In the movie Miss Congeniality starring Sandra Bullock, each of the contestants is asked to state what she thinks our society needs most. Contestant after contestant answers, “World peace,” and the crowd cheers. Then Sandra Bullock comes to the microphone, and she says, “Stronger penalties for parole violators, Stan.” There’s stunned silence and crickets. So she quickly adds, “And world peace,” and the crowd goes wild.
It has become a cliché for beauty pageant contestants to talk about wishing for world peace. It’s the impossible dream, and yet one on which we mostly all agree. Paul’s prayer to end his second letter to the Thessalonians seems equally as cliché and impossible. Can there really be peace at all times and in all ways? With human beings on their own, probably not. But with God all things are possible.
Paul wants us to have more than just a piece of peace. The church in Thessalonica to whom Paul is writing is a community in crisis. They’re experiencing severe persecution. They’re arguing about when Jesus is coming back and how to be prepared for Jesus’ return. They’re not at all at peace. And yet Paul encourages them to have peace all the time and in every way.
Having peace starts with believing that peace is possible. Paul’s prayer says, “May the God of peace give you peace at all times and in every way.” Peace is possible because God is a God of peace. 1 Cor. 14:33 says that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Paul believes that peace is God’s will for our souls, but not just for our souls, but for the whole human race, and for all of creation. It’s not just the absence of war and fighting, but also justice and equity for all people – at all times and in every way.
Having peace all the time and in every way sounds huge – too huge to be accomplished. And yet it happens in big and small ways. If we all do a little, it adds up to a lot. That’s true for our offerings. If everyone gives a little it adds up to a lot. And it’s true for our efforts at peacemaking. Little steps can make a difference.
In this letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is concerned about those who are idle, who had given up on their usual pursuits because they thought Jesus was going to return immediately. Today we might be idle if we’ve given up on peace with God or with one another. The lack of peace in our world can be overwhelming. Psalm 34:14 encourages us to seek peace and pursue it. Don’t give up on seeking peace – for our souls, for our neighbors, for our world.
Relationships are an important part of peacemaking. We heard this in our conversation with Arn Froese. In a publication from our denomination about peacemaking entitled, “Seeking to be Faithful Together: Guidelines for Presbyterians in Times of Disagreement,” the very first step is to “Treat each other respectfully so as to build trust, believing that we all desire to be faithful to Jesus the Christ.” We may not all be on the same page about what exactly it means to be faithful to Jesus, but we need to trust that we are all seeking to be faithful to Jesus. In our conversations, we display that trust by not asking questions or making statements in ways that will intimidate or judge others.
We display that trust by listening. In my seminary class on pastoral counseling, we had to memorize Proverbs 18:13, “To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.” The professor started every class by having us recite that verse. Say it with me.
We sang earlier one of our favorite hymns, “It is Well with My Soul,” which speaks to the peace we have with God through our faith in Jesus Christ. But we don’t live by ourselves in a world devoid of other people. Peacemaking is about seeking peace with and for other people as well, trusting that peace and justice is possible because God is a God of peace, and God empowers us to work for peace.
What keeps us from having peace? What gets in the way of our peace?
Building trust is key. Building trust takes time. It takes listening. It takes commitment. It takes working on our relationships with people so that we grow in our understanding of one another.
Thinking back over my life to the times when there was a lack of peace got me thinking about a time early on in our marriage when my husband Rob and I were arguing with each other. There were lots of factors that contributed to this, and most marriages go through seasons of discord. At this point in time, we were living in a trailer park in Southern California in which the trailers were very close to each other, so we often heard our neighbors arguing, and so we knew that they also heard us arguing. That might have contributed. But as things got worse, we discovered that one particular fear was making difficult for us to find peace. We were afraid that one of us would leave. We were afraid of divorce. Though we had made a commitment to one another in our wedding vows, we weren’t sure how far that went. So we had to make a new commitment to one another that whatever the problem, leaving was not the solution, so that we could move past that fear and work towards resolving our issues. We had to trust that we weren’t going to give up on each other.
We make a similar commitment to one another as a church, that we’re going to work together and not give up on one another. And God makes this commitment to us. God promises to never leave us. That’s why Paul’s prayer for peace at all times and in every way in 2 Thessalonians includes these words: The Lord be with you. With God, peace is possible. In our hearts and in our world.
Peace is possible, and we will not give up on working for the wellbeing and peace of all people. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes us all working for peace in big and small ways.
I asked Arn Froese about peacemaking and here’s what he said: “Peace is not the absence of war. We know there is a personal internal peace we talk about, but peace also has to do with reestablishing equity and justice. The Old Testament prophets were wonderful for talking about what it means to have the rich people kind of look down on the poor people, not understand them, and assume that well if they don’t have bread they can eat cake. That’s not the Biblical story, but that’s an outcome of what we’re talking about. Peacemaking is seeking justice. Peacemaking is seeking equity. Peacemaking is working for building relationships and opportunities for people to aid them in their distress. And I will say that our church has been heavily involved in contributing to Honduras for probably 20-25 years through this Peace and Global Witness Offering, through the relationships that Carol (Froese) and I both have independently developed and then together nurtured with people and activities in Honduras.”
Notice that Arn says the relationship with Honduras has been going on for many years. Peacemaking does not happen overnight. It takes time. But let’s trust that peace is possible, because we trust in our God of peace. And let’s keep working for peace.
In all times, in all ways. Always.
 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged, pg. 209.