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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible- Ephesians
The Peace of God 

Ephesians Series     Ephesians 2:11-22

Today continues a series of sermons on the book of Ephesians.  We have focused on the lavish grace of God as I lavished a child with all kinds of presents, so much so that the child could barely carry all the gifts back to the pew.  Last week, we focused on the fact that even Mother Theresa is saved by faith.  If Mother Theresa cannot be saved by works of love, neither can we be saved by our works of love.  Today we continue this series and focus on the word, peace.  The Apostle Paul writes in the book of Ephesians:  “God is our peace, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility, making two different people (Jew and Greek) one.    Christ came to preach peace and to teach peace.”

The word for peace in Jewish is shalom.  If you have traveled in the land of Israel, you perhaps learned a song that was sung over and over and over again on many and various occasions.  Although I am not a very good singer, I would like to sing the chorus to you:  “Shalom, my friend, shalom, my friend, shalom, shalom.  Til we meet again, til we meet again, shalom, shalom.”  This musical round was sung again and again, with arms locked and legs kicking up, and voices shouting. Happily, we would all would sing about shalom, about peace.

In Israel today, when people meet each other, they don’t say, “Hi, how you doing, how’s it going.” Instead, they simply say, shalom which means peace.  If you are leaving someone and you want to say, “Goodbye, see you later, so long,” you again simply say, shalom.  It is easy, as a foreigner to remember one greeting for both occasions, for greeting somebody or leaving somebody.  That word is simply shalom.

Shalom is certainly a word used often in the political process in the land of Israel today.  Ever since l949, when the Jewish state was established, that area of the world seems to be locked in conflict.  I am not sure how many “Camp David” meetings we have heard about as the Israelis,  the Palestinians, the Egyptians, and the Jordanians try to make peace with each other.  Shalom or the lack of shalom is certainly part of the negotiations for peace in that region of the world.

Shalom is not only an important word in our contemporary vocabulary, but the word, shalom, was an important word on the lips of Jesus.  Jesus knew the word, shalom, and used it often.  The word shalom was used as a greeting as Jesus greeted old friends and it was used again as he said goodbye to his acquaintances. … Jesus also had this self perception that he was the Messiah and that his ministry was the beginning of the Messianic age. Jesus knew the Messiah was to be the prince of peace, not the prince of war. Jesus would have known about the book of Isaiah and Isaiah’s visions about peace:  that lions would lie down with lambs, that bears would sleep with sheep, that spears and weapons of war would be converted into plowshares.  Jesus, as the Messiah, would have been personally saturated with inner visions of peace. … Jesus knew that the root word behind the word shalom was shalem. What does shelem mean?  Shelem means total.  Total happiness, total harmony with self, God, nature and others.  Total happiness with parents, children, grandchildren, job, neighbors.  Shalom and shelem were important words for the Prince of peace who taught people to walk in the paths of peace.

Shalom was also an important word for the Apostle Paul.  A few years later than the life of Jesus, the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles and he began all of his letters with the same phrase: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”  Grace and peace were the beginning statements of each of his fourteen letters.  Then Paul concluded his letters with a statement about peace.  Each of his concluding statements about peace is slightly different.  He concludes the book of Romans:  “The peace of God be with you always.”  He wants peace to be with us, not only during the good times but in the rotten and awful times, and so he reminds us that the peace of God is to be with us always.  Paul concludes the book of Galatians with a reminder of peace:  “May the God of peace teach you to walk in the paths of peace.”  Of course, that is one reason why Jesus came to this earth: to teach us to actually behave and walk in peaceful ways.  Paul concludes the letter to the Ephesians this way:  “May the peace of God live between you as brothers and sisters in Christ.”  What a statement!  Brothers and sisters in Christ have been fighting about religious dogma and religious interpretation for two thousand years, and Paul simply ends his letter with an appeal to brothers and sisters in Christ to be at peace with each other.  Paul then concludes his letter to the Philippians with a much remembered phrase:  “The shalom of God which passes all understanding, keep and guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Here, we are reminded that the peace of God is beyond human understanding, even though we are constantly striving to understand those things which make for peace.  Paul then concludes his letter to the church in Colossae by stating: “May the God of peace rule in your hearts.”  That is where peace always begins and ends: with God ruling in our hearts.    And so we learn that the Apostle Paul is also immersed in shalom, that he begins and ends each of his letters with a call and reminder of God’s peace. As the folk song says, “Shalom, my friend, shalom my friend, shalom, shalom;  til we meet again, til we meet again, shalom, shalom.”

