Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, has a lot to say about peace. In our second lesson today from Paul’s letter, that word peace pops up numerous times. It says, “He, Christ Jesus, is our peace; he creates one new humanity in the place of two, thus making peace. He came and proclaimed peace to those far off and peace to those who are near.”
In fact, Paul began each of his letters with the same salutation, “Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Joyce begins her sermons with this greeting.) This Ephesians’ letter ends with the words, “Peace to the community and love, with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The word for peace in Jewish is Shalom. In Isreal today, when people meet each other, they don’t day, “Hi, how are you doing?” Instead, they simply say shalom. If you are leaving someone and you want to say, “Goodbye, see you later.”, you again say shalom. As a foreigner it’s pretty easy to remember one word for both occasions; for greeting and leaving it’s simply shalom. Of course Jesus would have often used that word shalom and would have known the root word shalem means total. Total happiness, total harmony with self, God and others. Shalom and shalem were important words for the Prince of Peace who taught people to walk in the way of peace.
At that hinge point in our worship, that place between the service of the Word and the Holy Communion, we pass the peace saying, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” In words and gestures we express our love and compassion for one another. We offer to each other the Lord’s peace, harmony, and wholeness.
Why did Paul over and over again use that word peace in his letters? Why was he calling those early Christians to live a life of peace?
Because, they were often fighting with each other, fighting about each and every issue that most of us have long forgotten and that would be a non-issue for us.
The earliest Christians fought over circumcision and eating foods sacrificed to idols. They fought about leadership—should they follow Apollos or Paul? They disagreed over which gifts of the spirit were most important. They fought about their religious interpretations and the apostle Paul proclaimed a word that echoes down to us—Shalom, Peace. Our God is a God of peace. Jesus lived within God’s vision, breaking down barriers that divide, putting down hostility, calling for reconciliation between groups that disagree so that all might have access in one Spirit to the Father. There would no longer be strangers and aliens, for all would be members of the household of God.
Why did Paul devote so much of his letters to early churches about the critical nature of being at peace, peace with self, peace with others?
Why is that so critically important to us, to St. Mark’s, to the wider church? We are blessed here, the body of Christ in this place, to be at peace with one another. We don’t do it perfectly, of course. We’re human beings, not saints. Yes, we have differing opinions. Yes, we disagree, however, we hold together in the Spirit of Jesus our Lord.
The greater church, the Episcopal Church in the United States, gathered in Anaheim, CA, from July 8-17 with the theme, “Ubuntu”, meaning “I in you and You in Me”. Each morning they gathered, the Bishops, deputies, and delegates, for prayer, Bible study, and Holy Eucharist, always seeking the highest degree of unity possible for peaceful resolution to challenging issues.
Bishop Greg said he was inspired by the House of Bishops in the way people cared for one another over differences. It is a new for the church, it will not, says the Presiding Bishop Katherine, be business as usual.
Progress has been made in the area of sexual equality by the passage of a resolution affirming the openness of any ordained ministry to gay and lesbian people. This has been a contentious topic for a very long time and perhaps now the church can move on to more important programs of ministry.
Retired Bishop Warner said that ten years of his ministry had been eaten up with the opposition to full inclusion of all people that he whole heartedly supported. He must be very pleased to know that this resolution passed so that the church can move ahead.
If we were split apart in a state of hostility we could not be doing ministry in the world outside these doors because all our energy would be swallowed up in hostility and anger.
This is the place we gather, fed by the Word and Christ’s body in order to go out into the world to share with others God’s peace and joy, to share God’s love and grace and work for the welfare of all. As Christians we are committed to bring about God’s dream, God’s vision for the world to the best of our abilities.
Being at peace with Christ Jesus as our foundation and cornerstone is the starting point which enables us to be disciples in the world.
When Bishop Greg visits with us on September 6, he will preside at the service and offer the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, reception, and reaffirmation. There will be a meal after the service with opportunity for conversation. Following that time he has requested a meeting with the Bishop’s Committee which all of you are invited to also. He specifically wants to hear about our vision, mission, and goals for this congregation as well as reviewing accomplishments and challenges. We would like to begin these conversations around these topics during coffee hour after today’s service.
What is meant by vision and mission? Quite simply, our vision is imagining what God’s dream is for us in this place and time. Then a mission statement puts forth how we intend to accomplish this vision. So, vision is the dreaming, mission is the plan of action.
At the present time the mission statement of St. Mark’s is: “To be a congregation alive with the Good News of Jesus Christ, boldly sharing that love and joy with family and community.”
Our Baptismal vows remind us very clearly of what our Christian mission should be. It is to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, loving neighbor and self and striving for justice and peace among all. Also, we are to respect the dignity of every human being.
Bishop Greg has put forth three areas of special concern:
1st—Congregational Development-growth in numbers and being a healthy church
2nd—Building Ministry to the 35 and Under Age Group
3rd—Being Good Stewards of all our Resources-human, financial, material, and spiritual
Being a healthy congregation, we have the opportunity to move forward in ministry to the community outside these walls.
So now, what’s next for St. Mark’s? We have more than enough to dream about and a wealth of possibilities for action.
I close with this prayer from St. Paul as he writes in the book of Hebrews:
May the God peace who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of an eternal covenant, make you perfect in all goodness so that you may do his will; and may he create in us what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ to whom be glory for ever and ever. AMEN