Sunday, September 16, 2007

“Rightness Springs Up”

Psalm 85; Luke 11:1-13[1]

I think I would have say that I can think of no more persuasive argument for peace than the horrific destruction of Hiroshima. I understand that event probably saved millions of lives, both American and Japanese. But that does not lessen the horror of an entire city of people destroyed in an instant. Hiroshima stands today as a monument against the violence of our world and as a witness to the hope for a better world—a world without war, without injustice, without oppression, without strife and hatred.

Of course, some might say a world like this can only be some kind of unreal utopia, the kind of ideal world that we can only dream about. That, however, doesn’t stop the Psalmist from doing just that. In our text for today, the Psalmist looks for the day when God’s rightness and God’s peace will spring up from the ground as naturally as wildflowers on a Texas roadside. The Psalmist looks for the day when God’s unfailing love and grace rain down from the sky like the summer showers we’ve all been “enjoying” lately. The Psalmist looks forward to a world where God’s unfailing love and saving grace define the way we live with each other. The Bible calls it the kingdom of God, and in the face of all evidence to the contrary, it persistently, even stubbornly continues to insist that God’s reign is the true reality in this world.[2]

And the primary way in which the Bible speaks of a life that looks like this is with the word shalom, peace. In our day and time “peace” is what diplomats broker between warring parties. But the shalom of God’s kingdom is much, much more than that. The “peace” of God’s kingdom is the only thing that can transform us and heal us. In the Bible, peace is the wholeness that comes from knowing God genuinely and living the life God intended for us. Peace is what happens when God’s reign and God’s justice prevail. It includes all that God is working toward in this world.

This kind of peace not only changes us wholly, it also changes all of life—individuals, families, and nations. It is God’s salvation that brings recon­ciliation with God and humanity. It brings the reversal of sin’s effects on human life. Ultimately it renews the whole of creation. In a very real sense, the peace of God’s kingdom represents a return to God’s original design for human life, the Garden of Eden.

In his model prayer Jesus instructed his followers to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Can you even imagine such a place? A world where life is ordered by God’s rightness and peace and love and grace and not the petty scheming of selfish people? A world where God’s salvation is complete? Where not only God’s people but all people experience the peace and joy of new life?

Like the prophets before him, Jesus looked forward to the time when God himself would come to reign over all the earth. At that time God would set things right, he would redeem and restore the people of Israel, and draw all humanity into the covenant relationship with him (cf. Isa. 2:2-4). Jesus was looking for the peace of God’s kingdom. From this perspective, the Lord’s prayer points us in the same direction as the Psalm—to a world in which everyone can enjoy life as God intended for it to be from the very beginning. But the difference is that, while others were waiting for some apocalyptic catastrophe to reveal God’s kingdom, Jesus “saw it growing up among them” already.[3] Jesus saw the Psalmist’s vision of God’s salvation “at hand”; he saw God’s unfailing love raining down from the sky and God’s peace springing up from the ground.

And as a result Jesus called those who would follow him “peacemakers.” This may seem to be a strange way to describe the work of God’s kingdom, but if you look at Jesus’ life, it fits perfectly. In fact, I think everything Jesus did—from preaching the gospel, to healing the sick, to feeding the hungry, to dying on the cross—could be called “peacemaking.” Jesus met human needs with genuine compassion. When a crowd came to him right after he narrowly escaped a lynch mob in Nazareth, “he laid his hands on each of them and he cured them” (Lk. 4:40). When Jesus withdrew for rest and the crowds followed anyway, he fed them because “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk. 6:34).

In Jesus’ ministry “sal­vation” meant relieving suffering and providing for those in need.[4] Some might think that should come after the “real” work of the Kingdom—saving souls. But Jesus’ whole purpose in life was to “make peace”—to carry out God’s plan to renew life completely. And he continues to call us to follow him as his disciples, to “bring God’s redemp­tive purposes to bear in all of our broken society”.[5]

[1] A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 7/29/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] J. L. Mays, Psalms, 30-31.

[3] W. Rauschenbush, Christianity and the Social Crisis, 56-71.

[4] Joel Green, The Theology of the Gospel of Luke, 97.

[5] Robert Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 107.

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