A while back, I had a conversation with an elderly priest. We were talking about public ministry and public life as clergy and I asked him what he thought people wanted or needed the most. After some thought, he gave me a simple answer. “Peace,” he said, “People want and need peace.” So I have been thinking about that this week. If people want peace, why don’t they have it? The world is a strange, busy, often violent place. This seen best and most of all in the life of Jesus and the ways in which we treated him and caused him to suffer and die. And that is when it hit me. Because we do not know God, we find it hard to know grace. And because there is precious little grace, there is no peace.
Our New Testament lesson this week is from First Peter. Here is what Peter says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1.3-9, ESV)
One of the very first things that we can draw out of this is the fact that God is not an unknown entity. God is a well known and beloved Father. The life that comes from God the Father, the life that God offers to us in Christ, cannot be changed, eroded, faded or worn away by the passage of time. It cannot and shall not be ravaged or stolen away because that life belongs to God and it is part of the divine nature. If we have life in the Father, we are his and we belong to him. And if we belong to him then we must participate in the dying and rising of his Son.
But how many of us in the Church in North America, these days are ready and willing to die? How many of us are ready to risk death so that we may live and others with us? There is a certain amount of fear about the end of this life and even more so about the control of life and the loss of liberty and self determination in the face of decay and disease in our society again recently. Now more than ever, our society needs to see people in the Church live their lives with courage and integrity worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Please keep in mind that I am not talking about martyrdom. A gift such as martyrdom is a gift you get to use only once, and it is near the very end of this life. I am talking about bold living and proclamation of the kingdom: first, the simple actions of honest living and then, at the right time the right words to share the desire of the heart of the Father – that we would choose to love him back and to enter into relationship with him. Also remember that courage is not the absence of fear – such a thing is for fools only. Courage is the ability and willingness to act and to do in the face of fear, know that there will be a cost and offering the appropriate sacrifice.
Here, we need to be truthful with ourselves. Faith to come into its fullness is necessarily tested and tried by fire. Without having our faith, both as individuals and as a community tested, of what worth and strength is it? Can we not recognize that death is not the end but only the beginning? As Scripture reminds us, “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30.5)
Maybe I can make things make sense this way. My own dad and I were very close. For reasons that I cannot to this day explain, having my father present always allowed for a certain amount of peace. He showed me how to control my fears and anxieties, passions and temper. Over my childhood I can remember my dad teaching me that there was life waiting on the other side of the gate and that death was a gate all of us had to walk through., So when my father was sick and dying with cancer, I can remember him being sad that I had to look after him and help him to do things. It was a test that I think strengthen the bond between us. In the last few days that he spent in hospital, I would stay with him at night, to be there for him if he needed anything. When I would leave I would say to him, good night, Dad, I’ll see you in the morning. It was a deep privilege for me to be with him, to pray with him and for him, the night he died because he had taught me to pray. And now when I go to visit his grave, I still remind him and myself, “See you in the morning.”
Is the lost real? Of course! Do I miss him? For certain. I remember what I was taught through my relationship with my father and that sustains me. And at the same time I have come to discover that peace, real peace, comes from knowing the Father and having relationship with his Son. And we have so much we can look forward to: On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine -- the best of meats and the finest of wines.(Isaiah 25.6) We need to know the Father so that we can see the old become new, the fallen being raised up, and all things being brought to their perfect in Christ on the day of his coming again. Know the Father have grace and when you have grace, you have God’s own peace.