“As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matthew 10:12-13)
This is Jesus, instructing his apostles, sending them out to preach the good news of God’s love, revealed in the person of Christ. And in the midst of a world, like ours, at war with itself, he talks of peace.
He tells his disciples to do their own work of peace without worrying too much about whether or not it is worthy or wasted work. The work of peace, Jesus tells them, is never wasted. If it finds fertile ground, it will grow in those with whom you have shared it. If not, it will return to grow in you.
We know, in our present situation, how deeply the work of peace is needed. It is hampered, sorely, by our tendency to judge, to discern who is deserving of our peace, and who is not. But Jesus instructs us: do your own work of peace. Let your peace be upon any who will receive it, and if not, let it continue to grow in you. Do not be deflected from your own peace by any unworthiness of judgement or of faith. Do the work of peace.
We may, like Sarah, laugh to think that such an old and dried-up thing as peace could ever bear fruit; but then we would be underestimating the long arc of God’s kingdom, and the power of the Holy Spirit to provoke new surprises, new life, new laughter without notice.
How will we do the work of peace in a divided country and a divisive world? Jesus suggests, one household, one family, one greeting at a time. When you enter the house, greet it with peace – no exceptions. When you encounter a stranger, let your peace be upon her, without reservation. Choose to associate with those of a different race, generation, political persuasion – and let your peace be known to them, without price. Be as wise as serpents, and gentle and innocent as doves. If they are worthy, your peace will grow in them, and if not, it will continue to grow in you.
Peace is not passive, mind you. The work of peace is important and active and vital. Be as wise as serpents, and labour for the Lord. Spreading the good news of God’s love revealed in the person of Christ means bringing good news to the poor, and freedom to the captive; healing to the hungry, and life to the walking dead.
The work of peace means facing up to a justice system which operates in a system of injustice to keep the lives of men like Philando Castile cut short and lets loose those to whom his life mattered little. There can be no peace without justice; we have work to do.
The work of addressing gun violence – on Monday night, your Vestry talked about this very work, and then this week, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers were considering a bill to deregulate silencers for privately owned guns, even as their Capitol police protectors were running towards the sound of gunfire to save their colleagues from further damage and danger. The work of addressing gun violence is not about becoming quieter. It is loud and it is necessary, and it is the work of peace, to pound our assault rifles into ploughshares and our handguns into pruning hooks.
The work of peace is not a quiet, unassuming activity. It is on fire with the heat of the gospel, fuelled by the hard wood of the cross.
We spent the rest of the past week, some of us, learning about the saints at summer music camp. We heard of St Francis, who stripped away everything he had of privilege and background to address the poverty and inequality he saw around him, to protest the perversion of God’s kingdom that is promoted when some lives seem to matter more than others.
We learned about Mary, who said, “Let it be to me as the Lord has spoken,” and then turned around and sang a song of revolution, in which the proud are scattered in their imaginations, and peace falls upon the lowly and the humble.
We learned about Fanny Crosby, who was not content to praise God in hymnody and song alone, but who also pestered Congress to improve education for her blind students and for people with disabilities – doing the work of peace, which is the work of justice, with a song on her lips and steel in her heart.
This work of peace is not without risk. See, says Jesus, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Francis lost his family. St Cecilia lost her husband, her brother-in-law, and her life. St Ignatius was eaten by lions – these things can happen in the course of working for peace.
But for most of us, the risks are more modest: the risk of failing to grow the peace that is in us; of failing to share it. Of wondering, when things go wrong, whether there is more that we could or should have done to make a difference in this divided world; to do our own work of peace.
Let us make a new start this morning, sharing the peace that Christ has given to us, without reservation, indiscriminately. Greet someone new as we share the Peace this morning; let your peace be upon them, and let it be grown also in you. Practice peace on one another, that we may go out from this place in peace to love and to serve the Lord, to grow God’s kingdom one greeting of peace at a time, speaking peace out loud.
“As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”