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In the End, Peace
The Reverend John Leedy
May 26, 2019
A Reading from the Gospel of John
Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
‘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.
Working here in the church office is a noisy affair. No, I’m not talking about the noise from the copier or the phones ringing or the vacuum cleaner. I’m talking about three hundred and sixty degree, Dolby 5.1 high definition, IMAX grade construction noise bearing down on these walls from sunup to sundown.
Do this, grab a Bible and a lawn chair and drive out to the airport. Set up your lawn chair under the belly of a 787 Dreamliner as it revs its engines before take-off. Then pull out your Bible and try to think a coherent thought about Jesus.
And it’s not just the volume – sometimes is the sheer diversity of noises all going at the same time that does the trick. Rumbling, roaring, beeping, whistling, hammering, pounding, shouting, shrieking, crashing, banging… seriously, are y’all building a building or fighting a war? The only other thing I can think of that makes all these noises simultaneously is if you were to put a 30-piece orchestra, a diesel engine, and a bucket of gravel in a blender, set it to puree, and throw it on a pile of dynamite.
Two weeks ago I walked out of my office to head up to the youth room just as some construction worker somewhere was firing up a piece of equipment that made a sound I can only describe as a grinding scream. I walked into the youth room and closed the door behind me I suddenly realized that I immersed in silence. I looked around the room and saw the new double paned windows lining the room that had just been installed, the windows that our Building Manager Frank had worked so hard this past year to make happen. I stood there in the room for a moment, eyes closed, soaking in the moment of shelter from the noise and chaos outside. I stood there knowing that, while the noise and turmoil on our streets would be waiting for me downstairs, that perhaps this little moment of peace was just enough to get me though the day.
I wonder if any of you have had those moments? Those times when a surprise moment of peace greets you in an unexpected way? Those moments of peace in the midst of the noise and chaos of life? I wonder if that’s how the disciples felt when they first heard these words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
Our scripture today meets us in the context of Jesus’ last moments with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. Not exactly a peaceful setting. Earlier in John 13, we read that Jesus and his disciples are gathered for the meal we know as the Last Supper. We hear how Jesus becomes troubled in Spirit as Judas departs to enact his betrayal. After Judas’ departure, the tension in the room rises even higher – they all know something big and something bad is coming.
Jesus breaks the news, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. Where I am going, you cannot come.” As the parent of a three-year-old, I can tell you that nothing ratchets up the anxiety in a room than when a toddler hears that mama or dada is going away somewhere and that they can’t come too. And, much like how my three-year-old deals with anxious and fearful moments, the fearful disciples begin asking questions. “Lord, where are you going?” “Lord, why can I not follow you?” “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus does his best here, trying to answer their questions and reminding them of his teachings. Jesus deploys his best Trinitarian systematic theology, explaining to them how, when they see Jesus they are really seeing the Father and that he and the Father are one, but also kinda different – but that here in a bit there will also be another, the Advocate, the Spirit of truth that will be with them forever. Next, Jesus rolls out his most erudite eschatological discourse on how he is going ahead of them to prepare a place for them with God and that one day, presumably at the end of all things, they will be with him in that place.
Jesus even tries his hand at a little Christian Formation with a Sunday school lesson on the importance of keeping God’s commandments and how that will make them feel that he is still with them. But something tells me that the disciples just aren’t buying it, at least, not enough to address the real issue at hand. They’re scared. They’re anxious. There’s a storm brewing outside and the coming chaos of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion are at the door. They don’t want Jesus to go.
Every now and then, when I drop three-year-old Lorelai off in her classroom at school in the morning, we’ll have one of these moments. We’ll walk in – and the other kids will be bumping around and playing – and there’s some music on – and for whatever reason, Lorelai isn’t having it. I’ll set her down on the ground and she’ll immediately turn around and wrap her arms around both of my legs. “Dada,” says this little voice, “I don’t want you to go. I want to go with you.”
I gently extricate my legs from the koala grip of my child and crouch down to be at her level and I do my best to help her understand that it’s time to play and learn with her friends at school and for dada and mama to go to our jobs. I explain that she’d have much more fun here than she would helping me fill out an expense report and I tell her about all the fun we’ll have with mama at the end of the day when we pick her up. It doesn’t work – of course it doesn’t work. Trying to ply logic on an emotional three-year-old is a fool’s errand. Lorelai’s capacity to understand the rhythm of the day’s comings and goings is not really the issue.
I smile and I wrap her up in a bear hug, and I take a deep breath with her against my chest. “Lorelai, I love you. You’re safe and grown ups come back. Take a deep breath with me.” We breathe together, a moment of peace and shelter amidst the chaos, and I pull away to look her in her eye. More often than not, she’s already starting to look around at what the other kids are playing with at their little tables. “Have a good day at school today sweetie. I’ll see you soon.” “Okay dada” she says, and turns to run off and play.
