By Linda Rex
August 22, 2021, PROPER 16—This morning I was reading an article about the consequences Christian churches in North America are beginning to face due to past mistreatment and genocide of first peoples. These are issues which cut deeply into the heart of our psyche as believers. Too often we have been influenced by our culture, by our generational prejudices, and undoubtedly, the evil which lurks in human hearts and is often manifested under the guise of Christian beliefs and practices.
Every generation, within the Church and without, faces the reality that it must deal with the consequences of the choices of their forebearers. And it must choose whether or not to continue on that same path, or to choose a new one, more in line with what is holy, just, and good. Will our children, and their children and their children’s children, make better choices? Or will they continue the systemic dehumanizing of their brothers and sisters? How can better choices be made within the current structures and systems at work in this world today—or do they need removed, or changed?
As I read the Old Testament passage for this Sunday (Joshua 24:1–2a, 14–18), I felt conflicted. Joshua was near the end of his life, having after many years of battle brought his people into their promised land and gotten them settled. They were finally experiencing peace so he wanted them to recommit themselves to God. He was committed to leaving behind the idols of the past and worshiping God alone, and he invited his people to do the same. What is left unsaid in this account is how his people would deal with the consequences of all they had done in conquering that land. How many people were killed or displaced so that God’s people could move in and settle? And isn’t that what many of our forbearers did right here in America centuries ago, believing it was God’s will?
Bringing this forward to today, I’m watching something similar happen here in Nashville right now. Someone owns a rental property with many apartments or trailers or homes. They decide to sell the property to a developer because they receive an offer they can’t refuse. All of the people renting there are summarily evicted. They cannot afford to rent a place similar to the one they had in that neighborhood, prices being too high, so they end up on the street, in sub-value housing or moving far away from their work. The developer puts in a new facility with even more apartments or condos, or homes, but none of them are affordable for all these people who got evicted. Over and over, people are being displaced, others are moving in where they used to live—the dynamics of human civilization at work for better or for worse.
Where is God in the midst of all this? We put such a great value on what we own, where we live, our homes and properties. We like to keep what is familiar and comfortable. When life becomes difficult—and for many it is constantly difficult—we can lose faith, lose hope, and even lose our love for one another. We can wonder where God went, because it may certainly seem as though he has left us. But we still have a choice: we can focus on the physical or we can raise the level of our view to heavenly heights to see that God is still present and active, redeeming, restoring, healing, and working through all of these things to bring about a greater purpose and plan.
The Spirit reminds us that God’s where he’s always been—present in and by his Spirit, at work in all these circumstances and situations to bring about his kingdom life. The apostle John liked to use the word abide to describe our intimate connection with God in Christ by the Spirit. To abide is to dwell, remain, stay in a place. Jesus left the benefits of heaven to join us in our darkness by taking on our human flesh. His purpose in joining us at our worst was to bring us up through death and resurrection into his best. What he calls us to do is to find our true residence and dwelling not on this earth but solely in him alone.
In John 6, Jesus had extensive conversations with the crowd about how he was the bread of life, the only source of true zōe life, eternal life, which he received from the Father. He said that “it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” We can be so obsessed with the life of our flesh, our human existence, that we miss the spiritual realities which are right in front of us. Or, like the people of Jesus day, we are so scandalized by the possibility that God has made room for each and every human being to have a place in the presence of God now and forever as his very own child that we want nothing to do with Jesus or the Christian faith.
It seems that for generations, for millennia, people have set claim upon spaces on this earth—owning a spot of land or living in the same place as their ancestors, or they have traveled, moved from one place to another. Some have always lived in the same place. Some have never known a stable home. Some have been welcomed to new lands, some haven’t. But God’s heart has always been that each and every person have a home to return to—that home in the Father’s arms which is solely their very own. Our heavenly Abba longs to embrace each one of us and is constantly looking expectantly down the road watching for every one of his prodigals to come home.
To eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood is figurative language. Eating and drinking cause what we are consuming to, in a sense, become a very part of us. To take in Christ, is to participate in a real and personal way, in his very existence by the Holy Spirit. When we, by faith, realize that Christ is in us and we are in him, that he died our death and lived our life, and lives in us—we are connected with God in a way that is unbreakable, a union and communion that is very real and very eternal. We are intimately known by him and we come to know Abba’s heart and mind as he reveals himself to us through Christ by the Spirit.
Our spiritual house can be shaken though. These experiences of life which are so destructive and unsettling can so disrupt our peace that we lose sight of what is real and true and holy. But the apostle Paul says “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” He calls us three times to “stand firm”—taking a position against such spiritual opposition that we cannot be moved away from our foundation in Christ. He tells us to put on the spiritual armor of God, all elements of Christ himself—the helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, shield of faith, and so on. We put on Christ, and we give attention to the Word of God and prayer in the Spirit as valuable weapons in this spiritual struggle (Eph. 6:10–20 NASB).
Our assurance is not in our ability to fight well, but in the reality that Jesus has already fought and won the battle. We rest in his finished work, for he has already defeated the evil one, death, and sin in his death and resurrection. We are in the process of moving from our own feeble strength to finding our strength in him alone (Ps. 84:5-7). We abide in Jesus, resting in him, living in complete dependence upon him, turning to him in faith.
As we face the reality of our broken humanity, and dealing even with the painful reality of whatever history lies behind us, we can have the comfort and assurance that we are at home in the love and grace of God himself. This God, who was present in every century, who knew every decision and its motive and result, is the God who joined us in our humanity, experienced the depths of the depravity of the human heart, and brought us up into new life. Nothing is so horrible or astonishing that he cannot and will not redeem it when it is brought to him. Will we allow him to be our true home, the place where we find true rest and healing, where grace and truth joined together in Christ is ours now and forever?
