Good morning, brothers and sisters.
Before I dive into the meat of my comments, I’d like to ask you to do something with me. I’d like for you to close your eyes for just a moment and to keep them closed until I ask you to open them…
Please close them now.
With your eyes now closed, I’d like for you to imagine that you’re at the ballet… you have the best seats in the house… the lights dim… and a small troupe of dancers come on stage. They’re strong and graceful. They take their places as the orchestra cues up, and they begin to dance…
[ Hum one verse of “Where Can I Turn for Peace” ]
The music ends, and the dancers exit the stage.
Please open your eyes now and keep the images you saw and the feelings you felt close to your heart as I speak with you about some things that have been on my mind…
This week has been a very hard one for me and many of my friends. I’ve spent many hours on the phone with friends comforting them and being comforted in return. I’ve sat with friends who ache, and we’ve wept together. And while this week has been… extra-ordinary …we have — each one of us — at one time or another, asked what the poet asks: “Where can I turn for peace?”.
Emma Lou Thayne wrote what would become hymn 129 in 1971 during a particularly difficult time for her family, and it was added to our hymnal in 1983:
Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart,
Searching my soul?
Where, when my aching grows,
Where, when I languish,
Where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He, only One.
He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching
In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind,
Love without end.
Of course the answer to the question, “Where can I turn for peace” is “The Prince of Peace”. But as well-cemented as that idea is, in our culture… we can’t help but recognize that it’s a very abstract idea. Beyond reaching out to Him Who Listens through prayer, what is there?
President Hinckley urged us to “get on [our] knees and pray, then [to] get on [our] feet and work”.
Faith, after all, without work, is dead [James 2].
So what it the work of peace? What does finding our own peace look like?
While I have no doubt that there is more than one path to peace, I would like to share with you my own. I find peace, when peace can be found, at the intersection of charity and grace.
As Latter-day Saints, we are familiar with the phrase “Charity Never Faileth”. It’s the well-worn motto of our Relief Society and we see and hear the phrase frequently. I’ve even seen it stitched into wall hangings and printed on coffee mugs. But that phrase was never meant to stand alone… it has context… it has a backstory.
The phrase “charity never faileth” is found in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 8.
The entire book of 1 Corinthians is actually a single letter that the Disciple Paul wrote to a congregation — a ward — of Saints in the city of Corinth — in what is now Greece. It was a ward in crisis — divided along socio-economic lines, ethnic lines, and with a host of other issues.
It’s an important letter and has much to offer in these trying times. I could spend hours discussing it, but I only have 15 minutes — so I’ll focus on the 13th chapter.
Because we’ve grown accustomed to the language of the King James Version, I think it might be useful to breathe fresh life into our reading this morning by reading from my favorite English translation — the Revised Standard Version, which has been in wide use since the 1950s.
It’s a short chapter, so I’ll read the whole thing. Notice that the translators use the more familiar term “love” where the King James Version used the term “charity”. I like the use of “love” better, because it doesn’t allow us the excuse of thinking that Paul is talking about some fancy form of love. Because he’s not…
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Paul, here, is telling us that love is greater than any spiritual gift — the gift of tongues, prophecy, intellect, faith, generosity, zeal…
In the next few verses, Paul tells us what love is — notice that he isn’t describing a feeling — love, Paul argues, isn’t a feeling… it’s an action:
4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at [suffering], but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
This is important because we often confuse the warm and tender feelings of nostalgia or infatuation with actually loving someone… but love isn’t a feeling, it’s a way of being.
Paul then reminds us of the eternal (and godly) nature of love:
8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for [the gift of] tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up [my] childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul in these final few verses hints at something I’ve long believed: love is a form of understanding. As our understadning grows, so will our love. We graduate from the love and understanding of a child to the love and understanding of an adult (imperfect as it is) — and then, in rare and sacred moments when the Spirit peels back the veil, we can (if we’re lucky) see another human being the way God sees them — and our love is perfect in that moment.
In its simplest form, love is our desire for the well-being of another. When we love someone we want them to be happy, to be successful, to be well — as people of faith, we know that love has an eternal component. For us, to be happy, to be successful, to be well means something just a little bit more — of course it’s tempting to frame this happiness, this success, this wellbeing strictly in terms of the hereafter. But I think this is short-sighted.
Men are, after all, that they might have joy [2 Ne 2:25].
God, himself, seems to model this form of love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16] Why? Because it is God’s work and glory “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” [Moses 1:39].
So with this in mind, let’s re-read verses 4–7 again…
Love is patient and kind
Love is not jealous or boastful
Love is not arrogant or rude
Love does not insist on its own way
Love is not irritable or resentful
Love does not rejoice at [suffering], but rejoices in the right
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The GOAL of love is another’s happiness. The WAY of love is understanding made visible through actions. As our understanding grows, so does our capacity to love; line upon line.
Which brings me around to the subject of grace.
A few minutes ago, I had you close your eyes and imagine a ballet… I described the dancers in the ballet as “strong and graceful”.
Their grace comes from years of practice, in which rough edges are rounded and difficult things become effortless. On a stage, the dancer makes your forget — if you ever even knew — the years of brutal practices and their bruised and bloodied bodies. Instead, we see their will made beautifully manifest: they will themselves to move… and they move; to fly… and they fly; to be still…
This is a type for the Grace of Christ, who’s love for us is internalized yet appears effortless to the uninitiated.
God is love [1 John 4:16], we are told — but while his love FEELS effortless it was not:
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” [Luke 22:44]
Grace, it would appear, is love made perfect — through the kind of practice that bruises and bloodies.
We have access to the Grace of Christ through his infinite atonement. His perfect love making up for our failings.
“No one is good but God”, Christ reminds us [Mark 10:18]. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. We are not even divided between sheep and goats… but are “all like sheep, having gone astray” [Isaiah 53:6].
Instead of wallowing in our own sin and bemoaning our fate, Christ calls us to follow in his path and to take up his Cross [Matthew 16:24].
And how do we do that? By loving others as he loved us… by practicing love that is rooted in understanding and sacrifice until it is part of us. Love is a choice. When we choose love, we choose to move through life with grace.
But what does this all have to do with peace?
In Matthew, Chapter 11, verses 28–30 we read:
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
But what could this possibly mean? Christ’s way ended in his own crucifixion — and death for many of his disciples (including John the Baptist — who was at this very moment in prison, awaiting his own execution). All the same, Christ calls us to walk and talk and love as he loved — which is to say to bloody ourselves in pursuit of love — the wellbeing of others.
That doesn’t sound like peace. But I think that’s because we confuse “peace” with “ease”.
No. The peace of Christ — what he calls “rest unto [our] souls” — is found in two places:
When Christ reaches down to rescue us, briefly, from the buffeting of the world…
And when we rescue each other — when we “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort” [Mosiah 18: 8–10].
Where do I turn for Peace?
I turn to you… and I turn to God.