St. John's, Centreville
May 26, 2019
6 Easter C
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
The lesson that we have just heard from the gospel of John is one of those readings that makes a lot more sense when we understand the context in which it was written. Chapters 14-16 of John's gospel is known as the Farewell Discourse. Jesus has just eaten the Passover meal with his disciples and he knows the end of his earthly life is near. Jesus has announced that it is one of his disciples who will betray him and Judas has left the other disciples to finish his work of betrayal.
Jesus knows that his time left with the disciples is short and he has so much that he wants to share with them. Imagine trying to tell your children in just a few hours everything they need to know about continuing your business after you are gone. Jesus wants to prepare the disciples in some way for what lies ahead of them as they see him arrested, tried, and crucified. He wants them to know that they will be able to carry on after his death, that God will send the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Advocate, to teach them and to remind them of all that Jesus taught them.
Jesus says to his disciples, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." The peace that Jesus is talking about is not what we tend to think of as peace. He is not talking about the absence of conflict. He is not talking about feeling good inside. The peace that Jesus is talking about is much deeper than that. It is a spiritual gift he will give to his disciples, and to us. The peace that Jesus is talking about is the overcoming of fear and anxiety, of knowing that we are dependent on God alone, not the ways and whims of the world that come and go. Only Jesus can give us this gift of peace.
Jesus is telling his disciples that he must go away and where he is going, they cannot come. That is the bad news. But the good news is that the Holy Spirit will come and be with them, to lead them, guide them and sustain them.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid," Jesus says. He is about to be arrested, tried and crucified, and his concern is not for himself but for the disciples. He wants them to know that his death is not the final outcome of their ministry. Not only will Jesus be resurrected but the Holy Spirit will come to be with them. It may look hopeless when Jesus is being crucified, but it is not. Death does not win. Life does! Our life in Christ wins out over death.
There is so much to be afraid of in this world, so much that can make us anxious. The stock market falls and we lose our savings; the company we work for fails and we lose our job; our child gets very sick and insurance will only pay a fraction of the cost; the breadwinner of the family dies and we don't know how we will keep the house and pay the bills. Terrorism, violence, hatred, and natural disasters in our country and in the world surround us and we are captive to it every day on the TV and social media.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." The peace that comes from God does not remove us from all the struggles of life. We are not immune to sickness, pain, disease, homelessness, unemployment, disability, physical or emotional pain. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid, not to be troubled. Why? Because God is always with us, throughout our pain and struggles. There is nothing in this life that we have to endure alone because God is always with us, whether we feel God's presence or not. We KNOW that God is with us, giving us strength and courage to face what comes our way. There are problems at work and at home, and lots of problems in this world. But believe in God even when everything looks hopeless, even when we are in the darkest moments of our lives. God is with us. God is our anchor in the storm, our support when disaster seems to surround us on every side. God gives us God's peace to calm our troubled and anxious hearts.
The peace that comes from God does not remove the struggles of life but it sustains us in the battle. In the battles that we fight every day - against injustice and oppression, against all that tries to tear our families apart, against all things that try to separate us from God - God's peace sustains us. This is not the same peace that the world tries to offer us through drugs or money or luxury cars or cruises or self-improvement programs. God's peace is a deep and abiding awareness that we are sustained and strengthened by the God who created us, redeemed us and loves us.
The peace that God offers enables us to envision a hopeful future, even when circumstances around us are chaotic, even when our whole world seems to be crumbling around us. There is a peace rooted deep in the hearts of those who trust in the living God. Everyone goes through difficult times, and the way we handle these situations reflects whether or not we have the peace that comes from God. We have all known people who have been at peace, or handled things with great strength, through some very difficult situations - illness, broken relationships, homelessness, war. Their love and trust in God seems to sustain them when they are faced with a crisis and they believe that God loves them and will see them through the trying times.
In his book, "The Gift of Peace", Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, speaks of peace as God's special gift to him as he endured terminal cancer. He wrote these words just two weeks before he died in November 1996. "What I would like to leave behind is a simple prayer that each of you may find what I have found - God's special gift to us all: the gift of peace. When we are at peace, we find the freedom to be most fully who we are, even in the worst times. We let go of what is nonessential and embrace what is essential. We empty ourselves so that God may more fully work within us. And we become instruments in the hands of the Lord."
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; and do not let them be afraid." May God's sustaining peace and love uplift us this day and always through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.