Lent is a time when Christians are invited to reflect on the ministries and mission to which we are called. While it is always appropriate to think and pray about how to serve God and with all people, Lent is a season of the church year when we might be all the more purposeful if not prayerful in our lives. Lent is a good time to reflect on the Almighty’s expectations that we demonstrate the ways of love, grace, hope, and peace.
Do we do that? Are we deliberate and prayerful? Do we spend time reflecting on what it means to be a people of faith? As importantly, do we act on what we claim we believe? Do we put our faith into real action? If we don’t, why not? And if we do so, how do we go about it, and at what cost?
We are called to be a people of love, grace, hope and peace. But peace, real peace, seems to be the most elusive. We need peace among nations, within communities and in each person’s soul.
Peace is more than absence of strife or conflict – or in the case of nations, war. Peace comes with proactive peace-making, peace-seeking, peace-being. Francis of Assis wrote: “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” The ways of peace will come about with some intentionality, with hard work, with standing up to the ways of hatred, dissension and division. Peace doesn’t come from building walls to divide people, but in building bridges to break down divisions and barriers. Peace doesn’t come about by sitting back and letting life unfold unchallenged.
Peacemakers often find their tasks and journey hard if not fraught with danger. Jesus, the “Prince of Peace” faced opposition, persecution, and in the end death in his pursuit of God’s dreams and ways. Jesus often found peace of mind and spirit away from the crowds, but those occasions were all too rare during the three years of his ministry.
Jesus’ disciples didn’t fare much better and found preaching and proclaiming God’s ways of peace was not easy. Likewise, all too many faithful Christians have faced hostility, enmity and aggression.
Only two of the dozen hymnals in my church office include this seemingly doleful hymn written by William Percy in 1924. “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee” reminds us how Jesus called His disciples, of how some like Peter, James, John and Andrew were “simple fisherfolk” before being summoned to ministry and mission. Three stanzas:
They cast their nets in Galilee
just off the hills of brown;
such happy, simple fisherfolk,
before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen,
before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
but strife closed in the sod,
Yet let us pray for but one thing-
the marvelous peace of God.
The “marvelous peace of God” is elusive if not absent in so many parts of our world. We can’t imagine the horror of places like Syria, where tens of thousands have died in a civil war or some of our own urban areas where young persons die in drive-by shootings. Then there is paucity of peace in our own communities and in the lives of too many families where instead of peace, discord, if not abuse, reigns. Confronting those places where peace is missing will require some hard work and facing them can be heart-breaking.
The task of the faithful – of those of who profess the Christian faith and those of other faiths and traditions – is to pursue the ways of peace, no matter the challenges, no matter the opposition. That means confronting hatred with love, closed fists with open hands. We are not naive. The world is a dangerous place. But the answer to hatred and division and finger pointing is not more of the same. Instead, we must be about a tough love that holds people accountable for their misdeeds while offering alternatives grounded in the gifts of our faith – love, grace, hope and peace.
So, may peace and grace abound.
The Rev. Ralph S. English is the pastor at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Gloversville.