The Gift of Peace
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | December 4, 2022
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Read Romans 15:4 – 13 (RSV)
As you may or may not be aware, the Lectionary is a book or listing that contains a collection of scripture readings that are designed to be used for Christian or Judaic worship on a particular day or occasion. The Lectionary provides an organized way for us to go through the Bible over the course of a three-year cycle. And what this means is that every third year, the same texts will be suggested for use in the context of worship.
In preparing for a sermon in any given week, it can be helpful for me to look back through my files to see if, and how, I may have used a particular passage of scripture before… and this week was no different.
When I went back and looked at the sermons from 2016 as well as 2019 when this passage from Romans 15 previously came up as the Lectionary text, it definitely felt like “déjà vu all over again” … to borrow an old line from baseball great, Yogi Berra.
On the second Sunday in Advent in 2016, there were references in the sermon to Syrian refugees and the devastation that was taking place in Aleppo leaving children dead as the result of an ongoing siege… which feels oddly similar to what has been taking place in Ukraine for most of this past year.
There was also a reference to multiple stabbings that took place on a college campus… specifically The Ohio State University… eerily reminiscent of what took place on the campus of the University of Idaho just last month.
And in that same sermon, there was a reference to a mass shooting that had taken place at the Pulse night club in Florida, a club that specifically catered to the LGBTQ community… although there was one significant difference between what happened in Florida in 2016 and what happened at Club Q in Colorado Springs only two weeks ago… which is that thankfully people in this most recent incident were able to intervene and stop the shooter… resulting in only 5 lives being lost in comparison to 49.
Now the good news is that whether we are talking about the year 57 AD when Paul originally wrote this letter to the Romans or the year 2016, 2019, or 2022… our text for this morning still gives us hope and offers us THE GIFT OF PEACE.
In preparing today’s sermon I thought about a seemingly innocuous practice that takes place in some houses of worship (and used to take place here at Ledgewood) … it involves extending a hand to shake, or perhaps a fist or elbow to bump or in some cases offering a hug to someone else… while saying, “God’s peace,” or “Peace be with you,” … which is then followed with the standard reply, “And also with you.”
In some respects, one might say, it is a way for us to offer one another, THE GIFT OF PEACE.
But I began to ponder the question, if we say or do something so often… simply out of habit or routine… do we lose a sense of genuine feeling in what we are saying and doing?
Will this offer of THE GIFT OF PEACE come across as anything more than an empty gesture when it is extended week after week?
Are we moving even one step closer to finding peace on earth when we simply repeat the same words… over and over… time and time again… peace be with you… and also with you?
Are we honestly accomplishing anything by doing this?
And yet, offering THE GIFT OF PEACE to one another is exactly what we, as Christians, have been called to do for centuries and generations.
Jesus even modeled this for us over in John 20, where three times He appeared to the disciples and greeted them with the words, “Peace be with you” (see John 20:19, 21, 26).
In essence, as He entered into their midst, He was offering them THE GIFT OF PEACE.
And the Gospel of John contains other references as well to Jesus offering THE GIFT OF PEACE.
In John 14:27, He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
And in John 16:33, He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace…”
Jesus gave the disciples and also gives us, the gift of peace… but let me suggest, it is not a gift that we were ever meant to simply keep to ourselves…. rather it is a gift that is meant for us to share with one another.
In Mark 9:50, Jesus commanded His disciples to, “be at peace with each other.”
And, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church saying, “…Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11).
While in our text for the morning, Paul writes to the Roman church, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5 – 6, RSV).
And Paul also wrote to the Ephesian Church saying,
And we can add to that what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind.”
In a nutshell, we have been called to live in peace, harmony and unity with one another… so that we can give God glory and praise.
Now, clearly, if repetition in the scriptures is a sign of importance… living in peace, harmony, and unity is definitely important.
And this call to live in unity and peace is not new… nor is it exclusive to Peter, Paul and the Gospel writers. In fact, back in Psalm 133 (1), David wrote, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
During this season of Advent, we are encouraged to focus our hearts and minds on the themes of hope, peace, joy and love… all the gifts we receive through the Christ Child… all the things that we need in order to live in unity with one another.
Now, when the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome… he was writing to a church that was having difficulty with accepting people from many diverse backgrounds… Jews and Gentiles… slaves and free persons… rich and poor people alike.
And Paul wrote words of encouragement to the Roman Church that we can hold on to today… for as the first verse of our text says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”
The world, as we know it today, is struggling with many of the same challenges that the church in Rome was facing… particularly accepting people with different backgrounds, cultural identities, socio-economic statuses, political affiliations, gender identities and sexual orientations.
But the church is called to be different than the rest of the world.
The church is the place where those who have previously been forced to the margins… those who have been treated as the least of these… the church is where these people from various walks of life should be able to come and find a place of refuge and be offered THE GIFT OF PEACE.
More than just a catch phrase uttered at the appropriate time in the order of worship… the words, “God’s peace” and “peace be with you,” ought to radiate from the way in which we live our lives… so that when someone has been in our presence… they walk away and carry THE GIFT OF PEACE with them to share with someone else…. So that we may all live together in peace and unity.
If we look back at our text for the morning, we read in verse 7, “Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Jesus did more than simply extend the right hand of fellowship to a group of strangers… He spread His arms wide and opened the doors to more than just the church… He welcomed any and all who would believe into eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.
And whenever strangers or friends are gathered in our midst… we, as the body of Christ, are called to share THE GIFT OF PEACE that is a true reflection of the peace of God that surpasses all understanding… the peace that Jesus was willing to give His life to make available to us.
It is an indescribable sense of peace that comes when we focus our hearts and minds on God and the things of God.
As Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
And went on to say, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9).
And when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the God of peace is with us… right here in our midst… it will be like the hymn writer, Horatio Spafford, wrote in our Hymn of Discipleship for this morning:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
You may have heard me share the story before that these words were written nearly a century and a half ago by a lawyer who also happened to be a Presbyterian elder. He was a man who was well acquainted with hardship and tragedy.
You see, Horatio Spafford wrote these words while on a ship as it was crossing over the spot in the Atlantic Ocean where his four daughters had died when the ship they had been on was rammed by a British vessel which caused their ship to sink.
But even in the face of such a devastating loss, Spafford was still hold onto THE GIFT OF PEACE and declare it was well with his soul.
How many of us have that as our witness and testimony?
How many of us can say “It is well with my soul” and give glory to God, even as the world seems to be in a perpetual state of chaos and confusion?
And the fact of the matter is that in these turbulent and tumultuous times that we are living in… there are many people who are desperate to have that kind of peace… the peace that would allow them to say “It is well with my soul” – no matter what else may be going on around them.
During this season of Advent and beyond… the call to us, as the body of Christ, is to offer the gift of THAT kind of peace to everyone we meet… whether within the four walls of the church building or without.
Let us make it our mission to share THE GIFT OF PEACE with everyone… day-by-day… in everything we do.
Let us sing it out in our praise as we give glory to God… and live it out in our service to others as we are intentional in looking for ways to dwell with one another in peace, harmony and unity.
And then at the end of the day, when all is said and done, we will be able to say like Horatio Spafford… no matter my lot, thou has taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”
And if that is your desire this day, then won’t you stand and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship [It Is Well with My Soul (v. 1, 2, 4) #561]