PEACE WITH GOD
Romans 5: 1-5
As we begin, please listen to this extended description of life in America:
We are told we live in the “age of anxiety.” …. We talk of peace but are confronted with war. We devise elaborate schemes for security but have not found it. …. For generations we have been running like frightening children, up first one blind alley and then another. Each time we tell ourselves: “This is the right one, this one will take us where we want to go.” But each time we have been wrong.
One of the first paths we chose was “political freedom.” Give everyone political freedom, we said, and the world will become a happy place.[ Others added being educated saying] Political freedom coupled with education will do the trick….Where has it led us? You know the answer. We are the most informed people in the history of civilization—and yet the most miserable. Our high school students know more about the physical laws of the universe than the greatest scientists in the days of Aristotle. But though our heads are crammed with knowledge, our hearts are empty. … America is also said to have the highest per capita of boredom of any spot on the earth. We know that because we have the greatest variety and greatest number of artificial amusements of any country. People have become so empty they can’t even entertain themselves. We have to pay other people to amuse them, to make them laugh, to try to make them feel warm and happy and comfortable for a few minutes, to try to lose that awful, frightening, hollow feeling—that terrible, dreaded feeling of being lost and alone ….We are a nation of empty people. Our heads are crammed full of knowledge but within our souls is a spiritual vacuum.
[Peace With God, Billy Graham, Doubleday and Company, pp.15-17.]
“What an assessment of our times!” you might say. And while that may be true, it was not said about our times. It was said by the Rev. Billy Graham about our country in 1953. 1953! Is there anything new under the son? Aren’t the conditions that many in America face today the same conditions people faced 60 years ago? Today there are still people looking for satisfaction; for happiness; and for one other thing: they are looking for peace in the turbulence of terrorists who infiltrate airlines and attack buildings; they are looking for peace in the anguish of the sudden death of a loved one; or they are looking for peace in the midst of marital or family or workplace squabbles. We are still looking for peace. Many people have written about it. One of them is Billy Graham. Another was the Apostle Paul. Let’s hear from Paul now.
He wrote these words to the Romans: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? Anders Nygren, an expert on this text from Sweden, writes:
When we hear the word ‘peace,’ it is very easy for us to think of it as expressing a certain subjective state of the soul. Peace is the opposite of disturbance and unrest. It is a calm, exalted, and peaceful mood of the soul….[But] for Paul, peace is not merely an inner condition. Peace is a concept that implies relationship.
So it is that difficult neighbors can throw hopes for peace out the window. Toward the end of our stay in our first Florida home, we would come home to under aged, unsupervised children handling their parents guns, children torturing lizards and other wild animals for fun, and parents who couldn’t curb their behavior. Because of that, we left our first home and are in our second Florida home. We could not keep coming home to such unrest. Good neighbors can bring a sense of security, peace, and comfort to your home. Difficult neighbors can bring fights over noise, or boundaries, or Property Association guidelines. They can create caustic relationships. In each of those difficult situations, peace is illusive.
You may have conflicts with your mother or mother in law; your father or your father in law, or with your children or those whom they married; or perhaps with your parents. Such anguish brings heartache and sometimes anger to all involved parties. It is the farthest thing from peace. And as Paul says, having peace with God is paramount. Part of having peace is with God is believing that Jesus paid for your sins; but even so, you have to be responsible for your actions, change our ways, and ask for forgiveness. Having a broken relationship with God, or with others, can spoil any chance for peace in your heart. Broken relationships with God, and broken relationships with others, can create true barriers to peace.
The late Dr. Dan Taylor, founder of our Presbyterian Counseling Center, often recommended books he had read to help pastors with their own personal issues or professional issues. One day he came to our meeting and said, “I just read the most remarkable book, and I recommend it to you. It’s called Make Friends with Your Shadow: How to Accept and Use Positively the Negative Side of your Personality.” So of course, we want out and bought it, and relished it. The author was Dr. William A Miller who was Director of the Department of Religion and Health at Fairview Hospital, Minneapolis, and supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education. He contended that the side of us that chooses dark over light and wrong over right is part of our soul that we should not deny, but instead come to know it, acknowledge it, and manage it. He said that people who do those things are much more at peace, not just with others, but with themselves. In one chapter he says:
Making friends with your shadow will be sure to get you in touch with your earthiness and saltiness. It will put your feet on the ground and take your head out of the clouds. It will orient you to reality and make you a solid person. It will put you in touch with your natural and primitive side, as well as your body, and help you along the way to wholeness. [It] helps facilitate your acceptance of yourself as a less-than-perfect human being. We have a dark side; we are not all light. Of course I am a decent person, but I am sometimes a louse….I trust, but I also doubt….I succeed and I fail. I create and I destroy.
CPE specialists like Dr. Miller really do help us to be honest with ourselves, encouraging us not to always present the side of ourselves that shines like gold, without acknowledging, at the right time, that parts of us stink. That is called being genuine, or authentic, and those who don’t do that can be spotted a mile away by many who have a sixth sense about such things. Teenagers and college aged young adults are especially good at spotting phony people. Trying to always shine will not lead you to peace. Having times when you go on your knees to God, or hat in hand to other human beings and admit that you were wrong, are times when peace can pervade your life.
But when it comes to knowing the human soul, few people get to the heart of the matter like Billy Graham did. All this year we have told our Confirmation Class what an extraordinary thing they and their parents are doing. There are places in the world like our schools that help students to excel in scholastically; there are places such as after school sports that help students excel physically. But many students in our school have atrophied or underdeveloped souls unless they have had religious guidance and challenges. Churches, for example, have teachers who are experts on the soul: that part of the human race that helps people: 1) think about their moral choices, 2) to consider that a loving Creator made them, and: 3) recognize when their shadow side shows up, they will need to ask for forgiveness through their Savior Jesus. As our Confirmation students stand up front today without their parents’ presence or their answers, they themselves will affirm what they believe. Among their affirmations: that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. Only when people affirm that do passages like Romans 5 make sense. Pastors, Christian Educators, Sunday School Teachers, and Youth Leaders, along with parents, are in charge of molding and making the soul of children get transformed from a blank slate to being one that honors God and loves their neighbor, and knows why they do both. Without such nurture, me-first narcissism remains in the soul that has not fully developed from childish view of the world, Children believe they are the center of their own world when they are one, two, or three. But we are not supposed to stay at that age spiritually or emotionally. When our souls grow and develop, we can find peace with God and with others.
Today, keep tending to your soul. Discuss situations between right and wrong; remind yourself of any Sunday School classes you may have had, and consider going back to learn more. Get into groups like Disciple classes where you can share your successes and your failures. And consider claiming Jesus as your Savior if you have not already done so. If you do those things, you will be on your way to finding peace with God.
Let us pray: Dear Great Listener and one Who Responds: you know exactly how to find peace in our souls. Yet with so many voices and so-called “experts,” people can be misinformed or uninformed. Open the souls of those ready to grow and learn, that they might be souls for Jesus Christ, with eyes for hurting people and for our wounded and misguided world. We give you the glory for all of our efforts through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner May 22, 2016