Adapted from a previous sermon series at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas
and inspired and using ideas and content from the Rev. Chris B. Herring
preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Saint Louis. Original citation lost.
So we’re continuing on in our sermon series
inspired by Paul’s words in the letter to the Galatians
where he says that the fruit of the spirit
is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
I was planning for this sermon series about a month ago
knowing I was going to be heading out to the Wyoming wilderness
yellowstone and the grand tetons
home of elk and bison
moose and bear
it made me imagine the possibility of
Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom come to life
that’s what we call this reading Larry offered for us today.
I had this hope that we would go to to the national parks
and experience the utopic vision come to pass
it was a delightful vacation, indeed
but I did not once see a bear delight in the company of a pronghorn
as they sat calmly aside one another
I saw animals behaving as they do
along with my kids behaving as they do
and all moving along as life seems to do.
But the picture of Isaiah is for a time when all of nature
and all of humanity, will be reconciled
where these forces that feel and seem destructive
are harnessed for the good of all creation.
Today, for our reflection, we pair that image
with words from Jesus,
words that come to us from the Gospel of John.
Listen for the Word that comes to us this morning:
‘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.
And may God bless us our reading
and our understanding
and our applying of these words, to how we live our lives. Amen.
Think of it, if you want, as Jesus’ legacy:
His closest friends have gathered around him.
It’s his last hour with them, that time before his arrest, trial, and execution.
And he’s trying to get them READY
for what will happen to him, and happen to them.
Jesus has no possessions to leave to those who have given
three years of their life to follow, and learn, and serve…
Jesus has only what he wears, and soon even that will be stripped from him.
He has amassed no goods to share,
he has no mementoes of any kind to distribute,
to parcel out among those whom he has loved
and who have loved him in return.
But that doesn’t mean that Jesus
will leave them with ONLY cherished memories and crushed hopes.
Quite the contrary!
During this last evening with his disciples,
Jesus makes them a PROMISE
and presents them with a GIFT.
Actually, when you think about context surrounding the text we just read
from the fourteenth chapter of John
Jesus makes a series of promises to his disciples.
–That he would come again after his death.
–That there were many rooms in his Father’s house where he was going,
to prepare a place for each of them.
–That their sorrow would soon turn into joy.
–That he was sending his Spirit, the Advocate, to be with them always,
to teach them everything that they would need to know.
But, in addition to these promises, as amazing as they were,
Jesus also gave them something else.
It too often goes unnoticed:
“Peace I leave with you.” he said.
“My peace I give to you.”
It may help to note that “peace”
was the usual Jewish greeting of the day between close friends.
It is still the predominant greeting in many cultures and communities
around the world
assalamu alaikum, peace be upon you in Arabic
It became that way, too, for a while here
in our country during the 70s and 80s,
In one sense, in Jesus’ day
this was the equivalent of a heartfelt “hello” or “good day,”
except that it carried much more meaning and was not spoken so casually.
To say “peace unto you” was a way of bestowing
a personal blessing, a heartfelt touch,
a gift from one soul to another—
a gift of friendship,
the wish for SHALOM, for complete and total well-being.
These things are all wrapped up in this idea of peace
this THING that you would offer to another.
It was thought that if a person accepted the greeting,
that the peace from the first person was incorporated by the second,
that it became PART of you.
Or, if for some reason you rejected the greeting,
then the “peace” would return to the one who offered it.
So, you see, peace in this sense is a tangible asset
that binds people together.
And something like THIS is probably what John is trying to share with us.
Jesus was offering his Peace, his Shalom, to his disciples.
His peace, his serenity, his calmness of heart
in the face even of what was about to unfold,
his gift of bringing people to God
and making things right between them and the divine,
his ability to bring people together
to break down EVERY dividing wall of hostility,
so that we might feel our oneness under God.
Peace on Earth. Peace in their hearts. The peace of Christ.
Not as the world gives.
Do not be afraid. Do not be troubled.
This was to be his legacy.
And he was leaving it with his disciples, so that it could become PART of them.
Now, one has to admit that the disciples
seemed not to receive this gift when it was first offered to them.
They were anything but serene as Jesus was taken from them
and executed on the cross.
On the contrary: They were heartbroken and terror-filled as they fled in panic.
Who wouldn’t be?
