The Word This Weekend – July 7, 2019
“The Peace that Passes”
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
From Pastor Hurst – “The Peace that Passes”
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your good character be known to everyone -- for the Lord is near.
Don’t fret about anything, but in everything,
by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,
let your needs be made known to God.
And the peace of God, that passes all understanding,
will safeguard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Independence Day Weekend. Of course it’s a time for celebrations and barbecues, fireworks and bands, and fervent patriotism and thanksgiving. It is for many a time for gratitude and inspiration, a time for reflection and introspection, and, mostly, a time to pray for peace and unity.
As an American history buff, I’m reminded that this weekend is also the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War event that most historians claim spelled the end of the Confederacy, while assuring the territorial unity of the fledgling American republic. In that bloody crucible of hand to hand and brother to brother conflict, the future of the land we call America was decided in death, and consecrated in blood.
When President Abraham Lincoln inaugurated the first American Thanksgiving commemoration in 1863, he stood at the new Gettysburg cemetery, noting in his brief dedicatory address to a nation embroiled in what he called “a great civil war,” testing whether his or any nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition of human equality, could endure. Gettysburg and War. Thanksgiving and Peace.
So where are your thoughts this Fourth of July? If you’re like most of us in this land, you’ve got to admit that we continue to be richly blessed in this land of natural and material wealth and favor. At the same time, we and our nation are beset with regret and anxiety, inequity and division, bigotry and breach. Whether back in 1863, in the deathly silent fields of that Pennsylvania cemetery; or in 1963, as we draped our national flag over yet another assassinated President, we recognize that such Thanksgiving and Peace, in this nation and anywhere in this fractured world, can be elusive at best and impossible for many.
Perhaps our thoughts might also wander to Memphis in April 1968, as thousands grieved and agonized over the bier of Pastor Martin King, brought down by the hate and brutality of a racist gunman as he stood for human dignity and equality in a resistant and insensate culture. Or we might fast forward to June 2015, as two more pastors were cruelly and viciously executed, together with seven of their parishoners, by a twisted and hateful young man still cleaving to an utterly stupid worldview of racial supremacy that we’d think should itself have been dead and buried by now.
Sadly, we need only consult our screens or newspapers to be confronted by images that must certainly disturb and roil us, whatever our political or sociological persuasion. Whether they be haunting images of children and adults in overcrowded detention centers, commemorations of the historic Stonewall demonstrations for the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens, or disastrous floods or famines in places near and far – the inescapable fact of the world as we know it today is far from just, far from reconciled, far from peace.
Whatever the causes or motivations, the result is the same – a grim toll in blood and terror mounting ever higher, and a stunned and sorrowful wonder at the sinful human capacity to strike out at what some fail to understand or accept in the lives, identities, ethnicities or choices of others.
The vision and promise of America for which those 19th Century youngsters on Seminary Ridge bled and died might seem as elusive as ever. With the prophets we cry out “’Peace, Peace,’ when there is no peace.” And, sadder still, the only peace we seem ever to accomplish is more of an armistice of injustice perpetuated by the strong against the weak, a surrender of those who must settle for less so that those who hold the levers can delude themselves that things are more good than evil, or at least good enough for the majority to feel comfortable and vindicated.
Tired are we over settling for such a Peace -- illusory and transitory, thrust aside by the crack of an assault rifle or the dark shadow of fear or evil. Is that the Peace that passes for Peace? That passes for us?
It was another ’63, many centuries earlier and a world away, when a man named Paulus wrote words like those above, in the midst of another Empire besieged by war, inequity, corruption and sin. He wrote to fellow believers, to those derisively called “Christ-ians” by their Roman neighbors and overlords, urging them to forsake such a passing Peace, one that in futility stacks up the year’s blessings and fortunes, yet lives perennially stuck in the mess of a world gone horribly wrong.
“Don’t fret,” he says. “Let your good character be known,” he urges. “Make known to God your needs, but always with thanksgiving,” he advises. And – above it all -- “Trust in the Peace of Christ.”
A peace beyond reason is this Christly Peace. Peace that flows even when the wars rage on and the injustices hold sway. Peace that surpasses the transitory peace of the silent battlefield, or the hushed sobs of the oppressed or vanquished. A peace for which Lincoln and Kennedy and King – and we who bear their legacy -- continue to pray for, work for, press for and dare to demand. A peace grounded in a freedom beyond what any republic can assure, no matter how much we love it and how deeply we cherish the sacrifices of the generations who have risen and fallen on battlefields and foxholes to assure. A freedom enlivened by the sacrifice and victory of Peace’s Prince, the crucified and risen Christ, in whose name we can and must press for full equality, full personhood, and full reconciliation and kinship.
This Independence Day – more than 150 years distant from Gettysburg, 50 from Dallas, and 1,950 from Paul’s Philippian letter – I urge you again this year to embrace the Peace that only Christ can give. Settle not for a “peace that passes,” but pray and strive for something more. Something that was worth the blood of the saints, the voices of the powerless, the sacrifices of the oppressed, and the transformations of all those who have painfully recognized in themselves the sins of pride, superiority and self-interest, and this pervasive deafness to the cries of brothers and sisters from the underside -- the everlasting and ever-embracing Peace that passes all understanding and all circumstance – the Peace of the just and peaceable Christ!
See you at worship this weekend, and across the long green season of worship, learning and community this summer. And may the risen Christ meet us in every prayer, every determination, and every step in the march to the liberty our republic was founded to assure, and in every breath our Savior’s heart grants us to breathe in his name.
With You in God’s Good Work,