2015 Lenten series, entitled “Christ our Peace The text for this is John 14:23-29
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
With “Christ our Peace” being the theme for this year’s Lenten series, I could think of no better passage to use than the section of Jesus’ farewell discourse that speaks about the peace he leaves to the world as he enters the peace of his Father’s kingdom. And no, I’m not going to do a 40-point sermon as suggested. I’m not even going to do a 4-point sermon on the topic. So you can relax.
Now, there’s no place to relax like home. There is nothing like home. The sights and sounds and smells of home are just as much a part of us as the hopes and dreams, and the relationships of love and support which make us feel safe and secure when we’re home. The song, “Home, Sweet Home” may not be as popular as it was in bygone years. It may not move our hearts in the same way as it did, but ‘Home, Sweet Home” thrills us just the same, especially if we have left home and have a chance to return. Soldiers cry for home; prisoners dream of home; nursing home residents would do anything to get back to home. There is nothing as tragic as watching people on TV as they homes burn into cinders, and there is nothing more joyful than seeing someone rush into the arms of a loved one after months of separation.
In the lesson for today, Jesus talks about going home. To him, home means returning to his Father, and residing in paradise, the new Jerusalem, a place of everlasting joy and peace. He had made his home here on earth for a while. He walked among us and helped us grow in faith and love of God, but his time of separation from his real home, the place from which he came, was coming to an end. He had just a couple of more things to do before his death and resurrection and before his ascension into heaven, and one of those things was to prepare his disciples for his departure.
How do you prepare a person for your impending death? It is difficult for us to prepare ourselves, let alone prepare those we love – our children and our spouse, our grandchildren or parents, and our friends – those who suffer a loss which they can do nothing to prevent. All they can do is stand by and watch. We may write our last will and testament. We may have the foresight to provide financial security via insurance policies. But, none of this prepares loved ones for the experience of separation and feelings of guilt, fear and abandonment which can accompany a death.
I have seen people face death with courage. I have seen people face death with fear. I have seen people face death with a faith in God that gave them hope that there was something more in store for them. But, I have never seen another person face death like Chauncey.
Now, Chauncey was not a regular church-going man. I don’t think I ever saw him in worship. But he believed in God and trusted in promises in a way that gave him the courage to face whatever came his way. As it happened, life wasn’t kind to this man, for in his early 60’s, he was dying of a very painful disease – bone cancer.
As Chauncey laid in his hospital bed, he remained sharp and alert even in his last hours. He was no fool. He knew that his time was short. And on the day before he died, he requested that his lawyer come in to his bedside in order to insure that all the provisions were properly made to care for his loved ones. I was there when he picked up the phone and called his sister for the last time in order to say, “Good-bye” and to reassure her that he would see her again someday. I was there when he turned to his wife, Harriet, and told her how much he loved her and that he would watch over her even after his death. And because I was there that last day, I, even I, was a recipient of this man’s departing gifts for as I was leaving his hospital room, he turned to me and with the power of faith, said, “Peace be with you.” And, with his words came a rush of God’s blessing and peace, like nothing I had ever experienced before or since that time.
As I tell this story and remember these words and the divine presence that overcame me that day, tears well up in my eyes. Chauncey had given me the greatest gift that he could…the gift of God’s peace and presence in the midst of death.
This is what Jesus wanted to give to his disciples…. the gift of God’s peace and presence in the midst of death. Jesus had a tough task in front of him as he tried to prepare his friends for what was about to happen to him. He wanted them to rejoice for he would be returning home to the arms of his waiting Father. At the same time, joy would be the last emotion which they would experience. So, to help his disciples get through the impending crisis and to empower them to serve in his absence, Jesus gave them a couple of promises and two gifts – a couple of promises which would be fulfilled, and two gifts to enable disciples of every generation to find hope even in death.
What are these promises? What are these gifts? The first promise is that of love, a love which will extend from Jesus himself, through the Father and into the lives of those who are left behind. This love is not a passive, warm-fuzzy feeling, but a love which embeds itself into people’s lives. You might say that it’s sort of like a good marriage, a special bond in which words and actions become one as two individuals unite for a life time.
This love is a promise from Jesus, a promise to you and me and all who find our home with him. But how are the disciples to keep their end of this love relationship? As we all know, marriage isn’t easy, especially when the spouse is absent for years. So, in order to help the disciples stay firm in a life of faith which keeps Jesus’ word alive, Jesus promised to be present through the gift of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, which was to become as much a part of their lives as their own spirit and will. For us, this Holy Spirit comes to us before most of us are capable to acknowledging our Lord. This Advocate has a purpose – to teach us everything that is needful and to remind us of everything that Jesus said and did.
As if this promise and this gift were not enough for disciples of every age, Jesus also gave us the gift of his peace. The peace which he gave is not the absence of hostility. In fact, it can often be described as just the opposite. For, it is a peace which finds joy in the midst of struggle; a peace which finds stability in the midst of change; a peace which can turn what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “dark yesterdays into oases for tomorrow.” The peace that Jesus left for us is not like the peace that the world brings. For this peace gives us courage to face adversity and hope in the face of death. Christ’s peace is a peace which thrives when all other things fail and fade with time. In Christ there is peace – a peace that endures forever.
Finally, in the midst of impending death, Jesus assured his disciples, like Chauncey assured his sister, that they would see him again. There will be goings and comings, as Jesus said, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.”
Yes, there will be a time of separation. There will be a time of physical absence. Death is a real thing in this world in which we live. But, that time will not be forever. The one who went home to the Father will come again. And, so the disciples of every generation can find hope even in death. Jesus came; he ministered among us; he died for our sake; he rose; he went home to the Father; and he will come again. We have his promise on this. And we have the gifts he left behind so that we will know that we have not been abandoned. God is with us. Christ is our peace.
May you find comfort and encouragement in Jesus’ promises and in his gifts – and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.