But, have you ever noticed
when you heard the account of those post-Easter experiences,
how, on the Sunday after his death,
when the disciples (with the exception of Thomas)
are sequestered together in hiding in fear for their life,
the resurrected Jesus suddenly stands before them.
Did you notice how his very first words are,
“Peace be with you.”
And the same a week later
when the disciples are again in the same house,
this time along with Thomas,
and Jesus reappears and says again,
“peace be with you!”
The interesting thing to me
is that Jesus is never recorded, in any of the gospels,
as using this greeting with the disciples before his death,
but after the resurrection it is the FIRST THING he says to them.
Why is that?
It is as if he is REMINDING them of this gift he has offered them,
reminding them and encouraging them to TAKE it, to receive it,
to incorporate it into their very being.
And with the coming of the Spirit that Jesus PROMISED,
that is exactly what happened.
Those disciples, once so fearful,
fanned out to spread the Word of the Risen Christ,
the one who had reconciled all humanity to God,
the one who had broken down every barrier between people,
the one who had sent his spirit so that all might receive his peace.
They went out to tell of Jesus to a hostile, VIOLENT world.
They went out to testify to the Risen Christ at the risk of their own life.
They went out with the serenity and calmness of heart
that could ONLY have come from believing the promises
and receiving the legacy that Jesus had given them….
That is an amazing gift. Jesus’ peace.
We’re now on the third week of our sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit.
And we’re focusing on this gift of PEACE
how it is a gift given to those
who dwell in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
You may remember how the line,
in the words Paul wrote to the Galatians, begins…
“And the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, PEACE…”
Peace is a gift of the Spirit
one of the fruits that we are given to enjoy
holy food for our soul and for a hungry, hurting world.
Last week Landon creatively explored with many of you the gift of Joyful Hearts.
Today we explore a Peace-filled spirit.
How is it that peace fills our hearts
when we invite the Spirit in
and allow the Spirit to work WITHIN us?
Well, one place to start is that we have to make room for it.
Howard Thurman is one of my favorite Theologians.
Thurman was a pastor, a poet, and a civil-rights activist.
He was the roommate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
when they were at Morehouse college together,
Later, he served as the Dean of Howard College in Washington DC
and was the first African-American dean
of Marsh Chapel at Boston College.
Howard Thurman died in 1981, when I was only six.
But I remember vividly coming across these words
that Thurman once prepared for his church
as they gathered for worship
at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples
in San Francisco
entitled “I Seek Room for Peace”:[i]
I seek the enlargement of my heart that there may be room for Peace.
Already there is room ENOUGH for chaos.
There is, in every day’s experience,
much that makes for confusion and bewilderment.
Often I do not understand quite how my relations with others
become frayed and chaotic.
Sometimes this chaos is a positive thing;
it means that something new, creative and whole
is beginning to pull together
the tattered fragments of my relationship
with a person and to fashion it
into that which delights the spirit
and makes glad the heart.
Sometimes the chaos is negative,
a sign of degeneration in a relationship
once meaningful and good.
There is room enough for chaos.
But the need of my heart is for room for Peace:
Peace of mind that inspires singleness of purpose;
Peace of heart that quiets all fears and uproots all panic;
Peace of spirit that filters through all confusions
and robs them of their power.
These I seek NOW.
I know that here, in this quietness,
my life can be infused with Peace.
Therefore, before God, I seek the enlargement of my heart
at this moment, that there may be room for Peace.
I don’t know about you
but there’s something deeply true to me about all of this.
There is room enough for chaos. Isn’t that the truth.
Chaos seems to abound these days.
Chaos in my weekly routine
Chaos with my friends, and my loved ones,
even with the random people I meet day to day.
Just try driving on the interstate
or sitting down on a bench at the mall or Target or wherever
for me it was the airport this week
and WATCH people.
Or chaos in the news.
From politics to shootings.
We should be careful in thinking that chaos is all bad all the time.
Its not always.
Thurman is helpful in reminding us that there sometimes is a use for Chaos.
It can be the heart of creativity and energy and passion.
But Chaos, whether good or bad, comes easy.
What is hard, is peace.
What is hard is finding that space where the forces within us
work in harmony
both within ourselves and with those around us.
What is hard is allowing ourselves the presence of mind and emotion
to not overreact to the violence and the chaos directed at us.
