A sermon given by Rev. Dr. Peter A. Luckey on Sunday, May 21, 2017
By the way, did I tell you I have a new grandchild in my family? Her name is Violet. We have a Juniper, now we have a Violet! Little plants that we water! She was born yesterday at Overland Park Regional Medical Center at 3:40 in the morning, 7 pounds, 2 ounces, and she’s doing fabulous. I got to hold her and mom is doing great. We’re really, really happy so this is good news! I grew up with only brothers and I had only sons and now it’s all girls, so there you go!
So Jesus says to his friends at the last supper when they’re breaking bread together, after he says, “I will be with you. I will not leave you orphaned. I will not abandon you.” He then ends with “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you , not as the world gives but as I give. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” We can only imagine how much the disciples needed to hear those words on that particular night. They knew that Jesus was about to be killed, they knew that they were going to be orphaned, or felt that they were going to be orphaned or abandoned, and they must have wondered, how do we carry on? How do we keep going? They must have been so anxious about the future, not knowing what was going to happen next. How important it was for them to hear those words, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives but as I give.”
How often in our own live do we feel like we need to hear those words? Perhaps before a major surgery, or maybe before a big exam, maybe walking into a highly contentious situation, maybe when we feel we have the worries of the world laying on our heart, to hear those words, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives but as I give.”
If you were to ask me, Peter, which scriptures would you recommend to commit to memory, if I could give you the top five for your memory test, what would they include? Well, I think they should include John 14:27, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Because how many situations there are in our lives where we find ourselves muttering that prayer under our breath, God give me that peace that goes beyond human understanding. Give me and grant me that peace that only you can give.
I want to share just a couple of thoughts about this text and why it is so important for us in our lives. The first thing I want to share with you is, notice how it says, “ my peace I give to you, not as the world gives but as I give.” Isn’t that interesting that there’s a distinction between the world’s peace and the peace that the Holy Spirit brings. I think that’s very helpful because when we think about peace we often think, peace is the absence of conflict. It’s the cessation of hostilities, but we know in our hearts that it’s much more than that. We all know that we can wear the mask of serenity on the outside and yet inside there’s a Kansas gale raging. We know that we can walk into a room, or walk into a nation, and by all appearances it seems like there’s a state of peace but the peace belies the turmoil underneath, the seething resentments or the chronic injustice, or the barely concealed enmity between persons or groups.
You see, the peace that God gives us, the spirit, is not just the absence of something, it’s the presence of something. It’s not just the absence of conflict, but it’s the presence of God, God’s spirit being with us, that brings us comfort. The Holy Spirit is the comforter that comforts us and brings us that peace. That peace in the full sense of the word of shalom is a sense of well-being. And I’m looking at John back there, because he and I read that book together, Immortal Diamond, by Richard Rohr. One of the things we’ve learned in reading that book is that Richard Rohr suggests that there is this river of love that runs through the universe and part of our task in this world is to connect into that river of love and peace that flows through us. Perhaps you know what I’m talking about. You know that feeling we get now and then. We get a glimpse of it where we feel like we’re connected to everything and everybody and it’s a wonderful sense of peace that flows through us and flows through our hearts. That’s what I mean by the peace that God can give us, it’s inner peace, it’s a gift, it’s not just the absence of conflict, it’s the gift of being in touch with all that is.
Evelyn Underhill, the great spiritual writer, suggests that if you want to test your spiritual life and you’re looking for three marks of your spiritual life and how you’re doing, the three great tests are 1) tranquility, 2) gentleness, and 3) strength. When we can be gentle and strong and peaceful at the same time and we experience that–that is a mark of true spiritual discipleship.
So peace that God gives is different than what the world gives. I want to focus on that this morning because it’s not easy for us to get there. That’s the thing I really want to say. It’s not easy to have this true peace, not just the absence of conflict but that we experience inside of ourselves that we’re no longer striving, we’re no longer grasping, we’re just receiving.
