On July 19 the fruit of the Spirit we are looking at is Peace. (Romans 12:14-21, 1 Samuel 25).
Mennonites talk a lot about peace. We preach it, we teach it in Sunday School, we get involved in all sorts of programs around the world to work at peace, and its a favourite theme for conferences and workshops. We talk about it so much that I wonder if another sermon on it is of interest. I especially wonder this for people like me (and those younger) who have lived in middle class prosperity in Canada all our lives. Peace to us is normal, we have enough to eat, good places to live, and we feel safe. Of course, there's also the topics of interpersonal peace and inner peace, which we tend to individualize.
As I prepare to preach tomorrow, I've read through these two scriptures and found myself challenged. In Romans 12:18 the word "if" jumps out at me. "IF" peace is possible means that sometimes it is not. What do we do then? "As far as it depends on you..." puts a weight of personal responsibility on the reader, but it certainly doesn't offer any promise that the individual's efforts will solve anything. So, how do we move forward with this bunch of ifs and dependings?
The story of Abigail and David is not usually a story that gets looked at when preparing a peace sermon. David is a man of war. He and 600 soldiers are on the run from King Saul and living away from the city, out in the wilderness and farm lands. Likely, he is deeply resented by local folk. No one wants an idle army camped in their backyard! They take up space, harass locals, take food and things they need/want by force of arms. Even if (a big IF) David's men are well disciplined and ethical, they still need to eat. David's messengers come to Nabal with 'peaceful" words, but there's no disguising the threat that underlies the soft talk. They took on the "guarding of the sheep" without ever being asked or hired. This is a clear demand for protection money, Nabal is being asked to pay the 'mob' of his day so that they continue to leave him in peace.. He refuses, maybe even self-righteously refusing to deal with the "terrorists" of his day. (I also wonder if Nabal has become enamoured of his own wealth, power, and prestige such that he thinks he's untouchable!)
Abigail is horrified. She knows this means trouble. She gathers the requested supplies, (the tribute? the protection money? the ransom? All the nasty words might fit.) She courageously throws herself on David's mercy, offering herself in place of Nabal. I am struck here, by her cleverness. Just as David's messenger's soft words hid a hard message, so Abigail informs David of a threat against him. If he allows his burning anger to turn into violence, he will be guilty of murder. She calls it a "staggering burden of needless bloodshed" and she reminds David that he is beholden to the Lord. It would be foolhardy for David to take on this reputation among people he hopes to rule as their King. It would be foolhardy for David to incur God's wrath. Abigail's words are gutsy and delivered in such a way that David is able to put his anger aside long enough to hear the truth in them. Abigail is negotiating with the "bad guys" to save herself, her people, and perhaps even to help David to become a better ruler.
(I can't help but wonder about how Iran is in the news this week and how republicans are going after Obama for being too "soft" on them. Is there a Nabal and an Abigail thing going on here too?)
Abigail really has no easy choices. She holds her nose and deals with the reality that they have to pay David's men to stay alive. Then later, when Nabal dies and David asks her to marry him, (a third wife), I doubt she has any real choice. The marriage might even be an "alliance" arrangement that gives Nabal's wealth over into David's control. I(Remember that at this point David is still an outlaw that Saul is hunting-Abigail may or may not have wanted this marriage!). All in all, Abigail brokers the best possible peaceful solution for everyone. "As far as it depended on her" she was living at peace with everyone, despite the cost to herself.
This story has no clear-cut choices for peace. Abigail has hard decisions on every side. She has to be brave. She has to do the best with hard situations and leave final judgement to God. Life gives her lemons and she makes lemonade. (But I think it might be a little sour!)
IF is a big little word. What happens when peace is not possible by our actions? The story clearly leaves the answer to that question in God's hands, not ours.