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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Unconditional Peace

We find peace in Christ when the Spirit comes to us, reminding us, teaching us, empowering us, to be the peace of God in the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year C
   texts:  John 14:[add 15-22] 23-35; Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Jesus offers us peace the world cannot give, he says. Given the utter lack of peace we experience in the world, is this actually peace the world cannot have?

Peace between nations, peace in our cities, peace within families, peace of heart and mind: do we know such peace? From the depths of our hearts to the breadth of this planet, do we see it? Christ may be Prince of Peace, but is that just a pretty title?

The peace he promises today he gives on the night of his betrayal, Thursday night. Three days later, Sunday night, risen from the dead, his first words are “Peace be with you.” In between was heartbreak, suffering, death. There was little peace for these followers those three days.

So of course Christ would re-gift peace to them after all that. But this blessing, the “peace the world cannot give,” he gave before the worst three days of their lives.

The world gives deeply conditional peace. Peace of heart is only possible, the world says, if all things are well and we’ve got all we ever wanted. Peace between people is only possible, the world says, if everyone agrees, if no one raises questions of injustice, if the ones in charge stay in charge and everyone goes along.

If Jesus offers a peace that endures horrible things, as he gave his friends, that is a peace the world cannot, does not, give.

The question is, does Christ give it either?

If we struggle to be at peace in our hearts because of all we face in our lives, because of the lack of peace in our family, the lack of peace in the world, we are not alone. But if we come here and have to pretend that what we see out in the world isn’t important, or hide that we might not feel at peace inside, we’re building our faith on a lie.

The gift Jesus gives us is that here we see clearly he’s aware of our our anxiety and doubts and fears. Twice in this discourse he offers peace. Twice he says “do not let your hearts be troubled.” On Palm Sunday, and now here, he says “do not be afraid.” Jesus is tuned into the hearts of his followers, and knows they’re struggling with what is happening, and will struggle more ahead.

Even with this terrible thing coming, he honors their concern, feels it. And he reassures them and us that he can and will still give peace.

That night and the next two days they must have thought the opposite was true. But when they met Christ alive again, they began to understand. Their circumstances, and the circumstances of their world, still didn’t look like peace. But as they entered deeper and deeper into life in Christ, they found a peace that transcended circumstances, and had the power to change them, even change circumstances. They found a peace that was without conditions.

Now, if we could only find that so we’d actually be at peace.

As it turns out, our Lord has taken care of that, too.

Today Jesus promises he will send the Holy Spirit to be with us, to remind us of all he has said. Listen: “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 give to you.”

Christ’s peace comes directly from this gift: we don’t have to keep everything straight that we have learned and known in Christ. The Holy Spirit will teach us along the way, and remind us of all Jesus told us that we so often forget.

Don’t underestimate this. We so often talk about discipleship and faith in ways that make us more anxious than at peace, because we struggle to be what we keep hearing we are called to be. But we have a Lord who helps us, who sends us the Spirit of God, to gently remind us of all that we have known but that we sometimes lose along the way.

This is an astonishing gift. And here is what the Spirit reminds us:

The Spirit reminds us that we are not alone.

A lot of our fear is that we don’t have Jesus ready at hand in a way we can easily see. So much of these followers’ anxiety in these verses is related to him leaving, and them fearing being alone. So Jesus takes care of that. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he says. As if it’s his job to make sure we’re OK, that we’re not feeling isolated and lost.

We aren’t alone, that’s the first reminder. The Holy Spirit comes into our hearts and minds every day, and that is the source of a true peace regardless of circumstances. In fact, Jesus promises that he and the Father will make a home with us, too. That the Triune God will live with us.

There is peace in this: whatever we are facing, God never abandons us.

The Spirit also reminds us of how to love like Christ.

Jesus’ words last week brought great anxiety over the implications of his command to love in our lives. It’s too easy to forget how clear Jesus is about love of neighbor, how insistent he is that it is the shape of our lives, it’s too easy to turn inward. So we are filled with worry about this.

We’re also distracted by the problems of life, by the problems our neighbors, even our family, create for us, and to lose track of our call to love as Christ loves.

But the Holy Spirit is our teacher and reminder not only of what Christ has taught us, but what it means for our lives. We don’t follow a God who gives a job description for “Servant Disciple” and leaves us to figure it out. Our Lord has a job, too, to gently nudge and move us into love. To teach us the ways of love we too easily forget. To remind us when we’re distracted of what our calling is.

And the Spirit also empowers us in this love. A little later Jesus talks about us staying connected in him, like a branch to a vine, so we can have the strength to love as we are called to love.

There is peace in this: the Holy Spirit will remind us what we learned and help us live as we are called.

And the Spirit reminds us that our Lord is coming back for us, that there is a new creation being made.

Just as the Holy Spirit opened John’s eyes to a revelation of the world to come in the new creation we just heard, so the Spirit opens our eyes to see that the world is going to be brought into a new life.

The Spirit, the Comforter, gives the peace that God has not abandoned this world, no matter what we see, and is even now making things new. Preparing a new creation that will be, as we heard today, a gift and blessing for all nations and peoples. For us, and for all, there is room in God’s house.

There is peace in this: in our darkest hours, we have hope that God is still working for the healing of all things.

We often speak of God’s unconditional love. Today Jesus promises unconditional peace.

This is the deep peace those who are in Christ have known for millennia, a peace that Paul tells us “passes understanding,” a peace that transcends our current situation. It is a peace without conditions, a peace given us by the Triune God through the Holy Spirit, a peace that doesn’t have to wait for everything to be perfect to be real and life-changing.

This peace is ours when we know we are not alone, but walk with the Spirit beside and within us.

This peace is ours when we are guided and empowered by the Spirit to live abundant, loving lives.

This peace is ours when we are reminded by the Spirit of the healing to come for all people.

When our hearts have this peace, we much more easily become Christ in this world that knows little peace. We become peace-bearing people who bring God’s justice and peace to our families, our city, our world. At peace in Christ, we become beacons of the Good News by our very lives. And other people find peace in God through meeting us.

Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Our God is bringing peace. And in fact, it’s already here.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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