Living Unpeacefully in an Unpeaceful World

Beloved – Forever!
May 4, 2024
A Labour of Love
May 17, 2024
Beloved – Forever!
May 4, 2024
A Labour of Love
May 17, 2024

Our story today is about our capacity and willingness to live in unity and faith in the God of love, in the face of evil and wickedness.  We have been listening to Jesus praying to God in John’s Gospel 17:16-19, which is part of a much longer prayer; and, in the following two chapters, we hear about Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion. The lengthy prayer is powerful, drenched with emotion and love, as Jesus holds in tension the disorientation his disciples were feeling, just as we are too, while we listen to the depth of emotion in Jesus’ prayer for all God’s people.

Jesus’ prayer is an urgent, insistent call for unity and love as Jesus knows he does not have much time left with his disciples.  He has already accepted he is no longer in the world; he knows how his death will happen and he is still able to offer them love and hope. He says to God:

…now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.’ (John 17:11)

Jesus sees and hears the division, arguments and despair all around him; and hears the disagreements.  He will experience Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and the abandonment of his male disciples as the promised violence becomes real and his death is imminent.

Repeatedly in this prayer, Jesus reminds God, these are your people and Jesus is one with God and with the people. Jesus is giving the disciples his joy, so they may be made complete in God.  It is an extraordinary gift of radical grace and trust as Jesus acknowledges plainly:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. (John 17:14)

We are in the world; the world God creates every day.  We are sent into the world by Jesus, the risen Christ, to share God’s love and joy in us.  The joy of being one with God is overwhelming.  The world now meets God, the Word made flesh, through the faithful work of the disciples and our own lives.  The evangelising commission Jesus gives the disciples as we are sent out is completely embedded in their – and our – unity with Jesus and his work.  The unity of Jesus and God is a life-giving resource for all of us.  We are in the Word and the Word is in us and the Word is in God.

So, what does unity and faith look like today?  How are we actively engaged in bringing peace, hope and love to those around us; bearing in mind the world does not, and will not, look kindly upon us as we care in God’s name.

I was talking this week with our Diocesan Church leaders about domestic and family violence and its prevalence in the Church and our responses. We reflected on the difficulty of speaking uncomfortable truths, insights, learnings, to people who may be struggling with violence in all its various forms in their family situations.  We confronted our dislike of being the one who might have to call out inappropriate behaviour and language with friends and relatives, reporting or speaking with those involved.  

We reflected on how we leap to take sides in the many conflicts in the world, unlike Jesus who did not ever advocate violence or manipulate to get his own way.  Yes, Jesus argued strongly, was clear about evil, wrong headedness, or as the bible calls it, stiff necked behaviour.  He grieved openly about the inability and unwillingness of people to listen, learn and change. He knew he was different from other people and he felt their rejection; he consistently disturbed the peace designed by the world. 

Jesus is a man profoundly not at home with his world and his contemporaries, and so, he was a singularly unpeaceful person.  His isolation is not somehow smoothed over by a comforting private conviction all is well: his faith is a weightier and darker thing than this.  There is no peace for him on earth in the present order which we accept and with which we comply.  His life is instead directed towards the coming kingdom – which is an order of peace quite different from the ‘human-made peaceful world’ for which we long. 

Jesus’ miracles are signs the kingdom is near.  They are miracles of freedom from bondage, miracles of healing, feeding, unity and restoration.  They are life-giving.  They speak of a place where God’s will is done by actively removing whatever damages and limits human dignity, division and oppression. 

The repeated image of God’s kingdom joys is of the feast, the banquet thrown open to paupers, rogues and the dispossessed. There is peace and unity at the banquet, because people are reconciled, accepted sufficiently to relate to each other with love and enjoyment.  People are at home, with each other and with God; and they make peace as a consequence.  The banquet’s food is God’s love, peace and welcome. 

In the present times, as we anticipate the feast with the eucharist, we do so by remembering just how that love took final shape for us.  Our food is the crucifixion, a body broken.  The eucharist is the sacrament of peace and unity.  But the price is the discord and horror of the crucifixion, the remembering of an unpeaceful end to an unpeaceful life.  

We need to see the falseness of this world’s peace, broken open and exposed as false; the violence used to constrain and impose control and define the world’s peace.    Jesus’ own unpeacefulness asks us, how much peace and truth can we bear about the world without arming ourselves and breaking up ourselves. 

I suspect the answer is, not much.  Jesus has been edged out to the cross; and we as followers are also squeezed out into a new community without the familiar constructs of this world.  Our Church must be what is rejected as societies struggle with the challenge of God’s peace.  As we think about Jesus’ declaration that we are both of the world and not of the world, that we are sent into the world, and we are one with God and Christ Jesus, we experience disorientation in this world as we orientate ourselves solely to Jesus.   We are one body and one people and our story today is about unity and faith in the God of love, in the face of evil and wickedness.  The Lord be with you.

Bibliography

Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds] 2015.  Feasting on the Gospels.  John, Vol.,2 Chs 10-21.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Williams, R. 2005.  The Truce of God.  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Cambridge, UK.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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