Do We Want Peace?
There are times I wonder if we truly want God’s reign of justice and peace on earth. I imagine it will be a rather sterile experience compared to the fast and flashing, techno-consumer venues we’re accustomed to and seem to crave. Maybe the truth is that we must learn peace, particularly through small acts of love that seem rather unremarkable.
World history is replete with mighty figures who have fought for God’s peace. Heroes like Mother Teresa, Daniel Berrigan, Eberhard Arnold, Martin Luther King Jr, and Dorothy Day are known by their accolades, because of their skirmishes with the powers of darkness, their bold moves. But this is, obviously, the gift of hindsight.
In reality, their contention for peace was as rhythmic as their breathing. Even memorable impact requires seasons of obscurity, shaded from laud and limelight. The big work for peace starts with the small, everyday commitment to make peace. Mother Teresa described it this way, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” In reality, their contention for peace was as rhythmic as their breathing. Even memorable impact requires seasons of obscurity, shaded from laud and limelight. The big work for peace starts with the small, everyday commitment to… Click To Tweet
When we focus only on the stellar examples of peacemaking, I see two concerns. First, by viewing —and reviewing—exclusively the highlight reels, we’ve forgotten about the ministry that belongs to every member of God’s Church according to Ephesians 4:11-14. Second, by mimicking the consumer-liturgy of the prevalent culture, we’ve lost the discipline of patient love,1 the steadfast endurance to serve with credibility and efficacy.
A Widow to Serve
This concern was brought to my attention several weeks ago when a brother called to tell me about an elderly woman he knew who needed help with some yard work. She lived around the corner from my house and had two trees that needed trimming and a large yard that needed mowing. He added in closing, “She’s a widow.”
Complications from the removal of her appendix in 2020 severely limited her ability to perform basic physical labor. Additionally, her rental had been acquired by a company that, she was told, would be eliminating all the subcontracted labor that previously handled lawn care and maintenance.
Now, I confess that I have a propensity for annoyance in these scenarios. It’s easy for me to demonize anything “corporate.” In some ways, I feel like I’m always pining for a chance to go toe-to-toe with a heartless conglomerate whose portfolio includes the unjust treatment of aging widows. Pitiless, the capitalist spirit is.
Nevertheless, I called a brother from our fellowship and we headed over to help. After heavily pruning two bushes at the corners of the property and replacing two furnace filters (including that of the widow next door) we sat down with the stranger we’d come to serve.
With tears in her eyes, and tree shavings on our shirts, she poured out her heart. She told us how her husband had died and left her alone with two children and how she’d later followed her incarcerated son around the country only to see him die unexpectedly, shortly after his release. Then came the punchline. She closed by telling us how she’s been a widow in the church for thirty-eight years but had never once been helped in the way we had just done, simply because she was a widow.
My inner anger shifted instantly from the corporate beast I’d expected to be preying on her to the family I expected would be protecting her. Thirty-eight years is a long time. Frankly, it’s an inexcusable amount of time. Where was the church during this time? Where were the hands and feet of Christ in his body? Where was God’s love?
I cannot help but wonder if part of the answer lies in the fact that we’ve become so enamored with the spectacle of church in America that we struggle now to even recognize or value the needy in our midst. We’ve mastered the art of entertaining, of hosting events and developing programs, but lost touch with a key aspect of the vocation to which we were called to bear witness. We’ve become so enamored with the spectacle of church in America that we struggle now to even recognize or value the needy in our midst. Click To Tweet
In overlooking the mundane, unremarkable members and ministries in our midst, we’ve surrendered the dependability that belongs to the trench-walkers who know the dark, gritty, and inescapable weight of costly sacrifice and service.
Scottish author, George MacDonald once penned the line, “I begin to suspect…that the common transactions of life are the most sacred channels for the spread of the heavenly leaven.”2
Looking back through Scripture, I must believe that the early Christians knew this truth. Certainly, Jesus did. His employment of imagery like leaven and seed speaks to the agency of something almost imperceptible at work. Repeatedly, Jesus contested that through simple human obedience, God’s generous Spirit would bring forth life from arid soil (John 12:24).
This application of patient love is meant to elevate the seemingly unremarkable relationships around us onto a new plane of possibility. When we exercise faith in spite of our weakness, God’s power bursts forth. The church must therefore cultivate a radical expectancy, confident that heaven looms behind the thinnest of veils.
Jesus embodied this through a continual engagement with mundane disruptions. He was the unexpected entrance of divine spontaneity. He saw the ones stooped below the natural line of sight and lifted them into the joy of being seen, of being changed. God, robed in glory, walked amidst the broken, dishing out the confusing economics of beauty-for-ashes. He was the unexpected entrance of divine spontaneity. Click To Tweet
How then, we must ask, can the common be overlooked? If we recognize the contrariness of Christ, who shamelessly associated with the forgotten, how can we claim to be his body and do anything less?
Everything about the way God works is counter to what we traditionally assign highest value. What is despised by men is exalted by God. The Messiah’s gospel is good news for the poor and disreputable. His kingdom belongs to the helpless and forgotten.
My appeal is that we embrace afresh the invitation to model Christ’s self-emptying love. In the church calendar, this season following Christmas is called “Ordinary Time.” May it be a reminder to embrace the ordinary opportunities around us to serve as Christ did. Those who can give themselves to the leaven of patient and suffering love, will see that, though often unremarkable, the peace of the kingdom of God is rising.