June 14, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
If you haven’t caught on by now, we are in a final series this spring dealing with Paul’s spiritual tri-fecta. I Lent we talked about Faith. After Easter we spent some weeks dealing with Love. Now we talk about Hope. Faith, Hope and Love. I realize we got them out of order, but that’s just to keep you on your toes.
But really, this order makes more sense, because if we have faith and love, then we are going to be people of hope. We are going to have hope and give hope. So this series uses HOPE as an acronym to consider the different ways we are called as people of faith and love to bring hope to the world. So today we consider how H.O.P.E. means Hang On, Peace Exists!
As a preacher who loves to read sermons by great preachers, I have found that over the years, great preachers of every period say that their age is the most anxious generation that has ever lived. No doubt there is some preacher embellishment that goes with such statements, but I also believe they reflect a truth: for all our progress and advancements that provide a faster, more productive, efficient world, they also produce an increasing anxiety.
How true is it today? In a 5G, virtual, instant information and communication world, we are also seeing an increase in mental health treatment at an alarming rate, especially among teenagers. According to the National Health Institute, anxiety disorders affect about 20% of the population. From 2015-2019 antidepressant medication prescriptions rose 38% among teens. And this only got worse during the pandemic. Why? Certainly isolation is a factor, but many experts say another contributor, and one that can increase isolation, is social media. Our technology, our immediate awareness of news and information, seems to contribute.
No wonder every generation can say they are the most anxious in history and be correct! The more advanced we become and the faster we go, the more anxious we get. And no wonder that every generation’s yearning for hope is connected to our yearning for peace.
The most advanced society of the first century was Rome. Paul had longed to visit Rome and spread the Gospel there, but the Gospel outran him. Christianity reached Rome before Paul did. So before ever getting to visit Rome, Paul wrote to the church there and near the end of the letter makes this interesting connection between hope and peace. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Paul knew he was writing to a society full of anxiety, full of pressure to keep up with others, to live up to expectations, to be concerned what others think. And his prayer for them was that the God of hope would fill them with joy and peace so they could give hope. Clearly Paul makes this connection that if we have hope then it gives us peace.
But how so? How does out trust in God bring us peace?
This is where we have to read more of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, because Paul actually talks quite a bit about peace in this letter, and when you put together what he says, you begin to see a pattern, a pattern that reveals how we can find peace in our lives.
Look at some of the statements he makes:
In chapter 3:9-16 Paul quotes a number of rather discouraging, even depressing statements from the Old Testament about the condition of people: “There is no one righteous,” “no one who seeks God,” “all have turned away,” “there is no who does good…” Paul really knows how to pump up a crowd doesn’t he?
But at the end of this rather hopeless diagnosis of humanity, Paul states the result of such turning away from God: “And the way of peace they do not know.” (Romans 3:17)
In another place in the letter Paul says, “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6) Again Paul makes this inference that turning away from God takes us away from peace. Or to state it conversely, the closer we seek to follow God’s way, the closer it leads us to peace.
In chapter 14 Paul makes this statement: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19)
Put all this together and we see that Paul makes the point that Hope for peace comes in doing what makes for peace.
This was Jesus’ great lament as he looked out over Jerusalem in the days leading up to his crucifixion and said through tears, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:42)
It’s hard to have peace in our world if we are unwilling to do what peace requires. It’s hard to rid ourselves of anxious thoughts and feelings if we don’t have times to separate from the sources of those anxious thoughts. It’s hard to remedy relational stress if we don’t seek reconciliation. And it’s hard to be free of the greatest threat to peace in our society right now, gun violence, if we aren’t willing to do anything about preventing gun violence.
As the old saying goes about the definition of insanity: Insanity is doing the same thing—or not doing anything—and expecting different results. To keep praying for victims but not changing laws that reduce the easy access and availability of guns in our society is not creating greater peace. To have peace we must do what peace requires.
Many Americans cherish the right to own guns, but living is a human right as well. If curbing some of my rights has the chance to bring greater peace to our world and protect our children, is it not worth our best effort to give peace a chance?
I believe everyone listening to me right now has very different feelings on this topic. But I also believe everyone listening to me are people who love God, who care about doing God’s will. I believe that. And I believe that most of us would say that doing God’s will is more important that our individual rights. If the path we have been on has not brought greater peace, is it not worth saying to the leaders of our country that its time to curb our ability for people to own assault-style weapons? It’s time to have more common sense gun safety measures? And its time to say to our state legislature here in Indiana that doing away with permit requirements to purchase a gun is a bad idea?
Would Jesus weep over Indianapolis and say, “If only you had known the things that make for peace?”
On our recent trip to the Oberammergau Passion Play Susan and I had a day between groups when we were in Munich. We did a walking food tour. Our guide knew a lot about history and nutrition. He talked about the changing foods we eat today compared to 50 years ago, and how many modern food products have things that contribute to our health challenges. He said a friend of his runs a pharmaceutical company that produces drugs that treat the symptoms of many of these problems. This friend told him recently that if people go back to eating the way they did 50 years ago and change their diets, he’d would be out of business.
His point was that most people want comfort without having to make changes. Well friends we have a sickness in our society right now. There is a great threat to our public health. And maybe we want to believe we can have greater peace and not change anything, and just keep praying for God to stop the madness, but idleness and prayers alone are not working. And Paul and Jesus both affirm, that when it comes to having peace we must get serious about obeying God, even above the amendments to the constitution. Nearly 800 years before Paul the prophet Isaiah said, “God keeps in perfect peace those whose minds are kept on thee.” We find peace as we focus on making the ways of our God our highest allegiance and do the things that make for peace.
Putting God first always means making the welfare of others a top priority. This is another subtle nuance Paul makes about peace in Romans. In chapter 12 he says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (12:18) Focus on the peace other people need. Ask, what are the efforts I can make that will bring peace to others?
This is what makes the Gospel counter-intuitive. That when we are hurting, when we are anxious and fearful and so not-at-peace, the way we begin to get out of those places is to focus on what we can do for others. We find peace by helping others find peace.
I know, it makes no sense. When riddled with doubts and fears and insecurity, it feels as though we have no capacity to give attention to others needs, I get it. Yet, I have learned the truth of this claim over and over again, from of all places, you! People in our church who tell me that turning to others in uncertain times is what helped them find God’s peace.
I had another confirmation of this not long ago. I received an email from a woman in our church who started a non-profit organization in Hamilton County because of an experience she had one Sunday at St. Luke’s. She sat down with me the other day to share about this. Listen to her story…
2 Cor. 13:11—“live in peace and the God of peace will be with you.”