Peace in Pandemic - How to Have Serenity in the Storm
Peace in Pandemic: How to Find Serenity in the Storm Samuel Stone Happy second Sunday of Easter! I decided to preach from the empty tomb because people liked it when I did it last week. It gives us a mood of hope at grave times like this. No pun intended. I am sure you have been following the advice by the doctors that you must wash your hands, stay home, if you must go out, stay six feet apart from people, or wear a mask. The purpose is to guard your body from getting infected by the deadly virus. In the same way, I would like to remind you that you also need to guard your heart and mind from getting affected by the stress, anxiety, and loneliness caused by the crisis. The virus can attack your body, but it cannot attack your mind. The crisis itself, however, can affect your mind. It has driven many people crazy, as you have heard in the news. Some people are going through serious depression, or anxiety attacks. Some are now drinking excessively. Some are using drugs. The suicide hotlines are also getting busier than before. So, my suggestion is, you must not only clean your hands but also clear your mind frequently. Going through a difficult time can also make us think deeply and seek answers from God. The irony is God speaks to us in a sound of silence. Prophet Elijah was facing a crisis; people were trying to kill him. He urgently needed God to give him an answer or instructions. He said he did not hear God in the storm, he did not hear God in the earthquake, he did not hear God in the fire, but he eventually heard God in “a sound of sheer silence.” You can read about his experience in 1 Kings 19. The problem is, during a crisis, our mind is not silent because our heart is not at peace. At such time, we must find peace first before we can hear God. Peace is the gateway to God, so if you want some answers or instructions from God, you must first have peace. How do you have peace in a pandemic? How do you find serenity in a storm? The scripture lesson today will give us some insight. Today’s scripture lesson is from John 20:19-23. Listen to the Word of the Lord: John 20:19-23 19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” After Jesus was crucified, the disciples feared that they might be the next victims, so they locked themselves in a house. They were doing like what we are doing now. The difference is they were afraid of the people who might persecute them. We are afraid of the invisible virus that could plague us. They had heard that Jesus was risen that morning, but they did not know how to process the news. The Bible said, after seeing the empty tomb, they were afraid. They were afraid of both bad news and good news. I am sure they were overwhelmed by fear, joy, doubt, and confusion all at the same time. The state of their hearts and minds were like a stormy sea. Suddenly, the resurrected Jesus showed up among them, saying, “Peace be with you.” Jesus repeated the same greeting twice, emphasizing the significant of it. “Peace be with you.” This word “peace” is translated from Greek, εἰρήνη, meaning “stillness” and “serenity,” signifying the stillness and serenity of your heart and mind. If peace means stillness, how is your heart and mind right now? Assume your heart is like a pond of water. Is it a still pond, or stirred pond, or stormy pond? I am sure your heart is at least stirred by the crisis. It is normal. The disciples’ hearts were stirred by the crisis also. So, Jesus gave them the stillness and serenity of their hearts before he told them what to do. This is especially important because without the stillness of heart, the power of God cannot enter you. You are blocking it by trying to take control of the situation. God says in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10). We must be still to recognize that God is in control. In other words, a stirred mind does not recognize God. A stirred mind is a mind that wants to control the situation, a mind that tries to play God. A still mind realizes that the Lord is God, not me. Such state of stillness opens for God’s power to come into your life. This is a very short verse that can be easily memorized so that you can remember it during the trying times, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10). It will help us understand the following verse where Jesus commissioned the disciples. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21). You can see here that peace is the condition to receive God’s commission. If you are in a crisis and want God to use you to do something about it, you need first to still your heart, meaning to have peace, or ask God to give you peace first. Now, I need to clarify a couple of terms before we continue. When we talk about heart, I am sure you know that we are not talking about the physical heart. The physical heart cannot be still, or it will be dead. The word heart in the Bible often represents your spirit. For example, Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Pr 17:22). It indicates that the words “heart” and “spirit” can be used interchangeably. When Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” he is giving you the gift of peace—the stillness of your heart and mind. The Bible also mentions heart and mind together because sometimes they are linked together. When your heart is still your mind is still as well. Philippians 4:7 says, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Php 4:7). Notice it says, “In Christ Jesus.” Now, you want to know how to find peace. You cannot find peace, but you can receive it in Christ Jesus because peace is a gift. Jesus said this before he went to the cross, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27). The peace he gives is not like the peace the world gives. As we have experienced with this pandemic, the world does not provide certainty. We were enjoying the economic boom one day and everything turned upside-down the next day. Our hearts are troubled, and we are afraid when there is no certainty. The gift of peace Jesus gives has a sense of certainty because he is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. A gift can only be received but cannot be earned. How do we receive this gift then? In the case of the disciples, Jesus was there to give it to them, but how about us today when Jesus is not physically here? Philippians 4 gives us some instructions to receive this kind of peace. The Bible advises us to do these three things to receive peace. 1. Pray about it “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Php 4:6-7). Prayer can be somewhat casual, but supplication is when you pray seriously and entreat God. Depending on the severity of the storm, you need to pray, supplicate, beg, or entreat. 2. Think Positive Thoughts “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things … and the God of peace will be with you.” (Php 4:8-9b). In a crisis, our thoughts are negative. It makes things worse. Try to find positive thoughts. Read the Bible. Think about the doctors, nurses, caregivers, first responders that risk their lives for others. Think about the good times. Think about the silver lining. The most beautiful thought you can think of is the beauty of the cross. It is a symbol of God’s amazing love and Jesus’ amazing grace. It is worthy of praise. When you think these thoughts the God of peace will be with you because God is a positive God. He has hope in us even when we are hopeless. 3. Practice Receiving Peace “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Php 4:9). “Keep on doing the things” means you need to practice, practice, and practice to clear your heart and mind for the God of peace to be with you. As human, we learn by repetition. Practice makes perfect. Remember I said at the beginning, just as you need to clean your hands, you need to clear your mind and make it a habit. A clear mind invites the God of peace. “Learned, received, heard, and seen” means all modes of learning—intellectually, emotionally, auditorily, and visually. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Co 11:1). Paul was amazing. He was able maintain peace, love, and joy even when he was chained in the prison. He would not have been rejoicing in the prison if he had not practiced. There is a lot to unpack from today’s scripture lesson of the Easter story, but I have given you enough to homework for the week as to how to receive peace in the pandemic. Let us all have serenity in the storm by doing these three things: Pray about the pandemic, Think positive thoughts, and Practice Receiving Peace. Remember, peace is the gateway to God. Once you have peace, or stillness, you will hear God’s instructions in a sound of sheers silence. May God bless you all! Amen!