Luke 10:1-9; Ephesians 4:1-6
The tradition is ancient. The tradition appears in many cultures. Muslim people greet each other, “Peace be upon you.” Jews greet each other, “Peace be upon you.” In many far eastern cultures the greeting is Namaste – the divine in me bows to the divine in you. In each case, the greeting calls on the Holy One to look upon the other with grace, and love. And when we wish that, out loud, to another, it happens. Peace, connection, is created between us.
[Genesis 18:1-8] Once upon a time, a man named Abraham was camping under the great oaks of a small oasis with his wife, Sarah, and their sheep-herders. The often barren desert had become their home, such as it was – always temporary, always in a tent, ready to move whenever the food or water gave our. They owned no land, had no place to call their own. God had sent them here, but the land had not welcomed them. Life had been so hard, and demanded so much of them that they had not been able to produce a family. Yet, they continued to follow their sheep, and to live on what the sheep provided for them.
Abraham and Sarah provided well for themselves, but they had no future. There was no reason to put down roots. They would wander these hills until they died. And then they would be no more. They had no children to teach their skills, they had no children to care for them in old age, they had no children to whom to pass on their treasure and their knowledge. And so, they were bereft.
But God kept coming to Abraham and Sarah with dreams and visions of hope. God’s grace was upon them. So it is no surprise that one day, across the desert, Abraham began to imagine that he saw the figures of three people, shimmering in the watery desert mirage – three people, getting larger and more distinct, despite the wavering, shimmering distortion of the desert. No, surely this was real! People were coming his way. He ran out toward the illusion and sure enough, there were real people emerging out of the dream. He bowed down to the ground, honoring these unknown guests. “Please, let me serve you,” he begged them. Abraham greeted these strangers with peace. He bowed to them, acting out his respect. He and Sarah prepared the best food to feed them. They gave them the best place in the shade. Peace was not just their greeting, it was their behavior toward these strangers.
In the end of the story, the blessing of peace was returned, and Abraham and Sarah were given the gift of their heart’s desire – a son. We could say that it all began with a greeting of peace. Abraham was prepared to greet whatever, whoever came his way with all the generosity he possessed. He shared peace. And it opened the door to more blessing.
Jesus knew this story. Jesus was one of uncounted millions of offspring which came to Abraham’s tent beginning that day. He was a child of Abraham also in spirit, full of hope and vision of God’s goodness, waiting expectantly for it at every turn.
And so one day, it happened that Jesus sent his followers on a journey, much like God had sent Abraham on a journey, to spread God’s way of peace – healing, wholeness, love and well-being. They were to go into the communities to bring peace – cure the sick and tell the people it is because God is on the move, the Kingdom of God has come near. That was all. It was simple. The gospel they took with them to prepare the way for Jesus wasn’t a sermon, or a tract. It was the peace they brought with their own presence – just like Abraham brought to his guests.
Whenever you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house!” With these words, Jesus still sends us out ahead of him. Our greeting of peace blesses our encounters and readies us – ourselves and the other – for the divine gifts to be given.
When we hear that word “peace” today, we tend to hear it in a very narrow way – mostly as an absence of conflict. In Jesus’ vocabulary, it meant much more. It was wishing for a person enough goodness, health, contentment for a lifetime. It was bringing that very thing to a household, with all that we have to share. It is about making connection, and building a web of life. It is about sheltering all of life in the shade of the tree of life, the Kingdom of God.
The disciples were to go out and proclaim to the house they approached, “Peace!” With open hands and open hearts, they would approach the village people. Would they respond in the tradition of Abraham, who was constantly looking to the promises of God? Or would they refuse to let this new life into their homes?
When we go on pilgrimage, when we step out onto this journey in the way of Jesus, we, too, greet everyone we meet with peace. How can we do this? We do it because we have received peace. When you are called out, sent on a journey, be assured that God accompanies you, just as Jesus’ Spirit accompanied the disciples on their village visits. We know this because they came back with joy and Jesus himself was blessed with their stories of healings and grace and God’s realm.
