Text: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jul 3, 2016
In a few minutes, right after we pray the prayer of confession, I will say “The Peace of the Lord be with you.” And most of you will respond: “And also with you.” At that point a few of you will want to dive under the pew and hide, but will instead discretely bow your heads in prayer. For many of the rest of you, if I did not call a halt by giving the offertory sentence, you would probably gladly spend the rest of the hour greeting friends and catching up on what has been going on in their lives during the past week.
The passing of the peace was just being introduced as part of the liturgy when I began attending the Episcopal Church back in the late 1960’s. Back then it was quite controversial. Many found it to be very disruptive. I was part of the younger set then and we embraced it enthusiastically.
Although it is relatively new to the Anglican tradition, it is in reality, a recovery of an ancient tradition. The earliest mention of the exchanging of the peace that we have is found in a baptismal liturgy of Justin Martyr who died in 165 A.D. The practice probably goes back to the early Church itself. St. Paul, for example, often ended his letters by saying, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” St. Peter ended his first letter by stating: “Greet one another with a kiss of love, and peace be with you all”. In fact, when it was first introduced into our church, the exchange of peace of often accompanied by a holy kiss. I remember feeling particularly at peace when a beautiful young lady would give me a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. That practice soon died out, probably for good reason!
In Christian worship, the exchanging of the peace is a sign of reconciliation and love among the community before preparing to partake of the Lord’s Supper. It is a time, if any misunderstanding or hard feelings have developed among the people of God, to ask forgiveness, and to let bygones be bygones as we remember Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of love, enabling us to become part of His new creation in the kingdom of God.
The background for the exchanging of the peace is rooted in the Old Testament concept of Shalom which we translate into English as “peace.” The concept is not simply the opposite of war, or the absence of hostile feelings. Rather it means a universal flourishing, wholeness, harmony, and delight. It is a gift of God, who is our Creator and Source of peace. The prophets spoke of a time when crookedness would be made straight, when rough places would be made smooth, when flowers would bloom in the desert, when tears would be wiped away, when the foolish would be made wise, when humans would beat their swords into ploughshares, when the lion would lay down with the lamb, when all nations will sit down to enjoy a sumptuous feast, and all of creation will look to God, walk with God and delight in God! When the Priest states “The Peace of the Lord be with you, and you reply “and also, with you,” this is what we are saying. We believe all creation will experience such peace at the end of history. The community of faith experiences a foretaste of this peace now, both within ourselves and within our fellowship
Although this understanding was first revealed in the Old Testament and made clear in the New Testament its origin is found in the very heart of the Triune God. For centuries, we in Western Christianity have emphasized the unity of God’s substance. As a result, we tend to think of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as acting individually: the Father as our Creator, the Son as our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit as our Sustainer.
What we haven’t thought through or understood very well is how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another and their mutual relatedness toward creation, especially humankind. It is from our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity that we gain further understanding. It is from them that we come to understand that what we have long known to be true with human beings in also true of the Triune God.
Psychologists tell us that as individuals we come to form our own identity as we relate with other people. If we are fortunate enough to be born into loving well-adjusted families, the odds are that we will grow up to be well-adjusted and loving as well. Conversely, each of us are all too aware of many people who were not so fortunate, and many of them spend the rest of their lives seeking to be healed from the scars of those early years.
What we are learning from our Eastern Brother and Sister Christians, particularly as they have studied the Gospel and writings of John, is that the origin of all of this is found at the heart of God. The love that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have for each other cannot be contained in the Godhead, but spilled over in to creation, and has continued after the fall of human kind and together, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together to bring in to its fullness and well-being of all Creation.
It is the overflow of this love that the Holy Spirit brings into our hearts which we experience as we worship and fellowship with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. But just as this love and experience of wholeness could not be contained within the Triune God but spilled over in to His Church, so too, it is not to be contained in us but must spill over into the mission God has for us in the world.
We see this illustrated in today’s Gospel. As I told you last week Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem where he will be taken up into Heaven. Along the way he is joined by many pilgrims who are going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. In today’s Gospel, we are told that he sent seventy of his disciples in pairs of two ahead of his to every village and town where he planned to stop to let them know that he was coming. Part of His instructions to then includes these words: “Whenever you enter a house, say first of all, “Peace be to this house.”
The Church is sent out into the world to say “The Peace of the Lord be with you!” This message is often proclaimed in actions and not just in words. The hope is that this offer of peace will be met with the response “and also with you.”
Let me tell you what I mean. Often when I think of witness to the world, I think of all the agencies I help by giving money to help the needy. I don’t know about you, but when I write a check to the United Way, or the Salvation Army, I feel pretty good about myself and have done my duty. But the longer I live, the more I realize that if this is all I do, I’m not fully engaged in Christian witness.
Next week the Gospel reading will be the parable of the Good Samaritan. He found a man robbed, beaten and laying in the ditch. Yes, paid the inn keeper to take care of the guy and said if he incurred additional expense, to let him know and he would take care of it. Like the Priest and the Levite, he could have passed by – after all. like them, he had other business to attend to. He could have gone on to Jericho and reported to the authorities that on the road he saw a man lying in the ditch. But no, he personally got involved, he wrapped up the man’s wounds and personally took him to the inn keeper.
Last year I think all of us felt good when Ned Bastow brought back pictures of children playing on the playground equipment we bought for our mission at our albergue in the Dominican Republic. But as I talked to Ned, he experienced something more than the rest of us by being there and interacting with the children who could only be there because of the scholarships you provided for them. I know Tom Connolly and others from the Naples Deanery who have had the privilege of visiting the albergue have received the same experience and joy. As I talk to many of you old timers who were involved in the countless projects to the raise money that helped establish St. Matthew’s House, or prepared and served the soup to the homeless before St. Matthew’s House came into being, it is clear to me that you received far more than you gave as a result of being a part of that ministry. I get the same sense from those of you who prepared and served food in Fort Myers during the holidays are few years ago. Through your actions and words, you extended the Peace of God to those people and they responded in kind – and you were blessed, bless-ed indeed!
As he sent the seventy out, our Lord went on to say that they were to take no purse, or bag (i.e. provisions) or sandals with them. Here, as I suggested in last week’s sermon, Jesus is calling to remember Moses’ instructions to the Children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness – they were to be completely dependent on God to provide for their needs. But now Jesus is more specific as to how God will do this – it will be through the hospitality of those to whom we are sent to minister. Jesus goes on to say: “whenever anyone responds by sharing the peace with you, remain in their house eat and drink whatever they provide, eat what is set before you. Then cure their sick and say to them, the kingdom of God has come near you!” Jesus is telling them (and us) that their (our) witness to the world is not a one-way street – namely, the “haves” giving to the “have-nots.” Rather it is a ministry of reciprocity. The disciples will receive as much or more than they have give.
Our Gospel reading ends with the disciples returning from their mission in amazement and joy. “Lord,” they say, “in your name even the demons submitted to us. “Their response is so reminiscent of those I have talked to who have returned form short term mission tours and reflects my own experience on such tours as well. Jesus acknowledged and affirmed their experience, but went on to say, “never-the-less, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” He is reminding them that it is easy to get caught up in our own success in ministry and forget that it is through His grace alone that we are part of this wonderful calling. And what is that calling? We are called to share the peace, that sense of well-being that we have experienced with others and to look forward to the day when that peace fills all the earth.