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The Fruit of the Spirit Is Peace

July 8, 2012
Sermon:  The Fruit of the Spirit is Peace
Text:  Galatians 5:22-23


Today, we continue our series The Fruit of the Spirit by considering peace.  Can we even talk about peace in the world in which we live, a world where North Korea and Iran strive to have nuclear weapons, a world where war has torn apart the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, a world where the Syrian government is killing its own people?  Asking a question about whether we can talk about peace in a world like this is legitimate.

The Society for International Law, an organization that makes its headquarters in London, England, has discovered that the last 4,000 years have seen only 268 years of peace.  In excess of 8,000 peace treaties have been made and broken.  During the last three centuries alone, 286 wars have occurred on the continent of Europe.  Can we talk about peace? 

Throughout mankind, history gives evidence of almost continual warfare.  The prophet Jeremiah writes, “my people saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).  It is a hollow, impossible cry in a world where people continually fight and kill each other.  Paul is referring to us when he says in Romans 3:17, “And the way of peace they have not known.”

The prophet Isaiah gives us a beautiful picture sometimes called the Peaceable Kingdom:  “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).  I have seen these words rendered in various works of art.

Our fondest hope is for peace in this world.  Almost any good dictionary defines the word peace as freedom from war, harmony, concord, agreement, calmness, tranquility, serenity, quietness, an undisturbed state of mind, the absence of anxiety.  Dictionaries list such antonyms as war, anxiety, disorder, disturbance, conflict, and commotion.

The Greek word for peace is eirene.  The woman’s name Irene comes from this Greek word.  It means to put back together what has been separated, to make calm whatever has been disturbed.  The Hebrew word shalom is really the defining word for peace in the Bible.  This word states that peace involves the totality of our existence.  It suggests completeness, fulfillment, maturity, soundness, and wholeness.

The writers of the New Testament had shalom in mind when they used the word eirene.  The two are almost synonymous in the New Testament.  The Bible describes peace as inner contentment, inner serenity.  Do you want that kind of peace?  Is it possible to have such peace, especially in the lives that we lead, in the world in which we live?

We must point out the contradictory statements Jesus makes when he addresses peace.  One of those puzzling passages in the New Testament is the statement, “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).  Of course, Jesus means that our profession our faith in him will cause trouble somewhere, often within the family.  Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10 addresses this disruption that results when people express their faith in him.

I talked with a woman who had been visiting this church.  She said that she loved coming to church and bringing her children here, but it caused problems in her home.  She said, “I can’t have any peace at home if I come to church.  My husband mocks me and ridicules me.”

In the life of Jesus we see the word peace used frequently.  The angels at his birth promised, “Peace on earth, good will to mankind” (Luke 2:14).  Jesus speaks of peace in his healing ministry to people who are sick.  He says, “Woman, your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50), and “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace” (Mark 5:34).  The use of the word peace even appears in his sorrow.  As he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he stopped and wept over the city named Jerusalem, a name which means City of Peace.  Jesus wept because the city named for peace did not know the things that made for peace (Luke 19:41-42).

We also see the word for peace used in the resurrection appearance of Jesus.  He enters the room where his disciples are gathered and says to them, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19).  He speaks of peace again a week later when doubting Thomas has joined the other disciples.  Jesus returns to that same room and enters, saying, “Peace be with you” (John 20:26).

We can look for peace in many other ways, but chances are that we are not going to find it unless we look at the source of peace, Jesus himself.  He said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  Not as the world gives do I give unto you.  Let not your hearts be troubled.  Neither let them be afraid.”  In Luke 16:33, he said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

The peace Jesus gives is not the absence of trouble.  It is something else.  It is confidence that he is always with us.  “I will never leave you and I will never forsake you,” is his promise.  Do you believe that promise?  That promise is a source of peace.

Paul begins all thirteen of his letters with the greeting, “Grace and peace.”  It is his wish, his prayer, his admonition, to the early church and to us as well.  Paul writes, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (II Thessalonians 3:16).  He says in Colossians 3:15, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”  How can that be?  Let’s not even consider world peace.  Let’s just consider how the peace of Christ can rule inside our hearts, considering the turmoil of our lives.

Duke University’s study on what makes for peace or peace of mind offers eight conclusions:

–          Do not nurse a grudge.  Be quick to forgive.

–          Do not live in the past.  Let go of old mistakes and past failures.

–          Do not waste time and energy fighting conditions you cannot change.

–          Do not withdraw and become a hermit.  Stay involved in the world.

–          Do not indulge in self-pity.

–          Do not expect too much of yourself.  A wide gap exists between what we expect of ourselves and what we can actually do.    That gap does not make for peace.

–          Do cultivate the virtues of love and humor, compassion and loyalty.

–          Do find something bigger than yourself in which to believe.

I want to focus today on the last conclusion:  find something bigger than yourself in which to believe.

In the calm, peaceful setting of the Sea of Galilee, a small fishing boat moves from one shore to the next.  A raging storm begins to brew with a strong wind creating huge waves.  As the little boat rocks from side to side, the fishermen and other passengers become scared to death.  They are upset with a fellow who is sleeping in the bow of the boat.  They wake him up, crying “Do something!”  He gets up and says, “Peace!  Be still.”

When the wind and waves instantly become calm, they ask, “Who is this man who can calm the wind and the waves?”  This man, Jesus, does not just calm the outer storm that is causing rough sailing.  He also calms the inner turmoil in the hearts of these men.  Jesus spoke to the peace in the hearts of those disciples.  “Peace!  Be still.”  Have you ever allowed those words to become your prayer when life is really hard, when your life is turned upside down?  “Peace!  Be still.”  Allow Jesus to speak those words to your heart.  He is the source of peace.

