Living in Harmony

1 Peter 3:8-18

 8Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10For,
   “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

 13Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,

            Over the last 7 weeks I have been preaching through The Naked Anabaptist a book by Stuart Murray where he lifts out what he believes to be the seven core convictions of Anabaptism.  This book is not about what we as Anabaptist-Mennonites need to give up to be like the rest of the world or to make our churches more relevant for the seekers.  This book is Murray’s attempt to name what we as Anabaptist-Mennonites have that the rest of the church needs so badly.

            Today we will be looking at core conviction #7 and next week we will conclude the series by coming back to #6 and I hope that it will be clear for you as I go why I chose to address #7 today.  Today’s core conviction is:

Peace is at the heart of the gospel.  As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding nonviolent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.

            The Mennonite Church is a part of a group that is often referred to as “The Historic Peace Churches”.  These churches include denominations such as Mennonites, The Church of the Brethren, and the Friends or Quakers.  As Murray notes, when we talk about peace, we are not simply talking about absence of war.  We are talking about peace between individuals, peace within and between churches, peace within society, and peace between nations.  I would add to this list by saying that we are to find peace with God and peace with ourselves.  So today I would like to focus on how we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are to work for peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace with others.

            Today we dedicated our son at church.  We pledged to God that we would do our best to raise him in the ways of God so that he might make a decision to follow Jesus in his every day life.  Paxton is now pushing six months of age and the time has just flown by.  But like any other couple, we put a lot of effort into coming up with a name for him.  We wanted something unique but not too strange.  And we wanted something that had meaning and purpose behind it.

            A lot of people ask us where we came up with the name Paxton.  It is not a common first name, though it is a pretty common last name in Great Britton.  We chose Paxton because pax is a Latin word, which means “peace”.  You might be familiar with the Pax program, the alternative service program that began after World War II as a way to build homes in the war-stricken areas of Germany.  So pax means peace.  Of course there are times that Paxton is anything but peaceful!

            Paxton’s middle name is Christopher.  It is a common name, and that is one reason why we chose it.  If Paxton doesn’t like his name when he gets older, he can go by his middle name, which we decided was a bit safer.  But there is also meaning behind the name Christopher.  Christopher means “Christ-bearer”.  He is one that is to bring Christ to others.  So in naming our son, we desire that he grows up to be a peaceful witness to Jesus Christ.

            Peace is not just an Anabaptist add-on to the gospel.  The gospel isn’t just about going to heaven when you die.  The gospel is the good news that Jesus came to give us eternal life, and that life begins the moment we begin to follow Jesus.  Jesus came to give us life, real life.  And I believe that following Jesus means living a life of peace. 

Now obviously, we are going to interpret the word peace differently.  When I hear the word peace I may not think of the same thing as you think of when you hear the word peace.  When we hear the word peace, especially when we hear it in the context of the church, I believe that we should always think of this word as Jesus would have.  And Jesus, being a Jewish man, would have understood peace as “shalom”.  And shalom is more than just the absence of war.  Shalom is well-being.  So when I say that peace is central to the gospel, I am saying that the gospel is about bringing God’s shalom to all of the world.  We are to find peace with God, peace with others, and peace with ourselves.

            Peace with God is one aspect of the gospel that is often emphasized in evangelical churches.  And rightly so!  Through the cross of Jesus Christ, we can be reconciled with God.  We can have peace with God.

            There is probably no better story in all of the Bible than that of the Prodigal Son that shows God’s love and desire to be at peace with us.  The youngest son wanders away from his father.  He does what he knows is not what his father wants.  He blows his inheritance, the money that his father had worked his entire life for, and he blows it on things that his father would not approve of.  And when he is out of money, out of food, and out of options, he decides to go back and ask for a job from his father.  The son talks it out as he is traveling home how he is planning to make peace with his father.  But when he arrives at the farm, the father is waiting for him.  He has already forgiven the son.  He is ready to make peace, all it took was the son making the decision to come back to the father and seek reconciliation.

            This is how we can be at peace with God.  Go to him.  That’s all it takes.  Go to him, approach him in a spirit of humility.  Jesus has already taken care of the rest.  Making peace always requires that both parties come together and reconcile their differences.  And when we make peace with God, God is already there waiting for us.  He is saying, “Here I am, I love you, I forgive you, I want to have a relationship with you.  All you have to do is to come and meet me.”  Peace with God is out there for the taking.

            I hope we can all see the importance of being at peace with God.  And I believe that far too often people just stop right there and think that peace with God is all that matters.  But as we read through the scriptures, we can find times when it seems that Jesus is saying that being at peace with others is even more important than being at peace with God.

            In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a hypothetical scenario where this plays out.  He talks about a person bringing an offering to the altar of God.  This would have been an act of worship, an act of obedience, and perhaps even an act of atonement, seeking peace with God.  But Jesus says that if you are about to make an offering to God and you remember that there is a person that has an issue with you, you are to leave the offering there and go and make things right with that guy first.

            I don’t think that this story was meant to say that making peace with others is more important than making peace with God, but I do believe that Jesus is really trying to help us to see that making peace with others should not be something that we neglect just because we have a good relationship with God.  Or perhaps another way of saying it is that we cannot have a good relationship with God if we are not at peace with others.  Making peace is important.  Verse 11 from our scripture for this morning instructs us to make peace and pursue it.  Not only peace with God; not only peace with our friends, but even peace with our enemies.

