Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).
In the spring of 1652 Margaret Fell invited George Fox to attend her parish church in Ulverston, England. At the appointed time during the church service, when people from the congregation were invited to speak, George took the opportunity to denounce the puritan minister, William Lampitt, for leading the people away from God. He then held forth with a powerful, even disturbing message, “God was come to teach His people by His Spirit, and to bring them off from all their old ways, religions, churches, and worships…” The first part of the message, often worded, “Jesus Christ is come to teach his people himself,” describes the experiential basis of our religious society, and sets us at the feet of our living teacher. The second part of the message, at other times worded, “to bring them off from the world’s ways, and the world’s religions” speaks directly to the challenges of our modern day.
In Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the one “who will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 16:26). He goes on to say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
During our ten-month, around-the-world sojourn last year, my spouse, Minga Claggett-Borne, and I spent two months living and working at the Ramallah Friends School. Part of our ministry on the West Bank was to support the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). When I designed a flyer to advertise AVP to the wider community, I used one of AVP’s peace dove logos. Looking at the flyer, a Palestinian AVP facilitator told me that we could not put the peace dove on the flyer. In the Israel/Palestine context, the peace dove has come to symbolize what is called “normalization.” For many Palestinians and Israelis “normalization” is the acceptance of the current reality—meaning continued occupation, unrelenting fear, checkpoint harassment, expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank. “Normalization” is the end of any hope for justice for anyone. Sadly peace, as the world gives it, is now a casualty of the conflict.
So, what is this peace that Jesus left us—the peace not as the world gives? Has not the Religious society of Friends/Friends Church become just one more of the world’s religions? Have we not succumbed to the world’s ways of believing that good politics, better technology, and expanding economic opportunity will save us? Are we not facing what some call “the great turning” or, in even more apocalyptic terms, the end times? Just recently I heard a friend observe that prior to “the great turning” there is “the great unraveling.” In these days, we are witnessing the rise of authoritarian rule, endless wars, sectarian violence, environmental collapse. Are we not now seeing the death throes of the world’s ways and the world’s religions?
Over the last few months, I have been given a framework of hope that I would like to share with you this morning. The four components of this framework are: blessed assurance, divine disquiet, righteous rage, and holy obedience. These components could be thought of as a cycle, or perhaps as simultaneous truths pointing to eternal Truth. Struggling to find a personal response to these desperate times, this framework, these truths, infused with God’s grace, have helped ground me and have given me hope.
It is my faith and my experience that at the heart of everything, at the core of all creation, is a still point, a unity, an abiding love without condition. This is the divine center. It is a place where I know that I am loved for all of who I am—my present self, my potential being, and even my shadow side. I experience a deep peace, not as the world gives it. Throughout my life, in worship, in personal prayer, in the awe of a glorious sunset, in many, many ways, I am reminded of this still center, this divine grace. I am given blessed assurance, like the old hymn says, “a foretaste of glory divine,” and, with Julian of Norwich I can proclaim “all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”
At times, when I come into prayer or to meeting for worship with a jangled, disquieted spirit, the experience of being held in God’s unconditional love becomes a plum line for my soul. As I sink into the stillness of deep worship, I can let go of the disquiet and open to the direct experience of the Holy Spirit. As the light of God shines upon me, I can see the gaps in my soul. I see my own hypocrisy. I am shown the places where I am being asked to grow.
Awareness of divine disquiet, works outwardly as well. From my inward encounter with the peace of God, as I look outward, I see that much of the world is not at peace. That gap between blessed assurance and divine disquiet is where I hear the call to minister, the call to bring healing to our broken, unraveling world.
The cry for justice and for peace as Jesus would give it is reflected in our testimony on equality. The world’s ways and the world’s religions are controlled by systems, principalities and powers of domination and oppression. The structures of global empire make the gap between rich and poor, north and south, white people and people of color, grow larger and larger. Just as God heard the cries and groans of the Hebrew people under the Pharaoh’s oppressive regime, those cries and groans are reaching God’s ears today. When you see people—even ourselves and in our own families—suffering from war, famine, poverty, and disease, with no clear way to end the pain, one very human response is anger, even rage.
Growing up in a Quaker family, I heard the clear message that war is wrong. War is violence. Violence is anger. Anger is wrong. As a result, I still struggle with what I call “terminal niceness.” To act on God’s prophetic word is to break through that niceness, and not to be dismissed as just one of those people who have anger issues.
A popular quote that I’ve traced back to mid twentieth-century social movements in the United States, says that “if you’re not outraged, you are not paying attention.” When I speak of righteous rage, I am not talking about destructive anger, nor some holier-than-thou attitude that I have the most direct pipeline to what makes God angry. I am talking about the power of strong emotions. Emotions that focus anger and rage and make us pay attention. Emotions that shock us out of our numbness, disrupt our complacency, and upset a status quo that only serves the privileged. As we emerge from our protective shells, we begin to feel again, but very often that feeling is one of depression, one of being so overwhelmed by what’s going on, that we just want to hide; we want the pain to stop; we just want to live our lives in peace.
But what would that numb, complacent peace look like? In the final days before the fall of Jerusalem, leading to the 70 years of captivity in Babylon, God speaks to the Hebrew people through the prophet Jeremiah, challenging the world’s religion of his day, saying, “from the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:13–14). Are not these same prophetic words ringing out now, in our time? Caught up in our own hypocrisy, greedy for gain and practicing deceit, how have each of us, in our own ways, surrendered to the numbness and the complacency of the world’s religions, the religion of empire?
So, what is our response? What does it mean to face our own hypocrisy? What does it mean to give over our whole lives, to be a living sacrifice, to be transformed by the power of God’s love? To fully live into holy obedience, we need each other. We need to belong. We need to be supported. We need to be held accountable for our actions. Jim Corbett, a Quaker goat-herder and one of the founders of the Sanctuary movement for Central American refugees in the 1980s observed “individuals can resist injustice, but only in community can we do justice.”
As we hear and obey God’s call to holy obedience and faithful witness, our Friends Meetings and Churches are transformed into communities of resistance to the world’s ways and the world’s religions. We are given the tools to dismantle systems of domination and oppression. Based in compassion, healing and the radical inclusion of all peoples, we welcome those whom we have made the “other,” we engage with those with whom we disagree, we forgive those who have trespassed against us, we pray for those who persecute us, and we even love our enemies. Our ministry is to bring God’s grace and blessed assurance to all those who suffer from injustice and inequality.
Overcome the world
The text for the Section Meeting’s theme, “Living Peace,” also comes John’s gospel, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). By obeying God’s holy claim on our lives and on our communities, by attending to the disquiet in our souls, and by responding in righteous rage to the world’s injustices, we can live into the peace that Jesus gives us, encountering the blessed assurance that indeed, together, with God’s grace, we have overcome the world.