Seeking Peace, Seeking Shalom

Today’s readings center around a search for peace. Jesus, and his disciples are just looking for a little peace. They’re trying to get away on a trip. If any of you need some theological justification for your summer vacation, here it is, Mark chapter six. Jesus says, “everybody needs a break.” The letter to the Ephesians is preaching peace. And King David is trying to find peace of mind. He wants to build God a house, to secure his legacy. Little does he know…

The lessons center around a search for peace.

That’s a search many of us know something about. How many of us feel at times like we are constantly on the run?
Doesn’t feel sometimes like peace, personal peace, is always just beyond our grasp? That word “just” when attached to a pursuit of peace can cause some real issues for our emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being. When we just move into our new house. When Sarah just makes it through fourth grade. When we just make this mortgage payment. When I just… you fill in the blank.

Our society is in constant training for this type of goal-orientation. We live in the midst of an advertising-and-sales industrial complex that is training us to be consumers, 24–7. When you just buy this product, your life will be so much better. This product will provide you peace of mind, just buy in. Companies pay big bucks to keep us thinking that way. Every once in awhile, we catch ourselves. I recently saw an ad for a new kind of cleaning solution. In the ad, there’s a spill. Then someone takes a paper towel, and folds it, presses down on the top of the bottle with the paper towel, get this, with ONE HAND. The towel is coated in cleaning solution, and is ready to wipe up the spill, one-handed. In the commercial, it cleaned up so well. I thought, I need that bottle! If I just had that touch bottle, cleaning up would be so much easier. Then another ad came on, and I thought, wait a minute. I’m pretty sure that’s just another bottle of windex…

We’re trained to think, if I just had some push-button cleaning solution in EVERY room of my house, or at least every room in the house with surfaces that could use wiping, I could find peace of mind. This kind of “just” is dangerous in our search for peace, because there’s always a new product, always a new challenge, always a new goal. That “peace” isn’t really peace. When we are “just” looking for one wish to be fulfilled, we never find peace. The horizon lengthens infinitely.

But don’t give up on the word “just.” The word “just” can help us find peace. But we have to move up a couple of lines in the dictionary entry. The first definition of the word “just” is not a synonym for “simply.” Just, primarily means “ethical,” “moral.” Just in this sense concerns us with justice rather than hurry. What would our world look like if Americans worried less about how to “just” get their hands on the next product, and more about how consumer spending could work for a more “just” world?

In Mark’s Gospel, a similar tension arises for Jesus. His society is not as consumeristic, but there’s a tension about “just” getting a break, and having justice break in. Here he is, with the disciples, just looking for some peace. He’s run to the other side of the sea to try to escape the crowds. And they’ve followed him here. Mark’s Gospel includes a lot of rushing and a lot of hushing. People are constantly running to see Jesus, and he’s constantly afraid of the story getting out. But when he encounters the people in the marketplace he never stops healing. He never stops working for justice. Jesus never looks to someone and says, “I’m too tired. Just leave me alone for an hour or two.” His disciples try. In Mark chapter 10, a bunch of scruffy kids are clamoring to get to Jesus. The disciples try hold them back, but Jesus pushes his followers aside to get to the kids. Let the children come to me. And he takes them in his arms, and laughs.

That’s the thing about justice. When the world becomes a little more just, when you witness a small change in our society, when we are part of bringing justice for one family, one child, being part of bringing justice gives you a sense of peace. And that peace often comes with a laugh and a smile, rather than a yawn and a whimper. It’s the phrase we’ve heard in the streets a great deal this past year “No Justice, No Peace.” But spelled a little differently K-N-O-W justice, K-N-O-W Peace

Now, many of the mystics have argued that you need to cultivate inner peace if you are going to work for peace in our world. Who am I to argue? I do agree that a contemplative life, a life of prayer helps. Meditation, and yoga, and sabbath, these are all helpful practices, neccesary even. Don’t hear that I am against taking a vacation. I believe in vacation. BUT, unless that inner work looking for peace is connected to a outward life of seeking justice, any peace we find will be shallow, hollow. Unless you are connected to the well-being of others, peace is elusive.

