May 1, 2016
Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s one of the options for a concluding collect after the Prayers of the Peole. If you turn in your Prayer Book to page 395, collect number 6 reads:
Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, “Peace I give to you; my own peace I leave with you:” regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church, and to us the peace and unity of that heavenly City, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, now and for ever. Amen.
So that’s my sermon in a nutshell...Jesus’ farewell discourse includes absolution of sins, blessing and a charge.
But I think it’s worth it to look a little more deeply into what exactly Jesus is telling the disciples in this reading from John. So let’s set the stage.
Remember Holy Week? It may seem strange that in the Easter season we’re going back to stories of Jesus pre-crucifixion and resurrection. But that’s where we are. We’re in the upper room with Jesus and the disciples. Jesus is preparing them for his crucifixion. This is his farewell discourse. In the Gospel of John, the farewell is 4 chapters long, beginning in chapter 13. This discourse is meant to help the disciples understand what’s about to happen, and then prepare them for what comes next. In our lectionary cycle, the reading gets put here...just before the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We have lived through the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, we have experienced his resurrection, and now we are waiting for what comes next.
Do you remember the first time you or your children left home...perhaps it was for college, or because they had accepted a job somewhere else...it’s a bittersweet experience. It is a time of joy--a time when anything is possible, there are new opportunities ahead, and life is changing in an exciting way. But it’s also a time of grief--the nest is empty, the house is quiet, life is changing and identities are being reformed. In the same way, Jesus reminds his disciples that his departure, while it may be sad and seem hopeless in the moment, is one that will change life in a new way. Jesus has to depart in order for the disciples to fully become who they are called to be--preachers, teachers, healers, and prophets. Jesus has to depart in order for there to be joy.
And in this bittersweet moment of intimacy between Jesus and his friends, he gives them a gift. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Jesus gives this friends the gift of peace...and as we know, these are similar words after his resurrection when he appears in the upper room again! So what of this gift of peace? As we know, it isn’t peace as the world might define it--it isn’t about a sense of calmness or serenity, it isn’t about an end to war or strife (even though that would be great), it isn’t about everyone getting along in a friendly hippie-like commune. This peace is the antidote for anxiety, fear and troubled hearts...this peace is about experiencing the presence of God.
And what does the presence of God look or feel like? According to theologian Peter Carmen, the closest we can get to experiencing the presence of God is love in action. Think about that...experiencing the presence of God, is the experience of love in action. We practice this love in action every Sunday when we exchange the peace...we have confessed, been forgiven and reconciled, and a new community of love in action is formed. And we know from our lived experiences that this is but one way to practice love in action! FISH, the Voucher Program, Good Neighbor Saturday, the Warming Shelter, Ascension School, visiting a friend who is lonely, giving a hug to someone who’s heartbroken, smiling at a stranger...this is love in action. This is the peace of God that Jesus gives to the disciples and to us. This is the gift and inheritance that Jesus leaves for the world--love in action.
So some of you may know my colleague and friend, David King. He’s the pastor at Our Redeemer/Asbury. He was here last Sunday visiting with our youth group. I like David a lot and I really respect him as a pastor and a scholar. He’s incredibly smart, thoughtful and witty, and is a constant reminder to me of what love in action can look like. Unlike me, you probably won’t find David hanging around at the Warming Shelter, you won’t see him at a protest downtown, speaking at a city council meeting, or writing Letters to the Editor every time he witnesses an injustice . But about 10 years ago, David and his wife adopted a son. And in these last two weeks, they’ve welcome twin girls into their family as well. This is love in action. Without any big announcements, parades, or press coverage, without drawing any special attention to himself or his family, David and Melissa are using the gift that Jesus left for all his friends...they are expressing their love in action by adopting two girls into their lives.
My point is this, whether you’re out there making a ruckus for justice, or calling someone just to check in and see how they’re doing, whether you’re preparing to send your child to college, or hugging a dear friend who’s grieving...use the gift that Jesus gave you...put your love into action.
