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Spirit of Peace - 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

The Rev. Cameron Partridge

3rd Sunday After Pentecost - Proper 5A: Genesis 18:1-15;

Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:23

June 18, 2023

Come, Holy Spirit: rest upon us with your peace. Amen.

Good morning, St. Aidan’s.

When I was a sophomore in college, I had a combination photo and quotation that I kept taped to the bulletin board over my desk. The photo was from a camping trip the previous summer in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe. A surprise snowstorm had hit on June 15th, delaying our start by a day. A few inches of fat, fluffy flakes had descended upon Echo Summit, and early in the morning as the storm cleared, I walked down to the dock took a photo of mist – or was it sublimating snow? – rising off a mirror smooth Echo Lake. Taped to that photo on my desk was a quotation (cut out from Forward Day By Day, I believe) that read “Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm” (Mark 4:39). Every day as I sat down to do my work, write in my journal, or pray, I would look at it. “You love peace,” a college friend wrote to me in those days, and it’s true. I do. Not false peace. Not avoidance in disguise. But the peace of still waters through which you can look at depth. The peace of God that passes all understanding, that flows through all things, that upholds us when we are weary, that strengthens us when we feel faint, that encourages and sends us out into challenges we cannot imagine how to navigate.

Perhaps it won’t surprise you, then, that among the many aspects of our long gospel reading this morning, the sentence that particularly captured my attention was Jesus’ statement, “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you” (Mt 10: 13). I’ve ruminated on that sentence off and on for quite some time, aided by the fact that the Vital and Thriving program prompted quite a lot of dwelling with the Gospel of Luke’s version of this same story over the past year and a half (Luke 10:1-12). The context for this statement is Jesus’ sending forth of the disciples to share the good news of the nearness of the divine reign, the “kingdom of heaven” as Matthew puts it, the dream of God as Verna Dozier calls it, drawing upon the phrasing of fellow theologian Howard Thurman. Jesus is not simply telling them to go, but to go in radical contingency, with limited clothing and no money, staff, bag, or sandals. When they come to a household that seems “worthy,” what they bring is themselves, their charge, the good news, and their peace. Jesus is not talking about some sort of generic peace here—it is specifically their peace. That it can “rest on” a household lends it an almost substantial quality, quasi-vaporous like the sublimating snow at Echo Lake. This peace travels with them when little else does. It can extend out into a dwelling place. Conversely, those who abided in particular places could experience the peace carried by their visitors, exuding from them, coming to rest upon their households. Such peace could be shared. Intriguingly, Jesus says that if a house turned out not to be worthy of the disciples’ peace, they could take it back—one of my commentaries actually used the word “rescind” for this action.[1] I get the image of a kind of vaporous yo-yo—a flick of the wrist and it’s back in your pocket.

But what, in all seriousness, is this peace? Where does it come from? It may be obvious to say it is from God. But in perusing commentaries on this passage, I was struck by an early Christian reflection by the fourth century theologian Hilary of Poitiers (not someone I usually consult!).[2] He wrote specifically of the role of the Holy Spirit in the disciples’ sending forth, and in their peace. Looking back at the beginning of our passage, he notes the compassion that Jesus had when he saw the crowds attending his teachings and healings, as they were buffeted about like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36). But for Hilary, Jesus’ compassion emerges not simply from observing the crowd being lost, but from their need for what he calls “the guardianship of the Holy Spirit.” What a fascinating phrase. He continues, “Although the fruit of this gift was most abundant, nothing had yet been harvested. For the Spirit’s abundance surpasses the multitude of those who draw on [her]. If everyone gathers as much as [they] need there is always enough to give generously.”[3]The Spirit’s abundance lends to this launching of the disciples’ journey a quality reminiscent of the multiplication of the loaves (Mt 14:13-21). It is the Spirit who powers the disciples’ movement out into the fray; the Spirit who, in her own infinite generosity, illumines the unlimited quality of the Good News itself; the Spirit who extends from household to household as the source of our peace, drawing us near, inviting our joining, our participation, our enactment of the divine dream.[4] It is the Spirit who grounds the disciples’ peace that Hillary describes as “the very heart of compassion,” a turn of phrase that hearkens back to Jesus’ original response to the crowd.[5] Peace, grounded in compassion, in mercy, drives the disciples’ mission. It is the Spirit in which they are sent out.

