In the HBO series Band of Brothers, as night falls on D-Day, 1st Lieutenant Dick Winters thanks God for making it through D-Day, prays he will make it through D+1, and promises that if he survives the war he will find a quiet town and spend the rest of his life in peace. In due course, Lt. Col. Winters was able to purchase a farm near Hershey, Pennsylvania where he lived out the remainder of his days as he promised. What a blessing it is to have not only life, but also peace. Peace, after all, can be very difficult to find. I’m not simply referring to the peace that is an absence of war, but peace – the end of contention, the sense of contentment that is not forced or merely the result of not wanting to do anything but of rest from labors well done.
You have been raised with Christ. By his resurrection and power, we too are already now resurrected to new life. “Put aside anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language,” Paul says. These are things that go along with a life that feels it must contend. In the musical 1776, John Adams wonders to his wife, “Why, Abby? You must tell me what it is. I’ve always been dissatisfied, I know that. But lately I find that I reek of discontentment. It fills my throat, and it floods my brain. And sometimes I fear there is no longer a dream, but only the discontentment.” Have I always been dissatisfied? Is there a goal, an objective, a dream – or only the stench of discontentment and strife? Can I even be content at peace, or would peace merely bore me? Must I strive always so? These are questions that come to my own mind when I consider this Lord’s Day and this passage. You have life. Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart. Put away the rage, the anger, the discontentment and live.
That is a very easy thing to say. I look at my denomination and I see it seemingly turning aside from its birthright – these confessions that summarize and highlight the grace of God in Christ Jesus for us, his chosen, holy, and dearly loved people traded away for a momentary and ephemeral “relevance” that is in the grand scheme of things irrelevant. I worry about my country as I see selfishness and greed tear apart the legacy entrusted to us, making us slaves to debt as we demand ever more while giving ever less. I confess it does anger me at times and I think I am justified in my discontentment.
For you died and are now hidden with Christ, loved by God, put on patience, kindness, humility, bearing with one another and forgiving grievances. Love in the certainty that you are loved and be at peace. We have overcome death, or rather, Christ has overcome death for us. We live in him, which means we live by His Spirit, by His power, by His wisdom and not our own. What is wrong in the world, in the church, in me – it is nothing to the power of the Holy Spirit given us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We may rightly set our hearts and minds on things above rather than these earthly things. Life and peace are there, and in a very real sense, we are there among the things above, hidden in Christ. This quest we seem to feel ourselves upon, to “bring the Kingdom” to establish now the “rule of Christ” – it is tilting at windmills for the Kingdom is already here and Christ already rules. Was he not raised from the dead? Did he not already ascend to the right hand of the Father? Why, then, can we not be at peace?
I do have work to do, even in this peace. That is sure. As Adam and Eve had a garden to tend even before the fall, a creation to steward – to fill the earth and subdue it, to rule over the fish, the birds, and every living thing that moves upon the ground. So also I have work to do – a garden to tend, if you will. This garden, at least for now, that is Shalom CRC. Given my personality, that God should call me to a place called “Shalom” is a clear indication of his continuing taste for irony. The peace of Christ that rules in our hearts and that transcends our understanding is not something that means we merely sleep all day. We are not called to the peace of death, but to life and peace in Jesus Christ. So whatever you do with the life that God has given us in Jesus, let us do it in his name.
Which is a reminder that in this life, we are called to let the Word – that is, Jesus, the Living Word – dwell in us as we teach and admonish one another. There is a place for pointing out the pitfalls that lie in the way of our church, our brothers and sisters, our nation – to teach and admonish. To learn to do that in peace I have yet to manage. I appreciate those who help me in this – Barb, of course, Chaplain Lorenzo York, Dawn, the elders, Dr. John Bolt, fellow pastors like Cal over at 1st or John Lee at Bethel in Sioux Center, and more whom God has placed in my life. The young may look at the old as people who have it all together, who face life calmly and may even assume that they were always thus. Rarely is that the case. To the extent that we seem so, our willingness to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts is a wisdom purchased by hard labor and pain and, like the labor and pain that attended our birth, often – if not always – someone else’s. This new life comes to us not of ourselves, but by the Spirit of Life.
In the work of teaching and admonishing, there is the pursuit of wisdom. There is reason to note life protected and hidden in Christ and be thankful. Wisdom and gratitude are not far removed from one another. We sing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs with that gratitude for, after long struggle, by God’s grace, we survived. Jesus has brought us through the tomb – whatever our personal tomb may be or have been – into life.
I have no desire for a farm outside Hershey, PA or near Braintree in Massachusetts as Lt. Col. Winters and President Adams each had in their day. Tilling the soil is not the kind of gardening for which I was intended. This is. And I pray that I may grow in due course to appreciate it even more than I do now, that pulling the weeds here and there, or pushing out the bugs that would devour this part of God’s garden might increasingly seem to me not a source of frustration, but a joy in the life and peace – the Shalom – that God has given me in Christ Jesus our Lord. And I pray the same for you, in your part of the garden.