When will there be Peace?
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
“…He came and proclaimed peace to you
who were far off and peace to those who are near.”
Ephesians 2:17 (NRSV)
It’s no fun being an outsider… It’s no fun being estranged – or feeling estranged – from someone else. Yet, sometimes in life we find ourselves on the outside looking in (so to speak). And occasionally we are placed (or place ourselves) on the wrong side of a dividing wall of hostility with someone else…
a former friend,
one we’ve loved, even
What do we do when that happens?
Do we simply accept estrangement (or hostility) for what it is – a condition in life (at times) that divides us from others?
Do we pray, perhaps, that God will bring an end to the conflict we have with others – (that God may) perhaps help them to change their mistaken ways and to “see the light”?
Do we look within ourselves and address the issue of our hostility (or estrangement) from the inside out – asking God, simply, to help us to see?
In his circular letter – that is, a letter written to many early churches (not just one), Paul (or someone writing in his name) addresses the issue of human hostility. The specific matter, of course, was that which divided early followers of Jesus – Jewish Christians who (as those belonging to God’s chosen people) might be considered the insiders to the Kingdom… And, Gentile Christians (be sure to add your own name to this group) who came to faith in Jesus outside of Judaism.
That was the specific, concrete issue Paul addresses here…the dividing wall that separated Jews and Gentiles in faith – much like a wall that once quite literally separated them in the Temple in Jerusalem.
But the issue of “dividing” ourselves from others…of “building fences” between us and those we do not like…goes far beyond the ages-old hostility that continues to exist in Palestine and the Middle East… Doesn’t it?
I mean we don’t have to look far – even beyond our own backyard or back porch to see or experience the hurtful ways we allow ourselves to be divided.
Years ago, in Illinois, we had a learning experience with some folks who lived nearby. Truthfully, there was a tiny lot between our house and our nearest neighbors. Yet these folks bought it, wanted to build there and managed to squeeze a sizable house onto that tiny lot…which sat very close to our neighbors’ house. The back porch and deck of the new house was very close to our neighbors’ kitchen window.
And once the new house was completed, the newcomers built a large ‘privacy fence’ that stood between their deck and our neighbors’ window. Imagine that! Looking out your kitchen window…as you have for many years…and now all you can see…is a large privacy wall-like fence.
Before the fence was completed, our neighbors asked if it could be redesigned and the fence shortened so that they could at least gaze out to see the sun and trees above…but the newcomers refused. They also built a large fence around their entire backyard.
For me, it was a sad commentary on dividing walls and privacy fences that sometimes stand between those who could be our neighbors.
But that may be a trite example, because hostility (or anger or resentment) goes deeper than that… Doesn’t it?
Sometimes it resides, unresolved, in the human heart – and the human mind – for years (and years). Some may take out their unresolved anger on someone else (however innocent she or he may be)… Or maybe anger at oneself – which often leads to depression.
So, what may we do…if perhaps we – and perhaps others we love – find ourselves caught in the quagmire of enmity and hostility? Is there any message of hope to which we may cling?
Paul, of course, reminds us that there is. The evangelist and apostle – the great bearer of good news for the early church – and the Church of late…gives us a message of hope that is centered in the person of Jesus. But (perhaps with some risk of sounding a bit “preachy” here) let me add…
It begins with God.
It is shown through Christ… and
It involves you and me.
Paul, naturally, says it much better…
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace…and has broken down the diving wall…the hostility between us.”
And yes, while he is talking about that which divides the faithful (Jews and Gentiles) in the early church…His words are timeless, I believe… They are also true and applicable for you and me.
It begins with God, don’t you see, when we remember that God is the Giver and Source of reconciliation. At its core, reconciliation is what we all need. It means (among other things) to bring about a mutual change. God is the One who brings that change.
God is the One who knows us – even better than we know ourselves – and can lead us toward the change we need to have and make within ourselves…that draws us away from estrangement…and draws us toward a mutual understanding.
William Sloane Coffin once said,
“Peace always seems a weary way off. As Jeremiah lamented, ‘We looked for peace, but no peace came.’ But to give up on
peace is to give up on God.”
It is shown through Christ…who did an amazing work. Doubtless He knew there was hatred even for Him – and for what He preached and taught. And yet…What did He do? What did He say? When He died…What did He bring?
Sinless, He died.
Peace, He proclaimed.
Salvation, He brought.
“Let no one who dwells in Christ entertain a doubt
that he is reconciled to God.”
It begins with God.
It is shown through Christ.
It involves you and me.
Yes, that’s where we come in. It’s cynical…Isn’t it?... on our part, simply to accept estrangement (or any hostility we may harbor) as a part of human existence. (That’s not the way we are made!) And it’s prideful (even arrogant) for us to ask God to change someone else (we believe to be wrong)…or simply to wait for another to ask for forgiveness.
(Listen, I’ve done it…It doesn’t work!)
You can do it, of course…but (if you do) you’ll find yourself standing on the outside looking in – on the wrong side of the wall that you’ve help to build.
No, this is what we may remember…(and may do with God’s help)…
“You are no longer aliens and strangers…”
(those who are not at home).
“You are citizens and members of the household of
God.” (those whose real home is with God).
And the funny thing is – (though you’ll not think it’s funny when I tell you) – so also is the one with whom you are estranged… She or he also, is a member of God’s household.
What God brings…and shows…and offers…is synonymous with what also saves us (when all is said and done)…. eiraenae - Peace - shalom.
When will there be Peace?
Actually, friends, I think you know.
W. Clay Macaulay
Director of Alumni Development
Union Presbyterian Seminary
Richmond - Charlotte
A sermon preached for
Cove Presbyterian Church