Books of the Bible- Ephesians
The Peace of God
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:
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:
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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.)
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.