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
I’ve been thinking about this new commandment a lot over the last months. The commandment to love one another doesn’t say, “like one another” or “be nice to one another”--it’s simple--love one another. This was a new way of thinking for those early Jesus followers. Our gospel text puts this commandment in the setting of the last supper, after Judas has left the meal to make arrangements with the Pharisees and temple police for the arrest and trial of Jesus. And even in this setting of anxiousness and growing conflict, Jesus tells his disciples to love one another...that is how people will know who you are and to whom you belong...that you love each other. Jesus could have said, “you know...love the people who love you, love the people who do the things you enjoy, who support the political positions you do, who behave the way you want; love the people who will never disappoint you or hurt you or betray you. The rest...just let them go.” But again, that’s not what Jesus said...he said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
It’s not an easy thing to do, this loving one another. As simple as it sounds, it’s one of the hardest things we are asked to do, because it means that we have to be vulnerable, we have to take a risk, and we have to be willing to forgive and be forgiven.
So how do we love one another?
I’ve been thinking about the militia that occupied Burns a few months back. I’ve been thinking about how their presence impacted the community, that people didn’t feel safe to go to church, that people are still struggling to recover and experience healing. Where was the love of neighbor as this militia took over a wildlife refuge and damaged a community’s sense of self? As Pastor Matt Littau has said, “light a candle for peace in Burns”...in other words, peace, the love for one another, is what will heal that community.
And I’ve been thinking about the situations in Paris and Brussels, in Pike County, Ohio and Appling, Georgia, in our cities and towns locally and globally, where men, women and children go about their daily lives with a sense of fear around them. Where is the love of one another in those moments?
I don’t know is the answer. I don’t know how we’ve managed to moved so far away from this command to love one another. When I hear about the traumas of our brothers and sisters, all I can do is pray for love...pray that someone will extend the love of Christ in those moments where there is only grief and sorrow. I want to believe that it happens. I want to believe that among those who are first responders, those who provide refuge and safety, and those who extend a hand in help do so because they are compelled by love.
It is this love--this love of neighbor, this love that heals instead of hurts, this love that extends beyond borders and walls--this is the love of Christ that is in each of us, and that we are commanded to share--if we can be open to it.
None of us is perfect. Sorry, but it’s true. Instead of love and kindness, we judge, we scream, we wage war, we ignore suffering, we deny mercy to those who need it...this is what we do instead of following Jesus’ command to love. Because IF all of us were perfect, IF all of us acted from a place of love, IF we responded to tears in a way that brought healing...life would be different.
We get glimpses of these moments of difference...these moments of the New Norm where we love each other as Jesus instructed.
At last weekend’s consecration of our new bishop, Patrick Bell, there was love. As the choir chanted Veni Sancte Spiritus, and the bishops gathered around Patrick in prayer...there was love.
When my unhoused friend Larry came to the church on Tuesday looking for help, not for himself, but a friend he had just made...a friend who was in distress, and Larry knew we could help...there was love.
When some of you take food to Ed & Patti, visit and share a greeting from St. Mark’s...there is love.
When others of you say a kind word to the guests at FISH...there is love.
When Eleanor, daughter Cathy and I gathered around Ken’s bed to say prayers and anoint him for death...there was love.
I saw a sign recently that said, “see the need, be the remedy.” The remedy is grounded in love.
I know it’s out there...this love that Jesus tells us to share with one another. I have experienced it first hand, as I’m sure many of you have as well.
In the Book of Revelation it says that the Messiah is making all things new...I believe this. The visions that the writer John shares are hopeful...after a time of oppression, injustice, and tribulation, John provides a vision of the New Norm...a vision where there is no more suffering, no more separation, but only welcome, the love of Christ in each of us, the new life of joy. We always have an opportunity to love one another, to make things new, to be the remedy...it’s our choice.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, lover of all, When it comes to love, we know how to be nice to people who have been nice to us and to be good to people who have been good to us, but this morning we ask your help...Help us to love one another completely, eternally, patiently, painfully, humbly, infinitely, powerfully, openly, consistently, deeply, redeemingly, purely, unselfishly, and marvelously...just as you have loved us. Amen. (adapted from https://williamdearnhardt.com/2015/12/31/a-new-commandment-and-prayer-for-2016/)
I have to say that I am very grateful for the disciple Peter. I know that Peter gets a bad rap as the guy who denies Jesus during his trial, but I think there’s a lot we can learn from Peter’s idea of discipleship, and that’s what I’m grateful for.
If you think back to the lives of the disciples prior to the crucifixion, Peter is a pretty average guy, but he’s a very excitable disciple. Peter is a fisherman, which we’re reminded of in this gospel account from John. Peter’s first experience with Jesus is on the lakeshore when Jesus calls him to be a “fisher of people”. During his time with Jesus, he attempted to walk on water, but failed when his faith faltered. When Jesus asked him “who do you say I am” he answers without hesitation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. And then when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper, Peter doesn’t really understand what’s happening, and so he says “not only my feet but my hands and head also”.
