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May the Lord give you peace!

Ordinary Sunday 7, 19 February, 2006
Brother Bruce-Paul SSF
Preached at St Peter's, Eastern Hill

Sisters and Brothers, "May the Lord give you peace!"

Saint Francis of Assisi[1] gave this greeting to his brothers to use when meeting people, entering homes, villages and cities. The people of his day found them a surprising and strange greeting. Their times were not peaceful at all. Their world was beset by civil and military violence; family against family, town against town, state against state, even civil authority against church authority. What did it mean to be told "May the Lord give you peace!"?

Francis never explained in detail what this peace meant. He, with his Brothers, and St Clare of Assisi with her Sisters, just went about creating spaces of peace. Many of the stories about Francis witness to this amazing ability to bring reconciliation, healing and peace for people and for creation. There is the story of Francis taming the fierce Wolf which terrorised the town of Gubbio in the mountains to the north of Assisi,[2] and also his strategy for converting the robbers who came in great hunger to the hermitage of Monte Casale above Borgo San Sepolcro asking for bread.[3] Francis had his brothers lay a table cloth on the ground for the robbers and serve them good bread and good wine and then speak to them some words of the Lord.

Some of you will know the Prayer that became known in France during the First World War, and often attributed to Saint Francis: "Lord make us instruments of your peace." This much loved prayer reminds us that the making of peace was central to Saint Francis' understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Francis understood God's mission as the bringing of peace and reconciliation into the inner and outer lives of people, communities, and nations. The costly love of God in Christ worked out on the cross of Calvary and proclaimed in the resurrection had made, and continues to make, peace with humankind and all creation. We celebrate this deep truth of our faith at every Eucharist. The goal of all God's gifts of healing and forgiveness is the peace of God that is greater than anything we can imagine.

Today the readings from the Second Prophet Isaiah (43: 18-25), Psalm 41, and Mark's Gospel (Chapter 12) focus our thoughts in various ways upon healing and forgiveness in times of questioning and conflict. Is new life possible when people and communities have been wounded by sin and betrayal caused by their own choices? Will God who is "source, wellspring, living water" bring sinful Israel to forgiveness and healing? Will Israel acknowledge her sinfulness, her brokenness, her sickness? Has she the courage to trust God to be reliable in generosity and grace for her future? Healing and new life do not come easily for Israel.

In the Second Letter to the Corinthians the question of the reliability of God's promises and Paul's promises arises. There has been conflict between the Corinthians and Paul. He had written some hard things to them. Now he reminds them that God does not say "yes" and "no" at the same time. In Christ God's promises are always a "yes" that can be relied upon.

In Mark 12, the four friends of the paralysed man, who are so determined to bring him into the presence of Jesus, practice their hope and faith in a very practical and imaginative way. Listen to them: "Oh! The crowd's too big. We cannot get through. Look up there. There's a way. Let's break open the roof and let him down." One needs a sense of humour to imagine the surprise of Jesus and the crowd, let alone the owner (perhaps a little indignant at what has been done to his roof!)

The action of the friends brings forgiveness, healing and a full human life for the paralysed friend, but it leads Jesus into conflict with the religious professionals; the ones who think they know how God works. "Why does this fellow speak in this way?" It is as if the words of Psalm 41 could be on the lips of Jesus: "All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me."[4]

But this Gospel passage also raises the connection between forgiveness and healing especially in relation to the authority of Jesus. We all need redemption. We all need the grace of repentance that turns us around to face Jesus and the God whose Son he is. We do have to do too much else but have the courage to turn or at least to want to turn. In every Eucharist we are given this opportunity. Healing and forgiveness follow. As one commentator writes of the friends of the paralysed one: "...faithful or trusting actions precede healing rather than coming as a result of healing."[5] Jesus says "Stand up, take up your mat and go to your home." In surprised wonder and amazement the people give glory to God. Perhaps some of them had a sense of the presence of God's peace.

Listen to this true story from a South African Truth and Reconciliation courtroom trial: "Transforming Terror"
"A frail black woman stands slowly to her feet. She is something over 70 years of age. Facing her across the room are several white security police officers, one of whom, Mr van der Boek, has just been tried and found implicated in the murders of both the woman's son and her husband some years before.

It was indeed Mr van der Broek, it has been established, who had come to the woman's home a number of years back, had taken her son, shot him at point blank range and then burned the young man's body on a fire while he and his officers partied.

Several years later, van der Broek and his cohorts had returned to take away her husband as well. For many months she heard nothing of his whereabouts. Then, almost two years after her husband's disappearance, van der Broek came back to fetch the woman herself. How vividly she remembers that evening, going to a place beside the river where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten, but still strong in spirit, lying on a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were 'Father, forgive them.'

And now the woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confession offered by Mr van der Broek. A member of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks, 'so, what do want? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?'

'I want three things,' begins the old woman, calmly, but confidently. 'I want first to be taken to the place where my husband's body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.'

She pauses, and then continues. 'My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr van der Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining within me.'

'And finally,' she says, 'I want a third thing. I would like Mr van der Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.'

As the court assistants come to lead the elderly woman across the room, Mr van der Broek, overwhelmed by what he has just heard, faints. And as he does, those in the courtroom, friends, family, neighbours all victims of decades of oppression and injustice begin to sing, softly, but assuredly. 'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.'[6]

May the Living Christ embrace us with his peace in this Eucharist. Amen.


Notes

  1. [Giovanni Bernadone] (1182-1226 CE).
  2. See "The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions XXIII", in Francis of Assisi, Early Documents, Volume 3, The Prophet, 482-485.
  3. The Assisi Compilation [115], in Francis of Assisi, Early Documents, Volume 2, The Founder, 221-222.
  4. Psalm 41: 7.
  5. Walter Brueggemann, Cousar and Newsome., Texts for Preaching Year B (Revised Common Lectionary), (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press 1991? ), 160.
  6. Mennonite Peace and Justice Newsletter, Keep the Faith Share the Peace (no date).


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