It is with these words that we approach the lesson about peace from the book of Ephesians.  If you want to read the best book in the Old Testament about peace, you read from Second Isaiah, and you read about the great visions of peace:  lions with lambs, bears with sheep, swords into plowshares.  If you want to read the most eloquent statements about peace in the New Testament, you turn to these words from Ephesians where Paul writes:  “God is our peace, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility, and making two people one.”  God is destroying our traditions, our traditional interpretations of the Bible, our interpretations of the commandments, and through the cross, he is putting to death the hostilities which live in our heart, thereby he is making two people, (Jew and Greek, slave and free, rich and poor,) one.  Christ came to this world to preach peace and to teach peace.

But why was Paul calling the first Christians to live a life of peace?  Because they were fighting with each other about each and every issue that most of us have long since forgotten.  The earliest Christians were fighting, fighting, fighting about circumcism, the big issue of whether or not the foreskin of a male penis should be cut at birth.  Yes, that interpretation of the Bible was a HUGE issue and interpretation for the early church, but we could care less. Nowadays, many call it “male mutilation.”  Or, the early Christians were fighting about eating foods sacrificed to idols, whether or not they should eat food was had been in the pagan temples or not.  Who cares nowadays about this issue?  Or, the early Christians were fighting about leadership, whether they should follow the eloquence of Apollos or the intelligence of Paul, and they were locked in combat about who their leader should be.  Of course, Christians still fight about leadership and tend to join the church where they find strong leadership.  Or, still other Christians were fighting about speaking in tongues, whether or not there could be religious ecstasies or whether they should follow rigid dogma.  The Pharisees and Sadducees were fighting about whether or not there was a resurrection, and the Orthodox and Liberals were fighting about everything.  In other words, the early Christians were fighting, fighting, fighting about their religious interpretations, and the Apostle Paul proclaimed a word that has echoed through the centuries:  shalom.  Peace, peace, peace.  Our God is a God of peace.  God wants to break down the dividing walls of hostility in your hearts and the dividing walls of hostility between you.  The cross of Christ puts to death the anger and violence and bitterness to others in your heart.  The will of God is that you are to live in peace with one another and stop quarreling and fighting. 

Paul’s call for peace echoes down to our century and we hear his word for us:  that  God’s will for us is that we are to live in peace within ourselves and in peace with one another.  We want peace within our marriages, within our divorces, between our neighbors, at work.  Everyplace. In every place of our lives, we need and want peace.  That is God’s will for us; for the reality of our everyday lives.

What is God’s shalom for us?  What is shalom?  It is an attitude of the heart.  Peace is God’s Spirit living inside of us, within us.  When God lives inside of us, there is an inner motivation to be drawn to peace.  There is a wanting of harmony.  I don’t like being in conflict with my wife; I don’t like being in conflict with myself or my neighbor; I don’t  like being in conflict with anyone, and this is because the peace of Christ lives within me, within you.  Peace begins within my heart.

There are two prepositions associated with the word, peace.  Within and between.  Peace is an attitude of our hearts within.  Peace begins within our hearts, with God breaking down the dividing walls of hostility and anger within our hearts.  Then peace is between; it is peace between us and God, nature and other people.  There is a four-fold harmony, like harmonies in a choir.  The first harmony is within, is inside of me/you, when God lives within us. This is an inner harmony. Then there is peace between me and God, nature and others. This is an outer harmony towards others.

