Let peace begin with me

Beloved in Christ Jesus:

I greet you in the strong name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace. As I write and as you read we are in a season of remembrance and recollection of the horrific and life altering events of September 11, 2001. It is hard to fathom sometimes that this is the twelfth anniversary. As I reflect I call to mind where I was, what I was doing, what changed for me and what I am called to do in the shadow of unspeakable violence. I assume that you go through similar mental, emotional and spiritual processes.

What boggles my mind and weighs on my soul is not only the staggering cruel loss of life on September 11, 2001 but all of the lives lost since then in response to 9-11. It seems to drag on and on. We will be living with the affects for decades to come. So I bow my head in prayer and remember lives lost and maimed, uniformed and civilian, young and old, of every religion and no religion, a rainbow of color, nationality, language and culture. I am called to pray and work for peace in the name of him who came to break the cycles of violence in all of our lives – Jesus.

Clearly our praying and working for peace and nonviolence is not done as we watch the unfolding events in Syria. The world community awaits further verification of the use of chemical weapons and watches an all too long civil war and a verifiably oppressive government that has created an enormous refugee population. We all wrestle with what is the appropriate response of our nation and of the nations. Will any manner of military intervention break the cycle of violence in Syria? Have all diplomatic means of resolution been exhausted? What does a proportional response look like? What are the costs (financial, political, emotional, physical, moral and ethical) of action or non-action?

But while we await the decisions of those who govern let us not think our prayers, actions and advocacy for peace to be a small thing.  As we pray for a negotiated peace let us also engage in responding to the refugee crises, as well as speak forth the convictions of The United Methodist Church on matters like these. This is an excellent time to connect again with The United Methodist Social Principles.

While we remember 9-11 and watch for the what’s next in Syria there is a sense in which it all falls flat if we are only interested in peace when it serves certain strategic interests and is not connected to a lifestyle marked by the peace of Christ. To claim a desire for war and violence to cease in Syria, Afghanistan or wherever and not seek the cessation of gun violence in our communities or domestic violence wherever it rears its’ ugly head simply does not align for the Christian. It does not work. I say this because the capacity for violence is in all of us; in each of our hearts. All peace work must originate in every human heart and life. We must tend our souls by re-messaging ourselves after the pattern of Jesus Christ. It is hard work. But it is the path to a world made new. Everyday each of us who calls on the name of Jesus is called to pray that the “peace of Christ keep watch at the door of our hearts” (Colossians 3:15). The Common English Bible puts it this way: “The peace of Christ must control your hearts…”.

In my Middle School years I auditioned for and was selected to be a part of the Philadelphia Boys Choir. One of the songs that we learned in my first season and one that became our signature during that era was Let There Be Peace on Earth (see UMH 431). To this day I have the clearest of recollections of my first time singing with the choir and doing this as our closing number at Irvine Auditorium on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The words are still emblazoned in my mind because we memorized all of our songs. And what comes back to me frequently when I hum this song is the connection between yearning and praying for peace and praying “and let it begin with me”. I know the words because I memorized them with my mind. My daily challenge, and yours should you choose to accept it, is to know the words by heart.

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer
Resident Bishop, Ohio West Area

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