Peace, and if not peace, then protest

Even during and after the Civil War, Americans used Independence Day to argue and to advocate for their idea of America, their ideals for America. A project from Virginia Tech reports,

… a wide range of Americans — northern and southern, white and black, male and female, Democrat and Republican, immigrant and native born — all used the Fourth to articulate their deepest beliefs about American identity during the great crisis of the Civil War.
…  For everyone, the Fourth was a day to argue about who counted as an American and what that meant.[i]

Certainly, we are still debating what it means to be free, and whose life matters in America. I am aware, as we meet today, of our neighbours in Akron, and another family grieving for answers.

Jesus was not an American, except insofar as he was Everyman.

He began with peace: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (Luke 10:5). If the house would not receive the kind of peace that belongs to the kingdom of God, the kind of peace preached by the Prince of Peace, the kind of uncompromising love and mercy that accompanied his lambs into the midst of the wolves – well then Jesus advised protest. “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” (Luke 10:11)

How does the lamb protest against the wolves?

How do we, who know that the kingdom of God requires mercy, not sacrifice; love, not legalism; courage, not arrogance or violence; how do we offer peace to a world full of wolves? 

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world,” writes Paul (Galatians 6:14)

I have probably shared this quote with you before, but I appreciate Donald Mackinnon’s warning not to take this kind of talk as simple and traditional piety. Instead, he reminds us, the cross, the crucifixion was as real and true and deadly a defeat as could be imagined. Christ crucified: my God!

“It is a lesson to be learnt from tragedy,” MacKinnon writes, “that there is no solution of the problem of evil; … In the Cross the conflicting claims of truth and mercy are reconciled by deed and not by word.”[ii]

The apostles, the seventy, return rejoicing in the power that they have handled and handed out: “Even the demons submit to us!” And Jesus responds, “Yes; and I have seen Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Nevertheless.”

Nevertheless, Jerusalem and the cross await.

Jesus did not come to start a cult, nor a country. He did not come into the world for a select few people, twelve, or twenty, or seventy. He had no desire to keep the kingdom of God to or for himself, nor was he in any mood to argue about who should belong. Instead, he sent out lambs into the midst of wolves, loving disciples into the unpeaceful world, and bid them become messengers of God, speaking peace, and leaving protest in their wake where that peace that passes our understanding was not welcomed.

I like how this gospel passage frames the disciples’ engagement with the world. Peace, but if not peace, then protest. Lambs among wolves do not resort to the tearing and shredding with teeth that typifies their oppressors; yet they have a voice, and a flock, and a shepherd upon whom to call. 

The disciples, the seventy have power, but it is used only in the service of healing. The only beings cast out, cast down, are demons. Even then, Jesus warns them not to bask in their own good deeds, but to revel instead in the mercy, the love, the life that the kingdom of God has brought near to them.

If it had just been for the select few, for him and his crew, he could have stayed safe, done some good, cast out some demons, unmasked a few wolves in sheep’s clothing. But the Lamb of God was sent for the sins of the whole world, including ours.

We are living in wolfish times, full of appetite and anger, a pack mentality it sometimes seems; but the Lamb of God, our own Good Shepherd still sends us out to speak peace, and to bring healing where we may, with acts, with deeds of mercy, and of grace; to protest inhospitality and inhumanity to our siblings and cousins made in God’s image wherever it is found.

An email from the Episcopal Public Policy Network last week addressed the persistence of hard times, even of evil, and our constant need to boast only in the cross, that ignominious defeat that brought a whole new way of life, of victory, especially when the world seems wolfishly ravenous in its appetite for unmercy and unlove:

As Christians, we believe that Christ already is victorious. And so, even if the odds are long, even if we face defeat after defeat and do not see a way ahead, even if we feel that we are fighting the long defeat, we remain steadfast, our eyes fixed on the cross. As advocates, this means we continue to carry out our work and strive for justice. We do not do so because we will win every time, because we won’t. We do not do so because we are assured of progress, because we are not. We recognize that on a human scale, we may face defeat. We keep striving for justice because that is what we are called to do.[iii] 

If we feel as though defeat is always at hand, may it be a reminder of the cross of Christ, and be turned to our hope. If we feel as though the world is at war with itself, with us; if we think the world we thought we knew is strange and full of wolves, may it be a reminder of our own status as lost sheep, dependent on the love of our shepherd to find us and bring us home. If we feel as though peace has dissolved into protest, may we lift up our feet and find ourselves on the way of the Cross.

May we learn to boast of nothing but Christ, and him crucified; may we find our deepest identity in his merciful love.



[ii] Donald MacKinnon, “Atonement and Tragedy”, in Borderlands of Theology and other essays (Wipf and Stock, 2011), 97-104, here quoted 104


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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