The gift of peace

Proper 7B

In the name of God: our creator, love, and peace, let us pray.  O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

That prayer is called “A Collect for Peace”, and it’s one of the prayers suggested for use in the Book of Common Prayer during daily Morning Prayer.  I used it several times this week, because the idea of “peace” has been on my mind.

Last week, during “Joys and Concerns” I mentioned that I’d visited a friend last week who was in hospice.  While I was there, she asked me to pray with her, and when I asked her what she wanted me to pray for, she said, “Peace.”

So of course, in that moment, that was what we prayed together: that she would have peace in her transition.  So throughout this week, the idea of “peace” has kept creeping into my mind.  And then, today, we get this story about Jesus calming the stormy sea.  And how does he do it?  By speaking “peace” into the storm.

“Peace”, as a concept, is one of the things most often mentioned in the Bible.  With a quick search, you’ll find the word hundreds of times.  But the idea grows and evolves through the course of biblical literature.  At first, it’s thought of in the way that we most often hear the word: as a tangible experience, as the opposite of war.  Peace is a state of being - primarily for the state.  It’s what we experience when we’re not actively at war with other countries.

But as the timeline through the Bible progresses, the idea of peace evolves.  Instead of just as the experience of whole peoples and communities, peace begins to be seen as the goals of kings and leaders.  They seek peace for themselves, and through them, their people.  But in time, the idea of peace begins to wend its way through the people themselves.  It becomes a goal that all people seek to attain: at first as that tangible experience - the thing they seek when in conflict with others.  But eventually, by the time we reach the story of Jesus, peace becomes more of a spiritual state.

On Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit came through Jesus speaking peace.  In the story we read today, the tangible experience of peace in the face of a storm comes through Jesus speaking peace to the tempestuous sea.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”, they ask.  Peace joins the signs that Christ shares to make his power and his union with God known in the world.

As the stories of our faith move forward, peace continues to evolve, to the point where it is as common as a greeting: “Grace to you and peace, from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Like love, peace becomes one of those words we regularly use, but in doing so, we often don’t recognize its power.

As my friend lay dying, peace took on a real meaning for her.  It wasn’t something entirely abstract, but not entirely concrete, either.  While I’m sure she would have appreciated it, she wasn’t praying for world peace.  She wasn’t thinking of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.  And she wasn’t thinking about conflicts in her own life with the people she knew - at least not in any direct way.  She was thinking of that personal conflict she was feeling in her own spiritual life.  The conflict of facing death, and feeling afraid, but also trying to live as a person of faith.  She was thinking of peace as a tangible reality she could experience as opposed to the equally tangible reality of suffering.  It wasn’t just a thoughtless or automatic greeting for her, but something very real that she prayed to know and experience more deeply.

As Christians, we are called to follow Christ by speaking peace into the world.  Not just by signing treaties or ceasing the warring madness that so often enfolds us and our nations - though those are certainly noble pursuits.  But we are called to embrace the spiritual reality of peace for ourselves, and to share that gift with the people and situations that we face.

In the systems theory of leadership, scholars talk about the benefits of leaders being a non-anxious presence in the communities and organizations they lead: of how we should avoid contributing to the anxiety of systems, by intentionally spreading the absence of anxiety.

In the world around us, there is almost immeasurable anxiety: about war, about death, about threats; and jobs, and poverty, and security…  But in the midst of all of that, the example of Christ calls us to speak peace.  As the storms of life are raging, following Christ means saying, “Peace.  Be still.”

It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to still the winds and the waves.  We probably won’t stop the rain from falling.  But in practicing peace, at the very least we will stop contributing to the anxiety.

You may remember from the 90s, Susan Powter made a name for herself with infomercials about her weight loss techniques.  She would show a cacophonous collection of ads about how to lose weight - each promising a gimmick greater than the last - when she would interrupt them all by clutching her short, platinum blonde hair and screaming, “Stop the insanity!”

Well, we may never fully stop the cacophony of the world that keeps standing in the way of peace, but we can stop contributing to it.  We can be agents of Christ’s peace, even when peace seems to be most out of reach.

Sometimes the first step is simply to speak peace where only war, madness, and anxiety have spoken before.  Sometimes the best ministry we can offer is one of quiet confidence in a world of increasingly loud anxiety.

Again, our prayer book is a resource for helping us toward that goal.  Let’s pray, again: O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.