As I was out and about this week, I had the honor of having lunch with one of your fellow church attendees. I won’t call this person out because I don’t have permission to. But, as we were about to part ways, they said to me “pastor, we really like coming to church. You should see/hear us on the way there.” And I’m sure they sound like any normal family preparing to come to church. It’s a conversation that is probably something like this “are you going to wear that? Hurry up! Stop touching your sister/brother. Where is the offering envelope? Where did you put my coffee?!?” Then they continued, “but as soon as we enter church and get settled into the pew, it’s like a calm comes over us.” It’s peace, I thought.
And it got me to wondering how many of you experience that same peace when you enter this place. There’s chaos all around you and then you sit down, inhale, and ahh….. peace. It’s an hour of your week that you can focus, center, and just be. Now, I’m not going to kid myself that 100% of you come in here 100% of the time and pay 100% attention. I know that it doesn’t happen. You may open the checkbook to write your offering and notice that it’s been a while since that bad boy has been balanced. Great sermon activity! You may start to have your mind drift to a big work or school project, only to come back and ask yourself “when did it become time for communion?!?” Or maybe you get that familiar buzz from your cell phone and see it’s a text message from a friend, sending you pictures from the golf course, wondering where you are. Whatever it may be, there are a lot of things to distract us in this place and what does Jesus want for us? Peace.
It may seem strange that we are in the season of Easter but we still get a reading from right before Jesus was arrested, tried, and hung. And 2 pretty amazing things are said by Jesus: that an advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be accompanying the disciples and us, and then, Jesus bids them and us peace. Before Jesus leaves the disciples and us, he promises that we will always have him accompanying us, walking with us, dwelling with us through the Holy Spirit and that what he wants for us is peace. Now, last week, the gist of what we talked about was love. And now, peace. I think Jesus had a theme in mind.
I have said before that the God we serve is a God of radical love and hospitality. Today’s Gospel further proves that. Now, I’m about to say something that might rile up some feathers or cause a raised eyebrow or two, so I’m warning you, okay? We serve a God who doesn’t have time or even the slightest bit of interest in excuses, hate, rhetoric, and bs that we sometimes give God as to why we can’t love one another or why we don’t wish for peace on one another. God, through Jesus Christ, gave us 2 commandments: love one another and peace be with you. How hard is that, right? But we’re human, so it feels impossible at times.
Peace be with you. It seems simple enough. We say it several times throughout the service. But have you ever taken the time to think about what this sentence means? Let’s break it down. Peace means a “state of tranquility or quiet…freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions…harmony in personal relationships.” (Webster’s) Can you imagine instead of saying “peace be with you” we said “a state of tranquility or quiet be with you.” We might as well say “a vacation be with you.” Peace be with you. Another way of saying that is “may harmony dwell in you” or how about “quiet accompany you.” And when you think about it that way, it’s kind of, well…..peaceful.
It’s also completely against so much of what is going on in this world today. Why do you think the authorities wanted to kill Jesus? Jesus was bringing a message of peace, equality, preferential treatment of the poor, and all authority on heaven and earth belonging to God. It didn’t go over well. The Roman empire wanted anything but peace. They wanted power, prestige, status, and domination. None of that comes when there’s peace. And in case you haven’t been watching the news, paying attention to political commercials, reading newspapers, or perhaps you’ve just come out of a coma, we’re in the middle of a season of electing a new president. It has been anything but peaceful.
Here’s the difficulty with following Christ, we can’t say “peace be with you” and/or “Jesus loves you” without knowing, believing and declaring that this peace and love is for all people, without exception. That thought alone should simultaneously give you peace and make you mad. Because we all have someone in our lives that either doesn’t bring us peace or we think doesn’t deserve peace. It’s almost like we want to hoard Christ’s peace for ourselves. The other struggle we may have is that perhaps you don’t believe that when we say “peace be with you” that it really is for you. Perhaps your life is anything but quiet, tranquil, or free from disturbances. As a mom to a toddler tornado the idea of peace is almost laughable.
Maybe that is what makes this statement so unbelieveable to you, the idea that you deserve peace. If you go back and read the creation story in Genesis, as God creates everything, he calls it good. That is, except for one thing. God calls the Sabbath day, a day of rest, “holy.” We hear in the 23rd Psalm that God makes us to lie in green pastures, beside still waters and our cup overflows. Friends, this only comes from allowing peace into our lives. Just as Jesus was about to leave his friends, his followers, and us, he says “peace I leave with you.” We will not be forgotten, we will not be abandoned, we will not be left to our own devices, and we certainly will not be left to suffer. Jesus has left us with his peace. And what have we done with it? What have you done with the peace that Jesus has offered you?
Have you ignored the peace? Maybe you’ve taken that peace for granted. Perhaps you’ve been judgemental of Jesus’ peace, wanting to decide who gets some and who doesn’t. The kingdom does not and will not work like that, friends. The promise of Jesus’ peace isn’t just for you, and believe it or not, that’s good news. “Peace I leave with you” is a promise to all people, in all lands, in all times and spaces. We receive Jesus’ peace whether we like it or not; we actually can’t refuse it. But we certainly can (and often do) ignore it. If we desire to start paying attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing in this place then we need to settle into a place of peace.
So, take a deep breath, and as you exhale whisper “peace.” Now do it again. And again. And then when you come up for communion, I want you hear the words “given for you” and “shed for you” but I want you to interpret them as “peace be with you.” Your sins are forgiven. Peace be with you. You are okay just the way you are. Peace be with you. You will not be judged by God the same way you judge yourself. Peace be with you. You are enough. Peace be with you. You are loved. Peace be with you.