Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon October 18, 2015
8Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
13Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
“THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS PEACE”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
So we come to peace – the third fruit of the Spirit’s presence within and among us! But what is peace? In the 1960’s I was significantly involved in the peace movement – against the war in Vietnam. My involvement was hastened because my twin brother was fighting with the 101stAirborne Division in the jungles of Vietnam. I was even downtown during the craziness surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention riots.
But one thing I discovered quickly – and it was surely on display during the convention riots – many of those in the peace movement were anything but peaceful. Many of those in the peace movement fostered hostility instead of peace! One cannot have both! Peace and hostility are opposites. I will not believe you are promoting peace if you promote it in a hostile, angry, way!
For a good number of years, I was involved in what was known as the justice and peace movement. Serving as a Franciscan representative, I attended numerous gatherings such as ones at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site – protesting nuclear weapons and being arrested for such protests.
But I eventually moved away from the justice and peace movement because so many of those involved in the movement were angry and hostile. I don’t like being around angry and hostile people because – in their presence – I become infected with their anger and their hostility. One cannot pursue peace with clenched fists! Let me say this again: one cannot pursue peace with clenched fists!
Sisters and brothers, let’s ask ourselves: what exactly is peace? We often look at peace as the absence of conflict – but peace is much more than the absence of conflict. Biblical peace is much broader than an absence of conflict or hostility. Peace in the Old Testament is known by the Hebrew word, “Shalom,” used 210 times.
Biblical Shalom involves a sense of fellowship or friendship between people and a harmony with creation. To be a person of Shalom, biblically-speaking, is to be a person who is in a right relationship with others and with all creatures.
In the New Testament, we encounter the Greek word, eirene, normally translated as peace.Eirene is found some 94 times in the New Testament, 13 times in the Gospel of Luke, 10 times in Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
Eirene has as its root – the notion of tying something together into a whole. Therefore “peace” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament implies wholeness. In the Biblical sense, peace is God’s gift of wholeness and holiness. Let me state that holiness cannot happen without peace being a major part of that holiness. Brothers and sisters, hostility and holiness cannot co-exist.
Whenever I’m around hostile people, I never feel any sense of wholeness or holiness flowing from them. Hostility and holiness are opposites. Show me a hostile person and I’ll show you a person in need of God’s healing. Show me a peaceful person and I’ll show you a person gifted with the divine grace of holiness.
We know God alone is the source of peace. As a matter of fact, in the Old Testament God is spoken of as Yahweh Shalom. If God is the source of all peace, then peace can only come from God. But here’s the thing: we can work to bring God’s peace into our hearts and into our world. As Psalm 34:14 admonishes: “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Seek peace, and pursue it!
If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, as we believe him to be, then as his followers – we must also seek peace. Sisters and brothers, listen to what Jesus proclaims in his majestic Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Could Jesus be any clearer? When we seek to be peacemakers – we become a child of God!
The way of peace is the only path worth pursuing. Any and all violence is always against God! Let me say this again: any and all violence is always against God! If we want to be peacemakers, we must be done with violence in all its nefarious, diabolical, manifestations.
A person of violence should never claim to be a Christian. A Christian must be a peace-seeking person. A Christian must be one who disdains violence and hostility. A Christian must be one who seeks healing from every satanic temptation to violence and war.
Brothers and sisters, as we know, we Baptists do not take to baptism easily. Baptism for us must be a freely chosen decision rather than a ceremony imposed upon an unaware infant. Baptism for us Baptists necessitates a decision to “take on Christ” – to let go of every other identity except our identity in Christ. Baptism means that from then on – we will seek to see everything and everyone through the eyes of Jesus.
Let me go further – I believe anyone who comes forward for baptism needs to renounce all the diabolical works of Satan. And what are the works of Satan? Hostility and violence are two main works of Satan. As a matter of fact, in the Catholic and other Christian traditions that baptize infants, questions are asked of parents and godparents.
Here are three of those questions from the Catholic tradition – questions I used to ask: “Parents and godparents, do you reject Satan?” They must answer: “I do.” Then a second question: “Parents and godparents, do you reject all his works?” Again they answer: “I do.” And a third question: “Parents and godparents, do you reject all his empty promises?” They answer once more: “I do.” When an adult is baptized – these same questions are asked of those adults coming forward for baptism.
