I used to look down my nose (literally) at those “Co-Exist” bumper stickers because my mind has always gone to the big push for tolerance — tolerance of every stripe and color and doctrine. In other words, line up all your belief systems on the shelf and pick one; they’re all equal. But lately, it’s begun to occur to me that in some ways I, too, could be wearing the “Co-Exist” sticker. Kind of like my life-long love affair with chocolate, I crave peace.
For most of us, the message and music of Christmas heralding the arrival of the Prince of Peace, seem to usher in a temporary sense of peace: estranged relatives are cordially seated side by side at the family dinner table; politicians (and maybe even church-goers) seem more eager to reach across the aisle; and neighbors are more inclined to linger to greet one another before closing the garage door. But scarcely have the candles been blown out on Jesus’ birthday cake when in many homes and families (and tribes and nations) the truce has ended, opposing positions are resumed, and polarization returns.Jesus gave enough clues to His followers regarding peace, that we should not be surprised when war breaks out in the family, the neighborhood or among nations. He warned that in this world we will have troubles. “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice … I have said these things to you, that IN ME you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So, why is peace so illusive in our families — and in our churches? Jesus made it crystal clear in His Sermon on the Mount that His peace is not passive; it is not peacekeeping — an avoidance of conflict at all costs. Co-existence. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
This is an unsettling thought. Not only is peace a part of the package God gives me in putting His Spirit in me (Galatians 5:22), but it is incumbent upon me to stretch out beyond my comfort zone to make peace in my relationships. The apostle Peter wrote, “… seek peace and pursue it.” (I Peter 3:11) In other words, go running after it! Before those words began to bore their way into my heart, I had been fond of the “let sleeping dogs lie” kind of thinking.
Obviously, to be a peacemaker will exact more from me than I have often been willing to extend. But in facing the New Year, I am challenged by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore … urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Fortunately, in that marvelous package — the gift of His Spirit — is the big gift — LOVE! Enough love to nudge me beyond loving those who love me, and co-existence where there is estrangement to pursue/chase the bond of peace.
Will you join me in this pursuit?