Shalom is shelem, and shelem means totality.  God’s peace touches all realities of our lives.  It is finding peace with death.  Having recently almost died, I now know first hand what it means to finding peace about your own death.  George Eims was buried this past week in a raucas, celebrative funeral, and I know that Georgie had made peace with his death many years ago.  A person needs to make peace with your cancer, your body growing older, your body falling apart, even while at the same time fighting the disease that is attacking you.  But underneath it all, you need to make peace with your cancer, your heart ailment, your leukemia, your divorce, your ex-spouse, your children, your situation in life that you don’t like.  Shelem. God’s peace affects the totality of your life.  God’s peace is for all situations, for always, as it says in Romans.

God’s peace is an actuality, a reality in your life. God’s shalom is not merely a theological construct or a mental ideal.  Shalom is for your actual life.  God’s shalom is not running away from life and the conflicts of life.  Shalom is not running off to a vacation to Tahiti where the only decision you need to make is what time you get up in the morning and what time you go to bed.  Shalom is not running away to an emotional Disneyland, where everybody sweeps up the mess behind you and the mess in front of you.  That is not God’s peace.  God’s peace is not running away from conflict and joining a church where everybody has the same ideas that you have and therefore there is no conflict in your church because everybody thinks the same.  God’s peace is not running away from conflict to all of your friends who think and act just the way you do.  The essence of friendship for many people is to find friends who think and act just the way they do.  In fact, for many people, peace is the absence of conflict and so they run away from the real world to find people who think and act just as they do.

There is a seminary story that illustrates this.  By that, I mean to say that we pick up some simple stories at Seminary 101 that illustrate a thought.  This is a story about a county fair, and a contest for the best “peaceful” painting.  There were three finalists, three pictures of peace. The first picture of peace is of a farm in Wisconsin.  You can see that farm in your mind, with its fences along the roadside all painted freshly white.  The barn is a bright red and the farmhouse has been recently painted red as well, with white trim freshly painted on all the windows.  The grass of the pasture is luscious green, with well-fed Holstein cows grazing on that tall grass, and small birds are perfectly chirping their delightful songs as they fly above the cows, grazing there in peace.  This picture entered the contest for peace, and it didn’t win.  The second picture of peace was from a scene on Puget Sound at five thirty in the morning, with the sun slowly rising with its rose hues on the water, with no wind, and no airplanes and no boats, with only seagulls lazily gliding on the air, effortless. This scene was and is so perfect, so serene, so peaceful, and the picture was painted and entered in the contest and it too did not win.  The third picture was that of a large, tall, waterfall, a cataract splashing its waters down on the rocks for at least two hundred feet. What a waterfall!  It was magnificent.  But strangely or not so strangely, at the base of that waterfall were yellow arches from McDonald’s with all their trashing wrappers spilling over from the garbage can.  On the other side of the magnificent waterfall was a freeway, with thousands of cars endlessly roaring by. On top of that high cliff where the waterfall originated, was a campground, and people were having a blast of a party and hundreds of empty beer cans came floating over that waterfall and into the pool below.  Meanwhile, there was jackhammer blasting away concrete at its base and electric power saws were whining away with new construction.  There was a tree which had grown very tall through the years, standing near that waterfall, and at the top of the tree, a branch reached out towards the water, and in that branch was a bird’s nest, and in that bird’s nest were three blue eggs and a mother robin was sitting on those eggs in that nest in the tree limb near the waterfall, with all the chaos around it.  The picture was entitled, “Peace,” and that picture of peace won the prize.    And that is our understanding of God’s peace.  God’s peace is not to run away from the chaos and the conflict all around us and inside of us.  God’s peace is living in a chaotic situation called life, and there is this chaotic situation, to find God’s peace within and God’s peace between.  Shalom and shelem is not running away from the conflicts of life, but living peacefully in them.

