The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s029e05 Lockleys Sixth Sunday of Easter 1/5/2005
"seek peace and pursue it" 1 Peter 3.11
Seek peace. One might think that this is an 'optional extra' if one was to consider the dynamics within the Anglican Church in recent times. We have been fighting over the ordination of women and our attitude to gay people and we think that peace might just come when we win our side of these arguments. Then, when everyone agrees with us, we will be content to live in peace.
I recall that when I first went to theological college, a couple of things struck me. The first was that the Warden of the College, an unmarried man, lived in the two story Wardens' Lodge; while the married Sub-Warden lived with his wife and young family in the rather less spacious Sub-Wardens' Flat. I wouldn't presume to criticize the individuals involved, it was just how things were done in those days. The second lasting memory was the "debates" over correct church person ship, high church, biblical based and charismatic, that raged amongst the student body. I am now beginning to realize why I didn't find it an altogether encouraging experience.
If God really wants peace then (we think) God will have to get the people who disagree with me to change their minds. Strangely we continue to think that God will do this, some time, hopefully sooner rather than later; when it would seem manifestly obvious that if God hasn't done this by now, it is not likely the God will do anything more definitive in the future.
The Editorial in AnglicansOnline for the 3rd Sunday of Easter reflected on the story of the risen Christ meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus in these words: "Christ expounded the scriptures at great length to his companions on the road, yet we don't have any record of what he said, of what that exposition actually was. We are left instead with the picture of Someone recognised -- and remembered -- in the homely, intimate act of blessing food and eating it. Astonishing.
"Rather than Christ's words on His own life and ministry, His small ordinary action at table was what identified Him without doubt to his disciples. This matter of identification -- of what reveals the essence of a person -- is a fascinating one. For the disciples, it didn't occur during a dissertation, but at dinner.
"If all but one of the characteristics of personality were subtracted from us, which one should remain to distinguish us as Christians? Surely it is a large heartedness, a stubborn never-give-up love for men and women, for humanity, that can extend, wonder of wonders, even to those who would hate and harm us. Call it 'love'.
"In this time of difficulty in the Anglican Communion, when harsh and bitter accusations and cynical scheming seem to be all 'round -- much of it based on disputes about what Holy Scripture 'says' or implies about the proper nature of love, marriage, and sexual relations -- we wonder if our Lord would recognise us, His followers as we make our way through our disputes.
"Surely our disagreements within the church should, in some manner, be 'different' from those in secular life. Shouldn't we play by different rules? Mingy-mindedness and small-heartedness shouldn't be the manner in which we're 'branded': 'Oh, look at those Christians: you can know them by their cynicism...'"
Seek peace; not uniformity. It is plainly impossible to get everyone to agree, so the only possibility is that we choose to live with our differences.
There seems little point in praying to God for peace. God surely wants us to live in peace; what more can God do to bring this about?
Peace between human beings is something that we foster or we disregard. The only time when we can invoke God is when our fighting is over difference in expressions of faith. If we have learn nothing from the central message of love in our Christian gospel, it must surely encompass those who worship differently to us, or else we can disregard this command, precisely because we are right and others are wrong.
As I go back to my first paragraph, I reflect how often we use our religion, our interpretation of the Bible, the profundity of our conversion experience, our perception of the Spirit of God, our spirituality or whatever to avoid loving and learning from others. We use our spiritual power to avoid doing what God wants. And this must surely be to misuse that power, to use others, if not abuse them.
Seek peace and pursue it is not an optional extra of which someone else ought to take more notice; it is a word to each and every one of us.
I have been recently reflecting that much of our motivation, as people who come to Church, is a desire for intimacy. The most successful parishes are those with thriving youth groups where, in theory at least, boys can meet girls, and vice versa, who will be respectful rather than abusive. There is nothing wrong with this. I suspect that the Roman Catholic and "high church" Anglican attraction to the devotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a consequence of their insistence on celibacy and masculinity. It is a "safe" form of intimacy, and who would deny them this?
It is also true that the majority of the people in most congregations are female, who seek safe intimacy. Males, it must be admitted, are often less choosy :-)
And we are often tempted to look to Jesus for intimacy. The words of our gospel reading seem to encourage this. Jesus says: "if you love me you will keep my commandments" and we should note that this does not mean that the first commandment is to love Jesus. Love is quite incompatible with obedience to a command. We will be in no different category to those who loved God so much that they were compelled to have Jesus murdered. We can make Jesus into another god, and just as effectively crucify the Jesus of the gospels.
If we are to love Jesus, we also love the company he keeps - the social outcasts, the less than respectable, the unorthodox, the person who has lost their faith, the person who seems quite content to live without faith.
It is as we love these sorts of people that we begin to appreciate just who this Jesus was, and we will find ourselves loving, or hating, this Jesus. I suspect that there is no 'middle ground'.
For we can just as easily be intimate with an incorrect picture of who Jesus was, but real intimacy with the real Jesus is far more likely if we try to intimate with the real Jesus, who loves not just some, but all. If my limited experience is anything to go by, then the true peace that we are bidden in my text for today to seek, inevitably and simply flows from this, but again, don't trust me! Trust God!
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