Friday, September 5, 2014

Peace: More or Less

From Toledo, IA

Back in July, I preached a sermon at the three local United Methodist congregations, filling in for Pr. Brian Oliver. He had a sermon series going on the fruits of the Spirit, and gave the Anabaptist guy the one on peace. My outline/notes appear below...

  • Intro: Ref. to "Seek the Peace of the Farm Town" sermon from last fall
  • Peace in Conflict: Pax Romana vs. Pax Christi
  • Peace in the Bible
  • Peace in Acts 10
  • Peace for the Church Today

Peace in conflict
  • Pax Romana
    • A limited peace, peace the world gives, peace by the threat of the sword
    • The “peace sign” - Designed in 1958, originally a sign of protest against nuclear war; now a meaningless consumerist icon, commonly found on young girls’ clothing (boys more war-like symbols on theirs)
    • “Peace” in American popular culture - personal, emotional; e.g. “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by The Eagles
  • Pax Christi
    • Fuller peace, a better hope
    • John 14:27 - “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
    • Eph. 2:14 - “For he (Jesus) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

Peace in the Bible
  • New Testament
    • Eirene - Greek for “peace”; where we get the English word “irenic” (uncommon)
    • Incomprehensible except when understood in light of Israel’s story, of which Jesus is the culmination
    • “Peace,” understood Christianly, needs a story for meaningful definition (otherwise it’s a weasel word) - and that story is the story of Israel and its saving god, Yahweh, the Lord of all
  • Old Testament
    • Shalom - “peace writ large”; expansive and all-encompassing: personal, social, political, economic, even environmental - extending to non-human creation
    • Depends on covenant fidelity/faithfulness - God’s people (Israel) worshiping, serving, & honoring God faithfully; God’s promised peace
  • New Testament (again)
    • Jesus’ new covenant of peace - the gospel/good news of God’s saving power

Peace in Acts 10
  • Pax Romana vs. Pax Christi played out on the pages of Acts - we get constant signs throughout acts that these two notions of peace are in tension, if not outright conflict, with each other
  • Context for passage: Peter in Cornelius’ house
    • A Roman centurion receives a message from God to retrieve Peter from a nearby city; Cornelius is also a “God fearer” (non-Jewish believer in Israel’s God) who gave alms to the synagogue
    • Peter sees a threefold vision from God, telling him to kill & eat unclean animals - and to go with the messengers from Cornelius
    • Peter goes to Cornelius’ house in nearby Caesarea, hears their story, and they away what he has to say...
  • v. 36
    • “You know the message (euangelion/gospel/good news) he sent to the people of Israel)...”
    • “...preaching peace by Jesus Christ - he is Lord of all.” - ref. to Isaiah
  • v. 35 - (Jewish) Peter saying to the household of Cornelius, a (Gentile/non-Jewish) Roman centurion, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
    • Mennonite scholar, Willard Swartley: “Cornelius’s conversion symbolizes Rome, with the Pax Romana it sought to achieve, kneeling before the lordship of Jesus Christ. Something greater than even Solomon or the Roman Empire has come into historical existence” (Swartley. Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics, p. 162).
  • After this passage
    • Holy Spirit falls on those gathered at Cornelius’ house and the whole household is baptized; and they stayed for several days...
    • Then Peter gets in trouble with the church leaders in Jerusalem for 1) being in a Gentile’s house and 2) baptizing them! But ultimately the Holy Spirit helps them see this God’s gospel/good news of peace is indeed for people of all nations that fear God and does what is right (v. 35).
    • Paul - Violent oppressor of the first Christians, miraculously converted into a key apostle and passionate evangelist for Christ’s lordship, and God’s kingdom.
  • Summary
    • “Peace” in Acts 10 signifies the theology-shattering work of God, extending his saving work from Israel to the all nations, through the person of Jesus Christ, his son. As Paul says in Ephesians, “He is our peace.”
    • But Jewish-Gentile tensions in the early church continue throughout New Testament communities, even in later chapters of Acts. Paul’s letters highlight this in many places. By the end of the 1st century and early 2nd century - Jews and Christians would split, a schism that persists to this day.
    • The peace/reconciliation culminating in Jesus Christ met opposition in the New Testament, but continues on into today’s world…

Peace for the church today
  • Signs of Christ’s peace meeting opposition today
    • A fractured global Church - denominations, movements, sects, splits, etc.
    • Conflict within large church bodies - United Methodist, Brethren, Mennonite, etc.
    • Conflict within small church bodies - Congregations unable or unwilling to reconcile within the fellowship; age-old conflicts get papered over, swept under the rug, etc.
    • An American church that all too often can’t tell the difference between the body of Christ (a royal priesthood, a holy nation) and the body of the United States (a human nation)
    • Christians who are all too eager to pursue supposedly peaceful ends through quite un-peaceful means
  • Steps toward living into Christ’s peace
    • Prayer
      • Thanking God for Jesus’ reconciling work through all that he is and has done: life, death, resurrection, redemption
      • Repentance from our failings to be ministers of reconciliation/peace
      • Asking the Holy Spirit to make the spiritual fruit of peace real in our lives - personally, relationally, financially, politically, etc. - more than a “Peaceful Easy Feeling”
      • Praying this in the strong name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
    • Worship
      • Passing the peace of Christ - More than a simple “Good morning” (though that’s a good and right thing to say, too)
      • Holy Communion (Lord’s Supper to non-sacramental Brethren) - Remembering the new covenant of peace that Jesus announced at the Last Supper, and ritualize our being taken into his body by taking his body and blood into ours.
      • Baptism - Being grafted into the family of God, the same family that Cornelius and his household were brought into
  • Service
    • In the church
      • Not papering over/avoiding conflicts - But facing them as an opportunity for God’s peace to break out into our midst (i.e. conflict transformation)
      • Not treating large-scale church conflicts as battlegrounds upon which our enemies must be defeated
    • To the world
      • Seeking the peace of the [city/country/farm town/village/etc.] - Loving our neighbors and enemies as we love ourselves, and loving above all the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, and who is our peace, who left us that peace that we might be ambassadors of God’s ministry of reconciliation
  • Who are we? Whose are we? - We are God’s people united in the body of Christ Jesus
    • Menno Simons, 16th century radical reformer and namesake of Mennonites, a communion hymn:
      We are people of God’s peace as a new creation,Love unites and strengthens us at this celebration.Sons and daughters of the Lord, serving one another,A new covenant of peace binds us all together.

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