Making Peace

James 3:13-18
World Communion Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert

The very first “World Communion Sunday” was held in 1933 at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a church later served by our own Morgan Roberts, now pastor emeritus there. By 1936, the first Sunday in October was celebrated as World Wide Communion Sunday in Presbyterian Churches across the United States and overseas. After a few years, the idea spread beyond the Presbyterian Church. When we all share the Meal where Christ is our Host, we are connected in ways that go beyond our theological differences. We transcend boundaries of geography and language and culture. Whatever might divide us is dissolved on World Communion Sunday.

Of course for those of us who celebrate communion weekly, world communion Sunday is in one sense an every week experience. We are united with all Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglican/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ, and a few Presbyterians who come to the table weekly. Nonetheless, a Sunday to focus on our worldwide unity and peace is a good goal. It was 1980 that we Presbyterians added the Peacemaking Offering to World Communion Sunday.

Paul Detterman, pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Louisville, that like us, celebrates the eucharist weekly says, “There can be no doubt that coming to the Table changes us and our relationships. This intentionally constant reminder of our God-hunger sharpens our desire to be God’s people, deflates the self-importance of the self-impressed, and promises shalom to those who come beaten up or beaten down. When we realize that these loving actions of the merciful God are enacted around the globe every Lord’s Day (and multiple times every day in between), our prayer for the coming of God’s kingdom takes on deeper and more urgent meaning. By its very nature, communion is a crumb of God’s grace dispensed in a cosmic event. Every trip we make to the Table not only signifies for us the formation of a sacramental community among brothers and sisters at that Table, but reminds us that the same grace-based community extends to every other believer on the planet, marking for each of us the passage of the world’s time and the approach of God’s eternity.” (Paul E. Detterman)

This bring us to our text of the day, a scripture that I saved for this day. James 3 showed up in the lectionary a couple of weeks ago, but it seemed most appropriate for Peacemaking Sunday, World Communion Sunday. This scripture calls us to be the harvest of righteousness, to be Christ’s body building peace in the world.

At our all day elder training meeting yesterday, several of us discussed the meaning of a phrase from The Brief Statement of Faith, “In a broken and fearful world, the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.” We reflected on the contentious, polarized nature of our culture. Everybody is choosing sides, and the opposing sides are vitriolic toward each other. The question was raised, “How do we challenge friends, who invite us into those bitter and ugly debates?” How do we say, as Sue Seiter, put it, “No thanks. Don’t want to play those games.”

James 3 helps us with the wisdom we need.

NRS James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

I went to visit my mother for her 83rd birthday. My mom and I are very close, and I knew the best gift I could give her was two days of my time. So I worked extra hard over the last week or two to make time for this trip. I was functioning on about 5 hours of sleep when I arrived there Wednesday. So as the afternoon worn on, I found my brother especially irritating. He was picking a fight with me over baptism issues. You see, in my family, most of the fights are about religion and politics. It was a dumb argument over the mode of baptism. I don’t have a problem with people being immersed, poured over, or sprinkled. I don’t have a problem with baptism occurring at any age, as long as it is handled in an age-appropriate way. But I have a problem with brothers who pick fights. He pulled my sister in too. I started to lose my temper in this petty little dispute, so I took a walk, and started thinking about these words from James, which I had read on the airplane:

And the wisdom from above is pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, and a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Peaceable, gentle, willing to yield means that I don’t take the baptism argument baiting. God’s not calling me to come the defense of the Presbyterians and all who sprinkle. There is a way to converse which does not require bickering and argumentation. You would not know it by watching the news channels. Our culture seems to thrive on talking heads shouting at one another, trying desperately to get the last word.

And the wisdom from above is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits and without a trace of hypocrisy.

How many arguments can be stopped by one person interrupting with the gentle words, “You are right about that. I see your point.” But there is so little civility any more. Who is willing to yield?

Have I told you about Faye Carter, mother of my childhood friend Marsha? Faye is one of the gentlest people I know, but she is no doormat. She was an outstanding school teacher, and when Faye gently in her soft but very firm voice let you know you were out of line, all kids knew it was time to straighten up and follow instructions.

Gentle and kind. Gentle and firm. Gentle and clear. Think of all the world’s conflict and how much of it comes from a lack of gentleness. It comes from the negative words in our text: from selfish ambition, bitter envy, boastful attitudes, and lying – being false to the truth. When is ambition wrong? When it becomes self-centered, when it forgets the humanity of the other person. We celebrate the ambitious and powerful, but the word ambition only shows up three times in scripture, two of them in this passage where it is coupled with the negative modifier, selfish. The disciples of Jesus demonstrate selfish ambition in Mark 10 when they argue over who’s the greatest. They compete for who will be on the left and right of Jesus, but Jesus says, “The greatest is the servant of all, the last one. "

James teaches us that where there’s bitter envy and selfish ambition, there will be disorder and wickedness of every kind. Those two vices are two sides of the same coin. Envy is wanting what someone else has. Selfish ambition is pursuing one’s one agenda at any cost to others. Why did our economy collapse? Envy and selfish ambition. Why are there wars and rumors of wars throughout all generations? Bitter envy and selfish ambition.

But a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. Peace begins in the soul of every person. Peace begins with knowing that you are loved, forgiven, and well-supplied by God. Peace begins with a gentleness toward yourself, which then extends to others. It begins with knowing our own boundaries and not over-extending, over-taxing our own emotional, physical, and material resources, so we can be in our best state of mind. It means being attuned
to God’s Spirit speaking to you throughout the day, so that peace is flowing like a river, and joy like a fountain, and love like an ocean.

As we teach in Peace in the Park, it’s peace for me, then peace for us, then peace for everyone and the whole planet. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Our mission statement calls us to build a community of peace. With God’s help and our effort, this is doable. But it starts with us and our attitudes.

With whom do you need to make peace? Which one of those right side words on the screen do you need to work toward? Which one of those left side words do you need to release, to purge from your life?

Now I’m going to invite you to join with one or two other people and pray aloud for that need in yourself. There is power when two or three are gathered in prayer together. There is power in shared confession. Think for a moment about your need, and then join hands with someone and pray “God help me overcome my bitter envy of those who have more than I have...or whatever. God, help me to grow in gentleness. Help me God to be peaceable with my spouse, my co-worker, my child, my friend whose political emails disturb me.” Simple, humble prayers. No need for eloquence or wordiness. Just pray a simple prayer in twos or threes and then we will stand and sing together the prayer for peace attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.