In Second Life, the International Day of Peace inspired an event called Spirit Fair, which was a combination of exhibitions and events over 48 hours. People of many faiths and philosophies worked together to provide this experience for the residents of SL, with around 2000 people visiting the Nirvana sim where the Fair took place. I was privileged to take part in the Fair as a representative of Anglicans of SL. In the Sunday noon service I shared something of that experience and about what James and Jesus have to say about peace and our walk as disciples.
The readings for the day were Psalm 1, James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a and Mark 9:30-37. My reflection is given below.
Friday was the International Day of Peace, a day when activities and celebrations took place all over the world. Peace Day was brought about by a United Nations’ resolution when the General Assembly opened in 1981. In 2002, 21 September was declared as a permanent date for the International Day of Peace. This year is its 30th anniversary.
This is part of what was said in the discussion about Peace Day in the U.N.:
Peace Day should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples…This day will serve as a reminder to all peoples that our organization, with all its limitations, is a living instrument in the service of peace and should serve all of us here within the organization as a constantly pealing bell reminding us that our permanent commitment, above all interests or differences of any kind, is to peace.
Within SL, the SpiritGate and Second Life Pilgrims projects gave birth to the Spirit Fair which has run since 6pm SLT on Friday and will continue for the rest of today, until the closing ceremony at 6pm SLT. It’s been a very ambitious project but seems to have gone very well.
There have been contributions to the program from many different organisations. I led prayers for peace at 2.30pm yesterday, being joined by some members of our community (a huge thank you for your support – it really meant a lot to me to have you there!) and by quite a group of others whom I have not met before. It seemed important to me that Christians, who worship the Prince of Peace, should be a part of this celebration.
The problem of war, and conflict generally, has been around for nearly as long as people have been around. The First World War was the ‘war to end all wars’ but of course it didn’t do that. Conflict continued through the Second World War and on to today. We only have to look at the news to know that there is no peace on earth at this moment. Peace Day was no exception with violence erupting in many parts of the world and people losing their lives.
The letter of James is pertinent to the problem of war. He looks at the cause of conflict and points to the cravings within human beings which lead to it. Having bitter envy and selfish ambition, wanting something, coveting it, and not being able to get it, leads to murder or disputes. Wars have been fought over ownership of land, over the craving for power and influence, over a wish to impose an ideology on others – the list is endless. Family disputes have arisen over inheritances, ways of bringing up children, being the most influential in the family, religion, choice of spouse, and so many other issues. If the person or nation (which is, of course, composed of people) cannot get their own way, force is resorted to. Violence between nations and between family members is far too common in our world. If not physical conflict, there can be a war of words.
Jesus points out the same problem which James highlights in his letter. He had spent a period of time preparing his disciples for the road to the cross, for the fact that following him would involve suffering and serving others. After all that input he found that the disciples, far from working at being peaceful, were arguing. He asked them what it was about and they were silent and ashamed. How could they so quickly forget what Jesus had been teaching them? They had seen Jesus, God incarnate, living a humble life. They had heard him anticipating a violent death at the hands of the religious authorities but the message had not hit home.
So Jesus began again, not purely with words, but with a visual aid. He brought a child and stood the child before the disciples and hugged him or her. A child was of no consequence in society at that time, a mouth to feed, someone who worked as soon as possible, much like a servant or slave. Jesus said that the disciples needed to be like that child. They needed to be prepared to be a nobody, nothing, almost unseen as a servant or slave in a household might be. Forget being the greatest, set aside ambition, and be prepared to be the last of all and servant of all.
What Jesus was asking of his disciples, and of us, is not an easy thing. However, we are not left without help. James explains the kind of wisdom that is available from God: pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. If we ask God, not to give us the good things in life, but to help us transform our characters, he will honour that request. The way to benefit from what God can give us is to submit to him. Submission is the opposite of striving to be the top of the pile, the important one, the influential one. Submission is a living under the authority of another, as a child does, or a slave. That is the way of life advocated by Jesus and James. That is the way to draw near to God and to distance ourselves from the evil that is so near to us.
When we observe the wars in the world we can feel impotent. Few of us are able to influence the course that world leaders take, though there are growing advocacy movements on the internet that help us to group together and express our feelings. We can pray, knowing God listens and wants to bring about peace. Something to bear in mind is that all conflict has its source in individuals and their attitude to others. We can do something about ourselves as individuals and if enough people change, the world will change.
Peace Day is also called a Day of Ceasefire. This refers to nations and to individuals. I invite you to consider any of your relationships that are not experiencing peace at the moment. Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ He also said that if we have a dispute with someone we should resolve it before coming to bring our offerings to God. I challenge you to forget your pride, your conviction that you are right, and declare a ceasefire with anyone with whom you are not currently at peace. That way we can each bring world peace a little closer.
You might like to light a candle on your way out as your part in the International Day of Peace or as your commitment to declaring ceasefires in your relationships.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor