Peace in the midst of Chaos

Monday 9 August

With Malcolm Duncan

Rev Duncan is the Lead Pastor of Dundonald Elim Church who is an author, broadcaster, lecturer, advocate and international speaker. He is passionate about helping Christians understand their place in the wider world and helping them to flourish in life and in service of Christ.  Here New Horizon Media Team brings you a summary of his message.

What does peace look like today? What does peace look like in this land? What does it look like in our lives and homes?  What does peace look like for our parents and the stories they share?  And what will peace look like for our children?

What does peace look like for the broken-hearted mother?  What does peace look like in Ballymurphy and Ballybeen?  What does it look like on the Shankhill and on the Falls? What does peace look like in this centenary year?  And what will peace look like for the next 100 years?  

Tonight we heard a passage read to us from John’s Gospel. When everything around was in chaos, Jesus says to His disciples, “My peace I leave with you… Do not let your heart be troubled.”

Tonight I want to talk about peace in the midst of chaos – peace within us.  

Is peace simply the absence of conflict or is it the presence of something else?

The passage in Isaiah 9 echoes down through the centuries:  “A child has been given to us… and His name is the Prince of Peace.”

 Is that possible?  What does it look like in our public squares, in our politics, in our education, in families and in our marriages?

Peace for me is rooted in Christ Himself, in His message, in His death and His resurrection. Can this beautiful island called Ireland be ever known for peace?  Can the body of Christ on this island be a symbol of peace to the world?

The land of saints and scholars is also a land of sinners and scars.

Can peace be possible in the most conflicted of situation? Can the peace of God that goes beyond human understanding be evidenced in the church on these shores, amongst our people?  I think it can but only God can do it.

Operation Demetrius began 50 years ago today with the mass arrest and internment of 342 people, sparking four days of violence including  the death of 11 people in what became known as the Ballymurphy massacre. Is peace possible in a land that is scarred like this?  

45 years ago Anne McGuire’s children were alive and happy. But 45 years ago tomorrow they were dead, hit by a car driven by an IRA man that swerved when he was fatally shot by a British soldier. Betty Williams, a Protestant, was so moved by the incident she later wrote, “Those children, their deaths burst a dam inside me. It wasn’t that God whispered in my ear or anything daft like that. But He told me to get off my butt and do something about this senseless and useless loss of life. The violence must be stopped. If I thought my own son would take up the gun to kill, I would give him a cyanide pill. I would destroy what I gave birth to if he tried to take the life of another.” 

Within two days of the tragic event, Betty had obtained 6,000 signatures on a petition for peace and  with the children’s aunt, Mairead Corrigan she co-founded  Women of Peace which later became  the Community of Peace People.  History was being made.  People were saying, “We do not want to be divided.”  It was a cry from the heart. It was a cry for peace. It was a beautiful day.

And yet now here we are in 2021 and still peace seems elusive. We live with an unsettled peace o.  Across the UK and Europe issues like Brexit and Covid-19 still threaten our peace. Is peace possible in this chaos? 

I know some are saying, those are all geo-political issues but what about peace in my family, with my husband, with my children,.. what about peace in myself.  

In Patrick Radden Keefe’s book Say Nothing –  A True Story of Murder and Memory, he writes, “Much of the landscape is dominated by peat bogs… the past in Ireland can be subject to macabre resurrection.  The bodies date as far back as the bronze age. These victims have surfaced vividly intact…”

Seamus Heaney once harvested peat as a boy and he described the bogs as a landscape that remembered everything that happened in it and to it. If we are to be Christians in this land, we need to see what has happened in this land and to this land. In his poem, Whatever You Say, Say NothingHeaney wrote…

“Religion’s never mentioned here”, of course.
“You know them by their eyes,” and hold your tongue.
“One side’s as bad as the other,” never worse.

Northern reticence, the tight gag of place
And times: yes, yes. Of the “wee six” I sing
Where to be saved you only must save face
And whatever you say, you say nothing.

Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us:
Manoeuvrings to find out name and school,
Subtle discrimination by addresses
With hardly an exception to the rule

That Norman, Ken and Sidney signalled Prod
And Seamus (call me Sean) was sure-fire Pape.
O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod,
Of open minds as open as a trap

This is a land where peace seems to be elusive, and yet it is a land where there is hope like with Joan’s church in south Belfast. And like a thousand other churches were men and women are working day and night to bring peace, to carry peace. 

What does Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s gospel have to say to this land, to my family, to your family and to the world in which we live?

Twice, Jesus mentions peace in His farewell message to His disciples.  The first we read this evening, “Peace I leave with you…” and then towards the end of the discourse in John 16, He tells them, “In me you will have peace, take courage I have conquered the world.”

First is a promise of peace in the midst of growing uncertainty

Jesus wants to prepare them and says, “My peace I give to you.”  Peace is Jesus’ great gift to His disciples.  Tonight Jesus offers the gift of peace amidst our growing uncertainty. Uncertainty can drive us to panic or to trust.  

Peace and panic cannot co-exist.

Secondly it is peace in the midst of growing opposition

In John 16 Jesus says, “In ME you will have peace.”  It isn’t a surprise that peace doesn’t exist in other places. Persecution can makes us run away from God or run toward God.  Christ calls us to be forewarned about the troubles we will face. But when He is with us, we have peace.  

In John’s gospel, peace is only mentioned in one other chapter in John 20 when Jesus meets His disciples after He has been raised from the dead.

Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  Fear makes our world smaller.  Only faith can make our world bigger. The presence of Jesus Christ drives away fear and brings with it peace. Politicians cannot fix Northern Ireland.  Education cannot fix this island.  We have a shared island.  We have a shared future.  But only one person can bring such a peace.  

Peace is not an idea it is a person.  

He comes and lives with us and as Christians, He comes and lives within us.  The peace we need for our culture, our community and our families, is the peace that we need for our souls.  We cannot be a community at peace until something changes within us.

Jesus also says, “Peace be with you.  As the father has sent me, so I send you.”  We are sent as peace-bearers.  We are loved by peace, embraced by peace.  In our mission to our island, we go with the call of God upon us.  We go, knowing that He has given us peace.  Battling in our own strength will lead to exhaustion. 

The last mention of peace in John’s gospel is when Jesus comes to meet Thomas.  Here is a man who is honest about his questions and Jesus meets him with a promise of peace. This same hope is offered to you and me. Once we have received it, we can share it with those around us.  

Peace doesn’t start somewhere else; it starts in me.  That peace is given to us through Christ:  His death, resurrection and victory.  

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless (or peace-less) until it finds its rest in thee.”

Saint Augustine

The call to be people of peace begins in our disordered lives. I must learn to rest in the peace that is already given to me in Christ. Peace is not something I strive for; it is something I live from.  It roots me in the storm. When my life is in chaos, peace holds me strong because Jesus is my peace. Our society needs people who are a non-anxious presence but to be that, we need to rest in the Presence of the Prince of Peace.

Martin Luther King famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that… Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that.”  

I would go one step further and say. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness over the light of Christ can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only the love of God can do that.”

Tonight, wherever you are, however broken your life may feel; peace begins with the acceptance of an out-stretched hand, a strong and steady outstretched hand, a nail-pierced outstretched hand – the hand of Jesus.

Tonight Lord, for women and men whose lives are gripped by chaos, may the outstretched hands of Christ bring peace. For communities fractured and for societies broken, may we be people of peace. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen

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