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Psalm 122

John 14.25-31

Shalom, Salaam, Pacem, Peace

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

In 1983 I was invited to lead a workshop on the topic of “peace” for the statewide gathering of youth in the UCC’s Michigan Conference.  I was one of two leaders: the other was a retired military chaplain with UCC credentials.  Because we were from such disparate parts of the state – it was a five hour drive for me just to get from the Upper Peninsula to the lower part of Michigan – we were only able to confer by phone, and even then there wasn’t a lot of communication until the weekend of the retreat.  Well, it turns out there some differences between the approach of a career military chaplain and a relatively newly-minted clergyperson in his very first call.  My approach, even back then, was to mine the scriptures to learn what they had to say about the idea of peace.  The chaplain had a lifetime of military experience to call upon, and naturally there were points of agreement and there were points of divergence.  This was especially evident when it came to the New Testament understanding of peace, which leans heavily on the Greek notion of peace as an opposition to war and the repudiation of violence – remember when Peter drew his sword in defense of Jesus at his arrest, Jesus sternly and firmly rebuked him.  To his credit – and I hope to mine –my co-presenter and I reserved most of our differences for the side conversations we held out of earshot of the attendees, although some of the adult advisors caught the undercurrent of our differences.  But at the end of the day, even though I probably leaned too heavily on peace as the repudiation of violence, and he saw conflict as a means of achieving peace – we agreed that the difference was probably more a matter of emphasis than substance, though that may simply have been our own avoidance of conflict at work as much as anything else.

You probably noticed that my sermon title this morning is substantially borrowed from the choir’s anthem, “Shalom, Pacem, Peace.”  Hebrew, Latin and English – I added the Arabic Salaam because our Muslim brothers and sisters also deserve a place at the table.  But the idea also led me to look up the word peace in some other languages.  For example, In Russian, the word for peace is mir – remember the Mir space station?  In German it is friede, a lot like the word fruende for friend;  In Greek it is irené – if you know anybody named Irene, her name means “peace.”  In Spanish it is paz, in French paix, in Afrikaans it is vrede and in Danish it is fred.  I mention a variety of languages because I was thinking of asking you all a trick question this morning, which is, how many times does the word “peace” appear in our Old Testament reading from Psalm 122 this morning?  “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem… Peace be within your walls… For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, Peace be within you.”  That’s three – in English, anyway.  But it appears in Hebrew three more times as salem, a variant of shalom, in the word Jerusalem:  “our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem… Jerusalem – built as a city that is bound firmly together… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”  Jerusalem literally means “the foundation of peace,” so that’s three more times for a total of six.

“Shalom aleichem, aleichem shalom, shalom; dona nobis pacem, pacem, pacem, peace be unto you, and unto you be peace.”  It was a lovely anthem our choir shared this morning, and thank you for letting me tag along for the music.  I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on peace this morning, because it means so many different things to different people.  The Old Testament idea of shalom is a very broad and comprehensive one; it indicates a state of wholeness in a person or a group that is not just limited to the absence of conflict.  It takes in the health, prosperity, security and spiritual completeness of the individual or group, and as such is used as a salutation in both greeting and departing.  When a Jew greets you with the word shalom, it is a blessing and a wish that every part of you, the physical you, the emotional you, the spiritual you is well and complete.  In New Testament Greek it is more a description for healthy relationships between ourselves and God, and among one another.  In both languages, it is much more comprehensive than our default understanding of peace as the absence of war, and this is one of the reasons why Jesus wants us to know he brings a different kind of peace than the world brings.  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  The peace of Jesus is a peace that encompasses the totality of who we are, as individuals and as community.

Coincidentally, or maybe just providentially, this coming Wednesday is the International Day of Peace, established and maintained by the United Nations since 1981.  It is designated as a day of non-violence and a cessation of war.  The theme for 2022 is “End Racism, Build Peace.”  And the Secretary General’s message reflects both the Hebrew notion of wholeness and security as well as Jesus’ vision of a higher peace than the world can give.  Antonio Guterres writes, “Peace is much more than a world free of war.  It means resilient, stable societies where everyone can enjoy fundamental freedoms ad thrive rather than struggle wo meet basic needs.”  In other words, the wellness and wholeness of the person is dependent on building and maintaining the wellness and wholeness of the community.

I can’t think of many better examples of what it means to create and maintain wholeness within community than what occurred on Martha’s Vineyard this week.  You likely read that Florida Governor Ron Desantis flew approximately fifty Venezuelan immigrants to the Massachusetts vacation spot in what he likely thought was a clever trick to own the libs.  However, the trick was on him as the residents of Martha’s Vineyard, far from being offended or outraged, and certainly not owned, opened their hearts and their wallets to welcome their unexpected guests.  Edgartown administrator James Hagerty said “We received food, we received clothes, we received so many different things we had to relocate the original donation drop-off spot to the firehouse.”  Hagerty went on to say, “We take care of our town, we take care of the community, we help people out.”  If you want to find the very definition of what it means to make peace in its fullest understanding, we saw peacemaking in action on Martha’s Vineyard this week.  Or as Jesus might have said, “As much as you have done for the least of these, my brothers and sisters, so you have done for me.”  As for the other part of that parable, “As much as you did not do for these my brothers and sisters” we will leave for Mr. Desantis to think about.  Peace is much more than the absence of war; peace is creating wholeness and wellness within individuals and community.

Earlier this week Pope Francis traveled to Kazakhstan to meet with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church for a dialogue about the war in Ukraine, and at one point he sounded to me as though he were channeling his inner Bob Dylan.  He reminded the Orthodox church’s leadership, which has been providing religious cover for Putin’s war, that religion may never be used to justify the evil of war.  “If the creator, to whom we have devoted our lives, is the author of human life,” Francis asked, “how can we who call ourselves believers consent to the destruction of that life?”  And asking for prayer for what he called “beloved Ukraine,” Francis asked, “How many deaths will it take before conflict yields to… the good of people, nations and humanity?”  Which to my ears sounds an awful lot like, “How many deaths will it take ’til we knows that too many people have died?” from “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  “The one solution,” Francis concluded, “is peace.”

Shalom – Salaam – Pacem – Irené – Pax – Vrede – Mir – by whatever name we call it, peace, and her twin sister justice, are God’s desire for creation, for community, and for you and me.

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