Isaiah 32.15-20

John 14.25-31

The Peace That Begins All Peace

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

            As a rule, I don’t generally celebrate secular holidays with an entire church service.  But today is different.  It is different partly because November 11, 2018 marks a tremendous milestone, the one hundredth anniversary of the armistice that ended the Great War, as it was once called.  It is propitious that the date falls on a Sunday, and churches across the country are marking it with the tolling of their bells at the 11:00 hour, in commemoration of the hour the armistice was signed.  We will do the same at the end of our service.  That 1918 peace treaty represented the turning of a page, but it was a peace that came at a price.  Nine million soldiers died in the conflict, 53,000 of them Americans, who came late to the war.  Returning troops, not just American troops but soldiers from around the world, unwittingly brought home with them a strain of influenza which grew into a pandemic that saw 50 million deaths, more than 4 times the losses of the war itself.  And in the department of unintended consequences, the Treaty of Versailles unwittingly set the stage for the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and planted the seed for the next world war.  The Second World War forever changed what was once called the Great War to World War One, a conflict that was both mistakenly and naively thought to be The War to End All Wars.  This morning, it gives us the opportunity to look at it from a different angle and consider The Peace That Begins All Peace.

            A week ago Friday many of us attended service at the Chester synagogue.  I love the name of our sister congregation:  Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek.  Beth Shalom - House of Peace.  Rodfe Zedek - something about zedek, which means Justice or Righteousness, but I admit I had no idea what the Hebrew word “Rodfe” actually means.  But it had to be a real word because my spell check faithfully refused to flag it.  Peace and justice and righteousness are close partners in the Hebrew Scriptures, and our passage from Isaiah this morning is just one instance that ties them all together:  “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.  The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”  Peace and justice and righteousness, words that in Hebrew are nearly interchangeable.   But still, what does that word rodfe mean?  Well, I did a little more digging and finally came to learn that rodfe is a Hebrew word for “the one who pursues,” or “the pursuer.”  So when Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek was created, and I’m sure many of you already know this better than I do, in a way they did what our United Church did; they maintained the identities of the two constituent congregations that formed it:  Congregation Beth Shalom merged with Congregation Rodfe Zedek to create a name that means “house of peace, pursuers of justice and righteousness.”  Beth shalom Rodfe zedek.   Peace, and justice, and righteousness, joined in Hebrew scripture and theology and standing as a unified witness just over the hill on East Kings Highway.

            “Peace I leave with you,” Jesus said; “my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.”  Not as the world give do I give to you.  On this day that we celebrate the peace, the armistice, that ended The War to End All Wars, we are all too aware of the fact that the peace the signatory nations believed they were restoring was an ephemeral one.  As a Jew himself, Jesus’ idea of peace was firmly rooted in the Hebrew notion of shalom, which itself comes in various shades and colors.  Like those signers of the armistice, peace, in a secular setting, means the absence of war or chaos.  This is one meaning of shalom.  But The Hebrews never understood things from a purely secular point of view, and there are other shades of the word.  Shalom also means a healthy relationship with God, and further it also implies a good and healthy relationship among all humanity.  So the peace Jesus describes in the gospel of John goes beyond the cessation or absence of conflict, it pulls both God and our neighbor into the picture.  Not as the world gives, do I give to you.

            Peace. Shalom.  A right relationship with God and a right relationship among humanity.  Where have we heard this before?  What I have called the peace that begins all peace, brings a very familiar biblical hymn to mind, and you may decide I’m stretching a bit here, but hear me out.  In the story of the nativity we hear the angel choir sing the words, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will to all people.”  One of the earmarks of Hebrew poetry is repetition; that is, a Hebrew poem seldom says something once when it can be said multiple times.  So what if that well-worn Christmas hymn is in reality three different ways of saying the same thing?  Glory to God in the highest / peace on earth / good will to all people.  Taking that three-fold repetition back to front, what if the angels are singing that good will to all people is the equivalent of, or at least leads to, peace on earth?  And if so, then perhaps they are also singing that it is peace on earth which is the equivalent of, or leads to, the glory of God in the highest.  Maybe this is where it begins, the peace that begins all peace, with good will to all.  Not necessarily on a piece of paper signed in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, but through a commitment to goodwill among our fellow human beings.  At the end of a week that saw one of the more bitterly contested elections in recent memory, this may seem an illusory, perhaps even delusional goal.    But I am encouraged because the practice of peace does not begin with somebody else, with unnamed someones out there somewhere.  Jesus’ words are his legacy to us – they are our inheritance:  good will among all, peace on earth, glory to God in the highest, begins with the beloved children of God.  They begin with you and me and our sisters and brothers at Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek.  And you know what – I feel good about that.  I believe we can be trusted with this inheritance.  Jesus certainly believes we can be trusted with this inheritance.  You all – we all – are the place it begins.  Not as the world gives, do I give to you – peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  This is the peace that begins all peace.

            Amen.

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