The Path of Peace

It has been said that Until there is peace between religions there can be no peace in the world. Thich Nhat Hahn in Living Buddha, Living Christ writes “People kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies. When we believe that ours is the only faith that contains the truth, violence and suffering will surely be the result.” (2)  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks agrees.  In his book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence he asks, “How is it that people kill in the name of the God of life, wage war in the name of the God of peace, hate in the name of the God of love and practice cruelty in the name of the God of compassion? How if we are the image of God, do we so often harm the work of God, especially our fellow humans?”  (29)  Why do we do this he asks and then responds by reminding us that we are social creatures and that social creatures are angels to those on our side and demons to those on the other side.  We are wired to be this way because as we form social groups, we compete for resources. 

It’s hard to forget where I was on September 11.  Chad and I had been married 6 months and we were living on the other side of town while going to seminary at Baylor University.  We had taken 2 cars to school that morning because we had a full day of classes and work ahead.  So on the long drive to Baylor, I turned on the radio to listen to my favorite tunes.  But when I turned on the radio, I could not find a single station playing music.  What I heard from the voices coming through sounded like someone was telling me about an upcoming movie or the premise for a new book about to be released.  I called Chad in his car that was directly in front of me and asked him if he knew what was going on.  Then as we were driving, the second plane struck and I could not believe what I was hearing.  We drove faster so that we could get to the student center where there was a TV.  Arriving at school, every class had been cancelled and we were all glued to the TV watching over and over again the planes hit the buildings. 

My brain felt frozen and I had the inability to reflect on what my response to this tragic event should be as a Christian.  I also did not have access to the higher functions of my brain that would consider what my people might have done to cause this other group of people to act this way.  This does not excuse their behavior but it explains why I had no ability to think empathetically. Then I felt swept away in the emotions of the broadcasters and the people whose lives were devastated by this event.  This made it easy to follow the path of mirroring back to the people who caused this event anger and hatred and the desire for revenge. It made it easy to see them as wrong and us as right.  And it made it even easier to slip into the idea that our group has the right to tell your group how to live and by the way, hidden beneath all of this is that we feel that we have the right to your group’s natural resources.  Now, I am simplifying the low road we took to make a point.

Our brains have an easy pathway to connect to a view of scarcity, competition, and to make enemies of those not like us and all humans are created in God’s image with the innate ability to love and have compassion. And so our God challenges us to tap into the part of us that is love that embodies peace, but this takes practice. I would say that this is walking the path of peace.

Our people, the people in our communities that we may or may not know yet, are crying out to find ways to shift their internal state of being away from mirroring the fear, anger, and anxiety that is present all around us. They want to experience a sense of peace in their lives. If people are hungry for spiritual practices that change and internal state of being and if our bodies are this amazing instrument that God gave us to tune to God’s frequency of love, joy and peace, then we as the church must reimagine a way to engage the body in our spiritual practices. 

Jesus talked about it like this…he said I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will bear much fruit. As Christians, Jesus calls us to experience being one with the The Divine and the natural result of this oneness is that we bear fruit.  The fruit that we are talking about comes from Galatians 5:22 where Paul writes, “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; ”

We are privileged to live in a day and time where new discoveries in neuroscience help us understand that our heart, mind, and body are profoundly affected when they are flooded with the fruit of the spirit. The transformation we experience when we embody the fruit of the spirit inspires us to share The Good News Jesus came to preach. 

When I experienced an internal shift that called me into ministry and away from a career in physical therapy, our scripture for today was one of the verses that God gave to me. 

Let’s hear the words from Romans 10:12-15

10:12  For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
10:13  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
10:14  How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
10:15  And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

For some, This section of scripture is titled The Gospel of Peace.  If the good news that Jesus came to preach is about peace then I think we need to begin to understand the fullness of what it means to embody peace. 

First, I want to take us back to the scripture we studied last week.  In the book of Nehemiah, we enter the persion period where the people have experienced exile, some have come home to Jerusalem and Ezra and Nehemiah have lead the people to reconstruct the temple and the city.  Ezra’s primary mission was to create a new community that followed the first 5 books of the Hebrew bible.  .  Now, remember with me that the heart of the first 5 books of the bible is the decalogue which we call the 10 commandments or I love how the worship and wonder curriculum for children calls it the 10 best ways to live. 

What I want to draw your attention to is that the 10 best ways to live are about how to live life in such a way that is oriented to God.  It was to be a covenantal relationship with God where we find a sense of peace for our lives and for our community.  This covenant was not based on whether or not the people followed the 10 words but it was based on the first verse in Exodus 20, “I am the lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”  In this verse, God makes it clear that it is because of God’s actions that saved the people from a life that was dehumanizing that this covenant is established.  That means that this covenant is unconditional.  So, the 10 commandments begin with God… the first 7 verses of chapter 20 in the book of Exodus have to do with our orientation towards loving God.  Jesus said it like this, “Love the lord your God with all your heart, mind, and spirit. 

