Peace Be With You!
One of my favorite parts of preaching is words. Which isn’t all that surprising. I use a couple thousand of them in each sermon (though sometimes one or two of them are repeats).
It’s not the amount of words I like (surprise though it may be), it’s particular words that have interesting meanings and vernacular connections. I like words so much that I sometimes have to edit and re-edit my sermon to take some of them out to save space for stories. Because, you know, people like stories.
I like them too, as long as they’re filled with words.
If you’ve been around Good Shepherd for a while or heard me preach a few times, the title of our Advent sermon series may not surprise you: Four Little Words. Because, you know, I like words.
Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.
As we saw last Sunday, “hope” - in the Bible, anyway - is less a matter of shrugging our shoulders and uttering a wish. It’s more like having confidence in the God who has acted powerfully before and will do so again.
“Peace” is also used differently in our culture than in the Scriptures. In modern day usage, it recalls the absence of conflict, as in “the two warring sides have made peace.” In the Bible however, it’s not just the absence of conflict, but the fullness of God’s presence and power.
Christopher J.H. Wright puts it this way:
Peace is one of those huge words in the Bible. In the Old Testament it is that beautiful and complex word shalom - all-round wellbeing, freedom from fear and want, and contentment in relationship with God, others, and creation. Peace in the storm is God’s gift to His people (Psalm 29.11). Peace is God’s promise - when love, justice, truth, and peace have a group hug, and heaven and earth are in harmony (Psalm 85.8-10). Jesus and Paul would have used the word peace many times every day in their customary greeting to other Jews (“Peace be with you”), as is still the case among Jews and Arabs today. It is a rich, resonant, and profoundly meaningful word.
The word peace often causes me to recall that great prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Indeed, we can be instruments of God’s peace, because in that first Christmas, God sent his son, and
He himself is our peace… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace… He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near”! (Ephesians 2)
That’s a good word. And a great story. The Greatest Ever Told!