Unfortunately, my French does not go much further than the basic phrases, so my sermon is in Dutch. Today I am speaking about Ephesians 2:17 He came to proclaim peace to you who are far away and peace to those who were near.
The basic question with this text, for me, is: what is peace? Is peace about the absence of war? Does it have to do with a society in which people from different backgrounds can live side by side? Or is peace about more than that? Menno Simons wrote the following:
The Prince of Peace, has taught his disciples nothing but patience and eternal peace, saying, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." His kingdom is a kingdom of love, or unity, or peace; and not of hatred, rebellion, and destruction. Blessed are the peace-makers He said. For the Spirit of Christ seeks no evil, but good; no destruction, but healing; no corruption, but assistance; seeks to live everywhere in peace with all mankind. "
I think this is really a beautiful piece of text. It really appeals to the imagination: when you go in search of peace, when you pursue eternal peace that does not necessarily have to implie the prevention of wars and violence. That is also important, but not the only one. I believe that the pursuit of a peaceful world begins with finding peace within yourself and with yourself. A nonviolent life also means that you do not violate yourself: it is about satisfaction or tranquility in your life. Accepting who and what you are. An inner peace.
This inner peace then continues into your daily life: if you find an inner peace, then you have the peace and ability to do good, to heal, to cure, to help. It is easier for a person with inner peace to follow the command: "Peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man can see God".
In short: it is likely that with an inner peace as a basis, you can work better on the peace around you. And this inner peace, this patience for others, that is what Jesus has given to His disciples, and thus also to us. "Peace with you" is the first thing he says to the disciples after his resurrection.
Finding, and especially keeping, such an inner peace does not come without thresholds and risks. It starts with being honest with yourself (always difficult). What are the things that you are struggling with? What are you being touched by? Are there matters that ensure that you do not have a 'peace of mind'? Like a job where you are not at your place? Where you are not appreciated for what you can do?
Changing jobs is a risk. But this risk would probably bring more inner peace - and therefore peace around you. Another risk is expressing annoyances, problems you have with certain people (something that I myself sometimes suffer from). Annoying someone else's behavior can cause a lot of stress, but when you calmly question this, you get rid of the irritation, and you create room for a better relationship with the other person.
Of course all this is very nice, but with inner peace the story starts. The next step is the peace around us. How do you achieve this? For this I read to you a second piece by Menno Simons.
We know also that the true Prince of Peace, has summoned and taken us into the mansion of peace through the word of peace; and that he has a glorious sign by which we shall be known to his disciples, namely, Love. Therefore it is reasonable that we should be united in the perfect bonds of true love, and that we should cling together as the members of one body. It is necessary to be aware, to repent, to seek each other in true Christian love, to resuscitate that which has been corrupted, to cure and make healthy that which is diseased.
This piece is about how we (as Christians) should deal with each other. The greatest sign of peace in and around you is love. This was Jesus' greatest commandment. To love one another, just as you love yourself. In a church / community we must be aware of what we do, regret mistakes, and seek each other in true love. So you focus on what went wrong, you heal what was sick.
As I said before: inner peace is only step 1. The next step is to form one group (together with your church, close or far away). A group that is aware of what it does, that forgives one another, and looks for each other in true love. Who leaves behind disagreements, always tries to listen to each other and each other's problems. Who together solves these problems, does not gossip, and does not undermine each other, but retains the community.
I also think this is a wonderful image for our worldwide Mennonite community. Although we all call ourselves anabaptist or Mennonite, there are also many differences between our communities. Not only between countries, also within national boundaries, within municipalities, there are differences in dogmatics, in religious experience.
And this could be a struggle, you can hurt each other - by misunderstanding. Precisely because faith is so close to your identity. But although we are sometimes (far) apart, it is important to keep searching, (and finding) each other, to try to understand each other.
But how do you do this? The most important thing is, I think, to keep in mind here what Menno gave us: it is important to look for each other in love. I would add: it is important that you listen to each other, really listen. To ask where the other person's views come from, what arguments he / she has for that. To listen to the answer - without wanting to give your own answer directly or to convince the other person of 'your faith and the like'. It is about respect for the other person's point of view, even if you might not agree with this. It is about courage, not being afraid to differ from each other.
Living together in love and peace also means that you have to allow some differences to coexist. To agree to disagree, and to focus on that which binds you. From this position you can work together again to the pursuit of a better world, heal what has gone to pieces, straighten what is broken.
I would like to end with the words of John 14:27, in the version of Taizé: My peace be with you, I give you my peace. Do not worry, my peace be with you, I give you my peace. Do not be afraid.