Heavenly Father, thank you for defending us from our enemies of evil, sin and death, and for rescuing us, bringing us home to be with you forever. We love you and rejoice in your gift of zōe life, being held in your eternal embrace through Jesus in the Spirit. Amen.
“My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; | My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. … For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God | Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84:2, 10 NASB
“‘He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.’ … ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ … no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’ As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” John 6:56–69 NASB
By Linda Rex
This past Sunday was the Advent service at Good News Fellowship during which we lit a candle for peace. As we moved into the time following the sermon, and we listened to Casting Crown’s powerful song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,”1 I couldn’t help but think how feeble our words and efforts are at keeping peace.
Truly we are so dependent upon something outside ourselves to live at peace with one another. I think that we all recognize our inability to be at peace with God, ourselves and one another—if we don’t, we ought to. Our do-it-yourself peace nearly always falls short in some way.
In Romans 12:18, my New American Standard Bible says this: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” The New International Version is very similar: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This particular verse says that to the best of our ability, whatever depends upon what we say or do, we are to live at peace with one another.
And truly, that is often our approach to how we live in relationship with one another. We just do the best we can, but we can’t always guarantee there will be peace, especially if the other party doesn’t want to live at peace with us. They might be nasty, horrible people to be around, and living at peace with them is just an impossible thing to do. So sometimes we can’t help but be nasty back.
But there is another translation that kept coming to my mind as I thought of these things. The King James Version, which is taken from the Latin Vulgate, puts it differently: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” The Catholic Bible, which has the same source, puts it this way: “If it be possible, as much as is in you, have peace with all men.”
The thing that struck me in these translations were the words, “as much as lieth in you” or “as much as is in you.” From this vantage point, this seems to be a call by Paul for us to draw upon an inner peace that lies within us.
So that brought up another question. What did Jesus mean when he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27)? In some way, Jesus gave us his peace and this peace is in us, and as much as that peace lies within us, we are to have peace or live in peace with one another.
Indeed, the Apostle Paul talked often about a mystery he was given by God to preach to the Gentiles—the mystery “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) He calls this same mystery “the mystery of godliness.” (1 Timothy 3:16) It is Christ in us, by the Holy Spirit, who enables us to be the peace-filled people that we were meant to be. It is Christ’s peace in us that we draw upon so that we can and will live at peace with God and others.
Our ability to live at peace is a participation in Christ’s peace. The question then, is not in our ability to live at peace with others but in our willingness to respond to the Holy Spirit’s gift of the peace of Jesus Christ placed within us. Paul says to the Colossians, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts….” The peace of Christ has been given to us—the question is, does that peace rule in our hearts?
God has shown us great love and grace—extreme good will. He has even shared with us his very own nature, his life in Christ through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. And that was not enough for him—he sent the Holy Spirit so that we could participate in Christ’s perfected humanity. Therefore we have God’s peace within us by the Holy Spirit. The peace of Christ is in our hearts. But do we let Christ rule?
Our struggle is with the reality that sometimes being at peace means that we have to suffer, to be taken advantage of, to be harmed and devastated by the evil others do to us. We forget that Jesus Christ took everything humanity could throw at him and bore it on the cross. It is not enough that we only take the good from others—to share in Christ’s sufferings and in his glory requires our willingness to take the evil as well, and to respond with love and grace.
We have many brothers and sisters today who are willingly sharing in Christ’s sufferings for his sake. They believe that to respond to the atrocities being done to them with violence is to participate in the evil themselves. They refuse to deny the Savior who rescued them and drew them into relationship with the God who loves them. God has poured into them by his Spirit the ability to bear with grace severe persecution and genocide.
Jesus Christ did not give us his peace as the kind of peace the world gives. Our human peace exists only as nation forces another nation into submission, or buys another’s cooperation through trade agreements. Or we silently allow ourselves to be destroyed while others take advantage of us, use us and abuse us. When these fragile methods of peace fail, we are often at war with one another again. This kind of peace is false and futile. It is not the divine shalom God calls us to and has given to us in Christ by the Spirit.
There is the peace of God present in the world today—this mystery of godliness—Christ in us, our hope of glory. This peace that God gives us passes all understanding when we turn to Christ in the midst of our struggles, disagreements and suffering. There is a capacity to live in peace in impossible situations that comes from beyond us and fills our hearts and minds. This is the gift of God poured out on us in the Holy Spirit.
The question is not, is peace possible? The question is, will we let God’s peace rule us? Will we, as much as lies within us, live peaceably with one another? When God’s peace rules us, and we live with all that is within us of Christ in the Spirit—there will be a change in the whole fabric of our human existence.
In the meantime, we only see the surface—the wars, the suffering, our broken humanity. The mystery, though, is at work. Deep beneath it all is a peace that passes understanding, that we can draw upon now to live at peace with one another in difficult and impossible situations. This is the true peace we have in Christ and in the Spirit. May you experience that peace in a real way this Christmas and on into the New Year.
Heavenly Father, our Prince of Peace, remind us again of the peace you have given us in your Spirit that passes all understanding. Renew our hearts and minds, and enable us to live in your peace with one another. Thank you for being gracious to us in the midst of our refusals to live in peace with one another—grant that we would surrender to your peace at work in us and in our world. And grant your grace and deliverance to all to suffer today because others near them refuse to live in your divine shalom. Through Jesus and by your Spirit, we pray. Amen.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Colossians 3:15 NASB