The Peace of Christ

Sermon based on Ephesians chapter 2 – July 23, 2017

What does it mean to you to have faith? To be a person of faith? Do you call yourself a Christian, a follower of Jesus? What does it look like in your daily life? This letter, attributed to Paul, is a letter not only to the insiders of the church but to the outsiders, to a whole community. And it is a letter about a life of faith.

Now maybe this stops the train for you right there. Maybe you’re not sure how to describe what a life of faith looks like for you. Maybe you’ve never considered the life you live a life of faith. Maybe it’s simply being here, at worship. Maybe it’s an active part of your every day life. We’re all over the board, aren’t we, in how we think about our faith lives?

As I was letting this scripture live in me this week, I got my daily meditation reading from Richard Rohr, entitled “Faith as participation.”  And wouldn’t you know, he started talking about Ephesians. Rohr says that scholars and translators think it more useful to talk about “faith of Christ” rather than “faith in Christ”, saying

It’s more than a change of prepositions. It means we are all participating—with varying degrees of resistance and consent—in the faith journey that Jesus has already walked. 

Most people think having faith means “to believe in Jesus.” But, “to share in the faith of Jesus” is a much richer concept…By myself, I don’t know how to have faith in God, but once we know that Jesus is the corporate stand in for everybody, we know we have already been taken on the ride through death and back to life. 

So, instead of worrying about “getting it right” we live our lives knowing that we’ve been gotten right, right from the beginning. We’ve been made right with God not through our own works but through God’s work in us as we experience in Jesus Christ. This rocks your world, doesn’t it? It does away with the book of your sins you think someone must be keeping. It does away with the division in your family, the old grudges and sins you’ve not let go of. It brings the outsiders in, it makes us all citizens of the same God. It takes away your self-improvement plan. It’s astonishing, this thing freely given to us.

And today we’re told that peace is ours as a result of all of this work God has done through Jesus Christ. Back to first century ears, this was as good as treason. Can you imagine the hush that came over the group assembled together in someone’s home as this was read aloud? Maybe with nervous looks to the door, to see if a Roman guard was near, listening in? After all, the peace-bringers were said to be the Roman rulers of the day. Roman emperors, Augustus in particular, would have been lauded as the one to save, the one to bring peace. An enforced peace, mind you. This letter suggested their allegiance was to Jesus, the peace-bringer, not to Rome, not to country. It’s like not standing for the national anthem. It’s saying your total allegiance, your whole heart and your whole life is with God, not with country. Their lives would be on the line for making such a claim, for even being in a room where such a claim was made. Are we willing to make this claim?

And this peace? It was for everyone, the insiders and the outsiders being brought in. The language of citizen, stranger, and alien is also on purpose and just as controversial. This peace was for them, too? Outsiders? Those not following the law? Those not “chosen?”

The scandal of this letter is that faith is a gift and it’s a gift for you and for you and for you and for you – for everyone. No strings attached. It’s stirred up in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift. It is the best gift.

And what do we do with gifts? Well, I suppose that’s up to each one of us, isn’t it? But I do know that faith is not ours to hoard or keep secret. It is to be shared. There are endless ways to live into this gift of a life of faith.

I attended the funeral of one of my high school moms on Friday. Joann was a great lady of faith. Over the lunch following the service, people stood to share stories of this great lady, and scripture was quoted at length again and again. Joann had been a lifetime member of a local Bible church, and so friends and family alike read scripture that was Joann’s favorites or their own favorites. It was a stunning tribute to this little lady. But even for me, a pastor of all things, I leaned over to another friend at the lunch and said, “boy, it’s an awful lot of Jesus talk.”

Because it wasn’t the lady I knew. I think I recall a Bible sitting around their home, but what I remember best about her is how she lived what she believed. How her faith was in her bones, in her flesh, in her breath. She was joyful, and gentle and kind. The spirit of God’s love flashed in her eyes. We never once spoke of scripture together – but she loved me as one of her own, just as she did with all of her kids’ friends. Just as she did with anyone she met.

Juxtapose this life of faith to the refusal of a family member to have her funeral in her home church.

Juxtapose this life of faith to yet another church-that-shall-remain-nameless, where all the kids were baptized and even some family currently attend, who hemmed and hawed and ultimately refused Joann’s funeral for lack of proper membership.

There are more than these examples of living a life of faith of course. And I think it’s not about faith when your purpose is to limit and exclude. That’s hate, or at the very least, judgment.

This is what Richard Rohr says about faith:

“Faith” is not an affirmation of a creed, an intellectual acceptance of God, or believing certain doctrines to be true or orthodox (although those things might well be good). Such intellectual assent does not usually change your heart or your lifestyle. 

Both Jesus’ and Paul’s notion of faith is much better translated as foundational… trust that God cares about what is happening right now. This is clearly the quality that Jesus fully represents and then praises in other people.

God refuses to be known intellectually. God can only be loved and known in the act of love; God can only be experienced in communion. 

You see, the peace that is mentioned 3 times in today’s readings is not a simple peace. It’s a peace that encompasses our whole lives. It is not an easy or instant peace. It is a peace that meets you in the difficult decisions instead of trying to escape them. The peace of Christ does not shut its eyes to the reality of the world, of your world. It finds you there. This peace is your life, it brings wholeness and vitality.

It is through the power of this faith, ultimately this peace of Christ, this love lived out, not debated or over-thought, that walls come tumbling down, that divisions are erased, that we know the peace of Christ and not the peace of a governor or president.

Faith is a gift. How will it change your heart and transform your life? Faith is a gift. So, now what?