Peace Is More Than a Place
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 6:30–6:44
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 21-22, 2018
“Peace Is More Than a Place”
Rev. Dr. B. F. Nass, Pastor Emeritus
Dear members and welcome guests of St. John’s congregation:
Where do you go to get away from it all to find a little peace and quiet when you desperately need it? It’s not that easy these days in our increasingly congested and noise infested world. The other day my wife and I went to Huntley Meadows Park, expecting to find a quiet place where silence might be broken only by an occasional bird’s chirp or frog’s croak.
Wrong!! It happened that day we were right in the landing pattern to Reagan National and the roar of low flying jet engines reverberated one after the other drowning out every pitance of silence. Oh yes!! It also happened to be summer camp time with about twenty sub-teen youngsters in matching orange t-shirts frolicking around doing what they do best … making lots of commotion. Finally, it seemed every other person we passed was yakking on their cell phone. So much for peace and quiet.
In our Gospel lesson from St. Mark for today we find Jesus and his disciples looking for a place where they could find a little peace and rest. Prior to this, Jesus had sent his disciples out in pairs to spread the good news of the kingdom in village after village. Whereas Jesus’ message had met stiff unbelief in his home town of Nazareth (as we heard a few weeks ago), his ministry resonated well in the surrounding countryside. So successful was their ministry and the message they were inundated with requests so that there was no opportunity to rest or even to grab a nibble or nosh of food.
So, they jumped at Jesus’ suggestion to take a break and get away from it all and find literally “a place of peace.” But, as they soon discovered, that was not to be. While they were looking for a place of peace, the needs of the people were such they were seeking peace of another kind. That led to the realization that peace is more than a place. Today’s appointed scripture lessons provide us with an opportunity to examine from a biblical perspective the nature of peace.
In biblical times it was the image of the shepherd that immediately came to mind when trying to conceptualize or define peace. The quality and character of the shepherd was paramount because, as Jeremiah pointed out in today’s Old Testament lesson, there were a lot of selfish and wicked shepherd leaders in his day whose focus was on themselves and their own agenda, not on the welfare and faith of the people or flock they were appointed to lead. The result led to a disintegration of trust which led to chaos, uncertainty, and ultimate destruction.
In contrast, the good shepherd was one whose total focus and concern is on the flock and its needs, even if and when it involved danger. risk and/or inconvenience to the shepherd. The quality and character of that kind of shepherd it described so well in today’s familiar Psalm, often called the “Good Shepherd” Psalm. The good shepherd not only finds a place of peace, but, because of his relationship to the sheep, he becomes their peace. As long as they can see his presence or hear his voice, peace will prevail in the herd in general and in each sheep individually. And this brings us to the real meat of the meaning of peace which we find in today’s Epistle reading from Ephesians.
To bring us up to speed, here Paul is articulating to one of his favorite congregations the earth-shaking news that the gentiles were now included along with and equal to the Jews in the new order established by the work of Jesus Christ and demonstrated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The dividing wall that separated the two humanities had grown higher and more reinforced over the centuries so that it became the impenetrable norm for relations between the two ethnic elements. And that condition would go on forever had it not been for the peaceful intervention of our Good Shepherd, Jesus, who is the Christ.
Walls can serve a purpose but they can also be intimidating. I will never forget the feeling of dread I felt walking to the end of Driei und Zwantsingsen Maertz Strasse on a cold and dreary December day in 1967 to see for myself the bane of Berlin – the ugly eyesore of the Berlin wall. Not only was the wall itself intimidating but the large cleared areas of no-man’s-land on either side and the Russian soldiers peering down at you through binoculars from guard towers didn’t help. I would not have thought then that just twenty-two years later I would see that wall breached and broken. What was the symbol of separation now becomes a trophy of reunification and I and everyone else could walk unimpeded through both sides of the Brandenburg gate. For many years I saved a few chunks of that graffiti encrusted wall. But, in our last move they were relegated to the trash heap of history where they belong.
But that situation in no way even compares to what Paul is describing to the Ephesians. He contends that Christ’s redeeming work initiated a whole new creation, a new humanity. Just a God’s creative power brought order and stability out of chaos in the creation of the world which led to shalom or peace, so Christ’s redemptive work on the cross crushed the chaos of sin that walled us off from our creator, reuniting the broken relationship we once had with God, and builds the structure for a new relationship with God that offers real and lasting peace.
Thus, the resurrected Jesus’ first words to his disciples – “Peace be to you” or Shalom al lechem – were more than bidding his buddies hello. He was announcing the dawn of a new creation. In Him restoration of our peace, our relationship with God is both possible vertically and extends now horizontally to our relationships with one another. That offers us true peace but it doesn’t end there. It must also extend horizontally into all of our relationships.
As we enter our broken world of discord and division, it is obvious that each of us have some walls to tear down in our relationships – reconciliation that is needed to bring lasting peace in our lives. That’s the meaning of that passage in the Shepherd Psalm that talks about preparing a table in the presence of my enemies. It doesn’t mean that I can eat sumptuously and the bad guys will get nothing. Rather it was the custom in that day that when two parties had differences, they would sit down and resolve the issues that were in dispute. When resolution of those issues was accomplished, the two parties would symbolize their reconciliation with a meal. The meal would always begin with the sharing of a piece of bread.
Today, again, Christ has set a table before us to resolve the sins which separate. But as we rise from this table, let the bread which we have shared cause us to tear down any wall that impedes relationship and prevents peace
Peace is certainly not a place. The first disciples found peace not in a remote place but in their relationship with their Savior Rabbi. But they also found it in their relationship with the people they served. May we not only find that peace for ourselves, but also willingly and copiously share the peace our Good Shepherd so richly bestows. Amen.