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Peace Like a River

This year marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I would very much like to visit Normandy. I would like to visit what the Allied Forces called Amaha Beach on May 6, 1944 – the day British and American battleships and planes and wave after wave of troops launched the largest invasion in history and launched the United States into the European theater of World War II. I would like to walk among the hundreds of white crosses in the grassy area just above the 100 ft. sheer cliffs which the rangers scaled to take out the German big-gun mounts, pillboxes and machine gun nests. I would like to give thanks to those brave soldiers who gave their lives so that you and I can live at peace today. And I would like to contemplate that looming contradictions that presents us – that we need to go to war to have peace.

Jesus just wasn’t a war kind of guy. He was the one, we remember, who said that if someone gives us a right cheek we should not strike back, but turn the other cheek for the left hook. Jesus was the one who, when he would come upon a group of people would first say to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus was the one who said, “Peace be with you.” Jesus was the one who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Jesus was the one who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Jesus never ever advocated war. But it seems as if humanity cannot break its habit of turning to war time and again in its quest for peace. Even Would War II brought peace only temporarily. Then came Korea and Vietnam. Iraq. How long have we been in Afghanistan? The Socity of International Law in London states that during the last 4,000 years there have been only 268 years of peace in spite of good peace treaties.

We do not do such a good job with peace. And we know it. It’s one of the reasons, I think, we come here to church. We know down deep in our hearts that if there is ever going to be true peace in the world it must start by changing hearts person by person. And we know that’s what Jesus was about.

It’s what he was about the day he made arrangements with his disciples to carry out his ministry after he was gone. He appointed seventy and sent them out in pairs. Their mission was twofold. First, they were to announce peace to each household. Second, they were to tell each household that the kingdom of God had come near. They would hope for a good reception in the villages, but if they were rejected they were simply to shake the dust off their sandals in testimony against them.

Now, let me ask you this: What kind of peace do you think Jesus was bringing to the households? Was he bringing an absence of fighting within the families? Was he bringing a global peace to each doorstop? Was he bringing peace of mind?

Well, inasmuch as these seventy were dealing with individuals rather than rulers of nations we might answer that he was bringing peace of mind. That’s a good thing to have, isn’t it? We all ought to have peace of mind, shouldn’t we?

Duke University did a study on “peace of mind.” Here’s what they found contributed to most to giving people “peace of mind:” The absence of suspicion and resentment. Not holding grudges brought peace of mind. So did not trying to change things that are impossible. Cultivating old-fashioned virtues such as love, humor, compassion, and loyalty brought peace of mind. Setting realistic goals. And, last on the list was this one: Finding something bigger than yourself to believe in.

That’s an interesting study. That’s a great list of things to emulate. And it’s even tempting to treat that list like we treat such books as, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” The theory is, “If I can adopt all those things I, too, can be an effective person.” Or, in the case of the Duke study … peace. That is, if I can just keep from holding grudges, set realistic goals, and cultivate old fashioned virtues then, I, too, can be peaceful.”

Well, maybe you can. Certainly the self-help people think that you can. But this is not the kind of peace or methodology Jesus had in mind when he sent the seventy out. Remember that they had two tasks: 1) Bring peace. 2) Announce that the Kingdom of God is near. Might we consider that one has something to do with the other. Think of it this way:

Right now, you and I do not experience the full kingdom of God. Paul said that right now we see in a mirror dimly. We will experience the kingdom of God only in the fullness of time. But, for now, the kingdom has come near through our baptism, through the holy supper, through the working of the spirit as we live and work with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And, when that kingdom comes so near that you can clearly see the forgiveness, the deliverance, and the eternal life – a peace prevails which is nothing at all like the peace found in any of the self-help books.

Maybe a story would help. Long ago a man sought the perfect painting of peace. He searched all over the world but didn’t find one that satisfied him. So he announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from far and wide. Finally, that great day of revelation arrived. The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the viewers clapped and cheered. The tensions grew. Only two pictures remained veiled.

As a judge pulled the cover from one, a hush fell over the crowd. A mirror-smooth lake reflected lacy green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely this was the best depiction of what peace is all about. But it was only the runner up.

The man who actually called the contest stepped forward to unveil the one which he, personally, chose as the painting of peace. As he unveiled this scene the crowd gasped.

A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky cliff; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy-gray clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind, and rain. This was not peaceful! In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a spindly tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls One of its branches reached out in front of the torrential waters.

A little bird had built a nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones, she manifested peace that transcends all earthly turmoil.

That’s the peace Jesus sent the seventy out to announce. And that’s the peace he sends you and me out to announce … that, in the midst of turmoil darkness and despair our heavenly father reaches his loving arms around us and gives us his eternal protection. (Or her eternal protection!)

In that Duke University list of things which contribute to a peaceful mind, did you notice the very last thing? “Find something bigger than yourself to believe in.” To that we say, “Well, duh!” Thank you Captain Obvious!

“Find something bigger than yourself to believe in.” If you have that, all else will fall into place. If all household were to have that there would be no more D-Days, Korean conflicts, Vietenams, Iraqs (or Irans?) If everyone would cling to that there would be no more terrorism. No more terror. There would be the true peace – the peace that only God can bring.

(And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus!)

Text: Luke 10:1-20

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