In all these accounts, Peter is pretty ordinary. We like to think of him as the disciple who just doesn’t get it, but in reality, I think he’s a reflection of who we are. Like Peter, we have been called to be “fishers of people”, to walk on water and to recognize Christ in the world. Sometimes we can, but sometimes we come up short and miss the chances to explore our faith.
During the pre-crucifixion trial, Peter gets painted by the gospel writers as the disciple who denied Jesus. Three times Peter is asked if he knows who Jesus is and three times he says “no”. He is acting out of a place of fear instead of faith. He’s afraid of the hostile situation that is happening around him, and maybe that if he confesses knowing Jesus that he too will be arrested. Perhaps for Peter, it’s easier to be perceived as a bystander than confess his faith in the Son of the living God. And once again, Peter serves as a reflection to us…sometimes it is easier to be silent than to confess our faith and claim our identity as disciples.
But here’s where I find hope and gratefulness in Peter. In Sunday’s gospel, we have Peter and the beloved disciple fishing once again…and along comes the resurrected Jesus. After some conversation about where to place the fishing nets, and an abundance of a catch, Jesus and Peter spend some time by the fire eating breakfast. And in this intimate scene of the two disciples and Jesus by the fire, having their breakfast, Jesus asks Peter “do you love me”. Three times Jesus asks this of Peter, and three times Peter responds “you know I love you”.
So there’s a couple of interesting things about this little dialogue between Jesus and Peter. The asking and responding three times recalls Peter’s denial when asked three times. But what I find more interesting is the word “love”. If you were to look back to the Greek text, when Jesus asks Peter “do you love me” the word used is “agape” which implies an unconditional love. When Peter responds “you know I love you” the word used is “philia” which implies brotherly love.
So why do I find that so interesting? First, because Jesus is asking Peter “do you love me unconditionally” and Peter responds with “I love you kindly”. As much as we want to think that we can love Jesus as much as he loves us, the truth is unconditional love is bigger than we can imagine, and so we love as much as we can…and Peter is modeling that for us in his response. The other reason I find this dialogue between Jesus and Peter, and the difference in the understanding of the word “love” so interesting is because each time Jesus asks and Peter responds, Jesus call Peter to ministry… “feed my sheep”. I think this is important to note because it reminds us that no matter how much love we have for Jesus, be it brotherly or sisterly love, or unconditional love, Jesus accepts our love and commands us to use that love to care for others. In other words, we don’t have to be perfect to be disciples.
The Bible is full of unlikely evangelists, prophets and disciples. Throughout the Old Testament, God often called the most unlikely folks to be messengers of grace…a Hebrew raised as an Egyptian, an old man with a barren wife, the last in a long line of sons, a widowed woman, and a prostitute…all people who were flawed or imperfect in some way. And throughout the New Testament, Jesus also calls the most unlikely folks to be disciples and evangelists…fishermen, tax collectors, a woman who had been possessed...all ordinary folks who were flawed or imperfect in some way. And yet, because of unconditional love, these people were met in their life journeys and transformed. Because of God’s grace, their “philia” love was enough for mission and ministry.
So yes, Peter often gets a bad rap for being a denier of Jesus and a clueless disciple, but I am so grateful for his life and ministry. It is because of Peter that I am reminded that I don’t have to be perfect to do God’s work. It is because of Peter’s failure to walk on water that I am reminded that if I at least try, God will be there to support me. Jesus meets me where I am in my journey and still invites me into ministry.
My hope is that all of us can say “you know I love you” and answer Jesus’ call to feed his sheep.
Peace be with you.
I have spent my sabbath week reading liberation theology and watching movies about people striving to discover the truth. While I enjoyed getting the extra sleep and having time with Matt and the kitties, my heart and mind have been stirred up. So I am grateful for these biblical accounts of the disciples of Jesus wrestling with and claiming their truth in the face of fear and oppression in the early days of the Jesus movement.
Among the movies I watched (and I encourage you to check these out too if you haven’t yet) were Spotlight, Suffergette and Ceasar Chavez. I’m constantly surprised at what they leave out of the history books. I never really understood the sacrifices that so many women made in order to have the right to vote...the fear of losing their children, the violence they experienced in jail, the harassment by neighbors and people they thought were their friends.
