by the Rev. James Derkits
This past summer it seems that every day the evening news brought us stories of more killings. Increasingly, I felt overwhelmed, sick, and helpless. But I also was pushed to pray. Since I could not turn back time and somehow save the senseless killing, the ripping apart of God’s family, I invited people near to me to gather and pray for peace.
Then I felt another weight: how are we to pray for peace? I was frozen not by the need for peace and the end of senseless killing, but by another ripping apart of God’s family: the political climate in which we live. There is certainly no peace there. Public discourse rips us apart on a different level. It seems that the ones to whom we are to turn for governance are at such opposition, it led one musician to call them “Demo-Crips and Re-Blood-icans” referencing the gang-like mentality (Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly). Would someone out there be offended if we pray for peace? What does peace even mean? Then I realized, we are not of that world. We are the church. We speak for a different kingdom, a kingdom whose mission is peace and reconciliation. A mission to restore all humanity to God.
I turned from there to others who have written about the quest to live the Peace of Christ in the midst of a terrorized world. Stanley Haurerwas wrote during the Cold War, regarding his church’s stance on nuclear war. He said the reason Christians should promote peace has nothing to do with secular reasoning, nor even the hope of survival. Christians are not about survival; we follow Jesus Christ, who gave up his life in order to save. We are to promote peace because Christ has already saved us. Instead of looking to the world to find an alternative to war and fighting, the church is the alternative. Christians, followers of Christ, are to be the peaceful alternative (The Hauerwas Reader ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, pg. 429.)
The Kingdom of God, of which we are citizens by our baptism, is about living the peace that Christ has already given us. So prayers for peace begin with prayers to live peace from the inside, where we have enthroned the King. There, from within, we might live out our baptismal covenant in the midst of our relationships. To live in the Kingdom of God is not to look outside to the world for salvation, it is to live the salvation that we have already been given. We cannot turn to the capitol to find peace; we have to turn, time and time again, to Jesus as the source of peace, to live as resident aliens (to borrow from Hauerwas again) wherever we find ourselves in the world.
I am not advocating removing ourselves from society, as some monastic movements have modeled before us. I’m advocating for the more difficult task of being a reconciling presence wherever we find ourselves. Consider how much Good News you take in as compared to how much bad news, or simply secular news, you listen to, watch, or read. Is it at least balanced? Would you say you spend as much time in prayer or with the Scriptures as you do engaged in the 24-hour news cycle?
I’m not even advocating for listening exclusively to Christian radio or television; I’m advocating for going to the source, and going to church, participating in, and taking discipleship seriously, learning the way of Jesus, and finding ways to live his teaching.
At our prayer service this summer at Trinity by the Sea, we sat and prayed for the peace of Christ to well up within us, and then to help us to see the world as God sees it. Our police chief, members of our bishop’s committee, faithful church goers, and strangers to the faith, for a moment, sat still with God in the kingdom. We sought leadership from the Holy Spirit, not institutional plans from government. We realized, in that moment, that Christ had already won the battle and has offered us a way of living in his kingdom that might spread peace person to person, relationship to relationship.
The kingdom of God is not of this world, but through the church, it might be more realized in this world.
For your own reflection:
Well, do you spend at least as much time in prayer and scripture reading as you do watching or listening to news?
As you read the morning newspaper or watch the evening news, make it a practice to pray for those you learn about who are in need of God in their lives
The Rev. James Derkits is vicar of Trinity by the Sea Episcopal Church in Port Aransas TX, where he has served for four years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.