The Peaceable Community
The Peaceable Community
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
I would like to begin with a little thought experiment. If you were made President for a day and you could change one thing about the way we do life together, what would it be?…and for those civics minded people, in this experiment there is no congress…only a President, so you get to do whatever you want…so now what I would like you to do is turn to your neighbor and tell them what law you would enact, or repeal…maybe you would abolish the DMV, or or the EPA…you name it…except there is one caveat, while yes this is generally a question about politics, this law cannot alienate your neighbor if they happened to be more left or more right…you see that’s why the DMV example works so well…whether your Republican or Democrat, each of us could probably get behind the abolition of the DMV. Okay Go.
Now you may think this is a silly exercise, but the truth is, if we were to analyze each of your responses, we probably would in all likelihood, learn something interesting about you.
So for example, if you said, repeal all speed limits, I might infer that you have a bit of a lead foot. Or maybe you would increase foreign aid to the poorest countries on earth, and we might infer that you have a generous Spirit.
Your government would reveal your strengths and your weaknesses, your proclivities and your biases. It ultimately would tell us who you are just as much as it would what your government would be like.
Well, our scripture text, from Isaiah tells us about a messiah, whose government will be on his shoulders, a government that will be known for justice, for righteousness, for wisdom and much of what we are going to focus on, peace.
What I would like to talk to you about this morning is the idea that this “government of Christ” his kingdom, offers a radically different kind of peace than any other kingdom, a peace that while hidden from some, is a peace with which we are invited to participate. But in order to accomplish this, we need to understand just a bit more about the nature of the messiah and his government.
One of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith is this, that while Isaiah is correct in predicting the glory of Christ’s rule, his government was nevertheless, as John points out in the first chapter of his gospel, largely unrecognized. And not just unrecognized by foreign powers, but even by his own people. How could this be?
To begin with, Jesus did not come with the obvious trappings of power of his day. There were no chariots, no swords, no troops. Christ’s kingdom, unlike the Roman power brokers of his day, began in a manger in a backwater town in a far-off village most elites would have considered utterly useless.
Jesus’ kingdom begins through the telling of stories. The telling of parables, where those who were willing to listen were invited into a radical world where status and privilege were supplanted by grace and love. These stories, these parables, invited you into a different world than the world that his audience knew.
Do any of you remember the name Don LaFontaine…he was the voice over actor who would start virtually every trailer with “In a world”…”In a world where…there is only peanut butter and no jelly…one man struggles to make jam…
It’s kind of silly right? But why did they do that? Because the movie studios wanted to transport you into this story, into this alternate universe where you could be fully immersed in the movie, in the story.
Well, that is in some ways what Jesus was doing with parables…he was inviting people into this new kingdom by telling stories.
This world that Jesus invited people into was really all about a new way of living life that did not depend on the tribe you lived in, or the name you carried with you, but on the gracious, sovereign activity of the one true God.
And it was a kingdom that was not bound by the limits of time or space, geography or economy, but one that broke the shackles of death when Christ rose from the dead. It is a kingdom that has outlasted all of its contemporaries.
One that we continue to seek to this very day. This kingdom, as Isaiah describes, was and is, one that would be known for its peace. But what did Isaiah mean, what did Christ mean, when he told his disciples in John 14 that he would give them peace?
One rather obvious hint is that this peace was not an absence of conflict. For most of us, when we think of peace, we think of a lack of problem, typically fleeting, but sought after nonetheless. For some of us, peace looks like an empty inbox, a clean house, or sitting on a beach somewhere, watching the waves come in.
Regardless of the specific scenario, fleeting would be the best definition… This is no less true throughout the world as many of us are aware. The Society of International Law, in London, did a study and found that during the last 4,000 years there have been only 268 years of peace in spite of good peace treaties. In the last 300 years there have been 286 wars on the continent of Europe alone.