I think that too often we have a misguided concept of what it means to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  And there is a contemporary country music song right now that really helps us to see how misguided we have become.  In this song, the guy’s girlfriend seems to have broken up with him, and broken his heart.  Check this link for a youtube video that includes the lyrics. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxUdftDwoFw&feature=related

            Now surely that was intended to be a little bit humorous.  I pray that your birthday comes and nobody calls.  That’s just funny.  But I have heard plenty of stories where people have misguided understandings of what it means to love your enemies that are anything but funny.

            I heard a story once that Tony Campolo (I think) tells.  Tony was meeting with a guy that served in World War II and this guy’s job was to wake up early in the morning after a battle, to walk through the battlefield, look for enemies that were still living, and finish them off.  One bullet, point-blank range, to the head.

            So one morning he was doing his duty, and he came across a wounded German soldier that was near exhaustion from a night of battle.  So this man approached the wounded soldier from behind with his rifle aimed and instructed him to freeze.  The German soldier, who spoke good English, knew that his life had come to its end and he asked the American soldier if he would mind if he said a prayer before the American fulfilled his duty.  The American soldier asked him, “Are you a Christian?” to which the German soldier replied, “Yes.”

            The two men sat down and they shared with one another for some time.  They spoke about their families and showed one another pictures of their children.  They talked about their churches and their home towns.  Then, after about an hour, the American soldier stood up and he told the German soldier, “I’m glad you are a Christian.  I’ll see you in heaven.”  And he shot him.

            I don’t believe that you can love your enemies and kill them.  Maybe I’m missing something, but that just doesn’t make sense to me.  These two men seemed to be making peace with one another, but the American soldier took the easy way out and killed the German soldier.  Maybe he thought it was loving to share stories with the German soldier, maybe he thought it was loving to allow him to pray first.  But I think that the loving thing to do would have been to say, “We both refuse to kill one another because we are both followers of Jesus Christ.”

            It is always easier to hate than it is to love.  It is always easier to return evil for evil than it is to return evil with a blessing like Peter says to do in our scripture for today.  It is always easier to do our own thing than to work together for the larger plan that God has for us.

            Growing up, we didn’t do a lot of “high culture” kinds of things.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but we were more of a take-in-a-concert-at-the-county-fair type of family.  But I remember well going on a field trip, probably in my late elementary school days, to a symphony at a fancy theater, which was probably at least a half an hour drive away because there were not any theaters in my hometown (or stoplights).

            Before we went, our teachers advised us on the things that were appropriate and inappropriate for a day trip to the symphony.  They told us what to wear, they told us what to bring (or not bring), and they told us what to expect.  I remember being told to not applaud until the conductor turned around and bowed to the audience, otherwise we might be applauding during a rest in the music and be embarrassed (or embarrassing to the teachers).  When the conductor turns around and bows, that is a sign that the piece of music is over.

            So we jumped in the old yellow school bus and drove about 30 minutes to a fancy theater.  And we walked into the theater plenty early for the performance.  And in spite of all of the preparation that we had received, I was not ready for what I witnessed.

            As we walked through the theater looking for our seats, trying to sit by our best friends, not getting stuck by the teacher, we heard the orchestra begin to warm up and tune their instruments.  Every instrument, every section, perhaps every person was doing their own thing, oblivious to what the person beside or behind them was doing.  And to be honest, it…sounded…awful.  The brass section sounded like honking geese, the strings sounded like buzzing insects, the percussion sounded like a bowling alley.  And I couldn’t help but laugh a little to myself.

            But then something wonderful happened.  An old man in a black jacket with tails walked up in front of the orchestra, pulled out of his pocket what must have been a magic wand, tapped it on the music stand twice, raised his arms, and the entire orchestra played at the same time.  They played a few notes at the same time, but they were playing different notes with different tones.  But these notes and tones blended together to make a beautiful, harmonious sound.  And that was just the beginning.

            For the next hour and a half we heard music like I had never heard before.  This was not the music at the county fair, that’s for sure!  Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, and surely others of the greatest composers of all time seemed to leap off the strings of those violins.  What only moments before sounded like noise now was beautiful.

            So as I remembered my first experience at the symphony, the words of Peter in verse 8 just really hit home for me.  “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

            We make a lot of noise, and we usually make that noise about other people.  We complain, we bicker, we argue, we fight.  The flutes do their own thing and the drums do theirs.  So often this fallen world is like that time before the conductor comes to the front of the orchestra, and all we hear is noise.  But that orchestra was not brought together to simply do their own thing or to compete with one another to see who can be the loudest.  That orchestra was brought together to harmonize.

            When we harmonize, we don’t care about who gets all of the attention or the top billing.  When we harmonize, we work together to make others sound better.  When we sing four-part harmony at church, I often try to sing bass.  Sometimes I fail, but I try.  And when I sing bass, I don’t very often sing the melody.  But that is okay.  My purpose is not to make myself sound better; it isn’t to showcase my own voice.  The purpose of harmony is to make the collective group sound better.

            We are called as Christians to live in harmony with one another.  And Peter gives some examples of how to live in harmony with one another.  We are called to be sympathetic, to love, to be tender hearted, humble, and compassionate.  These attributes all shape how we view others.  We are to try to make life better for all others, like a musician might try to make the entire orchestra sound better.  That is what harmony is about.  It is multiple people working together for a greater good, not just for personal gain.

            We live in a world where everyone is out to get what they deserve, and probably a little more.  More respect, more love, more money, more oil, more stuff.  But as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to give up our selfish ambitions and pick up a cross.  Because the cross, the violent and bloody cross, is the only way to find peace with God and peace with others.  And it is only in finding this peace, which passes all understanding, that we can be at peace with ourselves.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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