Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 5, 2013

2013.05.05 “The Parting Gift of Peace” – John 14: 25 – 29

Central United Methodist Church

The Parting Gift of Peace

John 14: 25 – 29

Pastor David L. Haley

The 6th Sunday of Easter

May 5th, 2013

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the Advocate,the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.  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.  You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.  And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. – John 14: 25 – 29, New Revised Standard Version

There are days when the news headlines are depressingly the same. For example, in this weekend’s Chicago Tribune were headlines such as these:

“Bomb kills 5 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.” Actually, before the day was out, eight soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, one of the worst days this year. That means eight caskets, eight families that will never be the same again. After 12 years of such headlines, we wonder if they will ever end, and whether we are destined for endless war, and will ever know peace again?

“Man dies after jumping in Chicago River with bricks.” That’s right, a man was spotted on North Ave. on the bridge with bricks strapped around his waist. The police were called, but before they arrived he jumped in. Divers were brought in, and they fished his body out, but it was too late to resuscitate him. There’s got to be a story behind this: what was so bad about this man’s troubled life that he chose to end it, and in such a way?

“How Three Friends Cope with Life after Hadiya Pendleton’s Death.” Remember that story, about the teenage girl shot and killed because a gang member thought she and her friends were someone else?  Now, her friends wonder what they might have done differently, if anything, that could have changed the outcome.  Even if there was nothing that could have been done, how do you learn to live with absence, how do you come to peace with it?

From day to day the world is filled with such things, and sometimes they impinge upon us. Sometimes our lives are clouded with anxiety and fear, and it seems there is little peace to be found.

For that reason, our ears perk up to hear what Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

“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.”

Usually when I read these words, it is at a funeral, where fear and anxiety is evident on the faces of people gathered. But in reality, it doesn’t have to be a funeral, any gathering of people – even this one – includes people who are troubled and afraid, for one reason or another.  So give us this peace, Jesus, 10 lbs or 100 gallons of it, $1,000 worth, whatever it takes.

If only peace – in all its varieties – could be bottled or packaged and like a commodity, it would be something rich and poor alike would give almost anything for. Who wouldn’t welcome an end, not only to perpetual war, but to the constant conflict that has so divided American society. Who wouldn’t welcome a magic pill or something in a bottle that can give us instant serenity; God knows enough of us seek just that, through our pharmaceuticals and addictions. But as we have learned, all those forms of medicated peace have their price, and their side effects, and though sometimes necessary, sometimes seem to make things worse.

So we welcome Jesus’ promise of peace, and desire to know more about it. What kind of peace is this?

As we heard last Sunday, in this part of the Gospel, it is still before Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and death, but Judas has just gone out to betray Jesus, and so Jesus sees the end quickly, coming, and prepares his disciples for his impending absence.

In a sermon preached several years ago, James G. Somerville, a Baptist pastor, says we have here the image of Jesus as a mother standing with her hand on the doorknob, her coat over her arm, watching her children play with Legos on the living room floor. One of them looks up suddenly and, noticing she is about to leave, asks:

“Where are you going?”

To which Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also.”

“Can we go with you?” they say.

Jesus says, “Where I am going you cannot come.

“How long will you be gone?”

“A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while and you will see me.”

“Who will take care of us?”

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (James G. Somerville, “Who Will Take Care of Us,” the Christian Century, May 6, 1998, p. 471)

So there is good news and bad news.  The bad news is, Jesus is going away.  The good news is, the Father will send the Spirit, the Advocate, who will be with us forever.

Who is the Advocate? The Greek word for “advocate” (paraclete) is from a verb that means “to call alongside.”  An advocate is the one you call when you are hauled into court on false charges, or when the school bully is beating you up on the playground, or when you wake up from a bad dream in the middle of the night. It is someone who comes to your defense, your rescue, your comfort. Up to now, Jesus has done that for his disciples. But after Jesus’ departure, the Holy Spirit will do for the Church what Jesus has done for his disciples.

I especially like Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will teach Jesus’ first disciples, reminding them and us of all Jesus said.  I believe that is what happens here every Sunday. In time, they will finally “get it,” but and who knows, maybe so will we. I have always liked a quote of Pope John XXIII, who was accused of distorting the Gospel by the changes he made in the Catholic Church through Vatican II. On his deathbed, in 1963, he is attributed to have said, “It is not that the Gospel has changed, it is that we have begun to understand it better.” I believe this is still the work of the Spirit in the Church today; after 20 centuries maybe we’re finally starting to “get it,” and understand the Gospel better.

But that’s not all.  In addition to the Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, Jesus promises to them, and to us, the parting gift of peace:  “My peace I give you, do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

What is this peace Jesus offers? It is not something we create, or achieved, it is a gift to be received.  I think of it not as something new Jesus would create and give, but the peace that he had practiced, that his disciples had seen and observed in him, even among the most chaotic and cruel scenes of his life, including those yet to come.  Jesus’ peace was not defined by the absence of chaos and conflict; it was peace in the midst of it.

I once heard a story about peace that helps illustrate this. (There are several versions of this story, but the one I first heard was this.) An artist was commissioned by a wealthy man to paint a picture that would depict peace. But what should he paint? Should he paint a beautiful country scene, of green fields with cows standing in them, birds flying through a blue sky and a lovely little village in a distant valley? Should he paint a picture of a mother, smiling lovingly at the sleeping baby in her arms?

So what did he paint? He painted a picture showing a stormy sea pounding against a cliff. The wind whipped against black rain clouds laced with lightning. The sea roared, with waves churning, the dark sky filled with the power of the thunderstorm.  And in the middle of the picture, under a cliff, the artist painted a small bird, safe and dry in her nest snuggled safely in the rocks.  In the midst of the storm that raged about her, that little bird was at peace.

This is the peace Jesus offers: not a worldly kind of peace, like a place in nature, beautiful and serene; not a maternal kind of peace, as of a mother and child, tender and mild; not a peace marked by the absence of conflict, where there are no storms or violent waves; but rather the peace of knowing that even in the midst of turmoil, there is a rock that can shelter us, an ocean of serenity available, a still point around which the revolving world turns.

You should know by now that I would be the last person to tell you that accepting and practicing the peace of Jesus is easy. I will not tell you that it is magical, nor instantly achievable through four spiritual laws or three easy steps, or even one.  I don’t believe it’s like George Costanza, on the old Seinfeld show, who used to run around franctically yelling, “Serenity Now.” I do believe it is Jesus’ parting gift of peace offered to us, and available to us, in every moment, as we learn to appropriate it.  Can we accept it, and practice it, even in the worst of times?

Can we practice Jesus’ peace amidst the wildness of our teenage years?

Can we practice Jesus’ peace as we seek companions and careers, especially when it takes longer than we expected?

Can we practice Jesus’ peace, parents, as we raise kids through terrible twos and then again, terrible teens?

Can we practice it as we age, when careers end, friends fade, health wanes, and death threatens?

“My peace I give you, do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

A few years ago I went down to Chicago Temple to hear a lecture by Marcus Borg, author and teacher, himself sometimes accused of misunderstanding and changing the Gospel. I’ve always appreciated the prayer he taught us that day, and have often used it myself. I would like to teach it to you, as a way of invoking Jesus’ peace in your life.  I recommend learning it, and praying it often, especially at difficult times:

Lord, Jesus Christ,

you are the Light of the World.

Fill my mind with your peace,

and my heart with your love.

Amen.

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