Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

One summer morning in 1955, songwriter Jill Jackson awakened with the words “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” running through her head.  And so, this beautiful hymn of the church was born, and it occurs to me that as much as anything, it might have been her own statement of faith, a prayer, and anthem for her own soul.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
…the peace that was meant to be.
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
…let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.[1]

So beautiful, isn’t it?  Simple, easy, and full of possibilities.

Later that summer, it was first sung by a group of teenagers – 180 or so – from different races, backgrounds, and religions gathered for a workshop high in the California mountains.  Since that time it has been sung by every generation around the world; transcending time and space, and as relevant today as it was the first time.

A song like this is helpful for us as we journey amid anxious times.  There seems so much fragility.  We live as people on the edge.  What with news reports and family strife, health issues, the madness of work, colleagues, misunderstandings, vulnerabilities, other people’s issues, a sense of helplessness, and sometimes hopelessness.

All throughout the season of Advent we are reminded that the Prince of Peace has come into the world and our own worlds for this very purpose.

But it’s not just a seasonal reminder.  It is our ongoing living hope.  Christ has come and Christ continues to come into the brokenness of our lives and world with healing love and to remind us that peace is possible.

What we believe is that God’s peace has the power to transcend all our circumstances and situations in life that threaten to destroy our spirit and our unity with one another.  It is Christian and God’s intention from the very beginning that we might have peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with one another.

The sky is not always falling, my brothers and sisters, although it might appear that way.  It truly is not.  Not every day.  Not because someone jumped in line in front of you.  Not because someone rolled their eyes or didn’t say hello; or bumped into us on the subway.

The sky is not falling because someone did not recognize our humanity, as important as that is; and insensitive.  Someone else’s bad day does not have to be our bad day.  Their rough start does not have to claim how we function throughout.

We do know who we are, don’t we?  We do know that we are children of God; adored, claimed, and sealed forever.  We do know that the price for our peace (peace of mind, body, and spirit) came with a high price worthy of our effort to experience it.

Yes, it is wonderful to get our fair share in life; most of us certainly feel deserving, even entitled; worthy.  But just in case we do not get what we think is ours (and we often don’t), we must have internal and external controls that remind us of our worth and the value of our peace so that we are not recklessly throwing it away in places and spaces that cannot be good stewards of it.

We must be reminded of the preciousness of our days, our time, and our sanity, because left in the hands of another, we may never have any of it at all.  At the end of the day, we are the only ones we can control.  But we are not without influence.  Let it begin with me.

This requires some vigilance and intentionality.  We have to be mindful of how we let negative, selfish, and self-centered words, behaviors, or circumstances enter our spirit; how long we allow them reside there.  Whether or not they are allowed to take root, and how we purge ourselves so that the greater purposes of God can be accomplished.

It almost seems easier to make enemies rather than friends, have you noticed that?  One wrong word, one misplaced deed (or several for that matter) can disturb not only our peace but can cause permanent irreparable brokenness.  It’s easier to lick our wounds and go our separate ways than to sit awhile; talk things through.  Take a break and come back.  Listen.  Understand from the other person’s perspective.  Try again.

We are more prone to being victims than healers.  We are shaped by systems that promote a world view of antagonism and division – economically, socially, and politically – rather than unity and peace.  There is strife everywhere.

But in the body of Christ, we offer another view, and we have greater ambitions.  Christ not only gives us peace, Christ is our peace.  It seems lofty but this ambition is worthy of pursuit: the pursuit of happiness, joy, love and peace in their most authentic and holy forms.

What makes for peace?  Christ does, he says.  In him, we have a new capacity that we might not have imagined.  People may ask “how” and our response is, “by God’s grace.”  It is God’s will, God’s way – and so we try.  On our own, NO!  But by the grace and will of God, yes!

The Apostle Paul speaks of it in terms of our former alienation from God and one another.  Once we were aliens rather than citizens…we were strangers to God and to God’s way.  We had no hope of achieving what God desired of us.

In Christ, God has canceled the rules of the Law that we could not obey and has made us a new creation.  He created one – out of two – making peace; reconciling them both as one body.  So now you are no longer strangers and aliens.  Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household; built on a sure foundation.  A structure in whose members are fitly built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

We who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups – Jew and Gentile – all into one body; one group.  With his broken body on Calvary’s cross, Jesus broke down the barriers of hatred that divided us.

In his sermon, “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious”, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

…we are reminded that peace is not merely the absence of some negative force – war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force – justice, good will, and the power of the kingdom of God.[2]

In our Old Testament passage assigned for today, David and Nathan were looking to build a temple for God; a memorial; a place for God to dwell.  They wanted to build something physical, tangible.  But God’s house is not made of cedar and wood; brick and mortar.  God’s dwelling place is a clean heart, pure and free.  A heart where ego and pride are secondary.  A heart liberated from the compulsion to exert bad power and control; a heart open and free for truth, to see one’s neighbors as one’s self; a heart free to forgive, to tear down walls and barriers.  No wonder the psalmist cried, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”[3]

I was so encouraged in 2016, when at our church leadership retreat, church leaders suggested that we include the Passing of the Peace in our worship service.  There is a reason why we do it.  We are passing blessings on to one another: “I will peace for you.  I want you to have peace.”  Words matter.

If we can think of it that way the next time you reach across the aisle, and if we say it truthfully, and if we believe that the kind of spirit is possible among us and the real presence of God, I think we will be amazed beyond our wildest dreams.  It will catch on fire.  People will know when they walk in the door that this is a good place.  Love is here.  Peace is here.  It’s a lofty ambition I know but it seems to me, that it’s just the way it ought to be.  That’s the way it ought to be.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

[1] Jackson, Jill and Sy Miller, Let There Be Peace on Earth, United Methodist Hymnal, pg. 431.
[3] Psalm 51:10-12