The Marvelous Peace of God

Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit
Alabaster, Alabama
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15C)
August 18, 2019

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

180809-ex-kkk-ken-parker-se-258p__a48b812e269efc7d61718185d9635057.nbcnews-fp-1200-630In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says to the crowd, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

This doesn’t sound like something Jesus would say, does it?

To me, it sounds more like something we might hear from the villain in a movie or television show. It certainly doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know, the one whom we often refer to as “Prince of Peace.” After all, this is the same Jesus who came to live and die as one of us to show us how to love each other as God loves us, the same Jesus who came to restore God’s creation and open for us the way to everlasting life. This is the same Jesus who said to his disciples after he was raised from the dead, “Peace be with you.” The Gospels are filled with many examples of Jesus and his message of peace. So, the last thing we would expect to hear in our Gospel lesson for today is that Jesus has come to bring division to the earth. It just doesn’t fit with what we know to be true about who Jesus is and what he came to do during his time on earth.

In order to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words, I think we have to dig a little deeper. Perhaps these challenging words offer us the opportunity to come to a better understanding of Jesus’ ministry and what God desires for us in our lives.

The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom, which actually means, “the peace of God.” This is different than what you and I usually think about when we hear the word “peace.” Shalom is much more than just worldly peace or the absence of war. Shalom refers to a sense of wholeness, well-being, and fullness of life. It’s the kind of peace that God desires for each of us. Shalom is a deeper peace than anything we can experience on our own, the result of being faithful to God’s call. It’s beautifully illustrated in one of my favorite hymns, “They cast their nets in Galilee,” written by the American poet, William Alexander Percy. In the fourth verse of the hymn, Percy writes, “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet let us pray but for one thing – the marvelous peace of God.”

Contrary to what we might think after hearing today’s Gospel lesson, it would be a mistake for us to think that Jesus doesn’t want us to experience God’s peace, but at the same time, it would also be a mistake for us to think that shalom, “the peace of God which passes all understanding,” comes at no cost to us. There is a cost to the kind of peace that God provides, and the cost is often very high. This is what Jesus was trying to say to the crowd in today’s Gospel lesson. Sometimes, the cost is division among loved ones, even close family members. Sometimes, the cost of God’s peace is division among groups of people with different ideologies and beliefs. Sometimes, the cost is giving up a particular way of life. No matter the circumstance, there’s always a cost, something we must be willing to give up, in order to experience God’s peace, the kind of peace which the world can never provide.

This past week marked the two-year anniversary of the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when  hundreds of white nationalists and neo-nazis descended upon the city, carrying weapons and shouting messages of hate. About a year ago, in August of 2018, I came across an article online about a man from Jacksonville, Florida, named Ken Parker who had participated in the rally a year earlier. In the article, Parker described his experience at the rally and talked about his involvement with the Ku Klux Klan. He also described the life-changing experience he had at the rally when he met a filmmaker named Deeyah Kahn, a woman of color, who was there to record the event for a new documentary she was working on. After the rally, Parker and Kahn met in a parking garage. Parker was hurting and suffering from heat exhaustion, and in a moment of compassion, Kahn walked over to check on him.

Parker’s interaction with Kahn and her offer to help him in a time of need made him begin to question his long-held, racist ideas and beliefs. In the article, he states, “She was completely respectful to me and my fiancée the whole time. And so that kind of got me thinking: She’s a really nice lady. Just because she’s got darker skin and believes in a different god than the god I believe in, why am I hating these people?”

The story continues a few months later. Parker and his fiancée met an African American neighbor who was having a cookout at the pool near his apartment. At the end of the day, they approached the man and asked him if they could talk. As the conversation progressed, they discovered that the man was a pastor at a nearby church. They continued to talk and eventually decided to meet for more discussion. Soon after, the pastor invited Parker to church on Easter Sunday, and on April 17, 2018, Parker made the decision to leave his old life of hatred and anger behind. He had found a new community of faith, one that accepted him and loved him, despite the sins of his past, and in July of 2018, Parker was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by his fellow church members.

What’s so inspiring to me about Ken Parker’s story is that he was willing to let go of the life he had known for so long in order to find peace and new life with God. I can’t imagine how difficult it must’ve been, considering his past experiences and relationships, but he accepted the cost. He  understood what he had to do in order to change his life, and, with God’s help, he did it. What’s also inspiring about this story is that all it took for Parker to begin walking this new path in life was a single act of compassion from a complete stranger. His life and quite possibly the lives of many others have been changed for the better because of a single act of compassion and mercy. This should serve as a reminder to all of us that you never know what kind of impact you might have on a person when you reach out in love.

My friends, may we all come to experience the peace of God in our own time, knowing that the only way to truly experience it is by giving up our lives to God and allowing God’s love to flow in us and through us. The cost is high, as Jesus reminds us, but it’s the only way to experience God’s peace, the shalom that God desires for each of us. “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet let us pray but for one thing – the marvelous peace of God.” Amen.

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