OFFER THEM PEACE
He was not a nice man. Large, loud and was of the belief that everyone wanted to hear his opinions. It would be my guess that you have probably met him. He was a member of our Karate dojo when I used to do those silly things. He liked center stage. At one of our classes, for no apparent reason, he announced that religion was for small minded people. I was fairly convinced by this point that his brain was nowhere near as big as the rest of him. Yet, I was still young and naïve enough to take his bait.
“So, that is why, ministers of most recognized religions need to obtain Master’s degrees. That is why some of the greatest literature this world has ever known has been written by religious people. The Bible, the Koran, Milton’s Paradise Lost, St. Augustin’s City of God…” It became apparent from his blistering response that logic was not his weapon of choice nor was dialogue his intent. He just wanted to fight. So fight he did when our sensa called him on to the mat and proceeded to teach him a lesson in humility. I have to confess I smiled.
This memory came to life for me when I read Jesus’ words this morning. This passage is about evangelism. Isn’t that word just left hanging in the air? Our minds immediately go to disciples being sent out 2 X 2. The vision of Jehovah Witnesses heading down our street on a Saturday morning, Watch Towers in hand, as we close the curtains and pretend we’re not home. We’d all be finding another church really fast if asked to do such a thing.
Which raises two issues for me. What makes us think that what God has commissioned us to do has anything to do with our feelings of comfort? Why does what God requires have to be comfortable to us? I can hear Jesus now. “Ah, well God, you know, I’m not really comfortable with this whole going down to the leper colonies and crossing over into Samaritan country, God. You know they don’t like us there. Now, I’m down with this walking on water thing. That was great. But this whole crucifixion thing, I really would rather not.”
My second thought is what a remarkable scripture this is. Jesus says:
“Whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace be to this house!’
If a person of peace is there,
your peace will rest upon them.
But of you,
it will return to you.”
That’s Jesus idea of evangelism. Note what is missing. Jesus suggests that we go out lightly. Take with you no doctrines, no tracts, no well prepared arguments. Just offer them peace. And when you enter the house, don’t try to convince them about the worthiness or truth of your faith by arguing with them. Faith is faith and is never attained through logical deduction. That is the way of science. It is not the way of faith. Faith is an experience.
So, if you offer them peace and they don’t receive it, let it go. Shake off their dust from your feet. In the Jewish tradition, it was a sign of welcome when your hosts would wash your feet. If you still have dust on your feet after offering them peace, then you probably weren’t heard in the first place.
Herein we find the crux of the matter. In order to offer peace, you must possess peace yourself. Jesus isn’t talking about some idyllic state of being. He is talking about the Prince of Peace. The peace of God. When Jesus talks about peace, he is talking about God. And Jesus talks a lot about peace. Just think about all those times when Jesus crashed through locked doors, met terrified disciples on stormy seas, made them breakfast as the sun caressed the shore. His opening address was always the same, “Peace be with you. The peace of God be with you. God be with you.” And you can bet that if he had been met with blank stares, he would have been out of there. If you don’t get the power of that address while God is standing behind locked doors or stormy seas, you probably just aren’t going to get it.
So evangelism, as far I can see, is about connection understanding, recognition. If you offer to peace to someone as you enter their home, they will either understand and receive it or it will come flying back at you like a rubber ball hitting a brick wall. The kind of brick wall my thick friend at Karate was. (I didn’t just say that, did I?)
I think some C.S. Lewis might be helpful here. Lewis was an intellectual giant. Professor of English Literature at Oxford University and sitting chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University. He was also an atheist, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since he spent much of his early life making sense of the world by living in his head.
Lewis’ conversion to Christianity was no flash of lightening fall off your horse kind of thing. He calls his experiences of God as ‘Being Surprised by Joy.’ He remembers a moment when he was a boy when he felt a moment of warmth and pure joy. He knew even then this was something that came entirely from outside of himself. It didn’t last long. Yet is was so penetrating a moment, he remembered it his whole life.
This was crucial to who Lewis came to understand God to be. He insists that God has to be something other than yourself, independent of yourself.
Too many people worship a God of their own making, of their own design. They want God to be the God they want. A God they are comfortable with. This smacks of idolatry. It also can draw people into a sense that God only exists for them, to serve them, save them, heal them. Lewis insists that God is God absolute, that God would be the same God whether we existed or not. God’s actions are not dependent upon our own. God will do what God wants to do whether we approve or not.
So, this is where things become incredible. So how does it impact you when you recognize the presence of one in your life who had the power to create you? Being in the presence of the One who took a handful of dirt from the earth, spat into it, formed you in God’s gentle hands and then breathed life into you. Experiencing the presence of that kind of power in your life is when you experience the peace of God. That connectedness.
This, in Lewis’ opinion, is not a once in a lifetime experience. Rather, your life is filled with these moments of being surprised by joy. Apparently, the more your recognize them, the more you have. Then, there comes a time when you awaken. Lewis says it is like that moment when you suddenly realize you are awake after a night’s sleep. At some point, you are suddenly aware that these moments of joy are indeed God expressing God’s self in your life.
You either get this or you don’t. You either get there is something greater in this life to which you are connected, who, for some miraculous reason, loves you more than you could ever imagine, (and I do mean that), loves you more than even you could ever imagine, OR you don’t get it, which is probably why Jesus said he was sending us out like lambs among the wolves. There will always be those like my friend in the dojo who will huff, and puff, and try to blow the walls of your faith down. But you can’t reason away, yell away an experience like this in life. These people will take your faith and throw it back in your faces.
Let them. Shake it off. They just don’t get it. I would also suggest uttering a little prayer for them, for nothing is sadder than a human being who has no peace in their lives.
However, we can’t let the ranting of others keep us from offering a connection to others in the form of peace. Every once in awhile that greeting is understood, received, and a community begins to build. So, take nothing else with you. No defensive arguments. No dogmas. No brilliantly written, witty words. Just an experience. An experience of peace. Lord knows, that without it, our world is becoming a wasteland.