What is hard is focusing, instead, on Jesus
and on what a non-violent response to these things might be.
There are a lot of different reasons why it is hard, and you might take your pick:
–some say we’re wired to be aggressive to each other
that our reptilian cortex’s fight or flight mechanism
is just more hardwired into us
–some say instead that its learned
that a culture awash in video games and guns
is bound to prefer chaos to peace.
Take your pick.
But the point maybe is that Thurman’s words are a good prayer for all of us:
I seek the enlargement of my heart
at this moment, that there may be room for Peace
This week’s suggestion
for discipleship, for living with Jesus in our day to day lives
is to pray that prayer:
I seek the enlargement of my heart
at this moment, that there may be room for peace..
The thing about this peace
is that when we have it
then we dwell in a certain place of assurance
that no matter what happens
no matter the violence or tumult of the world around me
that we can go on, that God’s got this
and maybe we can even SHARE peace with others
so that the world can become a bit more peaceful too.
I continue to marvel at examples
of people who seem to just BE peaceful
to dwell in calm and security
even in the midst of the chaos of their lives.
It’s the peace of those I’ve met taking youth on work trips
who are responding to all sorts of chaos
tornado or hurricane or flood
through concrete acts of assistance, sure
mucking out homes or building new ones
but who find in their labor serenity and purpose and hope.
It’s the peace of those who picket and stand up for those who have nothing
confident in the love of the one who animates them.
And It’s the peace I’ve seen, particularly,
in the quiet but daily faith
of those who try to walk each day with God through Jesus Christ.
I was thinking about a video I once saw
a sort of testimony from a pastor named Janet Wolf
she was a Methodist pastor from Nashville.[ii]
Wolf and her grandmother were very close,
apparently living in the same home.
As a child, Janet would often go to her grandmother
to complain about how unfair life was,
about how her sisters got better grades, you know
even though she worked harder,
about how she was often the last child to be chosen
to be on the kickball team at school,
even though she really had great talents
that had yet to be recognized,
or complains about how her teachers didn’t really take time to know her.
After each complaint, her grandmother’s response was always the same.
Just one word, a question: “And?”
Janet was not allowed to leave the room until she responded
to the “And” of her grandmother, she said
Grandmother would never change the question
nor the acceptable answer,
which was “and I’m going on anyway…”
Janet said “Grandma was teaching me faith,
helping me see God’s love in my life
sufficient enough for all things,
showing me that nothing in this world could EVER defeat me”.
It was her grandmother’s faith, that became her faith too.
As Janet grew older and finished junior high and then high school,
college and seminary,
she would return to have talks with her grandmother,
telling her how HARD things sometimes were,
and answering again and again the same question, “and?”
with the same answer, “And I’m going on anyway.”
Then Janet told about how her grandmother became ill
and grew weaker and weaker until everyone knew she was about to die.
She asked Janet to come and see her.
“You know death is coming to me” she said.
“I’m not afraid. And I’m going to be with God.
But, it’s important to hear you say it once again.
And…?” Her grandmother prompted…
Janet was too full of tears to reply.
Grandma waited but there was nothing.
“Janet, I’d better hear the answer loud and clear
and I’d better hear you right now. And…”
Janet replied… “And I’m going on anyway…”
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”
It is a gift that has been handed down to us.
Not just to the disciples, but to us.
Paul tells us that this is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives, if we’ll open our heart to it.
That peaceable kingdom
envisioned by Isaiah
that time when the wild forces of nature
will be tamed in such a way that each of them
and each of us
will somehow dwell in harmony
there’s something beautiful there for us to aspire to
to seek to make room for.
A peaceful world starts with a peaceful spirit.
May we receive the gift of the Spirit and so enlarge our hearts that we find the:
peace of mind that inspires singleness of purpose;
the peace of heart that quiets all fears and uproots all panic;
and the peace of spirit that filters through all confusions
and robs them of their power.
And having made room for the Spirit’s peace,
may we witness it to the world
in our own acts of courage, reconciliation, and discipleship
so those who know us come to see in us the Risen Lord.
[i] Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: Boston, Massachusetts, 1981) p 186-187.
[ii] From the series “Questions of Faith” Series 5, produced by EcuFilm.
Image: the new Kirk Peace Pole, part of our church grounds, which we call the Kirk Peace Park.