In my senior year in high school, I participated in Junior Achievement, an organization with the stated purpose of helping “young persons learn about the real world of business.” Volunteers from local businesses met weekly with groups of 10 or 12 teenagers to lead us through the process of selecting a product, making the product and selling it. We formed a company and elected officers. We sold shares in the company – mostly to our parents and their friends and from our own allowances – to finance our manufacturing expenses, and we redeemed those shares with whatever profits we earned. I learned to operate a band saw and a sander, and I honed the door-to-door sales techniques I had learned as a Girl Scout. I also learned a definition of peace that stayed with me for quite a few years.
In the spring of that Junior Achievement year, there was a regional conference in Houston. Kids from all over Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas were bussed to the conference. I don’t remember much of what we did there, but I do remember the keynote speaker. He was from the FBI. It’s probably important to locate this event – this man’s presence and his message at this conference for young people – in the context of our country’s history. This was in the late 50s. The Cold War was very hot. Our school no longer had air raid drills, but some families maintained well-stocked bomb shelters. Korea was very fresh in all our minds, but Vietnam was not yet the household word it would become.
This was the climate in which we heard this man’s remarks about our future as young Americans. I’m certain that the speaker’s remarks were carefully crafted, but I only remember two sentences. He said, “Think about this. If we had lost the war in Korea, would there be peace?” He didn’t have to give us the answer. We knew the answer. Of course not! How could there possibly be peace if we didn’t win?
In the last couple of weeks, as I’ve reflected on today’s readings, the Collect for the Day has caught my attention with more urgency than it sometimes does. The central line, the heart of this prayer asks God to “mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace.” Grant us your peace.
Dearly beloved, God’s peace has never been withheld from us. God’s peace is always in our grasp. It is we who choose not to accept the gift.
God’s peace is freely given, but it’s a gift with strings attached to it. In order to have peace, we must live for peace. We do pray for peace, but the purpose of our prayer is not to change God’s mind. The purpose of our prayer is not to somehow educate God that having peace on this earth in our time would be a very good idea. The purpose of our prayer for peace is to ask for conversion of our own lives. The purpose of our prayer for peace is to ask for transformation of our own fear. The purpose of our prayer for peace is to ask for the strength and the will to risk not winning a conflict at the cost of increasing pain to the world.
Peace is not about winning. Peace is not about controlling the lives of others. Peace is about choosing to live in a way that offers each of us and each person we encounter the opportunity for healing and reconciliation. Peace is not about avoidance of conflict but about speaking truth and accepting differences with respect.
Micah tells us to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. Jesus tells us that peacemakers are blessed, because they will be called children of God. Our baptismal covenant calls each of us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
Peacemaking is an action, a choice to live in such a way that our own daily activities support healing and reconciliation. There’s an old song that you remember: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. We’ve heard the song so many times that the words may have lost their power for us. But unless we choose to live in a way that lets peace begin in our own lives, we will never be able to hold peace in our hands or in our hearts.
Let us pray together the prayer attributed to St. Francis, found on page 833 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
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