We tend to think of several different things when we hear the word “peace.” I’ll highlight a few. None of them are wrong or bad, but they aren’t necessarily the same “peace” Jesus declares in the midst of the storm or what Paul calls “the peace that surpasses understanding.”
The first is to define “peace as an absence of conflict” (which is not always true in families given the personalities, perspectives and differing experiences.)
A second thought is our ongoing search for “peace and quiet” – or better yet; simply being left alone (I wonder if that is that what Jesus was looking for as he was fast asleep in the boat! We could all use a little rest once in a while, couldn’t we?)
A third definition of “peace is serenity” – calm waves, rolling meadows with flowers or a snow-capped mountains. We all have different visions of what tranquility or even heaven looks like, but when we each think of some place peaceful, but we probably share the feeling we seek in finding it.
I didn’t know George; but I wonder what he thought of peace having served in the U.S. Navy in both the 2nd World War and Korea. He intentionally entered harm’s way, and to be sure in both conflicts what he saw was not peaceful by any of our pre-conceived notions.
I wondered about the peace and stability he brought to making a home, providing for a family, leaving his own tradition for the goal anchoring them in a community of faith (here at St. Paul for a while) and the sacrifices (willing sacrifices) that takes for families to keep moving in a similar direction.
“Peace” can often be found in the meaning making of helping – and George’s contributions were many. All of us, have gifts to give, insights to share, love to receive and reciprocate in the lives of others in the places we have been placed to serve. That vocation – to live out one’s calling – as a spouse, a parent, a worker, a friend, a neighbor and as a volunteer in so many organizations spread the peace that is a gift to share. We often pray, “make me an instrument of your peace” and it appears that George was such an instrument.
We have a phrase in our culture when someone dies – “rest in peace” – and we usually mean several things by that / an end of personal pain and suffering / an end of conflict between loved ones and other relationships / and tranquility not just to experience in our lifetime – but that our resting place would remain for lack of better terms: perpetually pleasant.
But “true peace” isn’t something we make for ourselves or find within or a place we go to – it is something that grabs a hold of us when we least expect it as storms rage and the world seems out of our control. This is what Paul calls “the peace that surpasses understanding” and it meets us at times in our deepest despair and darkest dread.
Take the disciples – they found themselves lost in the midst of a stormy sea – and were overcome by fear and hopelessness. (Which should tell us something about how dire they thought their situation was – after all, these were experienced fisherman who were no strangers to life on a boat). Jesus was fast asleep on the cushion and they had to plead with him, probably shouting to get his attention in the midst of crashing waves, wind, rain and chaos.
But when Jesus awoke he didn’t scold them.
He didn’t tell them they should just believe in God stronger if they wanted to survive
He didn’t tell them to figure out a solution themselves.
He just said “peace, be still” – which seems to me to be as directed at them and their sense of panic as it was at the storm. This tells us that his word of “peace” — a peace we can’t fully understand but only experience as it comes to us from the outside word of Jesus himself – is what can overcome any obstacle, any threat, any worry, any sadness, any despair, any conflict, any upheaval or anything else we face – even death itself.
Mind you the threat might still be there – whether it’s going off to war twice, or managing expectations of family life or trying to make one’s way and contribute to the good in the world around you. But the power of fear is gone. One can look even death in the eye with its luminous clouds and frightening waves and know because of this word of peace that is not our own but given as a gift of God that death and all its empty promises holds no power over us – only Christ’s word of “peace” does.
That’s why Paul can say –
Pray without ceasing.
Let your gentleness be known.
Trust that your hearts and minds belong to the Lord.
Because the peace – the peace that surpasses understanding – the peace that vanquishes fear and its grip upon us – the peace that defeats death’s hold over us – the peace that meets us in the midst of life’s storm right when it looks like we are sinking and all is lost...has come.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
35 On that day, when evening had come, (Jesus) said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.
37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”