Walking in Peace in dark places
WALKING IN PEACE THROUGH DARK PLACES
READING: Isaiah 52, verses 7-10
FIRST REFLECTION: Walking in the Gospel of Peace
It was Kathleen Tessaro, writing of women wearing high-heeled shoes, who said that “there’s only so long a woman can be expected to bounce around on the balls of her feet before someone has to die….”
Wearing uncomfortable shoes never brought the best out in anyone. The science of reflexology has shown that what is going on in our feet affects what goes on in the whole of our bodies. And any osteopath, chiropractor or orthopaedist will tell you that if your feet are not comfortable, your posture will be poor, and this will cause problems for your whole skeleton.
Wear the right shoes and you stand a chance of being able to lead a normal, active life. Wear the wrong shoes and not only will you suffer but the chances are that you will make everyone else suffer too….
Which is perhaps why, when St Paul describes the “shoes” in the armour of God, he talks of us being “equipped.” “Let your feet be equipped with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.’
He may well have been thinking of those verses from Isaiah, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news and proclaims peace.” In the days before radio and television and mobile phones and satellite connections, the only way to get news was via a messenger. Fast-running young men were employed to take news of a battle or an invasion or a natural disaster from one leader to another. These messengers were the equivalent of our modern media and, just like our modern media, they tended to bring bad news rather than good….. What joy then, when a messenger actually arrived with some good news for a change.
Isaiah’s people were living in exile-rather like today’s refugees. Their homeland was in ruins after a terrible war. They had nothing to look forward to; nothing good to hope for. Then this messenger turns up saying, “God is with you. God is doing great things. You will return to your homeland and the whole world shall see your country restored.” Yes!
How do you think the people responded? Quite possibly with a degree of cynicism. “Oh yes, and how is God going to achieve all this? The Babylonian Emperor and his armies destroyed our country. The Persian Emperor and his armies destroyed Babylon. What is God going to do? Get us singing three verses of “we are marching in the light of God” and everything will be OK?”
You see, right here, right now, we, as a nation, in fact, as a world, are in a state of increasing chaos and despair. Global warming, the Australian bushfires, the widespread flooding and now the Coronavirus pandemic are steadily destroying our confidence in the life we thought we had and the life we thought we knew. And what can we as one small Christian community say or do to help? How can our faith in a mighty and loving God offer anything seriously useful to the world? When people are being saturated day and night by media coverage of death and disaster, who is going to listen to us?
Two things occurred to me when I was reading this passage:
First- that messenger was, in fact, telling the truth. Isaiah’s people did return to their homeland. And, against all the odds, the Persian Emperor not only gave them permission but also help and resources to rebuild their homes, their towns and their temple. So, this message was not sheer naivety. It was not religious propaganda. It was not “pie in the sky.” It was the truth. What was promised actually happened.
Second- there is no doubt that some messengers of old times, just like a great many media personnel today, were paid highly to say what certain people told them to say. There were messengers who were paid to give a far more pessimistic than realistic account of a battle to the King because those who paid wanted that King to surrender without too much of a struggle. Today’s media are paid highly in certain countries to promote only what their Government wish people to believe and in our country the media publicise what is most likely to sell. The recent cases of Caroline Flack’s tragic suicide and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to step down as senior members of the Royal Family in the hopes of protecting themselves and their child from media intrusion show just how much harm can be done by so-called “messengers” saying what they are paid most highly to say rather than reporting the truth.
As those who are called to be messengers of the Gospel of Peace, we cannot and should not use widespread disasters to hit people with God when they are down and use this opportunity to say, “see what happens when you don’t go to church.” Nor should we offer false promises along the lines of “come back to church and everything will be OK again.” In or out of church there are a lot of serious challenges to be faced and a lot of trouble to be endured.
But the same was true of Isaiah’s people. They were not promised a magic wand. Their return to their homeland had its fair share of trouble, challenge and, at times, despair when everything seemed to be going wrong. But a sentence I read recently said, “if God is still involved, then there is hope.” Because Isaiah’s people renewed their trust in God and believed the promise of return and renewal, they did not give up. The good news of peace shaped their hopes and their lives. That good news of peace made them ready to help and encourage one another. And so, the nation was restored, and the temple rebuilt. You can read all about it in the book of Nehemiah, which is reckoned to be historically true.
Our message to the world is that God is still involved. God has not given up on us even though so many have given up on him. We don’t have a magic wand to make all these disasters vanish but with faith and hope and love enough, we can help each other to find the way through. We can trust in God to heal and restore; lead and teach so that our world may be rebuilt on firmer foundations and our own lives may be as those whose feet are shod with the readiness-ready for anything- which comes from the Gospel of Peace.
