What does it mean to have peace in the world? Today’s Gospel comes at the end of a very long discourse in which Jesus talks about the coming of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of peace and unity, but here Jesus tells the crowd that peace and unity is not something they should be expecting. He shocks the crowd, and us I might add when he says that he came to bring fire to the earth, fire and division.
Last week we heard Jesus tell the crowd, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” But he does not want us thinking that the coming of the Kingdom is going to be easy.
In a world that is filled with so much trial and tribulation, God’s peace will not be peaceful, particularly not for those who seek God’s will, because true peace is not attained at the expense of justice, or of mercy. The peace that the world asks of us requires that we ignore the injustices we see, it requires that we maintain the status quo by maintaining certain social norm and divisions. The more we do that, the more ‘peaceful’ our lives will be.
This is the peace that Jesus intends to disrupt. He warns the crowd that to pursue the Kingdom of Heaven is to be at odds with the world. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom of love and unity, it has been given to us freely out of God’s love for us. And to live out that kingdom now, is to recognize that love, and live it out in the world. But the task is not easy. Jesus, God made incarnate in the world, the Kingdom of Heaven made manifest – even to him the world reacts with fear and violence.
We know how the story goes, we know that he will face torture and death. But we also know that the story doesn't end there. We are shown God’s persistence in loving us, Christ’s suffering and death on the cross shows us that there is no end to the lengths God will go to in order to make his love for us known, and the resurrection reminds us that nothing, not even death can defeat that love. Through Christ the Kingdom of Heaven has been made manifest, and we have been called to make that Kingdom known to the world, and to each other, by reflecting God’s love for us. But we should not be surprised if the world greets that love with fear and rejection. Inclusion of the outcasts, loving ones enemy, forgiveness and compassion for all of humanity will inevitably put us at odds with someone, and yet we are encouraged to persist in love, as God persists.
It is a beautiful task that God has put before us, beautiful but difficult. We are required to look this sinful broken world in the eye, see it as it really is, and somehow still see that God is present, and loving in it. But When I look I see so much sadness, so much anger and hate. I have trouble seeing beyond the broken bits.
So how do we recognize what has been given to us by God? Jesus comments that we are unable to recognize the here and now, we can see what is coming, but we cannot see where we are right now. It reminds me of a little story, kind of a parable really, told by David Foster Wallace, There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the heck is water?"
We are not able to see what is close to us, precisely because it is close to us. We are immersed in it, but we look to the horizon waiting for what is coming next and miss what we have right here, right now.
We miss so much of the present moment because we live as if we are waiting for something to come along and we seem unable to see that it is here already. All of creation belongs to God, we belong to God, intellectually this is easy to know, but can we live our lives as if it were true? There are ways in which we can be reminded and encouraged in these endeavors. When we are intentional about taking part in worship, taking part in the sacraments, when we spend time in prayer and contemplation and when we engage in fellowship with each other we are strengthened and encouraged to live in the kingdom. We are not in this alone.
God knows it is a struggle for us. But fortunately for us, God is patient, eternally so, and calls us, every day, every moment of our lives, to rely on his love alone, to search for the Kingdom in our midst and find that peace, true peace that comes from knowing, really knowing who we are as God’s beloved children. And ultimately taking that love into the world with us as we go.