Sermon: "What Does the Peace of God Entail?"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Isaiah 66.10-14; Psalm 66.1-8; Galatians 6.1-16; Luke 10.1-11, 16-20
Our readings for today have a lot to say about peace. The reading from Isaiah personifies Jerusalem and provides us with a wonderful image of peace that flows from the motherhood of God (John Foley: http://liturgy.slu.edu/14OrdC070719/reflections_foley.html). The inhabitants of Jerusalem are to “rejoice with Jerusalem;” “they are to nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast” (Isaiah 66.10-11; NRSV). The Lord further promises to extend prosperity to Jerusalem, that the people “shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you, you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66.12-13; NRSV).
Psalm 66 alludes to peace when it commands all the lands to be joyful in God and to sing glory to his Name (Vs. 1). The peoples are to bless God and “make the voice of his praise to be heard; who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip” (Vss. 7-8; NRSV).
Today’s reading of the gospel also speaks of peace. It begins as follows: “The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead . . .” (Luke 10.1; NRSV). Two words have been omitted, “After this the Lord appointed seventy others…” “After this” provides the context. As we noted last Sunday, Jesus and the disciples were rejected by a Samaritan village. As they continued their journey to Jerusalem, Jesus addressed the importance of proclaiming the kingdom of God. Today’s gospel reinforces this importance.
Jesus, noting the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few, appointed seventy others and sent them out in pairs to every place he intended to go. The appointment of the seventy is only mentioned in Luke. Scholars believe this account may foreshadow the mission of the Church to carry the gospel to all nations, for in Genesis 10, seventy nations are listed as having descended from Noah and his sons.
Jesus’ instructions are very specific. After telling them he was sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves, Jesus said, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10.4; NRSV). A purse with some money would have allowed the purchase of food. A traveler would normally have carried food in a bag as well as an extra pair of sandals and a change of clothing. And what about not greeting any one on the road? Isn’t that a rather inhospitable practice? In this culture, the custom was to exchange news of one’s family and the events of one’s locale. This could become a rather protracted conversation. Jesus was telling them their mission was important; it was not to be interrupted by normal pleasantries.
Jesus further said, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you” (Luke 10.5-6; NRSV). If peace was extended, they were to remain in that house, eating whatever the host provided. They were to cure the sick in the house, and to proclaim, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10.8-9; NRSV).
If they entered a town and were unwelcome, they were to go into the street and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this; the kingdom of God has come near” (Luke 10.10-11; NRSV). Jesus further said Sodom would fare better than that town on the day of judgment. If they had been properly welcomed, the host would have washed their feet; there would not have been any dust to wipe off.
Our reading then omits these verses which I believe to be important: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sodom, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades” (Luke 10.13-15; NRSV). Hold these woes in mind – we will come back to them.
Jesus further told the seventy, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10.16; NRSV).
The seventy joyously returned, and exclaimed, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Jesus replied, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10.17-20; NRSV).
Several practical insights emerge from our consideration of these readings.
First, Jesus asked the seventy to convey two messages: “Peace to this house” and “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” In Luke 24.36, the resurrected Jesus greets the disciples, “Peace be with you” (NRSV). In this context and culture, peace meant so much more than in our culture. We tend to think of peace in terms of tranquility and quiet, as the absence of conflict. Jesus had in mind the peace of Shalom which carries with it the sense of “wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity, carrying with it the implication of permanence” (https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v01-n10/the-shalom-of-god-issues-shalom/). This is the peace Jesus had in mind when he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14.27; NRSV).
God wants us to have this peace. All too often, we focus on the prosperity portion of the definition of shalom and forget all else. The prosperity gospel is not what Jesus had in mind! Jesus pronounced woes against Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for they chose to reject God’s peace. When God’s peace comes, the kingdom of God is also present. “Peace to this house” and “The kingdom of God has come near to you” are bound up together; they cannot be separated.
Second, just as the seventy were given the mission of conveying and promoting peace through healing the sick in the household, as Christians engaged in the furtherance of God’s kingdom, we are also to promote peace in the sense of Shalom. This is what St. Paul has in mind when he speaks of sowing to the Spirit:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Speaking of the “family of faith,” Paul emphasizes we who have received the Spirit are to restore one detected in a transgression in a spirit of gentleness and we are to bear one another’s burdens.
Third, when we go about the work of the kingdom we are not to take pride as did the seventy when they exclaimed, “Lord, in your name, even the demons submit to us!” There is nothing like successful ministry to usher in a sense of spiritual pride. As Jesus reminded them, so should we remember: Rejoice not in “our” accomplishments; rejoice that our names are written in heaven.
God wants us to experience true peace, not the peace the world would give, but the peace that comes from a joyous relationship with God. Having experienced that peace, we are to convey it to others. Let’s pray that we may catch the vision of shalom, and work to promote that peace in our own lives, in the lives around us, and in our society. We just celebrated Independence Day. I believe our founding fathers had some sense of the vision of God’s peace; let’s work to keep that vision alive and to bring it even more fully into conformity with God’s peace. Amen