I cannot but think here of Paul’s comments on the Spirit in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans (not the passage of today’s second reading). He comments there that “to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6b). But more particularly, I think of this wisdom: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). The Spirit is on a mission of mercy, dear friends, and we are caught up in it. We are invited constantly to dwell in it, to let its peace rest in us and to share it with one another, to let it rest on our beloveds, on God’s beloveds.

Peace as a quality of the Spirit that we carry with us, that we offer one another in holy exchange, is linked to the hospitality to which God calls us, both as those who offer it and who receive it. Hospitality is clearly at issue in the Matthew story, as the disciples approach various households and issue their peace. Hospitality is also at the heart of our story from Genesis in which Abraham and Sarah welcome divine guests, mysteriously plural and singular. In that story, peace exudes from the moment of the meal as Abraham stands by as they eat under the tree and Sarah listens just inside the tent. Peace also lends humor to their exchange, as the Holy Ones respond, “oh yes you did laugh” when she issues an unconvincing denial (Genesis 18:15). The peace of this household, in holy exchange with God’s own peace, opens doors to mystery. It strengthens hearts for untold journeys.

And then, of course, there is The Peace. As in the moment in Sunday worship that bridges the liturgy of the Word and Communion, when we leave our seats and greet one another in God’s peace. It is an ancient Christian practice, reclaimed as of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I remember the rumbling when it was instituted – we did not do it in my parish growing up, and I remember first encountering it awkwardly on a youth group visit to another Episcopal parish. Leonel Mitchell’s theological commentary on the Book of Common Prayer says, “[the Peace] is not a ‘folksy’ greeting of one’s friends and neighbors but a solemn liturgical rite.”[6]Good luck with that! But in all seriousness, however “folksy” or solemn, this ritual practice expresses the idea of peace as something we carry, that we can exchange, that grounds and sustains us not in individual silos but in community, as a people drawn by the Spirit into spaces such as this and into the world to be bearers of God’s dream. We need that peace. We need to share it.

I appreciated watching the peace flow online yesterday midway through the Diocesan celebration of Juneteenth, at which the Reverend Eric Metoyer, dean of the San Francisco Deanery, preached a rousing sermon. There was something powerful about seeing people from around our Diocese, including our friends from St. Cyprian’s who I could see in the front row, leaving their pews, hugging, shaking hands, or bowing to each other, connecting at this moment in the life of their communities, the wider life of our diocese, and of our country. The peace sustains us as we remember crucial history year by year, and join one another in order to be changed and galvanized by it.

The peace that is specifically our peace, a peace that rests with us, is something we are meant to claim and carry. It is our grounding, source of strength, a core from which our call to action springs. It can be a crucial buffer when we are too raw to engage, when we need to step back and wait. It is, as Hilary of Poiters suggested, the very heart of compassion, infused by the Spirit whose abundant life draws us out into the world in the enactment of God’s dream, God’s justice that, as Eric Metoyer shared yesterday, is bountiful and wide. May the deep peace of God be always with you. Amen.

[1] St. Hillary of Poitiers Commentary on Matthew, trans. D. H. Williams (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2012)Ch. 10, Section 6, p. 114 [2] I was inspired to read more after coming across a quotation on our gospel text in ed. Manlio Simonetti Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1a, Matthew 1-13 (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001), 198. [3] St. Hillary of Poitiers Commentary on Matthew, Ch. 10, Section 2, pp. 110-111 [4] To be clear, I am grafting Hillary of Poitier’s language and imagery into a contemporary, liberationist slanted framing of the Good News and of the Reign of God, and intentionally not taking up how he interprets the notion of “unworthy” households. [5] As translated in ed. Manlio Simonetti Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1a, Matthew 1-13), p. 198. Alternately translated “found in the very midst of mercy” in St. Hillary of Poitiers Commentary on Matthew, Ch. 10. Section 9, p. 116. [6] Leonel L. Mitchell, updated by Ruth A. Meyers, Praying Shapes Believing: A Theological Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer (New York: Seabury Books, 1985, 2016), 164.

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