. The peace of Christ. The Shalom, the Holy Shalom of our Lord, Which we learn to share together, as we see each other and see the great meaning of each of our lives. I think it was Frederich Buechner who said: People’s greatest need is also their greatest fear: To be known. And to know that we are known for who we are, and loved for who we are. The other side of that fear is the fear of knowing others, and know them for who they are, and to dare to see how God loves them too. God loves us each for who we are. That can sometimes feel unbearable for us to feel for ourselves. God loves everyone else too. That can also sometimes feel unbearable. If you know that gift, even a little, share that gift. Share that gift with someone who needs to know that love of God, and who needs to be healed and calmed by that love of God, that peace of Christ, that Holy Shalom of our Lord. This goes for folk who may abuse power against others. And it goes for folks who are abused by that power. And for all the ways we abuse ourselves. All are in need of the love of God, and to know that that love is for each of us and all of us. So be bold. Share the Good News, invite someone new into it. It may feel like a little, but if we’re all in on the same conspiracy – or con-spirit-cy, I should say, it’ll help, and in ways we can’t fully understand.
Thanks be to God.
(Delivered October 8, 2017 at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg).