The Spirit of Peace

The Spirit of Peace

This is a vuvuzula. It is a long, narrow horn that really caught on in World Cup soccer matches a few years back.

These simple horns can produce up to 120 decibels of sound when you are standing just three feet in front of them. That is as loud as a rock concert or a jet engine. It’s kind of hard to believe that such a little piece of plastic can make all that noise!

At that level of sound, there can be permanent hearing loss, damage, and actual pain from the noise that is involved.

So, if we imagine 300 men, surrounding the Midianite army in the middle of the night, blowing horns and smashing pots and creating the noise of 300 rock concerts going off in the middle of the night – maybe, just maybe, we can understand why the Midianite army turned around and fled before a rag tag bunch of soldiers under the command of a man named Gideon.

As children, when we hear the stories of God’s victory in the Old Testament, we might be reminded of how Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and made the walls come tumbling down with marching and shouting.

We might think of the shepherd boy David and how he took down the giant of a man Goliath and thus saved the day.

Or we might think of the story we heard this morning about Gideon’s defeat of the enemies with a bunch of horns and smashed pots.

As children, we hear these tales of God’s victory… but rarely do we go into the harsh realities of battle and war. We conveniently skip over the parts of the story where men, women, children, and animals are destroyed in the name of God.

As adults, when we reread these familiar and inspiring stories I know I start to wonder what kind of a God the Old Testament describes… how could this be the same Prince of Peace that we find in the gospels? Where is the God of mercy and love?

I know that more than one of you has come up to me after some of these difficult bible passages and you have asked what we should make of these stories of war and destruction. We don’t understand the genocide that we read on these pages that accompany God’s victory. We can’t comprehend the loss of life.

Or maybe we can.

Maybe these battles seem so real to us because of the wars that we engage in.
We, as a nation, have been fighting in Afghanistan for fifteen years.
In your lifetimes, we have been a part of war on five continents.

And in a week like this, when we have celebrated our nation’s independence, we know that so many of our battles were entered to preserve and defend the truths for which we stand.

At the same time, we are tired of all the fighting.

We took my niece and nephews to a parade recently and as the procession turned the corner and we caught a glimpse of the color guard, the kids began to sing – “you’re a grand old flag.”

We have lots of patriotic songs, but their school had spent some time in the past year with that particular one. At ages 5 and 8 they knew every single word and shouted them out proudly. You’re a grand old flag. You’re a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave…..

And forever in peace may you wave…

those words jumped out as me as these children sang them.

Forever in peace…

I once believed that the opposite of peace was war.

I believed that we would finally have peace in our lives when men and women… but mostly men… laid down their weapons.

I believed that peace would come when all of our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters returned home.

But I’m not sure that is true anymore.

Anyone you ask will tell you that we have a lack of peace in our world, but we also lack peace in our nation, in our state, and in our families.

Even if all the swords and guns in the world were destroyed does not mean that peace will come.

Peace, you see, must be bigger than a lack of war.

Peace must encompass more than the fights we find ourselves in.
The peace that we seek is like the peace of Isaiah in chapter 65….

I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;

21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
23 They will not toil in vain
or bear children doomed to misfortune;

25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox…

In the Hebrew Scriptures THIS VISION, lifted up by the prophets, is Shalom.

Shalom is a Hebrew word that means peace, not only in terms of fighting and conflict – but it describes the wholeness of life. As one commentator put it, “everything fits together, the relationships work like they were designed to, and things just work right.” (http://listeningtoscripture.com/Textual_Studies/Isaiah/12isaiahspeace.html)

Paul Hanson says that shalom is “the realm where chaos is not allowed to enter, and where life can be fostered free from the fear of all which diminishes and destroys.”

Doesn’t that sound amazing?
A life free from the fear of all that could destroy us?

That is the peace that we seek.

For those of us who are farmers or gardeners… when the usual flow of the seasons and the weather doesn’t cooperate… we fear that drought or too much water could destroy our crops and our livelihood.

When we work with machines, like in a factory, there are constant safety protocols to keep the terrible from happening… we are constantly regulating the chaos and trying to prevent spills, injuries, and death.

When we are a part of families, we try to manage our time and our schedules, fearing we won’t have enough time with one another and that our relationships will suffer because of it.

The opposite of peace isn’t war… but chaos.

And chaos is a life where there is no freedom from fear. A life where any and everything takes away from our ability to live and live abundantly.

How many of you know chaos in your lives today?

In Ancient Israel, chaos was the norm. Nation states were constantly fighting for land and power and dominance. There were no programs for social security. A single drought could wipe a family out. That was if they had anything left after the rulers took away their goods.

In the time of Gideon, the people were afraid. Their crops were being confiscated, their lands were being consumed by the Midianites and they cried out for help.

And God responded… NOT by sending them into war… but by reminding them that God was and always has been on their side.

My favorite part of this story is when God whittles away the army of 32,000 able men to 300.
Three hundred individuals take nothing but jars and torches and trumpets and scare away a whole army.

And God does this to remind them that while human warriors can’t defeat the forces that destroy shalom and bring chaos… God can.

The Israelites have no need to raise a standing army and to set a king over them… they have one God who reigns over them.

And God will fight for them.

They don’t need to be afraid of those things that might destroy them. They only need to trust.

But you know what, that trust in God doesn’t last long amongst the Israelites.

They keep demanding a king. They keep crying out to be like the other nations and to be able to demonstrate their strength through armies.

Finally, God relents and allows them to set a king over themselves.

But as Bruce Birch reminds us, “Israel, in the belief that it could create its own security, was in reality flirting with chaos.”

If you read through the books of Chronicles and Kings and the prophets you see how time and time again, the kings went to war – with God on their side or not – for power and territory.

They brought chaos upon themselves, because they were trusting in their ways and not God’s ways.

It would be tempting to say that if we simply trusted in God more, chaos would disappear.

The rains would come more regularly.
Our paychecks wouldn’t be so sporadic.
Fights between parent and children would diminish.

I’m not sure that God promises us that… at least in this lifetime.

The peace offered to us by Christ is a peace that is different from the one the world offers.

It is the peace that comes from relationships returned to their rightful balance through forgiveness and mercy.

It is the peace that comes when we learn to trust in God more than our pocketbooks.

It is the peace that comes when our priorities are realigned and family comes before our jobs.

It is the peace that comes when we remember that while this moment or this present struggle might be difficult, in the end, God is in control and those forces of chaos will not have the final say.

Jesus calls us to be peacemakers and to be a shining city on a hill, an example to all.
And I think the core of how we do that is to trust in him.

To allow the Spirit of God to enter our lives and transform them.

To set us right inside.
To set us right with one another.
To set us right as a people.

And when the chaos of fear leaves our family… or our church… or our city, then people will look at us with wonder and say – what is it that they have figured out?

And when they do, we can point to the One who brought peace… shalom… into our lives and we can tell them all about it.

Amen and Amen.

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