Take a moment to open your hymnals to 661. These verses are written by William Alexander Percy, a Mississippian from Greenville, and uncle of the famous Louisiana writer, Walker Percy. Percy is telling us something about the peace that comes from God, and how that peace fills our hearts brimful, and yet breaks our hearts as well. It is not the peace that we often think about, that state of trouble free living so many associated with peaceful living. It is the old human story buried in the sod, as something that exists a bit beyond what is human. And although it is not what we expect, it is still something for which we long.
I believe that Percy is saying something true about appearance and reality. This hymn is telling us that sometimes God’s peace will look anything but peaceful in how we often have peace described to us. In fact, God’s peace might unmake the world a bit, might unmake our worlds a bit as well.
Each of us have notions of what real peace might look like. Left to my own devices, I find myself yearning for a situation of optimal experience, where what I love, and those I love, are not constrained by the limitations of time and space and compassion that seem to riddle the world in which we live.
Percy’s hymn challenges the figments of my imagination. God’s peace might very well challenge what I think makes for peace in my own life.
Jesus is challenging his disciples a bit. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
The implication is that if we walk in the peace that Jesus offers, there will come moments with some fear and trembling. I might be tempted to say, “Thanks but no thanks.” However, Jesus is preparing his friends for that day when he will no longer be with them; a day when there may be no touchstone upon which to rest trembling fingers.
Every person in this room today can tell a story about when life suddenly changes, and when what we have thought of as a peaceful life is taken from us. Any number of things opens that box of powerlessness. Usually it is a loss. The loss of a marriage, the loss of a dream, the loss of a life, the loss of some hopeful tether to which we have bound the days of our lives. There is panic. There are questions. There is sorrow and there is anger and there is a reminder of the powerlessness that comes with being human.
It is hard to grasp “peace” in the midst of any crisis.
And perhaps you are like me. Often I would rather fill the painful emptiness with old certainties and half-baked platitudes. A soft and whispering proposition of peace, telling me that indeed my suffering will “make sense” if I will only be patient. “Be at peace, be at peace, that is just the way of the world, it will all work out in the end . . . time will heal all wounds.” Although it is sweet, although it is soothing, I find that there is a bitter aftertaste; thus the truth I find in the words of the hymn.
The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.
Sometimes there remains an aching in the heart that no soft and sentimental words can touch.
For some of us, there are days when what the world calls peace is simply not enough blanket to cover us from the cold. The platitudes are not enough. We need the power and the presence of something, someone, who will do more than just make sense out of our troubles; we need that someone who will walk a mile in our shoes with us. I need someone who will walk that mile for me.
I do not want to simply close the old door; I need a new door. I need a new life. What Jesus promises is that there is a new door, there is a new life, and there is a new guide in the Holy Spirit who will carry a light into that dark forest for us. It is the power of the Holy Spirit walking in our shoes with and for us who will find a passage through the superficial platitudes of a worldly peace, who carries a balm for aching hearts. The Spirit carries a peace from God that overcomes this world, although it often seems foolish and is misunderstood by this world.
It is the Holy Spirit who undertakes the deep gardening of the human heart; with God’s unseen hand rebuilding lives that have lost their tether on peace. It is the Holy Spirit bringing a real, a meaningful, a lasting peace; not as the world gives, but as Christ gives to those who follow him.
Those in this room today who are following Christ will more and more find that their lives look like the lives of the disciples. Our lives will sometimes look anything but peaceful in the eyes of the world, in the eyes of those who confuse leisure and pleasure with the peace that only comes from above.
The promise that Jesus makes to this small band some two thousand years ago is a promise that stands today; we are not left alone in this world to die a thousand deaths in our hearts and souls with the sentimental bromides of a sick world wiping its feet on us like a doormat. No. We have more, much more, than the “peace” that the world would hand to us like a door prize for children; saying essentially, “thank you for playing – please do come again.”
That holy and powerful someone stands with us, and pushes aside the peace that the world would give us like a piece of candy. There is a holy and powerful someone who brings meat, who brings medicine, who brings hope, who brings the words that come from another time and place where our Redeemer liveth. There is a holy and powerful someone who carries the divine gift; the peace that can only come from God.
It is for this someone that we pray. It is for this someone to who we give our hearts and souls. It is for this someone that we raise our hands week after week, year after year, century after century, offering the worlds of the timeless blessing:
Listen – listen very closely – listen.
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep
your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God,
and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of
God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be
amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.
Now let us pray for but one thing . . . the marvelous peace of God.