Sermon – May 26, 2019 – Sixth Sunday after Easter

Peace

Time and again, Jesus would bring comfort to his listeners, to his disciples and to the crowds with words of peace.  Do not be afraid.  Do not fear. Peace be with you.  My peace I give you.

Let’s take a minute to wonder what he was talking about. What were the people in 1stcentury Palestine afraid of, anxious about.  Where were they exposed?

Well, much of it, it appears, was economic.  Most people lived a subsistence existence.  Ten percent of the folks lived comfortably, even lavishly, while the other 90 percent barely got by.  The elites owned the land, many of them absentee landowners who lived in the city.  Taxes, and rents were debilitating, there was no safety net and if you couldn’t pay your bills, the authorities could and would take your property and throw you in jail. Day labor was common and was the subject of some of Jesus’ teachings.  Life expectancy was short, kids were valued essentially as property and women had few if any rights or options without the protection and sponsorship of a a man.

When Jesus began to teach the kingdom values he was ushering in, they were different.  They challenged existing economic and religious systems.  The poor were embraced, women were prominent in his ministry, the economic system was challenged as unfair and predatory.  A place was made for the unclean and the unwelcome.  Change is coming.  Do not be afraid.  But people apparently were.

While most of us don’t live under the crushing weight of an unjust economic system, we have our issues.  The gap between the rich and poor continues to grow.  We have not yet eliminated poverty, hunger and disease.  Many are still marginalized.  We are anxious and we are getting more so.  I read not long ago that the average child today has the same level of anxiety in his or her life as did the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.

We are an anxious people, and anxious people seek solutions to their fears. There are a whole host of pychotropic drugs that people turn to, in some cases this is a great gift, other times it is destructive.  .. . look at the current opioid crisis.   We can turn to gurus, we can flee, we can drink, we can arm ourselves, all of these might be effective more or less, but they have in common the propensity to deal with anxiety by turning in on ourselves and turning away from the other.

The more isolated we become the more anxious and fearful we become.   Marriages are about as likely to fail as they are to succeed. In general church attendance is down, people don’t gather as we used to in social organizations.  We don’t seem to value the relationships that come of these as we have, and as a result, at least in part, our anxiousness rises.

If we are an anxious people, then it follows that we are a people in search of some peace. . . . some hope in the midst of these things.

We seek to corner that anxiety by how we live.  We work hard and save money in order that we may have some peace in our old age, so we can be free from the anxiety of whether we will be able to have bread on the table and a roof over our heads.

We struggle to become educated or skilled or competent at something in search of a peace that will spare us from the anxiety of not doing well, not having what we think we need, a peace that will attend enough to our self-esteem that we will find some satisfaction.

And this peace that we seek can take on the simple formula of absence of  . . .  absence of anxiety, the absence of hunger, danger, fear. . . .failure.  The absence of . . . . but I’m afraid the absence of . .  can be nothingness. . .   Yet we seek that peace with some fervor.   We seem to think if we can just get to that next level, get over that next hurdle, over that next hill . . .  we think we will find that peace . . . a beautiful scene, cows contentedly chewing their cud.  .. . buttercups.  That’s a fantasy.  There’s always another hill to climb over.  But we go for it convinced that the peace we seek is on the other side.

It’s a funny thing; we have more food, more leisure time, more money, more opportunities to survive than probably any time in history, at least in this country.  If this is the peace that the world gives we can get  there .

If this is the peace that world gives,  it can serve it up in magnificent portions.  We have constructed our system in such a way that many can be wildly successful, financially and socially.  While there is no doubt poverty and want, the vast majority of the people in this country enjoy a standard of living that is enviable by most of the rest of the world.

And if that is what peace is, then we’ve got it my friends.  And if we don’t have it, we know where we can get it.   Is it enough?  Is it enough? Is it really worth the trouble?  Those who peddle this as definitive peace would have us believe it is.   Does it close the gaps between who we are and who we want to be?  Does it close the gaps between the reality of our lives and the inevitability of our deaths?  Does the peace which the world has to give really heal us when we are broken and comfort us when we grieve?  Does the peace which the world has to give come at such great a cost that it is no peace at all?

