August 30, 2015
I have mentioned at time or two in the past that my mom has for years played the organ and piano in my home church. When I was in high school, a friend of mine kept asking her to play some rock and roll some Sunday morning. One Sunday, as my friends and I sat in the back pew, my friend began to elbow my in the side and said excitedly, Charlton! Listen to what your mom is playing! It took me a few moments to realize the song – as it was normally played on guitar – but sure enough, my mom was playing some rock and roll for the prelude – Stairway To Heaven, by Led Zeppelin. Suddenly, I had the coolest mom in the world. When my friends went to congratulate her, after the service had concluded, they first had to wait on one of the church ladies to ask her about the song. JoAnne, she asked, what is the name of that beautiful song you played for the prelude? Stairway to Heaven, my mother replied. The ladies response was great – what number is that in they hymnal? That would be quite a rocking hymnal, wouldn’t it?
Music is such a powerful presence in our lives. Every morning when I walk I pick up my iPod and turn on music. I was thinking recently of how we not only use music to alter our moods, but how our choices also reflect our moods, so I scanned through my recently played songs and found I could track my mood on any given day by my song choices. Some were very uptempo, when I felt really good and was full of energy, while others were very mellow, on days when I felt stressed and needed something calm or because I was in a much more reflective mood. Although I have to confess that I don’t know what I was feeling the morning I listened to Saturday Night Fever.
When I was on sabbatical I recorded the organ at Notre Dame cathedral and the bells at Westminster Abby, and I love listening to them. It’s not quite the same as being there, but it takes me back to those places in my mind and to how moved I was by the music.
Music can bore deep into our hearts, minds, and souls, and it is an incredible tool for shaping our lives and our thinking. For a long time, I’ve thought about preaching a sermon based on the title to one of my favorite songs. I want you to hear a piece of it – What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding? by Elvis Costello (https://youtu.be/KCGlwx3L-Xk)
Maybe there’s a naïveté in that song. Perhaps it’s reflective of the idealism of an earlier generation that too quickly faded into the cynicism of our own day, but it’s a very legitimate question – what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding? Why can’t such ideals be part of not only our individual lives but also be reflective of the larger world?
Faith, hope, and love are the guiding principles Paul writes of so powerfully in I Corinthians 13, and here is another trio – also including love – that should guide our lives.
1. Peace – where do you need to make peace?
Romans 12:17-21 says –
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Why is it so hard for humanity to live in peace? Why is it that we cannot turn on the news each day without hearing of violence that takes life and creates heartache and heartbreak for so many? Why is it so difficult? Why does so much of our entertainment have to trade in the culture of violence? Don’t we get enough of the real thing? Why do we need to view artificial violence?
Scripture speaks of peace on both a macro and a micro level. On a micro level, Scripture speaks of peace between nations (Isaiah 2:4 – He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore), between kingdoms, and between people groups and cultures. But Scripture also speaks to the deeper, more personal way in which peace is accomplished – the micro level. Jesus spoke often about peace between individuals – that we should love our enemies, that we should pray for those who persecute us, that we should go the extra mile (Matthew 5:43-48 – 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect) – because peace is accomplished first of all on personal level.
The Romans never learned this lesson. The famous Pax Romana – the Roman Peace – was, ironically, based on violence. The Romans believed peace came by the brutal subjugation of people, instilling in them such fear that they would not dare to challenge their rule. But it didn’t work. Violence is never the true answer – never. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson humanity never seems to learn.
At the center of our faith is the symbol of the cross. In the miraculous work of God, he took what was a symbol of violence, fear, and torture, and made it into a symbol of peace.
Make peace in your life. Perhaps you need to make peace with another person. Perhaps you need to make peace with an event that took place in your life, or maybe you need to make peace with your past.
Paul wrote If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. We cannot control the actions of others, but we can control our own. We can pledge upon the love, grace, and peace of God that we will not
2. Love – who needs your love?
John 13:34 says – 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
What is there to say about love that hasn’t already been said? But we must keep talking about it, because we are pulled by so many other forces in life, many of which are the antithesis of love.
We can certainly say that love is difficult. It’s tough to love people. It’s tough for people to love us.
After Mother Teresa died her diaries were published, and in those diaries she wrote of how difficult faith could be. Christopher Hitches, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, jumped on her words, criticizing Mother Teresa as a fraud because of her struggles and her doubts. Hitches, who could be a brilliant writers, but was not when it came to faith and religion, totally missed what Mother Teresa was saying. There is nothing wrong with doubt. Nothing! Who wouldn’t have some measure of doubt about whether or not we can live up to what Jesus asks of us?
I must also speak a word to the danger of toxic relationships. A strong commitment to love is of absolute importance, but we must make a distinction between a relationship that is founded upon and nourished by love and one that is filled with toxicity. Toxic relationships are those where any type of abuse is present, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. No one should suffer from abuse, and there are, unfortunately, those who will use the guise of love to inflict their abuse upon another person. If you are in an abusive relationship, please find help.
3. Understanding – how do we put ourselves into the lives of others to understand what they are experiencing?
Matthew 7:12 contains what we refer to as the Golden Rule – 12 “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Until we can see life through the eyes of another, until we can stand in their shoes and experience their pain and struggle, until we can get deep into their heart and know their hopes and dreams, we cannot know what drives them, what motivates them, and what they are facing. And it’s impossible to really get into those places in the life of another, but we must learn to look at life from the perspective of others.
But understanding is difficult, because there are many wedges that are driven between people these days. I’m going to make a comment about politics, but don’t take it as a partisan comment; it’s simply an observation. We live in a time when, in our national politics, candidates on both side of the aisle have come to believe they can do better in the voting booth by demonizing people on the other side and by sowing seeds of fear. We don’t need demonization and fear; we need understanding, which Jesus offered, modeled, and commanded.
Early in our marriage, Tanya and I lived in a little duplex apartment in Lawrenceburg. It has a short driveway barely long enough to park out cars. It was a blacktop driveway and at the edge of the pavement it was obvious it was very thick blacktop. I’ll never forget the day when I came out of the house and noticed an amazing sight – in the middle of the driveway, poking up through all those inches of pavement, was a sprig of grass. I had, on many occasions, made the joke that I would one day blacktop the yard so I would no longer have to mow, so I realized at that moment the futility of that plan! But I also learned a lesson about strength and determination. Imagine the strength and determination of that small piece of grass to push its way through those inches of pavement.
There are many who have sought to hold down peace, love, and understanding over the centuries, but it can’t be done, and it won’t be done. These three qualities – very important spiritual qualities – are inextricably bound together. Each one depends upon the other, and each one is sorely needed today.
May God bring them to pass.