Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
Go in peace. So easy to say. Acquiring peace is not like turning a light switch. I picture the state of peace as being a team of horses who are working together in harmony, in rhythm, all horses having one goal regardless of one horse having an itch, and another horse wanting to pursue the sweet-smelling grass by the side of the road, and another horse being tired. No, being so well trained that the common goal comes first. A scene of peace, but seeming to be a bit cruel.
There are other pictures of peace. A calm ocean with gently rolling waves along the sandy shore. No loud, harsh voices. Everyone having an idyllic time enjoying each other without the everyday pressures and annoyance. Peace!
Are you thinking of a picture of peace, an example of the peace for which you long? What needs to be removed from your life so that you will have this feeling of peace? Is God necessary in this picture?
Can you picture a wheel with spokes on a wagon? One spoke may be tempted to move more slowly – perhaps it is getting dizzy. But the wheel goes on in the appearance of peace. No broken spokes. No broken outer rim. No broken core attached to the shaft that connects it to a partner wheel on this wagon. No apparent strife. Is this the kind of peace which is related to God?
Think of a family. Some aspect of family life is like the core. It brings the family together. It has significance; rather automatic. You may be wondering what this could be. For some families it would be eating a meal together with no technology in sight or hearing. No reading material by someone’s plate. Yes, even a memorized prayer that is automatic; it has a stabilizing effect on the gathered people. Or, maybe this family is in the habit of bringing thanks and concerns as prayer, each one praying aloud.
Maybe the stabilizing force is a game – any kind of game that relieves any tensions which may be floating in the air; maybe even pressing into the atmosphere. Maybe someone is in physical pain, another member in emotional pain; maybe little Ben needs help in making a decision or has a hurt that needs to come into the safe openness that ideal family would provide; maybe teen-age Bill has a moment of revelation that family is much better than trying to be accepted into a doubtful crowd.
Peace. Can we picture a target as in the game of darts? This design is used as a visual for how people live together, or as a geographical model. The very center can be a person, the next ring can be the family of that person, then moving outward to larger rings, the town, the region, the state, the country, the world, and the very outward ring is God. Now we are thinking peace of the world. What is the connection between peace in the world and peace in a person’s very soul – the core? Is one dependent on the other? Must the individual have peace before there can be peace in the world? Would God withhold peace in the world because one individual has not found peace of the soul? Wow! Talk about one person being important. This is like one person’s vote making a difference in an election.
Looking to scripture for some assistance, in Leviticus 19 we learn that we can feel good in our souls if we leave some of the harvest for people who would not have food otherwise. We shall not steal or deal falsely. We shall not lie or swear falsely by the name of God. These are the ten commandments all over again. We really can’t escape these boundaries, these foundational rules for a solid life, a life built on rock instead of sand. Building our lives on sand, will bring us to turmoil and chaos. Building on rock will keep us steady, will enable us to sail past some devastating situations.
Paul has these words of wisdom in 1 Corinthians 3. “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”
More instruction from this passage in Leviticus which is known as the book of law in the Bible. “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your relatives. … You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Yes, Jesus quoted this passage when he arrived on earth. What is the other part of the shortened version of the ten commandments? Oh yes, we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind, strength and soul. Where is this in the Old Testament or did Jesus just say it? It is in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 6:5 to be exact.
Love. Love is the oil which makes the wheel work; this wheel of spokes which give up their own selfish desires and needs to keep peace in the wheel. The lubricant that makes it possible is love. Thinking of the concentric circles of person, family, community, region, etc., how does love make that model work.
Those circles could stay put; not causing a bouncing and shuffling of these rings. But, because God gave minds to us, some of us become restless. We think things could be better – either of ourselves or for the good of all people, to have fairness. Then we see ripples appearing within a ring or spreading to other rings. For instance, if a group of neighbors in the community ring think there could be more justice in the community, they meet, they decide on action. It ruffles the feathers of the people who like things as they are and may be thinking of protecting their own money or their power.
Listen to what Paul has to say about that in 1 Corinthians 3:19. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” Wow! That should take care of the haughty people caught in their habit of driving themselves for power and wealth. The word “wise” here refers to people who are not plugged into God’s wisdom but are operating with wily thinking, pretending that it is wisdom.
Where is peace by now? Will the wily people have peace or is their need to protect themselves taking too much of their capabilities so that peace does not arrive? Let us do a peace check. Peace within our souls is turning the other cheek. Peace within our souls is making changes with well-oiled methods; oiled with love. True, genuine love – God’s love – is needed. Do you know that God’s love is the name brand. Any other kind of love is a generic brand or a false, shallow substance.
How we treat the weak, the poor, determines our own inner peace. Ignoring the weak and poor will not achieve the desired peace. Living a middle-of-the-road life does not cut it. We need to tear the blinders from our eyes. Either we help the weak and the poor or we lose God’s favor which means “no peace” in our souls. It is not well with our souls. The goal is to sing, “It is well with my soul. Yes, indeed, the goal is to have a well soul.” Having a “well soul” is akin to being holy. Holy! We strive to be holy, making progress two steps forward and one backward or, on a bad day, one step forward and two backward. We will never reach the level of Jesus. He is holy by way of being part of the Trinity, our version of God. But, it is a goal. We can measure our progress by thinking of our old selves.
Meeting new people is part of my life. I am constantly stuffing more names and faces into my brain. Think of the opportunity I have been given to share peace; the peace that is in my soul. My soul is sometimes very peaceful. However, there are times when I have accidentally spoken hurtfully in haste. Sometimes I am downright selfish or stubborn or willful. I forget to retreat and watch what God does. God is the most amazing aspect of my life and of the world of everyday living with its economic wheels and wheels of wealth. We forget to retreat and watch God influence and manage whatever it is that is consuming so much of our time and effort and control inclinations.
Way back, we heard the instruction to leave some gleanings in our fields and in the vineyards. How does that translate to our worlds where fields and vineyards are only words and not part of our world. How do we leave gleanings when our world is the city or the town? Which comes first – the peace in our souls or our creative ways of leaving gleanings wherever we work and play and shop and walk?
Peace will not come to us if we are focused on our savings accounts. Peace depends on our breaking forth from the box of accumulating savings. Peace depends on our being creative but not shedding the shell of caring. Keep that shell covering. We are not snakes in their wily wisdom. We are God’s people. God provides protective coverings as we think outside our boxes, our selfish boxes. Let us serve God and accumulate God’s peace! Let us love the Lord our God with all our souls, our strength, minds and hearts. Let us love our neighbors as ourselves. And who will give us the courage, the strength? The Lord our God is the giver, the supporter, the guide, the supplier of love. Amen