I went on a quick trip to Chicago Tuesday to see my brand new granddaughter.  I held her in my arms and went sound to sleep with her little head on my shoulder.  Some of you have seen the pictures Betsy took of us sleeping.  I do not know who was more content – my little granddaughter or me.

On Thursday I went to the O’Hare Airport for the return trip home.  I arrived early because O’Hare has the busiest airport traffic in the world.  A flight takes off every twenty seconds.  After going through all of the security business, I reached my gate and boarded the plane.

As we began taxiing out to the runway, the captain announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to have a little bit of a delay.  There’s just not any good air.  All the air is bad, and we have to find some good air.”  He added, “I have to wait awhile so they can tell me where I need to go.”

As we were waiting on good air, a humdinger of a thunderstorm approached, complete with lightning, thunder, and rain that was blowing sideways.  We sat and sat and sat out on the tarmac.  No flights were taking off every twenty seconds then.  Eight airplanes were backed up on every available taxi lane, and the airport became an absolute mess.  Planes were circling overhead, waiting to get clearance to land.  Finally an hour and a half later, we were given permission to take off on our flight.

The guy sitting next to me was so upset.  He groused, “I’m trying to get to West Palm Beach!  I’m going to be late for my flight!”

I answered, “Yeah, I’m going to be late for mine too.”

He complained, “They ought to do something about the young children on this plane that are crying.”

I quipped, “Yeah, young children on board are crying, and grumpy old people are complaining.”

He asked, “Doesn’t this make you mad?”

“What can I do? There’s not one single thing I can do to change this situation.  We’re here together, and we might as well enjoy our time together.”

Folks, when the plane finally took off, the captain was right.  There was no good air.

The pilot announced, “We’re going to have to swing out over Pittsburg on our way to Charlotte.  This ride is going to be a little bumpy.”

“A little bumpy” is like being a little pregnant.  The flight was really bumpy.  I thought about some of the popular roller coasters at amusement parks:  the Great American Scream Machine, the Mindbender, the Georgia Cyclone, Space Mountain, and Everett’s Expedition.  This flight felt like a roller coaster ride, with passengers bouncing up and down in the plane.  Those dips made our stomach feel like it was coming up into our throat.

A young mother sitting just off to my right was trying her best to get a tiny baby to quit crying.  She was also traveling with a little boy who reminded me for all the world of one of my grandsons.  So I have a grumpy old man on one side of me, a Japanese couple with white knuckles sitting nearby, this young mother who was also just hanging on with white knuckles, a baby refusing to be pacified, and a little boy whose eyes are about as big as silver dollars.

The boy and I hit it off really well.  I asked him, “Have you ever been to Disney World?”

He said, “Oh, yeah.  I’ve been”

“Does this plane ride remind you of anything?”

“The logs!”

I quizzed, “You like riding the logs?”

He said, “Yeah.”

I laughed, “Then you’re going to love this flight!  It’s going to be a lot like the log ride.”

During that bumpy flight through the bad air, today’s sermon came to mind.  I thought, What makes for peace?  How do you find peace when life is so jangled up, so jumbled up, and so full of turmoil?  You can find safety in this world only in the presence of God.

I come to Philippians 4:6, a passage that you should learn and write on the tablet of your heart.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”  Paul is directing us to channel the matters that trouble us, make us anxious, worried, and fretful, into prayer, with thanksgiving.

Research has shown that the greatest stress reducer in the world is a thankful heart.  Paul makes the promise that “the peace of God, which is beyond human understanding, will keep your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).  Do you want peace of heart and mind?  You can have that peace through prayer.  I Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.”  We will have more than just peace.  We will also have the peace of God in us.

We have many great examples of prayer having this attitude of peace.  Charles Wesley, reflecting on Scripture, prayed, “I rest beneath the Almighty shade; My griefs expire, my troubles cease; Thou, Lord, on whom my soul is stayed, will keep me still in perfect peace.”  Reinhold Niebuhr penned one of my favorite prayers, a prayer that shows confidence in the invisible, active presence of God.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.  Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I wish it were; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with him forever in the next. 

Finding that peace is not a magic formula.  We find peace through the life of prayer and through what is written in the Scriptures.  It is something we all know.

When you are sitting on a plane with white knuckles, you tend to forget this peace, unless a kid helps you call it to mind.

I heard another story of a plane that was in real trouble, bouncing around in a storm.  The landing gear would not lower, and people on the plane were frantic.  One boy, chewing bubble gum and reading a comic book, seemed completely unperturbed.

The woman sitting in the seat next to him asked, “Son, aren’t you worried?”

He answered, “No, ma’am, I’m not worried.”

“Why not?”

He explained, “My daddy’s the pilot.  He’ll take care of us.”

His attitude shows confidence.  We know who our Father is.  We know He is going to take care of us.  When we have that peace, God enables us to become agents of peace.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.  They will be called the children of God because they have learned to pass on this knowledge.”  It is called passing the peace.

Jesus suggests entering a house by saying, “Peace, peace to this house.”  When we discover this inner peace, we can pray the prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me so love.  Where there is injury, pardon.  Where there is doubt, faith.  Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light.  Where there is sadness, joy.  Oh, divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved, as to love, for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

We find this Fruit of the Spirit at its source:  Christ Jesus.  We access that peace through the life of prayer.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, promises that he will be a part of our lives and grant us peace.  Have you made the decision to accept Christ Jesus and discover the peace that only he can give?  If not, could I invite you to make that decision?  Simply accept Christ Jesus as your Savior.  This journey will not always be easy, but it will offer you some peace along the way.

Kirk H. Neely
© July 2012

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