The Harmony of Peace

3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 12:9-21
9 June 2013     
Elizabeth M. Deibert    

Back in 2005, shortly after I arrived to serve as organizing pastor for this new church, the founding members gathered at Living Lord Lutheran Church to discuss a long list of potential names.   When we settled on the name “Peace,” I am not sure we realized the power nor the challenge of that name.   None of us knew that the ancient Christian blessing, “Peace be with you” would take on layers of meaning. Many of us who had found the sharing of the peace in worship meaningless or off-putting in churches that gave a perfunctory nod to that practice, began to find it extremely meaningful because we began to appreciate how foundational that claim is to our identity.  

We did not know the notion of peace, which had been associated with the anti-war and social justice movement that grew up in the 1960’s would become a significant word in modern pop culture with broad, though not necessarily deep, overtones.   None of us considered how often the longing for peace at Christmas time would carry new meaning of those in a church named Peace.   But the biggest learning curve for me these eight years serving as pastor for Peace is the challenge of living into that name with the way we relate to Christ, one another and the world.   

To be at Peace is to know that I have peace with God through my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose divine-human nature has brought me close to the Spirit of God.   To be at Peace is to know that I am called/expected to live in peace with others, especially those in the family of faith.   To be at Peace is to care about how  my choices in part shape the peace of the whole world.    

Before leaving you for my annual summer continuing education and rest, I want to share with you another one of my favorite passages from Romans.   There’s Romans 5, 8, 12, three great chapters, all worth your time.   Please read them with me this week.
Romans is Paul’s most theologically thorough letter, written in the late 50’s to the church in Rome, but shaping the theology and practice of all churches throughout history.   In most of Paul’s letters, there’s a pattern.   First he tells the church the theology, the truth of the Gospel and then he says, so because of that, here’s how to live.   When we read Romans 5 two weeks ago, we were reading the truth:  “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”   Now chapter 12 is the practice of faith.   Here’s how to live:  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering.  Persevere in prayer.   By the way, I’m reading from the NRSV, so follow with me on the screen now.   You can read the version in the bulletin some other time for comparison.

Romans 12:9-21
NRS  Romans 12:9-21 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NRSV)