Sisters and brothers, should we, Baptists, not also ask such questions of those who come for baptism? Should we not make it clear that a decision for baptism is a decision against hostility and violence – Satan’s main instruments of cosmic disruption and human division?
Admittedly, I never thought about this prior to working on this sermon – but now that such thoughts have come to me – I don’t believe I can again baptize without questions such as these. A decision for Christ is a decision against everything that leads to hatred and hostility.
To put it succinctly – a decision for Christ is a decision to choose love and hospitality in all its variations. A decision for Christ is a decision to reject every form of hatred and hostility. If this is not what it means to “take on Christ” – if this is not what it means to “die with Christ” – then I don’t know what is! After all, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims: “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
Brothers and sisters, this is the way to peace. But it is not easy. It is admittedly difficult. Love my enemies? Really? Do good to those who hate me? Can I get a second opinion here? Yet there it is! If this is the core requirement of a Christian – which I believe it is – then no wonder there are so few true Christians in our world!
So, let me try to be practical about the path of peace. One problem is that too often in our Christian life – we’re put to the test – by having to declare what are we for and what we are against. I’m tired of having to declare on which side I stand on this issue or that issue. How can anyone find peace when he or she has to continually choose sides?
Of course, as Christians, we must choose between multiple moral positions. But choosing sides is not the way to peace. Choosing sides is often the way to hatred and hostility. I’m sick and tired of hatred. I’m sick and tired of hostility!
I’ve encountered enough hatred and hostility to fill any lifetime. I want out of the hatred and hostility rat-race. I want peace! I want to embrace peace! I want to live in peace! I want to follow the Prince of Peace! Enough already of our faith fights! I’d be very proud if our beloved Morgan Park Baptist Church became known as a peaceable church – a church where one could come and worship in peace!
Yet, as I’ve mentioned, the way of peace is not easy! As our brother Paul, echoing Psalm 14, declares in Romans 3:11-15: “As it is written: There is no one who is righteous, not even one: there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness … The venom of vipers is under their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery are in their paths, and they way of peace they have not known.”
The way of peace they have not known. Is this not as true today as when the Psalmist and Paul wrote these words? Why do many of our Christian sisters and brothers know nothing of the way of peace? Why is there so much venom of vipers under the lips of many of our Christian brothers and sisters? Why do we label our nation a Christian country when so many of our leaders know nothing of the way of peace?
One answer is because many Christians cling tightly to hostility. They read the Bible and side with every hostile voice in the Bible, of which there are many! They do not read the Bible with eye and heart attuned to the voices of peace. But let me add a caveat from Rev. Brian McLaren’s book,Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?:
“We have learned from our own mistakes that religious people engage in hostility not because they are inherently hostile, but because they perceive things they love (as being) under siege. Their aggressiveness often boils over from a loving defensiveness.” We’d well remember this and not be hostile with those who are hostile!
Let me also add something else: the Gospels – the actions and words of Jesus Christ – trump everything else in the Bible. The Bible is given to us so we might see the face of God – so we might come to God. And here’s what I believe is a most important Christian truth: if it is true of Jesus – then it must also be true of God.
Is God a God of war or a God of peace? If Jesus most assuredly uncovers for us the face of God, then Jesus reveals to us that God is first and foremost a God of peace! God never chooses sides when God’s children fight one another. God is not on our side. God is not on their side. God is always engaged in the work of loving each and every person. God’s Spirit is tirelessly working to bring about peace: peace among all peoples, people among all creatures, great and small. And we, you and I, are called to help God - help the Holy Spirit of the Living God – bring peace to our war-ravished, terrorist-embroiled, enemy-laden, violence-saturated world.
Is this an easy path? Not at all – but it is the path you and I embraced when we took on Christ in the waters of our baptism. We, you and I, are peace-makers whether we want to be or not. I wish I could lay out for us an easier path but I cannot. Jesus, Prince of Peace, help make us all instruments of your peace, channels of your peace! Give us the strength to pursue the path of peace whenever it takes us! Amen!