Following God's Way to Peace
FOLLOWING GOD’S WAY TO PEACE
Jesus has a vision of God’s abundant life, God’s rich blessings, God’s plenty, like a vast harvest which he wants to make available to everyone. Jesus sends people out to make the harvest real.
Not a harvest of people, but a harvest for people: a harvest of peace - understood as shalom - a peace which embraces every aspect of the personality, every aspect of society, every aspect of creation.
So it includes healing, nourishment, wholeness, justice, freedom from slavery, from oppression, from every force that is too strong for them. A harvest that sets people free from every force that is too strong for them. This is why the gospels emphasise exorcism - the casting out of evil spirits - because as well as being physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual healing, it is an image for the power to set people free from every force which is too strong for them: selfishness, sin, economic exploitation, political corruption and oppression, prejudice and racism, criminality and violence.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4.18-19)
Jesus sends his followers out, not just to proclaim this - to tell people “The kingdom of God has come near to you,” but to make it real. In fact, Luke implies that they are to make it real - do practical things to demonstrate its truth - before they explain and expound Jesus’ message. Action then explanation. We make the good news real - then we explain what it means - and because people have seen it with their own eyes, what we say carries conviction. It is convincing.
Jesus sends people out to make the harvest real to those who need its abundant blessings, its peace. To everyone. But they do not just take it to people - more complex than that - they also listen for it in the people they meet and look for it in the places where they go. Where they find it, they recognise it, uncover it, reveal it, bring it out into the light, name it, declare it, develop it, magnify it.
This is the labour of peace-making or peace-development. And it is work - hard, costly, difficult and sometimes even dangerous work.
Julian of Norwich wrote,
“I can see three things,” I said, “A game, a scorning, and an earnestness. A game, in which the Fiend has been overcome: a scorning, because God scorns him, so he shall be scorned indeed; and an earnestness, because he has been overpowered by the blessed passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was done in real earnest and with real hard work.” (Julian of Norwich, “Revelations of Divine Love”, chapter 13)
When she calls Jesus’ encounter a “game” she is not talking about something like Trivial Pursuit. She wrote in the fourteenth century, when the great “game” was jousting: men in steel armour on huge armoured horses riding full tilt at one another and seeking to unseat each other - often being terribly injured or killed in the process. The point she wants to make is that the struggle between Jesus and the forces which trap, diminish and destroy human beings is deadly serious, undertaken in real earnest, and is very hard, costly, dangerous work.
The same point is made - in a very different manner - by J. K. Rowling in her Harry Potter books. Although she writes about magic, there is a sense in which her portrayal of the contest between Harry and Lord Voldemort is very realistic. Good can win, but only as a result of a struggle in which there are losses and sacrifice. Harry and those around him do not emerge unscathed: the struggle marks them, changes them. They have to grow up, make decisions, develop their abilities, discover who their friends are and discover how to be a friend in order to have any chance of defeating their enemy.
Which is exactly right. Because it is not so much what we do - or rather, not only what we do - but also how we go about it - how we deal with people and situations - that shows people the kingdom, that shows them that the peace of God is real. Jesus gives his followers instructions as to how they are to behave: they are to be grateful, to serve, to heal, to everywhere uncover the seeds of peace and tend them so that they grow.
This is a long-term project, a process of working through our anxieties until we are able to trust, learning to listen and pay attention, so that in every place, every person, every encounter and every situation, we can hear God’s call to peace and respond to it. Not easy, but it is possible.
When David was growing up - as one of four children - his family had a special whistle which meant: “I am here, come and find me.” It was a way for David’s father to gather them together when they were scattered on the beach or in a supermarket.
But hearing the whistle was only the start of what it meant to respond to it. Then they had to respond to it. Following the sound was not always easy. To follow, they had to manoeuvre around and through all sorts of obstacles. So they had another whistle, which signalled that they had heard and were doing something about it. It meant, “I have heard you - I am responding - I am on my way” Or, it could mean, “Help! I want to reach you, but I’m lost.” The two whistles, used together, meant that all the family could be involved in finding one another, gathering each other up, taking one another along.
