2 Thessalonians 3:16

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Every day during this season of Lent we’re looking at one of the “3:16” verses of the Bible, spotlighting some of the significant theological statements that happen to fall on the 16th verse of the third chapter of a number of Old and New Testament books. 

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
Thirteen New Testament books are traditionally attributed to the apostle Paul. 
The same words appear in the first few sentences of every one of them: “Grace and peace to you…” 
“Grace” also happens to appear near the close of each of these letters.  “Peace” likewise appears in the final remarks about half the time, including Paul’s second letter to the young church at Thessalonika – a congregation roiled by internal disputes and a handful of members who had decided they no longer needed to work for a living.  Paul asks that God himself, the Lord of peace, might shower this wobbly group with the kind of peace that he alone can provide.   
Experiencing peace is one of humanity’s enduring hopes.  It seems easy enough to define.  But what exactly is it?
For Thanos, the ultimate supervillain in the Marvel Comics universe, peace means sitting quietly on his porch, watching the sun rise, without the annoyance of half the beings in the universe (since he has killed them).  The rest of us can at least agree that peace would mean the cessation of war.  No more violence.  No more tragic school shootings like the one in Nashville this week.  Peace at home might mean quiet joy and an end to flaring tempers.  Peace at work would mean the chance to use our gifts without the fear of layoffs.  A peaceful neighborhood might mean the freedom to take an evening walk without fear. 
Those definitions of peace all involve subtraction.  If we just remove certain circumstances, peace will be the result. 
But Paul, whose worldview has been shaped by his upbringing in Judaism, is surely thinking of something more profound.  In the Hebrew vocabulary, “peace” is shalom, something far richer than mere quietness.  It’s something positive.  And it represents the deepest dream of the ancient prophets.
According to theologian Neil Plantinga, shalom entails “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.”
Pastor and author John Ortberg, whom we’ve already referenced once this week, goes a step further.  In his book Everybody’s Normal Til You Get to Know Them, he tries to imagine the state of affairs if shalom ruled the world:
All marriages would be healthy and all children would be safe.  Those who have too much would give to those who have too little.
Israeli and Palestinian children would play together on the West Bank; their parents would build homes for one another. In offices and corporate boardrooms, executives would secretly scheme to help their colleagues succeed; they would affirm them behind their backs.
Tabloids would be filled with accounts of courage and moral beauty.  Talk shows would feature mothers and daughters who love each other deeply, and wives who give birth to their husbands’ children.
Disagreements would be settled with grace and civility.  There would still be lawyers, perhaps, but they would have really useful jobs like delivering pizza, which would be non-fat and low in cholesterol.
Doors would have no locks; cars would have no alarms.  Schools would no longer need police presence or even hall monitors; students and teachers and janitors would honor and value one another’s work.  At recess, every kid would get picked for a team.
Churches would never split.  People would be neither bored nor hurried.  No father would ever again say, “I’m too busy” to a disappointed child.   Our national sleep deficit would be paid off.  Starbucks would still exist but would sell only decaf.
Divorce courts and battered-women shelters would be turned into community recreation centers.  Every time one human being touched another, it would be to express encouragement, affection, and delight.  No one would be lonely or afraid.  People of different races would join hands; they would honor and be enriched by their differences and be united in their common humanity.
And in the center of the entire community would be its magnificent architect and most glorious resident: the God whose presence fills each person with unceasing splendor and ever-increasing delight.
According to the Old Testament prophets, this is how the world is supposed to be. 
According to Paul’s heartfelt wish in today’s “3:16” verse, this is what life would be like if we let shalom penetrate our lives from the inside out.
By God’s grace and power, this doesn’t have to be a dream.  We can move closer to his ideal even today.  
So, in that spirit, let me say to all the lawyers on the Morning Reflections distribution list:  I really like pepperoni.