What does Jesus’ life teach us about peace? What is fairly clear from the onset of Christ’s ministry is that Jesus, instead of running from conflict, seems to purposefully turn towards it.
Even prior to his crucifixion Jesus placed himself in harm’s way, see the demoniac, he broke social convention to preach the good news, even when it meant being ostracized by the religious authorities, and he purposefully spent time with the untouchables of his society.
Is it possible that Jesus, the Christ, the messiah born to us re-defines peace itself.?
That peace is not the absence of conflict, or even the “good life” our culture might articulate, no, what if peace, understood correctly, occurs when we allow God’s kingdom to reign in our lives…
where the last are first, where society’s rejects become treasured guests at the feast. What if peace, true peace was where God’s shalom reigned, where there was wholeness in relationships, with God, with our neighbors, even with creation. This is the peace that the son, the one born to us has promised to bring.
It is a peace that for us, begins with our experience of God’s grace…that everything we have is not earned but given not so that we be entertained, or even happy, but that God’s glory might be made manifest in our souls
One Pastor, Mark Roberts, puts it this way: “The inner peace given by God isn’t like the peace provided by the world, It isn’t peace that depends upon outward circumstances or inward rationalizations.”
Indeed, God’s peace often comes when events or reasons would provide just cause for worry. As Paul notes, God’s peace “is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand” (Phil 4:7).
When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, when they were huddled together, afraid for their lives, his first words to them were “peace be with you.”
His peace was not an invitation to escape the world, but rather a call back into it,, but to do so in the power of the Holy Spirit, and with the Spirit to make disciples of all nations…But to do so knowing that their Rabbi, their teacher, was far more than a religious leader, but God himself.
This brings us to another characteristic of Christ’s peace, from the beginning, was never meant to be individualistic, it always had a communal emphasis…those same words that Christ first uttered to the disciples, continue to be said today between members of the church.
“Peace be with you”. It is both a blessing and a promise. A promise that, as Jesus tells us, wherever two or more are gathered, there I will be also.”
Now I know what many of you are thinking, peace, in the church…is that even possible? This situation illustrates the issue well…
The story is told about a small, country church where the pastor called a special meeting of the congregation to approve the purchase of a brand new chandelier.
After some discussion pro and con, an old farmer stood up and said, "Buying a new chandelier may seem like a good idea to you, but I’m against it for three reasons. First of all, it’s too expensive and we can’t afford one. Second, there isn’t anybody around here who knows how to play one. And third, what we really need in this church is a new light fixture."
All joking aside, it is an open question, how can the church, filled with as many opinions, be a place where peace triumphs?
It has to begin with the recognition of God’s grace upon our lives. When we ground all of our relationships in our most important relationship, where Christ took our place on the cross. ‘
When we ask the Spirit to give us hearts that are gracious instead of hardened, when the Spirit helps us look first to serve and not be served…when we don’t have to have all the answers but with humility can simply be “us”…in essence when we imitate Jesus’ life in community, there will be peace.
Being a peaceable community does not mean we never argue, or that we never disagree…rather it means that we can speak truth in love, that we can forgive and be forgiven, love and be loved, and do it with the assurance that God is with us. Being a peaceable community means that we never place the task at hand above the relationships in which God has placed us.
So if you had your way, what kind of kingdom would you create? What government would exist if you were in charge? I’m not sure about you but I don’t’ think it would mirror the kingdom Christ ushered in 2,000 some-odd years ago.
It was completely unconventional, and at times it did not seem like it would ever come to fruition. But Jesus showed us a different way. It was not a kingdom built on military power political savvy.
But it was a kingdom built on a conception of peace mostly unknown, a peace that did not run from conflict, but humbly and assuredly faced it, even when it was a cross. Jesus’ peaceful kingdom can be experienced anywhere believers come together, who place the needs of the community above their own.
Wherever Christians join together to serve, to love, to care for each other, this is the kingdom that Jesus put on his shoulders. And may we humbly join in advancing it wherever we may go.