“H OW CAN WE LIVE IN PEACE when there is so much strife and suffering in the world today?”
That question was raised 20 years ago in a commentary on these verses. So, the question is not new. I suppose it has been asked at least once by every generation since Cain killed Abel.
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ONE OF THE BLESSINGS of information technology is that the world has become a much smaller place. We can learn about what is going on in China, or Somalia, or in Japan or the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul almost as soon as it happens.
I think that’s a very good thing, because it means that all people across all kinds of lines get to see up close and personal how much we human beings are alike.
One of the curses of information technology is that the world has become a much smaller place. That means that we also get to see — up close and personal — all the corruption and cruelty and violence and hatred and injustice afflicting the human family.
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IN THE FACE of overwhelming cruelty and violence and injustice, it can seem incredibly naïve to believe in a God who is working to bring grace and mercy and peace and justice and love and life into this world!
But, this is exactly where and what people in Judeo-Christian tradition believe.
God champions love and peace. Because God is love and God is peace, we are to live in love and at peace with one another. God’s love and peace have always been depicted as being present even in the midst of violence.
Let’s hold up Matthew’s birth and infancy narrative. See how much violence. In that context, God’s Son is born as Hope of the World in the midst of a world in chaos, death, a ruler abusing his authority, fear, and intimidation.
The cross, an emblem of suffering and shame, has become for us the sign of God’s being for us. Again and again God champions love and peace. The two go together. You cannot have peace without love. If you love, you will have peace.
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FOR PAUL, FOR THE CHURCH, “agreeing with one another” or “being of one mind” should not be read as an appeal to uniformity. The Church, for most of its history, and certainly the Presbyterian Church, has recognized and has applauded diversity.
This appeal to think the same way is an appeal to think “according to Christ Jesus” or to have the same mind as Christ when he voluntarily humbled himself and died for the sake of the world.
Having that kind of love for another will facilitate living at peace and mending the factions that have torn nations and congregations and humanity itself.
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THAT KIND OF LOVE, however, is not possible without the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work.
The appeal to peace is a marker of the Spirit’s work (5:22). The mind that is set on the Spirit is a mind that knows peace (Romans 8:6).
Those who are justified have peace with God. Living peaceably with one another and with the world should be a marker of the church, since God calls the saints to peace and God is a God of peace.
The presence of love and peace are the indicators of the Spirit’s transformative work in our lives. As Paul wraps up this letter, he is not simply making an appeal for the church to get along. It is a call to be the new creation that the Spirit is equipping them, and us, to be.
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YOU WOULD THINK that a world in which all authority belongs to Jesus Christ, the one who stood for peace and compassion and justice and love would bear a whole lot more evidence of peace and compassion and love. This raises the question, If God is so good and loving, why is there so much evil in the world?
But I’m not so sure that the answer is all that complicated. It seems to me that God’s presence in this world is no more complicated than giving and receiving compassion. It is in the small acts by which we share kindness and love with our fellow human beings that we experience the true presence of God.
I would think it stands to reason that the only way we can experience the presence of “the God of love and peace” is if we are practicing “love and peace” in our lives. And I don’t think this works in the theoretical — I think it has to play itself out in the way we relate to those around us on a daily basis.
It seems to me that as we open ourselves in compassion to our sisters and brothers all around us, we find that there is a great deal of peace and compassion and love in the world — even in the midst of suffering and injustice.
Precisely in the midst of suffering and injustice.
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I THINK FOR MOST OF US, the reality of our world makes us tend to isolate ourselves from those around us. We stay, safely detached from everything and everyone in our world, walking around with earbuds and iPods, comfortable in our cars, withdrawing to our homes to engage with virtual reality over some kind of screen or another.
And it’s no wonder we look at our world and complain, “Where is God?” It is precisely when we open ourselves to those who are around us and allow ourselves to experience their pain and suffering and share compassion and kindness with them that we experience God’s presence.
That’s when we can be sure that the God of love and peace is with us, filling us all with grace and joy and life!