Following God’s call to peace is like following a bell (or a whistle) followed through a medley of other sounds. “I am here, follow me.”
This has implications for the way we think about:
Prayer: Have to know what we are listening for, be listening out for it, quieten ourselves, learn to be quiet and to persist in quietness, patience, let go of all sorts of other “noise”, trust that the sound we are following is leading us well, is leading us to the source of life.
Way we listen to one another: Listening to one another. Develop our listening skills. Good listeners - we can all become better. Questioning our assumptions. Removing the plank from our eyes. Listening to ourselves: our attitudes to things, to others. Pay attention to the way we respond to things. Why does she make me cross? When did I start feeling downhearted: what else was going on at the time. Closer to peace in our own hearts, and in our relationships.
Way we read between the lines of the news. Thomas Merton (Trappist monk, writer, artist, hermit, contemplative and activist in 1960s) wrote:
“This age which by its very nature is a time of crisis, of revolution and of struggle, calls for the special searching and questioning which is the work of the Christian in silence, his meditation, his prayer; for he who prays searches not only in his own heart but he plunges deep into the heart of the whole world in order to listen more intently to the deepest and most neglected voices that proceed from its inner depths.” (Thomas Merton, “The Climate of Monastic Prayer”)
I think this is an amazing way of understanding the spiritual life: as a means of listening to the deepest and most neglected voices that proceed from the inner depths - of ourselves, of others, of the world. It means that when we stop the noise and quieten ourselves we do so to listen through the hubbub as it were to the quiet voice speaking in the silence beyond, or underneath. Those are the voices we are searching for, to which we want to pay attention, which we want to take seriously, and to whom we are called to respond. They may sound strange, difficult, even disturbing, but as we trust the God who speaks through them, the world moves closer to peace.
What sustains us in this task?
Discovering that others are tuning in as well. All sorts of people are listening. All sorts of people are hearing the call and converging on the same sound. The closer we get to the source of the call, the closer we get to one another, to all those who are listening out, hearing the same sound, responding in similar ways. We learn to interpret each others’ signals. May be surprised to discover who else is listening to the sound we hear.
Discovering that amazing things can happen. Being in Edinburgh for the Make Poverty History march at the beginning of July two years ago was an incredible experience. When we listen to God’s call to peace and respond to it, astonishing things do happen. They can be high points which feed us and keep us going when so much of the work is labour - grind - routine.
Discovering and remembering that our names are written in heaven. This is the inner assurance, the peace which we are given in our hearts. This is the peace which endures. This is the peace which need never fail us. Peace in our hearts comes - not from other people - nor from being part of amazing events. It comes from knowing we are known, and loved, and held, and loved still more - forever.
We are sorry, Father God,
that when things have gone wrong for us,
we have accused you rather than examine ourselves.
We have turned out of your narrow way of faith,
allowed our choices to be governed by fear
and taken a path which leads to wrong.
Restore our confidence in ourselves, in others and in you.
Renew our courage.
Turn us around to face the light of your love.
Give us a fresh heart to love you,
a strong desire to follow you
and the commitment to learn from you,
that all our days we may walk in your Way of peace.
FOLLOWING GOD’S WAY TO PEACE
Where do I find peace?
Where and when do I feel peaceful?
SONG: Peace is flowing like a river, flowing out through you and me
Gospel: Luke 10.1-11, 16-20
HYMN: 404 - It is God who holds the nations in the hollow of his hand
From “Hymns & Psalms”
FOLLOWING GOD’S WAY TO PEACE
Peace for ourselves
Peace with our neighbour
Peace for the world
HYMN: 57 - Promise of hopefulness, pardon and peace
from “Whatever name or creed” (Andrew Pratt)
Prayers of Intercession:
((To include: Hymn 413 - We pray for peace to be read responsively as follows: Leader:first four lines of each verse.
Congregation: last two lines of each verse. The bell to be rung in a short pause of silence between each verse and afterwards))
HYMN: 769 - God is working his purpose out
From “Hymns & Psalms”