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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2015

Peace is what I want in my life above anything. Sometimes this commodity is relatively easy to come by and sometimes it is difficult. I remember as a child, I was always seeking compromise. I was the peacemaker among my brothers and sisters. When I was an editor, I had to help writers be at peace with how I had changed their documents for publication. At St. John’s when we have change, it is my job to listen to everyone and to see if we can come to consensus. We all want peace, and we will do anything to get it.

In Barbara Wien’s class on sex and world peace last week, she said that despite what we hear on the TV news and read in the paper, there is actually more peace in the world, according to researchers. People, many of them women, have taken on the violence in the world and demonstrated against it. They have worked to create enclaves of peace in their own communities. And they have exhibited peaceful behavior in their lives.

Behavior is the key to living in peace says James. Peace is not just a thought or even an attitude, it is lived out in action. And that action comes from wisdom. A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. We all have wisdom, and from that wisdom, we try to make peace. There is wisdom from above, from God, and there is human wisdom, which is earthly, unspiritual and devilish. That is the kind of wisdom that people who use violence to create peace have. That is the kind of wisdom ISIS has; the kind of wisdom the people who perpetrated the genocides in Rwanda have. That is the kind of peace the Nazis were trying for. The peace of getting someone out of your life who is different from you in politics or religion, so you can all live in a semblance of peace, because you are all alike and have the same values.

Wisdom of the earth is self-centered. Instead of God being the center of the world, you are. You have selfish ambition. You might not call it that, but selfish ambition is everywhere. Wanting to get ahead at the expense of others, wanting to get money through whatever means to be important and powerful, so you can have a hand in dictating what happens in your company or community or even the nation. What about being bitter because you want something someone else has. That is the awful envy that comes with earthly wisdom, causing quarrels and fighting. This kind of wisdom is not foreign to us. When our lives are disordered in our thinking and our acting, we are possessed of earthly wisdom. And this wisdom is not foreign to us even in the church community What about the person who wants to have the most powerful voice on the vestry or to say how worship services will go if we don’t want a mass exodus or to have a stranglehold on the building and grounds committee – though I don’t think that is a problem here. Earthly wisdom also extends to damaging ourselves. We can eat or drink ourselves to death in order to find false peace. We can spend all kinds of money on creams and lotions or get risky botox injections to try to make ourselves appear younger and more beautiful, thinking that will make us happy. James tells us that this peace is not real peace because sooner or later it wears off and we will begin to crave again for things that we suppose will make us happy and therefore peaceful.

Real peace does not come from earthly wisdom, but from heavenly wisdom. Heavenly wisdom brings gentleness and a good relationship with our neighbors. We have pure hearts, always seeking to do the will of God. We are willing to yield, that is, we are willing to let others be first, if they have good motives. We are not willing to let violence prevail or give into someone trying to manipulate people for their own gain. But we do not use violence to refuse them. We talk peace instead. We are full of mercy, of giving and caring and serving. As Jesus says in the gospel, that is in direct contrast to the greatest being the most powerful. Instead, the greatest in the kingdom are the servants, those who welcome even children in Jesus’ name and are probably especially attentive to them. Good fruits show the evidence of wisdom and its accompanying attitude of peace. One cannot seek have been given God’s wisdom without being motivated to act on it. The fruits of the Spirit will show themselves in one who is peaceful.

The refugee crisis in Europe is a good example of earthly wisdom vs. heavenly wisdom. The conservative Hungarian government is trying to keep refugees out by closing the borders and making it very hard to stop and stay there, while average Hungarians have set up help centers at train stations. One man does it because it was done for his family who came through Hungary after they left Lebanon during its civil war. Looking around and seeing all the people and especially their terribly damaged feet from walking, he said he had heard about this walk all his life because he didn’t experience it, but he didn’t think he believed how hard it was until he got to the aid station. The Hungarian citizens are merciful, but the government is not.

There was a piece on the editorial page of the Washington Post that compared prime minister Angela Merkel of Germany and her aid to the refugees and Donald Trump, a Republican candidate for president. Merkel, says Richard Cohen, is an “altogether humble woman of clear moral vision, leading her country in a humanitarian cause, telling her people that they can take in 800,000 to 1 million migrants”. Then there is Donald Trump, whose rhetoric “is seeded with schoolyard insults and bravado” He “struts like a martinet and has taken on the persona…of a hater”. Trump wants the country to be at peace through scapegoating immigrants and Merkel welcomes them. Human wisdom vs. divine wisdom.

James tells the recalcitrant members of the community that they do not have because they do not ask. And that’s just what they don’t want to do. While the peacemakers have sought wisdom from God, who is only too eager to give it, the cravers and selfish ones have tried to do everything themselves because they want to be independent and in control. All human beings yearn for peace, and asking God for wisdom is the way to get it, James says.

And if they do ask, the ones with earthly wisdom ask for the wrong thing, for more money to spend on pleasures (not all pleasures, just the unhealthy ones). Then they envy those that receive for whatever reason and they don’t. The only prayer that is successful all the time is “Thy will be done”. We can ask for whatever we want and that is OK, but we must acknowledge that God knows best.

We all want peace, however it may seem with the earthly wisdom crew. They just think they will get peace with having all that they want instead of enjoying what God has given them. But they won’t. And we find that out for ourselves when we try out earthly wisdom vs. heavenly wisdom. For James there is no middle ground. It’s either heavenly wisdom and peace or earthly wisdom and no peace. Hopefully, we have picked the former, but we may have some of the latter to erase from our hearts before we bear all the good fruits we are capable of. Let us pray intentionally for heavenly wisdom so we can experience true peace and influence others so that they may do the same and we can all truly recognize our hearts’ desire.


     - Rev. Ann Barker