Let us begin this time of reflection with a prayer by George Appleton:
O God of many names
Lover of all nations,
we pray for peace
in our hearts,
in our homes,
in our nations,
in our world.
For the peace you willed, we pray.
(Voices United 693)
There were two neighbours, Joe and Sam, who lived side by side in the country. They’d been friends their whole lives and had grown old together. And, now that their children were grown and had moved away and their spouses had died all they had left were their farms and each other.
But, for the first time in their long relationship, they’d had an argument. It was a silly argument over a stray calf that neither of them really needed. The calf was found on Sam’s property so he claimed it as his own but Joe insisted that the calf had the same markings as his favourite cow so it must belong to him.
Well, Joe and Sam were both a bit stubborn and they ended up not speaking to each other. This went on for about a week when early one morning a stranger knocked at Joe’s door asking for work. The stranger was a young man who said he was a carpenter and could do whatever odd jobs needed to be done. Joe thought about it for a while and then he pointed to Sam’s farm and said, “See that farm across the way? That’s my neighbour’s place. And you see that creek running right down between our property lines? That creek wasn’t there last week. My neighbour did that just to spite me. He took his plough and dug a wide furrow up to the upper pond and flooded it. I want you to do one better. Since he wants us divided that way, you go out there and build a tall fence so that I won’t even have to see his farm anymore.”
Joe had lots of lumber and supplies on hand so the carpenter set off to work while Joe took the long wagon trip into town to buy farm supplies. By the time Joe returned home it was sunset and the carpenter had just finished his work. Joe’s eyes opened wide and his mouth dropped in astonishment because there wasn’t a fence there at all. Instead of a fence Joe was looking at a bridge, with fine handrails, which spanned the creek between the properties. And, crossing the bridge, with his hand outstretched, was Sam who exclaimed, “Joe you’re quite a fellow to build this bridge. I’d never have been able to do that. I’m so glad we’re friends again!”
And so, Joe did the only thing he could do, he put his arms around his old friend and told him he was sorry.
As this was happening the carpenter was packing up his tools getting ready to leave. When Joe noticed this he asked the young man to stay on and do other odd jobs for him. The carpenter just smiled and said, “I’d like to stay on, Joe, but you see, I can’t, I’ve got more bridges to build.”
(Peace Tales, pgs. 76-78, by Margaret Read MacDonald, adapted)
I believe that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do: to build bridges of love; reconciliation; and respectful relationships with God, ourselves, and others.
In our Gospel reading for today, John recalls Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Cultivating a deep and lasting peace in our lives, and in our world, is not a simple task but it begins with simple actions that engender kindness and respect. Jesus says, “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” And so, we are reminded that Jesus’ way of living, the way we are called to follow, is a way that does not follow the way of life that is touted as “the good life” by the dominant culture. Jesus’ way of living is not selfish and self-serving; does not seek self-agrandizement but rather focuses on the welfare of vulnerable and marginalized persons and on actions that work toward fullness of life for all people.
The Hebrew word for peace, which Jesus would have used, is “shalom”. It is a word that contains a depth of meaning about peace which is not always readily understood. The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms gives the definition of shalom as:
“Fullness, well-being. A Hebrew term used both for greeting and farewell with great richness of meaning. It is much more than a lack of war and points to full societal and personal well-being, coupled with righteousness and possible only as a gift of God.” (Donald K. McKim, p. 205)
Shalom, “peace” in this sense of the word, describes the essential ideal of the Commonwealth of God which Jesus urged people to embrace and live into the fullness of its reality. Peace is not only a state of mind, an inner calmness, but it is also a state of non-violent compassionate action. When inner peace is translated into outer actions for peaceful relationships that is where we see glimpses of God’s commonwealth. These glimpses of God’s Commonwealth can be seen in the ordinary experiences of our lives and in extraordinary circumstances where peacemaking efforts are taking place.
I believe that people are essentially compassionate beings that sometimes overide those natural, God-given, instincts and instead learn to act in callous uncaring ways. A few years ago at the Epiphany Explorations symposium in Victoria, Romeo Dallaire told a true story about a Canadian unit of peace-keepers who were serving in Rwanda at the time of the bloody massacres of Tutsi villagers. All United Nations peace-keepers deployed in Rwanda had been instructed not to stop and assist people who had been attacked and lay dying because of the risk to the UN troops of contact with HIV/AIDS which was rampant in the country. One day a Canadian contingent of UN peace-keepers was on patrol and travelled through a village in which hundreds of people lay dead ravaged by machete blades. As they passed they noticed there were many people who were still alive although mortally wounded. Despite the explicit instructions of their superior officers, and with great risk to themselves, the Canadian peace-keepers immediately responded by stopping and assisting the wounded people and offering them whatever comfort and peace they could give.
Some scientists claim that human beings are hard-wired for compassion and I believe that to be true. Sometimes our environment and circumstances discourage compassionate, peaceful, and loving responses but that is exactly what God calls us to do and be. Be love; be compassion; be peace; in ordinary and extradordinary ways each and every day of our lives.
God Has a Dream, the book by Archbiship Desmond Tutu that some of us have been reading and discussing on Wednesday evenings, has some interesting thoughts about love, forgiveness, and transformative behaviour which is nurtured through deep faith and belief in God’s constant loving presence. In a recent chapter, Desmond Tutu asks an important question for us to think about and act on:
“What can you do in your family, in your community, in the world to create more caring, more sharing, more compassion, more laughter, and more peace?” (God Has a Dream by Desmond Tutu, p. 140)
In the year, 2000, Nobel Peace Prize laureates drafted Manifesto 2000 as a guideline for practical action with respect to engendering peace in our lives and in our world. Manifesto 2000 offered ordinary people some simple and practical actions they could agree to “respect all life; reject violence; share with others; listen to understand; preserve the planet; rediscover solidarity.”
With this in mind, and remembering the story I told at the beginning of this reflection, I’ll close with A Prayer for Peace by Jennifer Watts:
Jesus, son of a carpenter,
you have left us the tools
to be builders of peace in our communities.
Tools that craft peace built on love and justice.
Tools that shape communities
built on human rights and respect.
Tools that build understanding
and compassion for others.
Tools that create a world
that delights in laughter and joy.
We are inspired by your example
to use our creativity,
our ingenuity, our love of beauty
in the great work of building communities
of love and hope.
Your tools, worn smooth by love,
Guide us to embrace them in our hands
as we continue
your ministry of building peace in our world.
(United For Peace Worship Resource, United Church of Canada, 2007)