Peace is a fleeting thing. In a world marred by fights and squabbles, shootings and social media slandering, we can sometimes feel like the only way forward is to fight.
Just a week ago, Will Smith, a retired defensive end for the New Orleans Saints, was gunned down by a man who had previously rammed his Hummer into the back of Smith’s car. Smith’s loaded gun was found in the glove compartment of his car when police arrived on the scene. Neither man left the house knowing that this altercation would turn deadly but both left with armed weapons, and one chose to use his.
In the Middle East and around the world, even in our own cities and communities, violence and unrest continues. People are bullied, physically and emotionally, and anxiety grows as they chose to bully back or not. That’s the message being bandied about in political presentations around the country now. “Those are your choices: be bullied or bully back!”
But the Bible says we have options. The Bible says we can turn the other cheek. The Bible says that we should practice peace so that we can be more like Jesus.
As we pursue the Fruits of the Spirit – with the apologies to Michael Jordan’s exploration of what it means to wear an unwrinkled undershirt and the Dairy Farmers of America combined- I ask you, Do you “got peace?”
Because we either have it or we don’t. We either practice it or we don’t. We either let it seep into our souls and try to make us different…. Or we don’t.
But you say, ‘I’m more aware of how to give someone a “piece of me” (or “a piece of my mind”) then to extend peace!’ Or you admit that you have practiced fighting for so long that you’re quite good at it. (I know I am!)
We just have a hard time letting go, don’t we? Go ahead, I give you permission to hum the theme song of Frozen to yourself for the next few seconds. Okay, done!
Seriously, one of my favorite examples of … letting go… is the image of the duck. The duck swims around and gets all wet. Water laden, he cannot fly. But when he comes to the shore, he shakes his whole body, from tail feathers to wings, and the water flies off!
Wouldn’t it be great to be a duck?
Instead, we can’t move on. We hold on, and grumble, and let things fester. We figure we must prove ourselves.
Then consider these two main things we must know and embrace to practice peace.
First, peace must be vertical; we must know whose we are.
Do you know that you are a child of God? Before you were the biological decision of a mother and a father, before you were born, adopted, raised, or even named, you were a child of God. God loves you so much that he made you on his very own and created a world and life just for you.
I walked outside of the classroom building at Richard Bland a few weeks ago and watched as a beautiful monarch butterfly hovered and seemed to follow me. I was the only one around and I saw this beautiful ornate creature THAT IS JUST A BUG dance in the air. And I thought to myself, ‘People think there’s no point to life, when there’s THIS to watch?’
The simplest creature – an insect- has the innate beauty to make me stop and WONDER. How much more impressive and spectacular are each of us? Knit together with a wondrous number of bones and capillaries, tissue and organs. (I passed Biology but don’t ask me to explain how it works.) You are special and unique.
You are a child of God. And so am I. And so is that guy over there you might think you need to compare yourself to or argue with or vie with for position. But you don’t because we’re all God’s children.
But then there is 1B. Not only were you created uniquely, unlike any other snowflake, er, human, you are so special to God that God sent his one and only Son to die on the cross for all of your sins. All of our mistakes, all of our anger, all of our problems and pain that we knowingly caused or unknowingly stumbled into, God wanted to wash them all away so he sent his son WHO DIED on a cross. And then God loved you and Jesus so much – that he broke through all of the science that makes butterflies and people and planets and he RESURRECTED that same Jesus so that we would be resurrected to.
Hello!!! We are special. We are God’s! Because we’re God’s children and saved by his grace, it doesn’t matter what anyone else tells us – or what we think about our self-worth. We are valuable and important so we don’t have to fight for it, or prove it, or worry about putting on a good front. We don’t need to engage in confrontation or “win” to prove ourselves.
Second, peace is horizontal; we must know who we are once we know whose we are.
We are sinners who are saved by grace. There is very little that anyone out there could do that we haven’t already done. When we watch our children grow up and we see them stumble and fall, we find ourselves more sad than angry because we know they are repeating mistakes that we made THAT WE WISH WE COULD SPARE THEM. If we would remember who we are – sinners saved by grace – it would keep us from those moments of judgment on another person.
True story. I was driving to work one day, and I was completely cut off by a woman who swerved into my lane to avoid another car that was driving erratically. Both drivers were on their phones. I shook my head at their stupidity and kept driving. Later that afternoon, I dropped my phone momentarily and swiped with one hand (while holding onto the steering wheel with the other at ‘9’) to pick up my phone, and barely missed the person in the next lane. It’s hard to be judgmental about driving when you realize that we are all struggling with the same things, no?
The truth is that we are not just driving fools, we are life fools. We say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing and forget the things we shouldn’t forget. We are constantly working to stay ahead to the point that we fail to actually acknowledge where we are. We have countless examples from Jesus through parable about how we shouldn’t think better of ourselves than we really are.
God loved us enough to create us.
God loved us enough to save us.
We’re doing pretty good.
But we fumble and feud and worry and stomp our feet at the world instead of stopping to smell the roses – or watch the butterflies.
We aren’t at peace with ourselves because we’ve lost sight of whose we are and who we are.
What, for the love of God, could get our attention?
If we can’t see the love of God in the peace of Jesus Christ, then I’m not sure anything can.
On the night he was betrayed, he pushed the swords of his disciples away.
On the day he was crucified, he welcomed sinners into paradise and forgave those who murdered him.
Over the weeks after he rose, he forgave those who fell asleep or ran away when he needed them, and even the one who denied him three times.
Jesus knew whose he was and who he was. He let the rest of it go.
Reverend Robert Hagan or Father Rob is an associate athletic director who is also a priest at Villanova. As they celebrated Easter while in the March Madness tournament, their celebration of Maundy Thursday included washing another player’s feet before the team meal. It reminded all of them that they were equals, whether they were starters, walkons, coaches, or equipment managers. They knew who they were – and rode it all of the way to the improbable championship game-winning shot.
Inner peace is about knowing whose you are and who you are – and living your life in accordance with what God calls you to do.
Peace isn’t not being aggressive; peace is not being afraid.
We can’t be afraid that we’ll lose some bit of social status if we don’t respond to the person who fires off criticisms at us on Facebook.
We can’t be afraid that we’ll be less than who we’re meant to be if we don’t get the last word in with our spouse during an argument.
We can’t be afraid that it’s somehow our fault when someone else mistreats us and we don’t fight back physically or abuse them with our words.
Peace means kicking fear to the curb, lifting ourselves up as the children of God and saying, “I know how this ends. I know who has won. I recognize that love wins because love has already won, that I choose Love and Joy to be mine. I choose peace.”
I challenge you today to choose peace, to embrace it and drink it in and let it change how you speak, how you write, how you pray, how you love, how you think, how you dream- how you live.
Peace takes practice. It requires preparation. Remember the duck from earlier today? Ducks have a process called preening where they nibble on their feathers. They are actually spreading an oil, secreted from a gland near their tail, that they spread over the top layer of feathers. It’s how they stay waterproof – while also keeping the rest of their feathers dry and fluffy. God gave them what they needed – as long as they apply it consistently over time.
Like peace. God gives it to us – and he shows us how to apply it. But we need to continually practice it.
Give peace a chance. Right now. Pray for the first person who comes to mind who you need to forgive, whether its yourself or someone else.
Stay silent the first time you are inclined to argue this week.
Share the good news of God’s love with someone else.
And remind yourself: You are a child of God who was worth the death and resurrection of Jesus.
You can let go of everything else.