And while I certainly remember the Rolling Stone magazine article that followed up on the scandal of the priest sex abuse cases, hearing the stories of people who were victims, and those working against a colossal system to reveal the truth...I never fully understood their pain either.
In high school I never heard the name Ceasar Chavez in history classes. Yet when I moved to California, the spirit of his work, the spirit of his desire for equality and dignity, the spirit of the United Farm Workers Movement was very much alive. He wasn’t asking for much for the workers--he wanted them to have the opportunity to have clean drinking water, bathrooms, and fair wages. And yet, he was demonized, beaten and jailed because of his desire for justice.
All of these men and women were searching for the peace that Jesus talked about in that upper room when he appeared to the disciples in our gospel story for today.
When we think of the word “peace” lots of different ideas might come up. Perhaps a peace sign on a flag or poster with bright psychedelic colors being held by a hippie. Perhaps we think of a tranquil spot where we can take a deep breath and just relax. Perhaps it’s something else that comes to mind.
None of that is wrong, but the peace that Jesus gives to the disciples after his resurrection, the Holy Spirit that he breathes on to them...that peace is active and alive. It’s a peace that calls us to move. He says to them, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” He’s sending them out to heal, forgive, and restore others. In seeing the wounds of the risen Christ, the disciples were restored. Their faith took on a new shape and their mission was reignited.
Sometimes I think we read the lessons in the wrong order. Today is one of those days. Today we should have read the Psalm, the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, and then Revelation. But I’m not in charge of these things.
But if we had read the lessons in this order, we would have gotten a slightly different message:
First, the message of “Praise God--God is at the center of my being--God is in my words and actions--Praise God”
Then, here’s what resurrection living is about--it’s about stepping into the world from a place of faith, not fear--go in peace to do God’s work
And then, here’s part of the challenge of living in the light of the resurrection; Kingdom building is hard, but stand firm in your faith.
And finally, Praise God--God is the beginning and the end--we are an Easter people, Praise God.
See...I think my way is better. It gives us tidy little bookends. Oh well.
But let’s go back to the reading from Acts 5. So something has happened between the appearing of Jesus in the upper room to Peter leading the disciples in their ministry. While that jump may seem disconcerting, it’s ok...we’ll get there. What’s important to know is that the disciples have been forming the first community of the Jesus Movement. There have been teachings, preachings, healings...things are happening.
And so here in chapter 5, Peter and the others--those same disciples that had previously been hiding out in that upper room--are brought before the council because they have been out among the people proclaiming this peace that Jesus spoke about. They have been arrested for teaching, preaching, healing and forgiving. They have been standing up to the oppressive forces in their community. In their mission, motivated by their faith in Jesus, having received the breath of the Holy Spirit, and being in relationship with God, the disciples stand in solidarity with others looking for this same peace.
In her article, “Solidarity” Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz states: “the goal of solidarity is to participate in the ongoing process of liberation through which we Christians become a significantly positive force in the unfolding of the “kin-dom” of God.” Those disciples who were arrested for preaching, teaching and healing in the name of Jesus were working towards the peace of the kingdom of God. A kingdom that is based on love and respect. A kingdom that is based on dignity and restoration. A kingdom that is based on forgiveness and healing. And they were arrested for it! This is scandalous! If the arrest, trial and death of Jesus wasn’t scandalous enough, here are the disciples being faced with the same outcome. And we see it over and over throughout history...even until the present day.
Look at our saints and martyrs. They believed in this same liberating, healing, loving peace of God! Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Perpetua and Felicitas, Bernard Mizeki, the Martyrs of Uganda, of Sudan, and El Salvador along with Oscar Romero, the people of Mother Immanuel AME. And countless others.. As Annie Dillard has been known to say (and I’m paraphrasing here), if people really understood what it means to be a Christian, we’d be wearing crash helmets to church; “ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares.” In other words, standing up for the peace of the Kingdom of God, doing the ministry of the church, can be scary and dangerous, and totally life giving in very unexpected ways!
Sometimes, our lives are filled with doubt and fear, and so we become stuck in our own “upper rooms”. But if we allow ourselves to be open to the possibility of Christ among us, if we breathe in the Holy Spirit, we too can become restored. We too can work for the peace of the kingdom of God. And so my hope for us this Easter season is this:
May the love, compassion, joy and healing of the kingdom of God grow in the hearts and minds of all; May peace and wisdom visit the upper rooms that we hide in, and may we know and practice the liberation of Jesus Christ in our world. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.