On my pilgrimage, my first experiences of greeting everyone with peace actually came in greeting my non-human companions on the trail. I remember the time I encountered a little lizard with a neon blue tail. He was really afraid of me. He skittered under a bush and under a rock. I wondered why God would make such a creature. What could that neon blue tail do to aid his survival? It didn’t seem to work as camouflage! The rest of his body almost melted into the ground, but that tail! It caught my fascination. I was awed by it. Perhaps that is its magic. Finally, he found a perch at a safe distance and we simply observed each other. Neither of us tried to change the other, move the other or capture the other. We considered each other for what seemed like a long time. And then, I was ready to move on. But it seemed inappropriate just to turn and walk away. There was something missing. I wanted to mark the moment. And so I used the ancient Oriental practice of bowing. (I wonder if they got that practice from the animals. Have you ever noticed that non-human creatures lower their heads to show their honor of the other, to show that they are not going to attack, to show that they are putting the other as more important than themselves?) In any case, the lizard seemed to understand. Our paths crossed for only moments. But there was honor which passed between us – the lizard honored me with its presence, its attention, and I honored the lizard in return for its gift of beauty and life to me.
I had more such experiences on my journey. Calm respectful encounters, greeting every creature I met with peace, left me with a profound reminder of my connection with earth and all her creatures.
Later, I had similar experiences with trees. Science has learned that trees really do communicate and live in relationship to each other. And in that web of relationship, sometimes humans get a glimpse, a sense of their dynamic presence. When we observe the elder tree standing straight and tall, shielding the young one at its roots, guiding its trunk to grow straight and tall. Or when we see the community of trees standing in a line like a procession toward a center, possibly a central hub of life, like an honor guard…. I greet everyone I meet with peace, and a bow of gratitude.
I began to wonder as I touched a stone. Peace. The water of the strong river? Peace. We greet everyone we meet with peace. And when we do, we make a connection. And that is peace. A mutual blessing.
Now I have returned from my pilgrimage among the wild things we usually overlook. I have returned from my experience of greeting creation with peace to a renewed understanding of how interconnected we are right here in this congregation. What if we took seriously the practice of greeting everyone we meet with peace?
1. Blessing each other, especially blessing the children. Tell people what you love about them, what inspires you about them. Touch them gently, with love. Let your heart and mind and soul reach out to them with compassion. Pause your own thinking, schedule, plan long enough to have an encounter with this particular someone. Take your time. Pay attention.
2. My niece’s Facebook “chain letter.” Post your name on my timeline and I will respond with my favorite thing about you, then offer this same gift on your timeline. Infect Facebook with peace. Greetings of peace growing blessing, even on social media. We live in an age where it is very easy to criticize flaws and not to praise strengths, gifts, joys. What if we turned that around? That is what it means to greet everyone we meet with peace. This is what Jesus instructed the disciples to do when they knocked on a door – bless those who live there.
3. Blessing has been a hard word for me to understand. What do we do when we bless? What is the purpose or the power of it? The ancients of all cultures and religions have held with reverence the power of words. They knew, somehow, that what we give voice becomes real in the world. So when we give voice to blessing, to our desire for all good things God has to offer, it becomes just a bit more real. We “infect” the other with goodness by our words of peace. Blessing isn’t just words; it is word made flesh. When we bless we incarnate the love of God for another, just as Jesus did that for us.
We live in such a disconnected society. Keeping people distant out of fear or busy-ness. When, like Abraham, like the pilgrim disciples, we go out into the world to greet with peace, we connect some of those disconnections. With the Spirit, we create more peace.
4. As you go out into the world today, try a new practice, an ancient practice, demonstrated by Abraham and by how all God’s creatures interact. Bow. A deep bow, getting down to ground level for the little ones, or just a dip of the head. As you do, let your body and words speak peace to the house. Try out the greeting, “Shalom,” or “Namaste,” or “may you be blessed with peace.” I would love to hear, as Jesus did, your reports when you return to this place of what God has done through you.
Go with peace. Greet everyone you meet with peace. Practice with your beloved tree or shrub as it swells with spring; practice with your pet; practice with strangers; and then practice with your family – possibly the most vulnerable place to humble ourselves and bow our heads and hearts, but the place where it is yearned for beyond imagining.
Go in peace. Greet everyone you meet with peace.