May 19, 2013
Peace be with you. – John 20: 21
In the early nineteenth century, the church collection was often taken up in a bag at the end of a pole with a bell attached to arouse sleepy contributors. Our Lord comes to us at this Pentecost to arouse His sleepy followers. The bell sounds His message of peace & His command to pursue it. Of course, a big problem is deciding what we mean by the word ‘peace’. Jesus does not mean the absence of conflict or tension.
He means the peace of God that passes understanding, the grace to keep our heads when all around us are losing theirs. This kind of peace comes to us only by means of strife & aggravation. It is something that comes only when we learn to center our lives on Him instead of all the things we tend to put first in our lives.
Moreover, some of us are spending our entire lives in the waiting room. We always seem to be using the present moment as a waiting period, putting our life on “hold,” so to speak. It’s as though we’re constantly preparing for the “real thing” which never comes. In terms of our Christian discipleship, many of us are using the Church as our waiting room. But our Lord is not saying to us, “when you do this or when you get finished with that or when you reach a certain age, I will give you my gift of peace to share with the world. Peace be with you now!” We live in a time in which the expression “now or never” is practically a byword. In a profound sense, this is true for each one of us. We may think that later will do. We may think that there will always be a second chance.
But sooner or later, we discover that the chances we always thought would be there stop coming. If we don’t use the opportunities God gives us, He quickly takes them away from us. Conditions change with time, & the conditions surrounding what we ought to do now will never be the same. An opportunity missed is an opportunity lost.
At Glasgow University in Scotland, a strange custom in the nineteenth century was to greet the recipient of an honorary degree with irreverence. When the honored guest arose to speak the audience would pepper him with their pea-shooters, shuffle their feet & let out cat-calls.
When the famous medical missionary David Livingstone came to Glasgow to receive his honorary degree, he appeared gaunt & thin. His skin was leathery from exposure to the hot African sun. One of his arms hung useless at his side [He had been mauled by a lion]. When he arose to say a few words, the pea-shooters were lowered & there was complete, reverential silence. The students sensed they were in the presence of a person of genuine courage.
He spoke briefly about his life in Africa & then concluded with these words: “I would like to tell what it was like to stay in Africa those years & to survive all the hostility & danger I encountered there. It was the simple promise of our Lord, ‘Lo, I am with you always to the end of the world’.” It was possible for him to not only bear the hardships but to find them worthwhile because he wasn’t doing it for himself or his own glory. He had discovered that peace of Christ which is perhaps the most important gift of the Spirit we can aspire to.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general in World War II & 2 terms president of the United States, said in 1959: “I believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than are governments. People want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way & let them have it.” He was speaking of peace as the absence of war. But I believe that we will never have that kind of peace until we discover the peace which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The beauty of it is that we do not have to wait for others to find it. Once we’ve experienced it, even if just a little, then others may ruin us financially, ruin our reputation, or kill the body as they did to Jesus on the cross, but they cannot take our joy in knowing that we are with the Lord, even until the end of time. AMEN!