Off lectionary, Philippians 04.06-07, John14.25-27, Easton,Fruit of the Spirit – Peace
It was 11pm when the PCC meeting finished. I got home and immediately had a glass of wine. I deserved it. It had been a horrible meeting with two key people furiously arguing over Fair Trade. I was cross with them and I was cross with myself for not handling things better. It definitely was war not peace that evening.
War seems to be everywhere at present making the world a pretty scary place. There are the wars in our news bulletins – the ones most likely to affect us – Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and then there are many more than we don’t hear much about like south Sudan, most of West Africa, Kenya, Egypt – the list goes on and on. We are also reminded of the way events can spiral out of control as yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo.
I don’t know about you but when I think about war I feel totally helpless. What can I, a partly retired priest living in Hampshire do to bring peace? Should I be a pacifist? Should I go along with Cicero, a Roman philosopher in the 1st century BC, who wrote that “an unjust peace is better than a just war”?
Those words leads to the question “what is peace”. Is it an absence of war as Cicero suggests? Ever since his time philosophers and theologians have struggled with war and peace. Augustine in the 4th century AD refined the theory of Just War. However, when we look at our Pauline reading, I do not think we will find that Paul was talking about peace within the context of war.
If we go back to the Greek which was the language Paul was using, we find he uses the word “eirene”. It is a multi-layered word. Firstly it means inner peace for each individual who professes faith in Christ. It probably includes the promise of eternal life although Paul is ambiguous about that. Certainly that meaning has led to our Christian greeting “peace be with you”.
Then it means community peace. Paul uses the word in this context when there is intra-community strife. Indeed, at the start of Philippians chapter 4, from which our first reading came, Paul is urging two church leaders, Eudia and Syntyche to be at peace with each other.
Finally eirene relates to future hope. This is encompassed also in the word shalom which is the Old Testament word for peace. This is the peace that Isaiah describes in his portrayal of the Holy Mountain which is this world when the Kingdom of God has truly come about.
So we have inner peace, community peace and world peace all wrapped up in this one word peace. It is part of what Paul describes as the fruit of the spirit and which Paul expects will be shown outwardly in our lives.
However, very often today the peace of Christ is understood to be only an inner state, possibly only achieved in the next life. As is often said at funerals, “now he or she is at peace”. For the Christian, that is undoubtedly true, but it is also clear from our John reading that Jesus gives us his peace in the here and now.
How do we gain that blessing of the peace of God that passes all understanding in the here and now? Our Philippians reading gives us the answer. It is through building a deep relationship with God through prayer. In a few words: “by supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God” Paul tells us a lot about prayer.
Firstly, God is concerned about everything that we are concerned about. No issue is too small and too large for God. If it matters to us, then it matters to God. Secondly, we can pray for ourselves. Early on in my adult faith journey I thought it was wrong to pray for myself. Of course I am in need of prayer as much as anyone else.
Thirdly, we should pray for others and their concerns. Finally, our prayers must always include thanksgiving even if there does not seem a lot in our own lives for which to be thankful at that moment. Hopefully we are always thankful for knowing God in our lives and being able to pray to God.
It is through regular prayer both in church and daily at home that we build a relationship with God. The closer we get to God and the more we learn to trust God the more we will experience the peace that passes all understanding. It does pass all understanding because it is something we can never achieve on our own. It is a gift of the spirit and like any gift there has to be a giver and a receiver. God does not force his gift of peace on us. It is ours when we are totally open to God having put our complete trust in God.
Of course having that deep inner peace will not separate us from life and the world. It is not an absence or avoidance of trouble and misfortunate. Rather it is a peace of conquest in that nothing can conquer it or take it from us. It is independent of outward circumstances such as sorrow, danger or suffering. It is a gift from God to all who, through faith and prayer, let Jesus be their light in this dark world.
So is that it? Is this peace something that we simply know inside us and feel it despite whatever is going on in our lives? I would suggest the answer to that question is no. For Paul, eirene, peace meant between people not just in individuals. If we know that inner peace ourselves then we can be peacemakers in the world. No, I’m not suggesting you get on a plane and get talks going between Isis and Prime Minister Malachi in Baghdad but there are plenty of opportunities to be peacemakers within our own circles of friends and family.
If God’s peace is truly rooted in us then the tensions and upsets that so often spoil friendships and relationships will not disturb us in any deep way leaving us free to heal such rifts. If every Christian could be a peace maker in this way then we would be creating a climate of real peace starting here in the Itchen Valley and from here it will ripple out through our wider relationships.
By now you might be asking why the glass of wine after than ghastly PCC meeting. Surely If I had that true inner peace I would not have been battered by the events of the evening. You might even be thinking – Jan please practise what you preach. Well I did although after the glass of wine which did not really help even though I enjoyed it. I said the office of Compline and during that passed the meeting over to God. Then I did feel at peace and stronger to work in restoring relationships between the two protagonists the next day. It took time but now they are friends again.