Trying to ply logic on an emotional anyone is a fool’s errand, and I think Jesus figures that out in verse 27. It’s here in verse 27 that Jesus’ tone changes and he switches from teacher to pastor. It’s not in the text, but I have a hunch that Jesus pauses in his monologue and takes a deep breath. He looks into the anxious faces of his disciples and leans toward them. “Peace I leave you; my peace I give. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Maybe that was just enough. Maybe this small moment of shelter in the midst of the storm of chaos and conflict was just enough to remind the disciples that they were in fact in the right place doing the right thing. Maybe it was just enough reassurance to remind them of the work Jesus was there to do. It was a moment of peacemaking in the service of the great day of peace that would one day be. This glimpse of hope, of reassurance, of trust – maybe that was just enough.
And maybe such moments are just enough for us as well. Maybe such moments are just the thing we need to encourage us in the midst of the storm of chaos and conflict in our world – not just the superficial noise of the West Campus construction, but the deep and grinding scream of a hurting world.
Sometimes the arguments and the logic and the news cycles just don’t cut it. Sometimes it all feels too overwhelming, like there is just too much broken or breaking in our lives, in our country, and in our world and we just can’t talk or think our way out of it. We hope and pray for the new world to come, the great day of peace at the end of all this mess when God’s love will reign and every tear will be wiped away, but that day isn’t now. When we are hurting, when we are overwhelmed, when we are fearful – the hopes and dreams of a new world to come just don’t cut it. We turn, arms outstretched, tearfully looking for our loving parent to grasp on to. But the person of Jesus isn’t there.
This coming Thursday, the church will mark the day of Christ’s ascension to heaven. It is at this point in the Easter season we are reminded that the physical person of Jesus is no longer with us and was lifted up in the presence of the apostles those many years ago. So what now? To whom do we turn in the midst of the storm? Where do we find peace in the midst of the chaos?
I’m a big fan of this folk singer out of Asheville, North Carolina named David LaMotte, and for what it’s worth, you should be too. In addition to his music, David is a global peace fellow and peace activist. David gave a TED talk back in twenty seventeen where he uses several metaphors from his musical career to explore some new ways of thinking about what peace and peacemaking can look like. While I commend his entire TED talk to you, I want to lift up one of the metaphors he uses as ways of finding and making peace in the midst of chaos and conflict.
It seems intuitive that peace and conflict are opposites. But if we remember the biblical definition of peace, the Shalom of God, as not merely the absence of conflict, but the safety and wholeness of all people in body, mind, and estate, then we can see how sometimes, many times, it might be necessary to lean into conflict in order to reach toward the goal of peace. David LaMotte challenges the notion that peacemaking is possible without causing division. It’s tempting to avoid the work of peacemaking out of fear that our neighbors, even our loved ones, will disagree with us.
We fear the consequences of divisiveness more than we desire the righteousness of God’s Shalom. But if you look at the life and work of history’s greatest non-violent peacemakers, including Jesus Christ himself, you’ll see that conflict and divisiveness are part of the gig. The wisdom that David LaMotte shares here is this: in order to find our way through times of conflict and divisiveness and into the ways of peace, we must lean into the conflict and lean in toward one another when division inevitably surfaces.
David illustrates this by talking about music. When everyone is singing the same notes, and there is no division in the expression of the music, you’ve got unison, right – unity – all togetherness. Unison singing is nice. It’s safe. No one really has to take a risk to join in the song. But Unison singing gets a little boring after a while, especially if you’ve got a long song to sing. David then talks about another way of making music. It’s when everyone is singing different parts on the same page, keeping time together as a group, cycling through moments of dissonance and togetherness, rising and falling, all working toward the end of beauty, complexity, depth, and… harmony. If we are to do the beautiful work of peacemaking, then moments of division become essential, taking risks become essential, and trusting one another becomes essential.
And the way we keep the song together, the way we find our way through the chaos and the conflict, the way we find shelter and peace in the midst of fear and anxiety is by leaning into one another as the body of Christ on earth.
The person of Jesus isn’t here on earth to make all the conflict and chaos go away and take care of our problems for us. Rather, we are commissioned as the body of Christ to be peacemakers, to be the body that we cling to when we are frightened by the chaos or overwhelmed by the conflict. When we are anxious, when we are afraid, when we are angry or hurting, we turn toward the loving relationships we have with one another and rest secure in each other’s embrace.
Beyond that, we are commissioned as the body of Christ to open wide our arms to those in need, right here in our neighborhood – to stand in the midst of the noise of construction and chaos and conflict and whisper words of peace and shelter. “You are welcome here. You are safe here. We love you and God loves you and there’s nothing that will take that love away.”
And finally, we are commissioned as the body of Christ to work out what being a house of peace looks like within our own community. When the hard conversations come, we turn toward one another and lean in, trusting that God has given each a part to sing in the service of the great harmony of the church’s song. In these small moments of turning toward one another as the body of Christ, we find the peace we need to keep going, striving onward toward the dream of peace that will one day be. Maybe these small moments, when we turn toward one another as the body of Christ, maybe they’re just enough for today. Maybe they are just enough to get us through, to get the world though, to the end.
The peace of Christ be with you.