Peace Be With You

Did you know, historians from England, Egypt, Germany, and India tell us, since the year 3600 BC, the world has only been free of war 292 years? During that period, there have been 14,352 wars, killing 3.7 billion people. The amount of property destroyed during those wars would pay for a golden belt large enough to surround the world, 98 miles wide and 33 feet thick. Did you know, that since 650 BC, there have been 1,656 arms races, and only 16 have not ended in war. Most countries involved in a war end up in economic collapse. Did you know, according to the Daily Mail, there are forty wars raging in our world today. Some of those conflicts have lasted more than seventy years. Can I state the obvious? Our time is not the only one. There has always been a shortage of peace in our world. However, this message is not about political peace. It is about spiritual peace.

In March of 2018, Gregory Bush was at a Kroger Grocery story in Jeffersonville, Kentucky. He did not take his shopping list. He took his gun. In time, Bush shot two, one inside the store, one in the parking lot. The victims were doing nothing wrong. Bush shot them for a simple reason. He did not care for their race. The authorities said, the crime was racially motivated, a hate crime. Bush received two life sentences, plus ten years. Taxpayers will be paying for him for decades. Gregory Bush is not alone there are others.

Our society is filled with various prejudices. There is racism, sexism, and ageism. There is classism, homophobia, and nationalism. There is xenophobia, and religious prejudices. There are others I will not mention because I do not have the time. However, each one of our prejudices falls into one of three categories:

  1. Cognitive Prejudices – Those prejudices are rooted in what we believe is true.
  2. Affective Prejudices – Those prejudices are rooted in what we like or dislike.
  3. Conative Prejudices – These prejudices are rooted in assumed behavior.

Let me state the obvious. All prejudices are ugly and have no place within the life of the church. Sociologists tell us our prejudices expose our fears. We are prejudice against the group, or individual, that intimidates us. Our prejudices lie to us. No, we are not always in control. Our prejudices are learned. That means, you are passing your prejudices on to someone else. Sociologists also tell us, each one of us carries a certain amount of prejudicial behavior.  However, this message is not about our prejudices. This message is about spiritual peace. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” This will make you think. Did you know, according to the Pew Research Group, 12% of all Americans do not even like themselves. According to the same study, 24% of all Americans under 35 do not like themselves. All of this will take us to our scripture reading for today, Ephesians 2:11-22.

We find ourselves today in the Epistle to the Ephesians. The author of this literary piece is the Apostle Paul. It is considered a circular letter. In other words, it was written to the various Christian communities in the area surrounding Ephesus, at the time, the most important city in western Asia Minor (now Turkey). Paul is not writing them to address any problem. Paul is writing them to challenge them to expand their faith. That is what we hear in the second chapter. Paul tells us our past traditions are useless. Paul tells us our differences are not important. The only thing that matters is Jesus, who died on the cross and welcomed all equally into God’s family. That fact is hard for many to accept. However, that is exactly what Paul says in verses 13 and 14a:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one.

This message is about spiritual peace.

The Apostle Paul (5-65) understood the importance of today’s scripture reading because he experienced it firsthand. Let us be honest. There is not much to like about him at first. He made a horrible first impression. The first martyr in the history of the church was Stephen. He was stoned to death. The leader of that stoning mob was Saul. He was a devout Jew, who longed to crush Christianity. He was zealous in his work, and, in time, all the believers feared him. It is one of the great stories in the Bible.

One day, Saul is traveling down the Damascus Road, when he is confronted by Jesus, himself. For a short-time Saul is blinded, and he is converted to Christianity. His name is changed to Paul, which means small or humbled. However, not just his name changed. His priorities changed.  From that moment on he is determined to win the Gentiles world to Jesus. At first the church is uncomfortable accepting him, but our generation accepts the fact that Paul is the great missionary who has ever lived. We are the spiritual ancestors of Paul. If Paul, the onetime murderer, could be saved, then anyone could be saved by accepting Jesus. Even a sinner like you. Yet, not just you, all sinners, who are different from you. God does not see our differences. God sees what we have in common. All humanity is linked together in sin. God’s goal is to have all sinner redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, so he can spend eternity with everyone because God loves everyone.

I love this story: Hank Aaron (1934-2021) was one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. I remember the night “Hammerin Hank” broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. He held that record for thirty-three years. When his 23-year baseball career ended, he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame and went to work for the Atlanta Braves. In my eyes, Hank Aaron was something special. Perhaps, that is why I love this story.

One night, he was checking into a hotel, but the desk clerk did not recognize him. She told him there were no rooms available. However, the owner of the hotel recognized Hank Aaron and pulled the clerk to the side. He said, “That is Hank Aaron. He is the one who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Tell him we will find him a room.” The clerk went back to the counter and said to Hank Aaron, “I am sorry, Mr. Aaron. I did not recognize you. Of course, we have a room for you. I did not know you were a somebody.” I love Hank Aaron’s response. He said, “Everybody is a somebody.” Hank Aaron was right! Everybody is a somebody. I am glad you think everyone is a somebody because many do not. Our world has a hard time accepting that divine truth. It is even true within our own ranks.

The dates you will want to circle on your calendar are August 29 – September 6, 2022. Those are the dates of the next General Conference of the United Methodist Church They are meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Delegates from around the world will be attending. They will be deciding the fate of our denomination. Many believe, including myself, our church will divide. The issue is not preaching or evangelism. The issue is not world hunger or clean drinking water. The issue is sexuality. Traditionally, we have not ordained openly gay people or officiated at openly gay weddings. There are many who want to change that ruling. There is no compromise. It appears whatever is decided, a large block of our denomination will walk away. Many believe, those congregations who walk away will be given an opportunity to buy their building, which historically are held by the denomination. There will be a window of several years for this opportunity. There is no other way to say it. It is ugly. Those that are favor of the change are using the Bible to support their cause. Those that are against the change are using the Bible to support their cause. Both sides have an extra helping of arrogance and a shortage of humility. It is a tough call. Do you believe our church should ordain and marry openly gay people? Do you believe our church should not marry and ordain openly gay people? Do you believe our congregation should leave the United Methodist Church? Do you believe our congregation should stay within the United Methodist Church? Everyone, every church, must decide for themselves.

One day during my time away, I was visited by a colleague. No, I was visited by a friend. He stayed for approximately an hour. We covered a variety of topics. The topic of sexuality came up. In a moment of pure honesty, he dropped his head and shook it. He said, “Russ, we (The United Methodist Church) have forgotten our purpose.” I think he was right. People do not come to church to be entertained. People do not come to church because I am handsome. People do not come to church to hear my political views. People do not come to church to hear my take on the local news or hear my opinion on the state of professional sports. This is equally true. People do not come to church to hear about sexuality. People come to church one reason. People come to church to hear about Jesus. I have said this to colleagues many times. The ministry is not that hard. You just need to do two things. Talk about Jesus and care about your people. It is impossible to talk about Jesus too much. We are all sinners who are dependent on the sacrificial acts of Jesus. The only thing that matters in the life of the church is Jesus. And, when we have Jesus in our world, our society, and our church and denomination, we will have peace. The Apostle Paul said it best:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one.

Do you remember what Augustine said? He said, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God.”

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