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Peace is not confined by convention (December 10, 2023)

In this second week of Advent, communities around the world will speak of peace, but what do we really mean? How far-reaching is our understanding of peace? Chris Burton reflects.

Outlook Standard Lesson for December 10, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: 1 Samuel 17

For some time I have been thinking about the dissonance between peace as an ideal and the act of peacemaking. In this second week of Advent, communities around the world will speak of peace, but what do we really mean? How far-reaching is our understanding of peace? Peace as an ideal, is the cessation of trouble for all parties. Is this peace that we speak of, comprehensive enough to include our enemies (at least the people we don’t really like)?

I fear that we have limited imaginations of what peace can be. People will often say that they want peace without having a willingness to do the work of peacemaking. Our unwillingness and unreadiness to make peace will even lead us to criticize those who demonstrate an eagerness to make peace happen.

In 1 Samuel 17, we see the story of an unlikely peacemaker. Now, let’s be clear, David is no pacifist. He is a warrior through and through. His story is rife with violence to the point where it disqualifies him from being the one who builds a temple for the Lord (1 Chronicles 22). And this story, after all, is about a young boy who not only kills his opponent with a stone (v. 50) but goes on to use said opponent’s sword and remove his head! It says a lot about us – and our bloodlust – that this story has remained on the Sunday School Top 40 all this time.

Interestingly enough, in the midst of external conflict, this is a story about inner peace: a person becoming settled in their purpose. In 1 Samuel 16, David is anointed king after the Lord rejects Saul as king (v. 1). After Goliath challenges the Israelites to select a champion worthy to fight, David’s older brothers follow Saul into battle (v. 13). David, at this time a shepherd boy, is sent by his father Jesse to deliver food to his brothers (v. 17). Jesse has limited expectations for David. All he wants David to do is run some errands and bring back news about his brothers (v. 18). The task changes for David when he hears Goliath’s choice of words for the Israelites.

Peace is not confined by conventional thinking.

The Philistine champion, Goliath – as described in 1 Samuel 17 – has a height that would make Victor Wembanyama seem diminutive! He is as large as he is disrespectful. His defiance of Israel lands on David’s ears as defiance of God. David’s questioning of Goliath’s right to “defy the armies of the living God” (v. 26) eventually gets Saul’s attention. Saul immediately disqualifies David as “just a boy” (v. 33) and is not yet able to see how David’s experience is unconventional yet effective.

Even Eliab, one of David’s brothers, scolds David, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle,” (v. 28). Eliab’s angry questioning and Saul’s doubt of David’s ability could have put David in an existential tailspin. Who among us would not second guess ourselves when both the king and your big brother are essentially saying, “Nah, that’s not you”?

Yet David has peace because he knows he is not doing this in his own strength. His peace comes from knowing “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine,” (v. 37). David does not look for reassurance from these outside authorities, he relies on the authority that brought him through every challenge he has ever faced. David demonstrates where internal peace can take you. Peace is not confined by conventional thinking. While a battlefield seems like an unlikely place to find inner peace, this is where David’s understanding of his life as God’s instrument takes shape.

Peacemaking is a process, it is not always glamorous work. If you fixate too much on what things appear to be, you may get weary during the process of peacemaking. The empirical limits our ability to see what God is doing in and through us.

We have to guard ourselves against viewing peace through the mere lens of what we can accomplish.

God is the creator and continues to create with us as God’s instruments. This willingness of divine utility creates peace even in the most chaotic of environments. If anything, it should teach us not to give up on anyone, including ourselves. We have to guard ourselves against viewing peace through the mere lens of what we can accomplish.

If we reduce peace to our own ability or pursuit of success, our attainment of peace will be short-lived and limited. Yet, when we understand that God writes our story and is equipping us all throughout the story, there is no obstacle or challenge that can disabuse us of peace. Internal peace, God’s peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4) thrives when we ignore the noise and follow God’s calling on our lives. We are more equipped than we could ever imagine.

Questions for discussion

  1. When you consider your own journey, where are the spaces and activities that provide you peace?
  2. Is peacemaking an endeavor that exhausts you or inspires you?
  3. What are the unconventional tactics that you are using in your vocation?
  4. What are the challenges in your life that threaten to interrupt your peace?

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