The truth is that the world’s a chaotic place. The world is a place filled with competition, the world is a place where we’re constantly challenged, where we’re constantly feeling insecure, Part of it is the other people that we live with, the people that we encounter in the world, but part of the insecurity comes from deep inside of us, maybe the history that we carry or our past, or something that burdens that burdens us and makes us anxious. I think of PTSD and how do we find that peace when we feel constantly that the waters inside of us are being stirred up and muddy and how can we clear those waters and have that sense of peace in us? It is a real challenge. And we can say we’re peaceful people, but how often do we find, lying in bed at night, that we toss to and fro, how often do we find ourselves ruminating, agonizing about something, and our peace seems to elude us. So much we need to hear those words, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives but as I give.” Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” But that’s the problem. They are troubled. And he says, “Do not be afraid.” But we live in a chaotic world. And I’m not going to mince words this morning, but this time in our country is a particularly chaotic time and we have at the top of our nation a president who is spreading chaos. We don’t know what he’s going to say, we don’t know what he’s going to do, and what it’s doing is it’s creating a climate where we feel like we can’t stand on solid ground, where it feels like we can’t rest for a minute because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s creating a climate of uncertainty, of chaos, of confusion. And we can’t minimize how much that affects and permeates our entire life, and it permeates our society, how we relate and connect with each other. Which is to say, given the world in which we live today, given this time, all the more reason we need to double down on peace, peace inside of ourselves. If we want peace on earth it’s got to begin with me, it’s got to begin with us.
But recognizing how chaotic the world is reminds me of that great spiritual hymn which goes like this:
My faith is the solid rock upon which I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
So it was at that moment when the sand was sinking all around the disciples when they were gathered in that upper room and they didn’t know what was going to come and the world was chaotic all around them. In that moment, when they felt that there was nothing they could hold on to, nothing that could be for sure, they heard the words of Jesus speak to them, the words and the promise of the Holy Spirit that would come and be alongside them and wouldn’t abandon them, wouldn’t leave them orphaned in the words that said, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives but as I give. Let not your hearts be troubled and neither let them be afraid.”
Now mind you, friends, the world offers its promise of peace all the time, right? I mean, we’re constantly enticed by, “If you buy this then you will be peaceful. If you purchase that you will get peace.” But it’s a false promise. We go through the TSA line at the airport, going through security, and we’re supposed to feel more secure but by the time we’ve going through the security line we’re feeling less secure. We’re not really, truly at peace.
How do we get that peace? I think the most important thing that I can say to you this morning is that this peace is not something that we go and we find and we grab, but it’s something that we receive, that it comes to us as this gift from the spirit. Part of the challenge in our lives is letting go of control. We always want to be in control of everything, but sometimes when we cling so fiercely to be in control we can’t open our hands to the Holy Spirit to come and receive the peace that God gives us and say, “God, it’s in your hands. And grant me the peace that goes beyond human understanding so I can live in your peace.” It’s not about something that you do, but it’s something that you are, that you receive.
And here’s my final thought. I think in order to receive peace we have to give peace. In order to receive the Holy Spirit we have to be the Holy Spirit for one another. I love at the Gathering of Grace when we pass the peace at the beginning of the service. It’s very rambunctious in here and there’s lots of joy and hugs, but it’s wonderful because it’s not just a tepid, “Peace be with you,” but it’s a really enthusiastic passing of the peace, of giving that peace to each other. For the fact is that we’re all God with skin on and the only way that we can know of God’s spirit is if we model it somehow in ourselves. So that means maybe going home tonight and picking up a pen and pulling out a notecard and writing a note to somebody just to say I was thinking about you and wondering how you’re doing. I’ve got a friend I’ve been writing in prison lately and I hope that when he opens my letter that there’s just a little peace for him when he’s behind bars, as I know there’s peace for me when I receive his letters. Maybe it’s showing up at somebody’s door with a casserole and you know they’re going through a hard time and you say, I was just thinking of you. There’s so many different ways that we can express peace to one another. Maybe it’s stopping by the nursing home sometime and visiting someone you haven’t visited in a while and you say, I just wanted to bring peace to you, I want to hold your hand and know that God’s peace is with you. And isn’t it interesting that the more that we give that away to people, the more we find peace in ourselves? Just the act of writing a letter and saying I’m thinking of you actually comes back to you and you begin to feel your own sense of peace and completion when you do that.
So the words that Jesus said to his friends, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives but as I give,” remember it isn’t as the world gives, it is as the spirit gives, because what it means is that God is giving God’s self to be with us, she’s with us and beside us. And remember it’s not easy. This world is a chaotic, tough place to live, especially now, and we have to double down on finding peace. Remember that it’s not about taking something on, it’s about receiving, it’s about letting go, letting go of control and trusting that God’s going to bring that gift. And finally remember that if we’re going to receive peace we’re called to give peace and in our giving we discover the receipt.
So one last time, the disciples are vexed and worried and anxious and afraid, and Jesus says to them over some bread and cup, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives but as I give. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Amen.