We’re talking about another peace, of course.  To speak of it we have to speak an entirely different language. . . . a language of faith, a language of promise, a language of love, a language of community, a language of covenant.  We really cannot talk about peace in the Biblical context without talking about the Hebrew concept of shalom which is security and safety, and friendship and health and salvation all rolled into one, . . .  present because God is present.  Present because God is present.  That’s the peace that we’re talking about here.  That is the peace Jesus offered to his first followers and to us now.

You’ll recall that after the resurrection Jesus came among his frightened, disappointed disciples and the first thing that he gave to them was bless them his peace . . . give to those who now shared in his victory over death.

This is the peace that the world cannot give, because this is the peace that comes to us . . .  comes to us . . .  as a gift from this weird God who has chosen to love us at any cost, love all of us at any cost.   This is a peace spoken in a language of covenant . . . a peace that cannot be compromised.  The peace of the world is something to be chased, something to be sought after . . . something to be bought and sold, something to be traded, bartered with, compromised . . . if I do this then I’ll get that. . . . if sacrifice here, or I spend here, or I study this, or I connect  with this or that person, I’ll get that peace. . .  seek it, find it, buy it, make a transaction,  own it, earn it, wrestle it to the ground and by God control it.  No, this peace is not a commodity . . . it’s a promise kept.

This is the peace spoken in the language of love . . . a peace that cannot turn on us.  How many times have we heard the stories of the miserable rich man, the dream that turned into a nightmare?

This is a peace spoken in the language of faith.  How often does the peace that the world gives, that holy grail, that we so diligently seek turn out to be a disappointment, a mask, a fraud.

The peace that Jesus offers is a peace that  cannot be undermined, that cannot be mistaken.  It is the shalom of God.  The peace that Jesus is talking about here is the very presence of God among us, with us.

How do we know?     Jesus tells us we will know of his presence through the spirit who will teach us and cause us to remember. That is what we are doing here today. Whether we care to characterize it so, we are here at the spirit’s bidding.  That’s how the Spirit works.  It is the life force of the church.   We sometimes shy away from this spirit business, a little too mystical . . . can’t touch it, can’t see it. Let’s get on to something else. Tell me how to live my life . . . how to be kind and compassionate. But these are just the rubrics, the signs along the way .  Peace is the point.  A peace made evident, made tangible  by the presence of the spirit among us.. .  which will not just lead us to the living of an ethical life. . . . which is not enough . . . . it is to take us to peace.

When we seek the peace of the world we are chasing our tails.  But Jesus says that he will come to us. . .  that this is a gift given.  The movement is from God to us. . . . the peace is from God to us. It is a moving, dynamic, living gift.

It is part of the consequences of this peace. . .  that it is not only a freedom from but a freedom to  . . . move with it, to live in it.  A freedom to live confidently, to set aside that anxiety . . . to be kind. . .  to discover our real selves as children of God, as the object of God’s intention.  To claim our reconciliation with God and let go.  You’ve probably heard me say before, the most difficult thing about being a Christian is accepting the fact that God has gone to great lengths and taken great pains to show God’s love for us. . . . not on our merit or our own successful chase, but by his grace.  That’s the peace.  That’s the peace that the world cannot give.

I’m not saying that the world’s a revolting place.  No, there is great beauty and wonder in the world.   God has called it good and placed one among us who reconciles us to him and all of creation.  So,  Let’s work hard.  Let’s raise our families, teach our children, let’s save a little for our old age . . . remembering the whole time whose world it is and to what purpose we are placed here . . . . then we will not be blind to the gift of the real peace in this world. . . . the peace that we share when we come here together, that draws us into that beautiful mystery to celebrate at the font with little Natalie, with one another at that table, to ask for healing to ask for resolution, to ask for comfort. . .  from the one who gives not as the world gives, but gives to us the abiding presence of God.

And now, may the peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus.   Amen.