““If God is still involved, then there is hope.” And so long as we remain people with hope, God can still be involved.
SING: How great is our God (the splendour of the King)
READING: John 4, verses 4-14
SECOND REFLECTION: Peace in Dark Places
If you glance through John’s Gospel, you will see that there are not many stories in it. Those few which are included have been very carefully selected. So why, we wonder, is this story of Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman so important?
In John’s day, the Samaritans were third class citizens. The Romans came first because they had taken over and now occupied the country. The Jews came second because they claimed both religious and historical rights over the land. The Samaritans, whose ancestors had once been Jews but who had broken away several hundred years earlier, came third. You could not get much lower than Samaritans.
Added to this, the person Jesus talked with was female. And in that culture, women were barely regarded as human, let alone anything like equal to men.
Add to this, the fact that this particular woman had a dubious history. She had had five husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband. Let’s face it, even in our own permissive society this would raise a few eyebrows and a generate a few sniggers. And at that time….just the fact that this woman had come to the well in the middle of the day, when everyone else would have been in the habit of coming in the evening when it was cooler, shows that she was not popular and that she knew it.
This woman was about as “low” as anyone could get in that society and Jesus, simply in speaking to her, was breaking precedent. While, to ask her for a drink was unthinkable for a respectable man.
So, why did he do it?
This whole business of, “The Gospel of Peace” has to start on the inside of a person. We know, don’t we, that no amount of time spent in peace talks – whether between nations, in the workplace or in the church- will be of any use unless the people themselves are committed to peace, believe in peace and are at peace in themselves. This is what Jesus meant by ‘living water:” a force of life, of cleansing, of renewal which would spring up in your life from the inside.
A huge part of human resistance to the Gospel of Peace is our own personal hang-ups. “This Gospel may sound good, but I am not.” “You may talk of God forgiving me, but I cannot forgive God.” “Good news of peace means nothing to me in this violent and hate-filled world.”
The Samaritan woman would have had a hard life by any standards. Brought up as female and a member of a despised race, her outlook on life would have been poor and her self-esteem non-existent. Her relationships with men had all failed and had cost her her relationship with the other members of her local community.
If Jesus had stood up in the market square and preached a powerful sermon to the whole community on living water, she would not even have stayed to listen. She would have hidden away, convinced that a preacher could have nothing to say that might help her.
And other holy men/ religious preachers would have shunned her. They would have felt that they had nothing to say, nothing to offer this woman who had made herself an outcast even from her “lowest of the low” community.
But the thing about Jesus was that his feet were fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of Peace. We are told over and over again that he was filled with the Holy Spirit- the very presence and power of God. His whole life-force was the Gospel of Peace. He lived to reconcile God and humanity. “I and God my Father are One and I want you to be one with us and one with each other.” This, according to St John, was the heart of Jesus’ message.
So, he was “ready.” Ready to meet this woman on her own territory; ready to speak to her in words she understood; ready to engage with her as a person deserving of respect; ready to offer her the living water he knew was in him and which he knew he could offer to her.
The woman listens, she asks questions, she becomes convinced that she is onto something really important here. And suddenly her own sense of self-worth springs up in her, just as Jesus promises, because she runs to tell all those neighbours who had refused to speak to her that they must come and meet this man. They come and talk with Jesus and, at the end of the story, they are saying to Jesus, “we believe in you ourselves now. We know your saving power in our own lives.”
The Gospel of Peace starts on the inside. The shoes of the armour of God are the base on which we stand- that while God remains involved, there is still hope. Hope for us, hope even for the people we most avoid, hope for the world.
This hope is the spring of living water which refreshes us, cleanses us and renews us day after day, no matter how dark the places through which we have to walk. And this makes us always ready to be messengers of the Gospel of Peace wherever we are and whoever we are with.
“there’s only so long a woman can be expected to bounce around on the balls of her feet before someone has to die….”
What is it in your life that is causing you to walk painfully, anxiously, uncomfortably? What is it that makes you impatient and short-tempered with other people? What is it that makes you want to stop walking and just give up on life altogether?
The armour of God is a gift from God to us. The shoes in that armour will keep us ready for wherever life takes us. The good news of peace, peace with God, peace with others, peace in the world, peace in ourselves, is a message to be trusted. And as a message to be trusted, it is a message to be shared.
Think of the person or people you find the most difficult. Think of that part of yourself you find hardest to cope with. And then remember that “if God is still involved, then there is hope.” So, walk now in hope through the weeks ahead.