Sermon 6 Sunday of Easter May 13, 2007
May 13, 2007
Easter 6, Year C
The Acts of the Apostles 16: 9 – 15 (Pp. 1704-5)
The Revelation of John 21:10 (p.1937)
The Gospel of John 14: 23 – 29 (p.1676)
The peace of God is unlike anything the world has to offer. The peace that Jesus offers, through the counseling work of the Holy Spirit, is not an emotion but an under-girding support for our lives. It is not dependent on people or circumstances but comes from Jesus himself.
“The Peace of Christ”
There are a lot of useful ways to remember things. The most common method is to tie a string around your finger. But then, you might forget why you put it there! Some people make up a sentence where the first letter of each word means something. For example, “Every Good Boy Does Fine” helps the beginning piano student remember the notes on the lines of the treble clef. Some speakers, when they want to remember their speeches without the assistance of notes, make “a movie” in their head in which one crazy image follows another, where each silly picture reminds them of an important point in their talk.
In today’s passage, Jesus tells his disciples that they are going to discover a special way to remember what he taught them. The Father is going to send the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, not only to teach them new things, but to remind them of everything Jesus had taught them. One thing Jesus wants them to remember was how to experience his peace, even in dire circumstances.
PEACE THE WORLD GIVES.
Jesus made a distinction between the peace that he gives, and that which the world offers.
You might be surprised to hear that when C.S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, made a firm decision as a young man to be an atheist, he had an overwhelming feeling of well-being and peace. This came from the belief that he was not going to ever be held ultimately accountable for his actions, some of which he was not very proud of.
This is one type of peace that the world gives. But just because we have a feeling of serenity does not mean it is going to last. There are many experiences in life that engender a temporary tranquility, but it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that feeling as the reality of life continues to break down its facades.
The 2005 movie The Lord of War provides an example of another flavor of the world’s peace. The main character, Yuri Orlov, was initially a caring family man. But he became an international gun-runner and over time, lost his conscience. His ability to care about the difference between right and wrong blurred more with each illegal transaction.
There’s a Native American parable that says that the conscience is a three-side stone with very sharp edges, and that it resides within the heart. Every time a man violates his conscience, the stone spins and causes him pain. But over time, if he keeps ignoring the pangs of conscience, the stone’s edges begin to dull. Eventually, he’s not able to even feel the stone when it spins. And so, a man without conscience is always at “peace.”
In The Lord of War, Orlov got to a point where he was willing to sell his powerful weapons to the highest bidder – even to opposing sides. Eventually Orlov’s brother was killed in a botched deal, and his family disowned him. Yet Orlov kept on plying his immoral trade.
During one of his darker, more brooding moments, Orlov said this to the FBI agent who was trying to catch him in an illegal act: “They say, “Evil prevails when good men fail to act.’ What they ought to say is, ‘Evil prevails.”
Orlov had to type of imploded faith; he put his confidence in worldly power and the temporal security it promised. His distorted sense of peace came from the belief that his “clients” would never kill him because their need for weapons was endless. So, as long as he was giving them the best deal, in his mind, he was safe.
Of course, this type of “peace” is wholly dependent on a distorted view of reality.
THE PEACE JESUS OFFERS
In contrast, the peace that Jesus gives is different. It is no mere warm feeling in the heart or empty sense of safety or freedom from accountability. The pace Jesus offers is a lasting undercurrent in our lives that can sustain us through the turbulent storms of life. The peace that Jesus gives has been forged on the anvil of God’s truth, and so it’s going to remain and bear fruit in our lives, no matter what.
Not surprisingly, C.S. Lewis’ conversion from atheism to theism was also a profoundly emotional experience, but this conversion brought the peace of Christ to him. One of his biographers notes that before his conversion, Lewis was exceptionally anxious about death and dying. After his conversion, however, he evidenced a great calmness about his coming death and even some anticipation. Reports of his last days confirm his calmness and inner peace.1
The peace that Jesus gives is not always experienced as an unwavering emotionally blissful state. Throughout the scriptures we see that many biblical characters experienced a rollercoaster or emotions even as they were striving to accomplish God’s will. We need look no further than the Psalms to know that this is true.
But then, the peace Jesus gives is not an emotion. Jesus does not call us to happiness, to unwavering gaiety or any other particular feeling. He is calling us to peace --- a foundational sense of well-being that undergirds us regardless of how we are feeling at any given time. Jesus’ peace is the unrelenting presence of godly hope, no matter what our emotions may be at the time.
THE RANGE OF EMOTIONS
In the reading before us, we see that when Jesus bestowed his peace, he gave two specific commands: “DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED,” and “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”
That’s a tall order. Have you ever had some well meaning friend tell you not to worry so much? In doing so, that friend added an unhealthy does of guilt to your already anxious spirit. Perhaps you wanted to grab that person by the shoulders and say, “You have no idea what could happen!” There are a lot of things in this world to be troubled about. Bad things happen that are beyond our control. Because of this, fear is an hourly experience for some of us. How does Jesus (and some of our best friends) expect us to just turn this off?
Actually he doesn’t. His peace is not something that we muster up but a blessing Jesus gives.
Counselors tell us that there are only five basic emotions: SAD, GLAD, MAD, SCARED and SHAMED. Of course, these five have many cousins, and you can combine two or three of them (like a certain brand of jelly beans) to come up with other legitimate emotions. For example, when “GLAD” and “SCARED” come together, you get “ANTICIPATION: Or, “SADNESS” over a significant loss sometimes joins with being “MAD” at the person or circumstance that created the loss, and the result is “GRIEF.” Anxiety is just another name for plain ol’ fear; no combination needed.
In order to diminish the trepidation we experience over the more negative emotions (like anger, sadness, fear and shame), these same counselors sometimes talk about the importance of identifying our feelings and their sources. For example, you could say “I’m angry about lazy Joe getting credit for my work” or “I’m sad that my best friend is moving away” or “I feel ashamed that I told that racial joke.” Our “feelings,” even the more negative ones, have no “moral value’ all by themselves. They just “are.”
Of course, feelings can get out of hand and thus become something that is unhealthy for us, even sinful. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul quoted something about a feeling from one of the Psalms: “IN YOUR ANGER, DO NOT SIM.” 2(Psalm 4:4). The same can be true for all our emotions: “In your sadness, do not sin”; “In your fear, do not sin”; “In your shame, do not sin do not sin” and “In your gladness, do not sin.”
As we seek to separate sin from our emotions, we are more likely to be able to sense the underlying peace of Christ.
And as we sense the peace Jesus gives, the power of our emotions diminish, until even we who are afraid, can let go of that fear and dwell in the peace of Christ.
Jesus said God would send the Holy Spirit, and God has done that. As we listen with our spiritual ears, we can hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance and counsel, and the reminder of what Jesus taught so that we can live in the peace Jesus gives, no matter how we’re feeling otherwise.
Jesus promises us peace, not as the world gives, but that which is based on a power that overcomes anything that the world could possibly throw at us.
Let us open ourselves to God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and ask Jesus to fill us with his peace.
1. Armand M. Nicholi J., “C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud: A Comparison of Their Thoughts and Viewpoints on Life, Pain and Death,” The Independent Institute, September 23, 1997, www.independent.Org/publications/article.asp?id=1668.
2. Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:26.