Then, what comes next?  Once we move from a sense of peace in our relationship with God, God invites us to love ourselves, to find peace within ourselves…so that we can love and make peace with others.  In Exodus 20 verse 8, God says, “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.”  If we can’t make time for rest in our own lives, then most likely we are perpetuating a system of unrest in our larger community.  If we can’t find peace in our inner world, then most likely we have no idea how to act in ways that would promote peace in the community.  Jesus said it like this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

From here, the very next commandment is to Honor your father and your mother.  Once we orient ourselves towards God and take care of ourselves, then the first place that we must work for peace is within the family structure.  Then, the rest of the decalogue invites us to promote the flourishing of all living beings in the larger community.  Rev. Yolanda Norton in her address during the General Assembly reminded us that the 10 commandments were not given as law that we should create punishments for. They were not created to allow us to create a checklist for what makes an insider and an outsider like Ezra and Nehemiah started using it when they were forming the community post exile.  These 10 words were given so that we might be a people at peace with God, with ourselves and with each other.  Jesus boiled all of the law and the prophets down to loving God, loving ourselves, loving our neighbor and even loving our enemy. In love, we rest in peace.  So, now you can see why in Romans Paul calls this the gospel of peace.

Today, we are focusing on how to become peace?  Peace has many definitions including harmony, safety, stillness and wholeness. It is a sense that we are complete. In God’s love, we are enough. As I was thinking about practices that embody peace, I reached out to my colleague Dr. Karen Hernandez who I met at Claremont School of Theology. Karen’s focus in her dissertation was how we cannot work for peace until we have dealt with our own woundedness.  Since graduating from CST, Karen began a new job with Religions for Peace International. I sent her a text asking her as my resident expert on peacemaking if she would share with us 1 or 2 essential elements to embodying peace. She responded with 2 essential ingredients.

She wrote to me and said, “It literally must start with each one of us…individually and then we are invited to create peace within the group of people that is closest to us.”

Dr. Karen Hernandez, Religions for Peace International

I thought this was very biblical because the 10 commandments follow the same patter: God, ourselves, our family and then the larger community. Right now, I will focus on the first part…the path of peace within and then in our adult bible study right after worship, we will do an activity that helps us better understand our call for peace within our inner circle of influence.

 So Let’s get two examples of what it looks like to embody peace:

A way to become peace is to experience the gift of the present moment more often. If you were to give a % to how much of the day you spending worrying or thinking about the future, what % would you give? How much of the day do you ruminate or think about the past? Worrying about the future or ruminating on the past only causes anxiety and robs you of your peace.

Thich Naht Hahn in his book Together We Are One, writes about how mindfulness saved him when he went into exile in his early 40’s.  He was in Washington DC when he was informed that 4 countries including the US were asked by Saigon to not honor his passport because he was saying things that were not helpful in the war against communism.  Some of his friends in DC begged him to stay in the US but to go into hiding. That meant that he was risking deportation and jail.  He did not like these options so he applied and was granted political asylum in France.  They gave him a travel document called an apatride meaning that you don’t belong to any country.  He had no country…no real home. He wondered how many people feel like him on a regular basis? He writes, “Even though many of us have a nationality, a citizentship and a passport, we are still looking for where we belong.” (9) 

He said that it was because he did not have a home that he found his true home. His true home is the joy of being with the breath and the body in this present moment.  He says that the embodiment of his practice is captured in these words, “I have arrived. I am home.”  He also has a beautiful walking meditation for Christians where you imagine with each step that you take that you have fully arrived in the Kingdom of God.  You do not take the next step until you truly feel you have arrived. Whether it is a homecoming or arriving in the Kingdom of God, when we relax our bodies and our minds we are able to see that this present moment is full of beauty and wonder.

Brian Spoon adds that meditation on God’s word helps prime our brain to respond in certain ways.  He writes, “When we dedicate our minds and our lives to meditating on God’s word, we internalize and strengthen our neural pathways that remind us of God’s presence in the world…We may not be consciously aware of all the ways that we interpret and remember our reality, but the more we infuse every moment, thought, and action towards God’s presence and God’s word, the more that reality will live within us.” (72)    

Brian Spoon, Neuroscience and the Fruit of the Spirit

Remember, whatever neural connections we continually make will wire together and prime us for seeing or doing the same thing whenever a cue triggers that pathway.  Our brain is always looking for the easiest route, the route that we are conditioned to take.  So, if we are constantly meditating on God’s word then we will be primed to follow the pathway that tells us that God is at work in our lives and then we will have an easier time seeing that God is at work in other people’s lives as well.  We have the power to train the mind, but it is like exercise…we have to do it over and over again for the connections to be strengthened. 

There is a meditation that Rev. Darnell Fennell teaches that combines the idea of taking a U turn, coming to our true home, and meditating on God’s word.  So as we prepare to come to the communion table, I invite you to settle in, attend to your body..how does your body feel right now?  Can you do something to make it feel 10% more at ease? Bringing our attention to each part of our body and inviting our many parts to soften is a way to make peace with our bodies. What is your energetic level?  What is the dominant emotion that is present right now?  Now, shift your attention to your breath.  Feel the inhale and the exhale.  This is the breath that God gave at creation.  This is the breath of life.  

Now here the word of the Lord:

Be Still and Know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and Know.

Be Still.

Be.

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