Four hundred and fifty years after the man who first penned those words was born, we still recognize them. But soft. Some of you can even continue the monologue: But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? / It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! / Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, / Who is already sick and pale with grief / That thou her maid art far more fair than she.
Ah, that Romeo, he had it bad. This is the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with this week’s bible text, but I thought I’d through that in. Just for a literary reference. Just for a little culture. And because when I thought of our Eastertide theme, those words are the ones that came to mind, oddly enough. But soft.
We are moving on to the third Fruit of the Spirit that Paul enumerates in Galatians 5:22: Peace. “The fruit of the Spirit is love”, we knew that, have experienced that. “Is love, joy,” well, duh, joy tumbles along after love. The end result of loving is joy, even in the midst of the heartache which also comes from loving. Joy is there because a sense of rightness, of being brought out of yourself long enough love something, someone else. Joy is the out come of other centered love. “Is love, joy, peace ...” Really?
I’m on board with love and joy being partners, of one leading to the other. But peace? It seems the more we love the more we lose our grip on peace. Even when the object of our love is God, it seems we are driven to more action, more activity - good as it is, joyous as it is, it just seems like stirring more things up. The opposite of peace, don’t you think? I mean, isn’t peace about kicking back? About letting it ride, about not getting worked up, about no conflict, no agitation. Isn’t peace like a Sunday afternoon nap?
But soft! That’s peace, isn’t it? Soft stuff, easy stuff, gentle stuff (I know gentle is coming up later, we’ll get there.) How in the world can peace be much of a hope in these troubled times, in these busy times. Even we who have things going in our favor seem to still be struggling to get through each day. How can that be peace?
How about it James?
James 3:13-18 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Evelyn Underhill wrote that it was interesting to her how the time that Jesus wanted to offer his followers peace was when they were on the threshold of the most tumultuous time of their lives together. “Peace I leave with you, peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Then he went out a died a most painful death. Then we was betrayed and denied and abandoned. Then he was beaten to a bloody pulp and hung on a cross to suffocate and die, to be mocked and spat upon, sneered at and ignored as one more example of how not to live in peace. “Not as the world gives.”
Maybe that’s our problem. Maybe we just don’t understand peace. Maybe we’ve defined peace as the absence of something, of conflict, or worry, of trouble, of doubt; but Jesus wants us to define peace as a presence. Peace is not what we’ve emptied from ourselves, but what we’ve filled ourselves with. And what we’ve not filled ourselves with is ourselves. At least according to James.
James doesn’t like all this hanging around waiting for stuff to happen. He wants to get to work. James is a doer, a worker. And he says we are going to fill ourselves up with something, we are going occupy ourselves with something, it might as well be the right things. There are the heavy things, says James, the things that weigh you down, the things that are never satisfied, never enough, the things that always want more, that measure your worth not by what you have but by what you don’t have, or what someone else has. We can occupy ourselves with filling that bottomless pit in our souls that is never content but will use any means, will break any bond, will step on any toe to get what satisfies that gnawing hunger that won’t ever go away.
Or, James says, praise be to God there is an or, we can make peace, sow peace. We can work peace, says James. The peace that says I am not the center of the universe, even the universe of my own understanding and experience. The peace that says while I am loved and valued, I understand that best when I love and value others, when I act out of respect and hospitality, when I cede center stage so that I might applaud another, when I give aid and comfort, when I bind up and heal, when I mentor and teach, when I pour myself out in the name of God into lives of those I love around me.
The harvest James mentions is not peace. Did you notice? Peace is not an end. I know we pray give me peace. Jesus even said there in the Gospel of John, I give you peace, my peace I give to you. But it isn’t so that we can become peace hoarders, so that we can stock up on peace for the lean times, the difficult times. Peace is the mode of action. Peace is the methodology by which we choose to be at work in the world. We sow in peace, we make peace, we bring peace, we toss peace around like seeds, like cool drinks of water on sweltering days, we plant peace in hearts - our own and everyone else’s.
It sounds like work. Kind of the opposite of what we thought peace was, once upon a time. The kicking back not really caring kind of peace. No, this peace is the enemy of apathy. This peace turns the tables on injustice. This peace brings a sword that cuts through pretensions and falsehood, through prejudice and oppression. Yes, it is work. Sowing in peace is an all consuming enterprise. But it does have an end. A harvest James calls it. A result.
Righteousness. That’s what James calls it. A harvest of righteousness. Which is what exactly? Well, Jesus called it the Kingdom of God. It is the body of Christ living as though they were a body. It is a community of faith and faithfulness that lives in love together and builds a sanctuary against the life that tears down and separates. Righteousness is about being faithful to our relationships, about honoring the covenants, with God first of all, but then also with brothers and sisters - those in the faith and those not yet there. Righteousness is about living as though God was the determiner of who was worth loving and who wasn’t.
Peace, like joy then, is an outcome of love. When we learn to love God we will know peace. When we learn to love like God then we will make peace, we will sow in peace.
Now whether we will compare the ones we love to the moon or not is open for discussion. But soft.