“I declare peace with my neighbor…”

06
Nov

I recently received an email that was being distributed far and wide that promoted writing “In God we Trust” on the back of our mail as a counter-action to a reported court order requiring “In God we trust” posters be removed from Post Offices. The email concluded by saying that the 86% of us Americans who say we do believe in God  should tell the 14% who say they don’t “to sit down and shut up.”

My friend Traci suggested what strikes my ear as a far better idea: let us all write on the back of our mail, “I declare peace with my neighbor, even if she or he has beliefs that differ from my own.” 

I believe in God, but the God I believe in isn’t interested in having people engage in the same old turf-fighting that we are all so sick of (especially as expressed in the present political campaigns.) My God is calling people to be peacemakers.

The first words of Jesus to his disciples, according to John, were “Peace be with you.” (John 20:26)  Previously Jesus had commanded his disciples, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’  And if anyone is there who shares in peace your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”  (Luke 10:5,6)  Francis of Assisi picked up on this verse and had his humble friars declare, “Peace be with you” to everyone they encountered.

I know for myself it often seems far easier to engage in the familiar business of turf fighting than to do the hard work of peacemaking.  But, hey, whoever said following Jesus was easy? This of course, is where the statement:  “In God we trust,” really means something.  Can God be trusted when I seek to bring peace where the world is intent on practicing turf-fighting and violence?

In the end, we haven’t got much control over how other people think or act, but we have a choice about whether or not we are going to abide in God’s peace.  And as we sing every Sunday in our worship service, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

I remember receiving another mass email back at Christmas time that suggested inundating the ACLU with Christmas cards.  The idea wasn’t, as I understood it, to bless the ACLU with God’s peace.  Rather, it was about overwhelming their office workers with what would amount to too much junk mail, slowing down their activities. The person who had suggested the idea was angry about the ACLU’s attempts to take religious symbols out of public settings.

When we say we believe in God, it seems to me it makes a big difference what kind of God we’re declaring our belief in.  Muslim fanatics who crash planes believe in a God.  Fundamentalist Christians who accuse anybody who disagree with them of being of the devil, and go out of their way to oppress them,  believe in a God.

WWJD isn’t a bad place to begin.  What would Jesus do?  Well, it seems pretty clear to me that for him celebrating Christmas wouldn’t involve spending money and energy trying to undermine the ACLU.  Jesus would find some way to care for the poor and outcastes of the world.  Jesus, of course, was born to a poor, homeless family — a refugee family.  It was poor, ostracized shepherds who were his first companions.  If we’re going to take the time and energy and money involved to send cards to some organization, perhaps donations to Heifer International or the local homeless shelter would be the place to start.  Visiting folks in a nursing home wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Help me, O God of peace, to declare peace with my neighbor, even when I find her or his beliefs loathsome.  Save me from the self-righteousness of which I would be quick to accuse others.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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