Live in harmony.   (town of Harmony slide) How many people really live in harmony?   According to this sign, the population living is Harmony is 18 people.   To live in harmony, musically, would mean singing a different note than the other people around you, but one that blends well with the other notes to make a lovely combination of notes.   Good harmony musically means all the notes can be heard.   One does not dominate another.
Do you want to know what it means to love your neighbor as you love yourself?  (Billboard:  That Love Thy Neighbor Thing.   I meant it.   – God)
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, the supposedly untrustworthy neighbor was the one who actually stopped to care while the esteemed ones walked on.   Do you want to know what it means to love your neighbor as you love yourself?   Paul spells it out clearly here in Romans 12.   It is about honor and respect and humility and forgiveness.
There are plenty of different verses in this rich text that you might gravitate toward but for me this week, these three stood out:   Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be conceited but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.   Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.   If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.  (Romans 12:16-18 on SLIDE)
When the New Testament challenges us to get along with other Christians, it usually says, “other believers or your brothers and sisters.”   But here the challenge is to try to live peaceably with all.   
The book, “Why Did Moses, the Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus Cross the Road” by Brian McClaren has given me an opportunity to think hard about what it means to hold on to my Christian faith while being charitable toward people of other faiths.   Too often conservatives think that to hold tightly to Christianity, we have to pit ourselves against the other world religions.  Too often liberals think that to be charitable toward other religions, we have to let go some of our beliefs and subscribe to a relativity or anything goes attitude, or as McClaren says, “making a religious tossed salad” of mixed religious beliefs.   
But we don’t have to be argumentative or wishy-washy.   We can be authentically Christian and generous of spirit – peaceable – and it all starts with caring more about people than issues.   That’s what Jesus did.   The Pharisees cared about being right, doing right, following the rules.   Jesus cared about loving people, first and foremost.   
You know that the most entrenched conflicts are those in which people (whether they are a couple, political parties, religious groups, ethnic groups, or countries)  the most entrenched conflicts are those in which each side is absolutely convinced about being right.   But you see, as I think the men’s prayer group discussed on Tuesday morning, you cannot be right if your rightness requires you to do another wrong.   As Pope John Paul said, “You cannot have peace without justice.”   But you also cannot have justice without working toward it peaceably.   True justice comes through right relationships.   Ghandi, MLK, and Nelson Mandela understood that.  
There is much violence today and much of it is verbal violence.   People, through all forms of social media, are lashing out in a verbal warfare, fueled by arrogance, by the need to be right at all cost to relationships.   Being right is not worth that cost, my friends.   Let us not think so highly of ourselves that we will say anything.
In John Backman’s book “Why Can’t  We Talk?”  Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart, we learn that dialogue is not debate or persuasion, in which parties try to convince another of the truth of their own position.   There’s more than enough debate, most of it disrespectful, on tv talk shows.  Dialogue is not negotiation, where two parties, where settlement is more valuable than the relationship.  Dialogue is not merely conversation, where neither party really cares where the verbal reflection goes.   Dialogue is a habit of the heart, in which we truly care about the other person more than we care about either position – ours or theirs.   Dialogue is more than a “live and let live” attitude.   Dialogue requires real curiosity and true compassion.   Dialogue means showing true honor to the other, not just civility.   It is about changing our hearts toward others, not just holding our tongue at the right moment.  
Though holding the tongue can be a crucial first step in growing toward a humility of heart that listens well to the other.  That is certainly a first and significant step.  But the second step is being genuinely interested in the other person, in understanding them, in order to love them, not to persuade or convince them of anything.
Think about it.   How did God build a right relationship with us, after that relationship was broken by our sin, our separating ourselves from God?   God identified completely with us.   God did not stand in opposition to us.   God had tried persuasion in the form of the prophets.   God had tried debate and judgment, and pleading, and in the end, what worked was oneness.   God made peace with us by being one of us in Christ.   By listening and living so thoroughly with us, so compassionately with us, Christ was united with us in life and in death.   And miracle of that is, through that identification with us, the mutuality, the communion happens.   We became also united with his person in death and in life.   The big word is atonement but what it really means is at-one-ment.   It is not Christ buying off God’s anger.   It is God’s total identification with us, short of sinning with us.   That’s love – caring enough to live in communion with the other thoroughly, to care for their well-being more than yours.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live in peace with all people.   That’s what Christ did.   He came to bring peace to all people.   The depth of his love was seen in his identifying with thoroughly us, being compassionate toward people who had rejected him, as well as being generous toward those whom others rejected.  Jesus Christ did in the fullest sense of the phrase:  overcome evil with good.   
Bishop Festo KiVENgere (1919–1988) was a Ugandan Anglican-Christian leader referred to by many as "the Billy Graham of Africa.  He played a huge role in a Christian revival in southwestern Uganda, but had to flee in 1973 to neighboring Kenya in fear for his life after speaking out against Idi Amin's tyrannical behavior.
In case you don’t remember, Idi Amin was like Africa’s Hitler.  He murdered hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens.  In 1977 Archbishop Luwum of Uganda was killed by Idi Amin.   Bishop Kivengere had to escape Uganda on foot while 45,000 Ugandans gathered for the memorial service.  
One year later he authored a book, “I Love Idi Amin”  This book would feel to Ugandans somewhat like erecting a sign at Ground Zero in the year 2002 with the message, “I love Osama bin Laden.”   
"The Holy Spirit showed me," Kivengere wrote, "that I was getting hard in my spirit, and that my hardness and bitterness toward those who were persecuting us could only bring spiritual loss … So I had to ask for forgiveness from the Lord, and for grace to love President Amin more."  Kivengere stated, "On the cross, Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, because they know not what they do.' As evil as Idi Amin is, how can I do less toward him?”   
Kivengere said:  "Peace is not automatic. It is a gift of the grace of God. It comes when hearts are exposed to the love of Christ. But this always costs something. For the love of Christ was demonstrated through suffering and those who experience that love can never put it into practice without some cost."

—Festo Kivengere (1919-1988)