Rev Lee Atherton July 3, 2022

Today’s sermon is brought to you by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as well as the support of my colleagues Cheryl Lindsay and The Rev’d D. Rebecca Dinovo.


According to famed and prolific historians Will and Ariel Durant, over the past three and a half millennia there has been at least one war in 92 percent of those years.


The Durant brothers Will and Ariel write in their 2010 book “The Lessons of History,” “War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy. In the last 3,421 years of record history only 268 have seen no war.”  And yet, just about every human being on the planet genuinely wishes for world peace.


The Declaration of Independence presents a beautiful vision of equality and equity. Unfortunately, the writer and signers of the document only affirmed the humanity of their own kind, calling for their own liberty while enslaving people of African descent, benefiting from the genocide of indigenous peoples, and discounting non-land owners. At least they were honest in that they only applied their claims to men.


The good news of this particular story is that peace seekers over the years have claimed the beauty and truth of those words as their own vision despite the hypocrisy and depravity of the early adopters. The principles hold more power than the people who mocked their own words through their actions and attitudes.


Mother Teresa spoke a lot about the concept of peace, but she always spoke about peace in a very practical and tangible way. She was interested in the things we can do here and now, the small things that really make a difference, in order to achieve peace. Peace was not an abstract idea for her; she once wrote, “Peace begins with a smile,” and later wrote, “All works of love are works of peace.”


Works of love begin to reclaim the power yielded in war. The power used in war is the same power of love – it is the USE of that power that makes the difference.  Knowing that his disciples would prevail over the world’s evil, Jesus gave them the authority to use his power, the power of love. That’s kindom work. But, what I find interesting is that his instructions on how to approach those they encounter is the extension of a blessing. The Common English Bible translates it as, “May peace be on this house.” The envisioned outcome of the kindom begins with peace resting on our communal units.


The Reverand Karl Dortzbach reminds us that, “Bringing peace into conflict and going with peace out of conflict is to bear the very presence of God as his children, in the midst of conflict. It is that which truly bears the blessing of God because in such activity we are the peace of God. We are what people in conflict know about God and about his incarnation in the midst of calamity.”


Yet it’s easy to feel as if peace is totally beyond us, as if it is merely an abstract ideal or pie in the sky and nothing more than a cliché. We may even be tempted to despair of peace in light of the violence we continue to witness in our own nation as well as in places like Ukraine. But Jesus and the Gospels encourage us to never stop striving for peace. As we read about the 72 missionaries that Jesus sent out in pairs, we learn that Jesus’ followers already have the peace of Christ in their hearts. Notice that Jesus says whenever you enter a house, extend your peace to all those who live there, saying, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is willing to share in that peace, then, he says, this peace will “rest on that person.” This passage, as well as other passages in the Bible, urges us to offer God’s peace to others. Indeed, this is at the heart of our practice in the liturgy when we “pass the peace” to one another. We even hear echoes of this Scriptural injunction when the Celebrant says, “God’s peace be with you.” And the people respond, “And also with you.”


This passing of the peace is not just a nice and cordial concept for use in our worship and liturgy. This is actually our practice for taking Christ’s peace to the outside world wherever we go. That is Jesus’ vision! Reconciling, restoring, and renewing relationships within and beyond the Christian community.


Is it any wonder that Jesus sent his disciples out with instructions about entering someone’s home? In his commissioning, he reveals his strategy of stimulating hospitality before anything else. Hospitality encourages care, concern, and compassion. Hospitality involves serving and vulnerability. Hospitality can turn strangers, even enemies, into a community because hospitality decenters self. As Karl Dortzbach notes, “We have the gospel backwards. We speak a gospel of being at peace with God while God walked among mankind and said, “My peace I give to you.” It is that peace to which we are called to be givers and makers.”


Just imagine the ways you could begin to practice “passing the peace” outside of church. Maybe it’s by sharing a smile with each person you see, or donating your time, treasure, or talent in acts of loving charity. Or by saying “peace” to people as you pass by them, even if it is just a quiet prayer under your breath. What if we saw ourselves as missionaries and understood our missionary task to include bringing and proclaiming God’s peace wherever we go? How might that change our perspectives and our lives, as well as the lives of those around us?


And notice that, according to Jesus, not everyone will be ready to receive this peace – or even want it. Jesus says, “And if a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on that person, but if not, it will return to you.” Maybe you have experienced this: you smiled at someone and they simply scowled back. Or you tried to offer a peaceful solution to an argument, but your solution was rejected. On a global scale, the rejection of peace is actually quite alarming. But according to Jesus, regardless of whether this peace is accepted or not, we are still called to extend this blessing of peace to those we encounter, knowing it will return to us if rejected.


But here’s the problem: the peace that God has placed in our hearts can get buried and hidden underneath fear, impatience, shame, resentment, bitterness, or even hatred. In fact, it is not a coincidence that one of the results of the missionaries’ experience in this passage is discovering that they had the power and authority of exorcism, the ability to exorcise evil. Jesus says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. Indeed, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy.” In Jewish tradition, snakes and scorpions were symbols of the sources of evil, not literal reptiles or arachnids. This passage is not a call to engage in snake handling, as some have interpreted it, but a call to engage in exorcising evil whenever and wherever we, as followers of Christ, encounter it.


As Christians who have accepted the peace of Christ into our hearts, we all have been given the power and authority to exorcise the evil in our world. We should never forget that God is always near and with us. From there we can confront evil with the power of Christ’s peace that leads to acts of justice and righteousness.


The big audacious goal that is being proposed by Jesus and by Christians like Mother Teresa is that world peace really does start with us, with Christ’s peace in our own hearts, given to us by God and then extended to others. This peace can carry us out of fear and bitterness and into the blessed calm and sanctuary of God’s love and presence – God’s smile upon us. From there, we can spread this peace to others: our family, our neighbors, our nation, and yes, even the world.


Peace received overcame the powers oppressing the people. Peace welcomed changes systems that hold communities bound. Peace embraced and invited to break bread provides a victory that no war can ever win.


May peace be our goal, our guide, and our gift. May peace be in our faith communities, our political dialogue, and our homes. May peace be our invitation, our encouragement, and our companion in the journey.


May peace be. Amen.