The letter to the Ephesians continues the search for this robust sense of peace. Across all of the divisions we set up in humanity, Ephesians tells us, Christ “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” There’s a balance in Christ. Peace isn’t just about me. It’s not just about me finding my individual peace of mind. It’s not about me, my legacy, or even simply my family. Peace is bigger, it’s broader. Christ’s peace always concerns itself with the welfare of the other, those who are far off, as well as those who are near.

Finding peace isn’t something we can do alone. You can’t buy it with a credit card or with a good grade in school. You can’t win peace in a contest where another loses. Peace is something we are knit into with one another. There can be no true personal peace without social justice.

In this sense, peace isn’t something we can “acquire” or “attain” at all. We don’t win peace. We find peace by giving something away. We find peace by letting go of our need to acquire. We find peace by letting go of our selfishness. We find peace by looking for justice for others. That’s the wisdom of Jesus. That’s the peace of Jesus, a peace the world cannot give.

I can’t tell you that Jesus’ peace will put your mind at ease in our world. Jesus warned his disciples that following his way would put them at odds with the powers that be. Looking for justice can get you in trouble. Many of you know that Pastor Rebecca, your former associate and interim rector was arrested for protesting again this last week. She stood in the street peacefully demanding an accounting for the treatment of another teenager shot by police, and she spent the night in the City Jail. I talked to her on Tuesday morning, after she got out. I told her I was calling to make sure she got “sprung,” and if she hand’t been “sprung” from jail, I was going to go down there in my collar to check on her.

Working for justice can get you in trouble, but our world needs some troublemakers. We have inherited a status-quo that is NOT peace. Before I take my seat, I want to leave you with one more bit of wisdom about from one more trouble-making ordained woman, our current Presiding Bishop. Now, I am very enthusiastic about our new Presiding Bishop, our PB, Michael Curry, but I’m not ready to let go of our current Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schoir, quite yet. When we remember her leadership, more than any other accomplishment, I hope Bishop Katharine is remembered for her prophetic teaching about peace. Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori helped us expand our understanding of shalom.

It helps to use the Hebrew sometimes. “Shalom” somehow seems more spacious than “peace.” Bishop Katharine speaks of Shalom a great deal. She wrote a whole book about God’s Shalom. She has pointed our church to the vision of “Shalom” in the accounts of God’s creation. Our world and humanity were created for “shalom.” We were created to live in peace with one another, and in peace with creation itself. Our failure to live out that shalom is evidenced in the hatred and violence between humans, and it is evidenced in the destruction of our planet. She asks the church to consider the global and planetary consequences of our broken relationships.

Our story from 2 Samuel seems to agree with Bishop Katharine. If we’re looking for peace, maybe our role isn’t about building giant edifices. King David wants to build the lord a house of cedar, to cut down trees, and level land, and build a great big building for God. God tells him no. Sometimes, as God tells Nathan, to tell David, sometimes God is more easily found in a tent. If you’re looking for peace, look for places to connect to nature. Look for places to get back in relationship with creation. If you’re looking for peace, it helps to engage the questions about your ecological footprint. Peace doesn’t come from building more and more complexity into your life. Peace comes from simplifying.

Bishop Katharine’s teaching about Shalom is informed by a robust sense of science. She has a PhD in oceanography and taught at the University level before becoming a priest. She once compared a church convention to a gathering of whales out in the ocean. Bishop Katharine’s time as Presiding Bishop has been a prophetic call to listen to science, to listen to the planet, to listen to creation. Our world hungers for shalom. God’s creation is groaning for healthier relationships between humans and their environment. Our society is growning for peace between peoples and a just sharing of resources. “Shalom” then is peace in the largest, fullest sense. To seek Shalom is to seek peace not just for yourself, not just for others, but for the planet.

If you are looking for peace within yourself, expand your horizons. Look for a bigger peace. Maybe go work in a community garden. Dig into the dirt with your neighbors. Share food with someone of a different race, color, or creed. Help a neighbor apply for food stamps, or a recent immigrant apply for a visa. Ride your bike to work. Visit the sick. Stand with the oppressed. When we make these small moves towards God’s shalom, we feel a bit more at peace. When we pursue a more just world, we can let go of just trying to get ahead. That letting go is where peace is to be found, a bigger peace, Shalom.

May you find God’s peace, God’s Justice, God’s Shalom.

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

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