Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
The Peace of Christ
A sweet gentleman asked me about the peace of Christ. His question has lingered. I wonder about him, wonder what peace he is seeking, and wonder what has disrupted his peace or kept him from finding Christ's peace.
When you think of peace, what comes to mind? Before reading ahead, go ahead, close your eyes, and wonder for a moment... what does peace mean to you?
I did the same exercise. What does peace mean to me? Absence of all conflict. End of war. A sense of calm and safety. Gentle voices, without shouting, anger, or argument. Comfort. Honest questions asked to grow relationships and settle any confusions. Zero violence. Zero insults. Zero gossip. Zero force having to be used against others, or in protection or defense of self. A community with no fear. A community with no prejudice, stereotype, or hierarchy. A sense of equity and equality between people. Enough for all, with no argument about what is needed by some or given by others. Peace.
Then I wondered, is that what Jesus imagined and taught about his peace? Jesus has many teachings and statements about peace, but some of them do not fit well with my assumptions about peace. Some of them do not seem to fit well with one another and even seem to be self-contradictory.
Here are just a few of Jesus' statements and teachings on peace, or his peace, from the four Gospels.
Matthew 5:9 - “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
Matthew 10:34-38 - “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword... one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves (family) more than me is not worthy of me... and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me."
Mark 4:39 - "He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm."
Mark 9:50 - "Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Luke 2:13-14 - "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
Luke 19:41-42,45 - "As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes... Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there."
John 14:27 - "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
John 16:33 - "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
So, what is the peace of Christ?
Peace appears to be a blessed calling of God upon those who will have the courage to risk making peace, and it appears to divide families from one another and force a choice between loyalty to God and family loyalty. Sometimes, peace brings calm. Sometimes, peace brings disruption and division.
Peace appears to be a blessed calming of turbulence and struggle outside all of us, and it appears to be a preserving agent of holy community from inside each of us. Sometimes, peace is a gift given to us. Sometimes, peace is a gift we have to stand up and give for the sake of others.
Peace appears to be a promise of God, a gift God is trying to dole out abundantly and graciously in the person of Christ, and it appears to be something we will not see, we will not recognize, and that needs physical disruption in order to get our attention. Sometimes, peace is what we most need and seek. Sometimes, peace is our least favorite option, one we aren't willing to notice or consider.
Peace appears to be a gift, an antidote to fear, and it comes from Christ himself, and it appears to be a guarantee we will face conflict or persecution in the world when we practice peace. Sometimes, peace erases our feelings of fear and dread. Sometimes, peace pushes us into situations we fear and dread.
This is the peace of Christ.
Today, in our prayers, let's pray for the peace of Christ.
Let's not pray for a wishy-washy peace that avoids conflict at all costs. Let's not pray for avoiding or burying or sweeping under the rug real issues and disagreements just for the sake of keeping the peace. Let's not pray for our peace but for the peace of Christ.
Christ's peace insists on truth, love, and justice as co-ingredients. Christ's peace willingly enters the storm, debate, division, or brokenness in order to bring lasting peace upon all God's people.
What peace do you need today? Pray for the courage to bring the brokenness to light in order to finally find peace. What peace does someone else need today? Pray for the courage to put yourself into that space of tension or conflict to help make lasting peace for all.
May the peace of Christ be with you all.