In confirmation, I teach a lesson about being peacemakers.  I learned some of this from a book on peacemaking, and I list five qualities of a peacemaker who lives in a crazy mixed up world.  The first is this:  a peacemaker has the Spirit of God living inside. This is God’s Spirit, God’s indwelling peace.  It always begins with peace on the inside of me.  The second quality is gentleness, kindness, sereneness within.  This is very important.  So often, we fight fire with fire and we increase the conflict with another person.  It is often not so much what you say, but how you say it, and when you say things in a “hot way,” you anticipate that you will receive hotness and intensity of feeling in return.  Therefore, a spirit of gentleness and kindness is very important in dealing with conflicts.  In the passage of Ephesians for today, it says that God puts to death the hostile, angry feelings within us through the cross.  It is the awareness of the cross of Christ and Christ dying for our sins, for all of our sins, that that destroys the hostile feelings inside of us. A third quality of a peaceful person is that of fairness or justice.  So often in life, conflicts are due to people not playing fair.  For example, my wife may get mad at me if she perceives that she is doing all the work and I am not carrying my fair share.  It’s a matter of fairness.  The same is true between nations, one nation being rich and the other nation being poor.  The same issue of fairness may be for a person who makes ten dollars an hour and can’t make ends meet when he or she is working so hard, and yet another person makes millions of dollars for less work.  The poor person may say, “It isn’t fair.”  Fairness is important in peace.  Peace without fairness is not shalom but people caving into power.  A fourth quality of a peaceful person is the awareness of my own sinfulness, my part of the problem.  So often we say, “That person is wrong.  That person thinks funny.”  But a peaceful person comes to grips with his or her own culpability, with his or her own sinful side that is silently contributing to the conflict.  A fifth quality of a peacemaker is a toleration or appreciation for the other person’s point of view.  You try to get into their skin, into their point of view, into their perspective and try to understand what is happening from their heart.  Yes, peacemakers are very important in trying to bring peace to every situation in our lives, to the totality of our lives.

Shalom.  Peace. Shalem.  Totality.  God’s peace touches all aspects of my daily live. It is not running away from conflict.  Shalom becomes an actuality in our lives, for Jesus came to teach us to actually be peaceful people for all situations.

I love that Israelite folksong:  Shalom, my friend, shalom, my friend, shalom, shalom.  Til we meet again, til we meet again, shalom, shalom.”

(Pause)  Now, that I have expressed my ideas about what it means to be a peacemaker, I am now asking you to talk in church.  I am asking you, with all your years of wisdom and from all your varied situations, to think about your own life and how you have been a peacemaker.  What are some of the crucial qualities for peace that you have seen in others or yourself? 

(After a momentary pause, somewhat awkward, the saints then began to speak up, standing and sharing.  I repeated what they said into my cordless microphone and then expanded ever so briefly what they said.  The saints of our church said the following about peacemaking in their own everyday lives:  1) Let go and let God; let go of all the bad stuff and scars that have happened to you and let God rule your heart.  2) Feel good about yourself and you will then feel good about other people. Feeling badly about yourself adds fire to the conflict; feeling good about yourself makes for peace. 3) Focus on God’s will for your life; not on my will.  4) Try to understand the other person and their point of view.  5) Patience; that is, God’s peace takes time. Peace does not happen immediately but may take years.  There were many other contributions, but these were a few.  The important point is that people’s minds had to become active, as they thought about being peacemakers in their real worlds, and their thought processes were good.)

CHILDREN’S SERMON.  I asked the children to imagine that I was a wall.  That is not a problem for children to imagine. I walked back to the rear of the church and said,  “I am a wall and who is seated out behind this wall, out in the narthex, during the time of Jesus when he attended worship in a temple?  Yes, you guessed it, women and children. The children and women were walled off.”  I then stepped forward and said:  “I am a wall, and what kind of people sat towards the rear of the church?  Yes, you guessed it.  All the Gentile men.  All none-Jewish men sat in the back of the church and all the Jewish men had the best seats in the front of the church.”  Time passed and the wall was standing right in the center aisle, and I said,  “I am a wall, and the women sat on one side of the church and the men sat on the other side of the church. There was a wall between men and women.”  I then walked back to the rear of the church again and said:  “I am a wall. All people with black colored skin or dark colored skin would sit back here.  All the white people with white skin would sit up front.  I am a wall that divides women and children and Gentiles and men and blacks and whites and rich and poor.  Walls divide people.  Jesus came and said:  Our God of peace breaks down the dividing walls of hostility, making all people one, making children and women and men and blacks and whites and rich and poor, one.  God does not like walls that divide.  Amen.”

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