November 20, 2022 Peace Begins Within by Loraine Mackenze Shepherd

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to God.

Today is the reign of Christ Sunday, when we envision and commitment ourselves to the peaceable reign of Christ. The term Christ—which is a title for Jesus, not his last name—comes from the Greek word Christos, which is a translation of the Hebrew title, Messiah meaning anointed one. Our reading from Jeremiah describes what this reign of the Messiah both is and is not. I’ll begin by painting a couple of tableaus about what it is not.

First tableau: Two opposing groups stand on opposite sides of the street, each with their own placards. Both sides are yelling and taunting the other The police are trying to separate them, but they begin to move towards each other. At one point, someone holding a peace sign hits someone on other side over the head with the peace sign. True story.

Second tableau: At this year’s online meeting of the General Council of the United Church, a number of proposals supporting Palestine were considered. As per the practice of the United Church, we had a number of interfaith and ecumenical guests, including Jewish and Palestinian. When one of the official Jewish guests was speaking, someone, who thought their mic was muted, let out an obscenity, angrily questioning where this person had come from. The whole meeting came to a standstill, eventually resulting in a new proposal that called for a study of antisemitism that is present within the United Church. This proposal was passed while the proposals supporting the Palestinians were referred to a committee. That decision brought an angry outburst from a Palestinian guest, questioning what kind of church we are. Outbursts of attacking anger sabotaged the process.

The reign of Christ is definitely concerned about justice. Those marginalized will be honoured, poverty will be eradicated and everyone will live in safety and security. Everyone will have enough while no one will have too much. This vision of the day of the Lord is painted in great detail throughout the Bible. The Hebrew scriptures paint a picture of enemies—both human and animals—lying down together in peace, as Rev. Tricia Gerhard preached about last Sunday. (Maybe even the mouse and the cat would lie down in peace!)

What the reign of Christ does not support is justice that is enforced by violence. It does not support the abuse of power by leaders who divide the people. This is the image of oppression, painted by Jeremiah—the opposite of the Messiah’s reign. Jesus went even further by saying that even anger is not part of his vision of peace. The two tableaus that I painted help us to understand why anger, expressed as a violent outburst, betrays justice-making. Peace-making and lasting justice requires deep listening to the other side. But when one side is so angry that listening is impossible, so too is lasting peace impossible.

Thich Nhat Hahn wrote, “To work for peace, you must have a peaceful heart…But many who work for peace are not at peace. They still have anger and frustration, and their work is not really peaceful. We cannot say that they are touching the Kingdom of God.”[1]

To be a peace-maker and live into the vision of the peaceable kin-dom of God, we have to learn how to calm the war within. I don’t do that well—I think I will always be learning how to do that better. But I’m convinced that when we live out of Christ’s deep peace, we will be much more effective in our justice ministry and our peacemaking. We will also be better able to be hands of peace within our own families.

The reign of Christ is not just about the second coming of Christ—the day of the Lord. It also refers to the peace of Christ today, within our midst and within our hearts. We find it when we have the courage to change the things of ourselves that block Christ’s reign. Our Prayer of Confession for today is a version of the traditional prayer offered at Al Anon meetings and expresses exactly what we each need to welcome the reign of Christ within.

The reign of Christ refers to the future and to the present. The more we’re able to release our frustrations and anger into God’s hands and receive the peace of Christ within, the quicker we will recognize the reign of Christ around us. And it won’t necessarily look like what we are expecting. It might well come on the whispering wings of the insignificant, as expressed in the words of an old advent hymn, which prepares the way for the coming of advent next week:

Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by any din of drums,
Nor his manner, nor his airs,
Nor by any thing he wears.

Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by crown or by gown,
But his coming known shall be,
By the holy harmony
Which his coming makes in thee.
Thou shalt know him when he comes.

[1] Thich Nhat Hahn, Living Buddha, Living Christ, 20th anniversary edition (New York: Riverhead Books, 2007) p. 74-75.