We began the liturgy this morning by praying, “in our time grant us your peace.” Even though the collect was written hundreds of years ago, it is very fitting and timely. Whether because of interior disquiet, ideological tensions, international threats, or worry about ecological implosion, we crave the peace that passes understanding. The sweet message of the Gospel is that this peace is already ours, and free for the asking. Of course, assimilating this peace into the fabric of our lives and into the contours of our thinking is a lifelong adventure of faith.
We tend to look for peace in all the wrong places. We imagine that peace is the absence of war, the absence of adversity, the absence of rudeness, criticism, sadness, and anger. Some even seek peace in the numbness of drugs, or the distraction of entertainment. Dare I mention football and beer? This type of peace-by-absence is a false image of the true peace of Christ. Mavis Staples, that great gospel and civil rights singer, sang at Sunset Center during the Martin Luther King weekend. She spoke about being on the bridge in Selma with her father. She even sang a song her father wrote about never turning back. She said that they were soldiers of love. We might think of ourselves as soldiers of peace.
To receive the peace of Christ we need to distinguish true peace from false. True peace is that deep wellbeing grounded in the Lord of Life. God’s peace allows us to face suffering and adversity with an inner joy that makes all the difference, but false peace leads us to think that God has no peace to give. After all, Jesus had this peace—Jesus was this Peace—and he still faced adversity from leaders, evil spirits, his mother, his brothers, and even from his inner circle of friends. Jesus suffered rejection, torture, and execution. Yet he possessed something far more powerful.
God’s peace is inexpressibly exquisite, firm, calm, grounded, soulful, deep. It wells over with joy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and… well… peace. When God grants this peace, we cannot help but be hopeful, even in the face of global calamities or personal tragedies.
When interviewing to serve as president of a Presbyterian liberal arts college in Nebraska, my father was asked whether he were optimistic about something or another. I only remember his reply, as he recounted it to us upon his return. He told the board, “As a Christian, I cannot be anything other than optimistic.” In that moment, I was proud of my father, and ever since, I’ve striven to follow his example.
The scripture lessons today direct us to integrate God’s peace into our lives. They also summon us to practice this peace for the sake of the world. One key to receiving the peace of Christ is asking for it. We asked in the collect. Are you ready for such deep peace? If so, unlock the door to God’s peace with…don’t be too surprised, now… the authority of not knowing. Yes, I said NOT knowing. The authority of knowledge not only puffs us up with arrogance, but it divides us, causing differences to threaten us. Knowledge is another possession.
The authority of Jesus that leads to peace is deceptively simple. It is the authority of not knowing. If we think we know, then we believe we don’t need faith, and we place our trust in ourselves. The authority of not knowing allows us to follow Jesus in faith. As Paul reminds us today, it’s love that builds up, not knowledge.
Many of us hesitate to take up the authority of faith that Jesus taught. We hesitate to take up the authority of the disciples—we didn’t sit at the feet of Jesus. Most of us hesitate to take up the authority of the baptized, which is our true authority, because we think it means being able to quote scripture, perform miracles, or prove the faith rationally. We feel inadequate.
But the authority Jesus offers is the same authority that he gave to Peter, James, and John. They did not know. They did not understand. They were as lost as we feel. They faced adversity. They suffered. They cried. They also followed Jesus and received the peace that passes knowledge, that passes understanding.
The authority of not knowing allows us to proclaim and follow Jesus without condemning others, and without belittling ourselves. It is an authority we can practice most comfortably. Just as God’s peace flowed through the confused and sometimes bumbling disciples to peoples and nations near and far, so God can use us in mysterious ways to transform the world.
This is the peace I crave. How about you? During times of adversity this past year, I longed for the peace of God. As the hymn says, “the peace of God, it is no peace”—it is no false peace. But it is a peace replete with life, love, and audacious hope, borne on a trust that is beyond our knowing. This peace is present this morning in the Spirit.
O God, grant us this peace in our day, today. Grant us the peace that transcends our understanding. Lift us to the realm of not knowing, by knowing and following Jesus.
Please open your hymnal to number 661, and let us sing of this peace.
They cast their nets in Galilee,
just off the hills of brown,
Such happy, simple fisherfolk,
before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen,
before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts
brimful, and broke them too.
Young John, who trimmed the flapping sail,
homeless in Patmos died;
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
head-down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
but strife closed in the sod.
Yet let us pray for but one thing—
the marvelous peace of God.
William Alexander Percy (1885–1942)
The Rev. Rick Matters
All Saints’, Carmel