The Things That Make for Peace

Peace sky

John 20:19-31

preached FCCW 4-12-2015
Two old Red Sox fans get to wondering if there will be
baseball in heaven when they got there.
So, they promise each other that the first to die will somehow
come back with a message to let the other one know.
A week later, one of them dies.
Three days later, the dead man appears to his friend who is still living.
“I’ve got some good news and some bad news,”
says the resurrected friend.
“The good news is that there is a baseball team in heaven.
The bad news is that you’re pitching on Friday.”
The story from our Gospel reading,
of Jesus coming back from the dead
with a message for the disciples,
is also a good news/bad news kind of thing.
Jesus closest friends are still reeling from
the disappointment and shock of his death on a cross.
When Jesus was buried in that tomb,
all their hope, their vision,
their sense of direction and purpose in life
were buried with him.
They were doubting if they had made
the right decision by putting their faith in Jesus and following him.
They were also wondering if maybe that bad choice
was about to cost them their own lives, too.
So they barricaded themselves up in the room
where they had all gathered
after that horrible day when Jesus died.
Suddenly Jesus is there in the room with them,
even though the doors were locked tight.
The good news of Jesus’ appearance
was what they saw with their own eyes.
That he was alive again,
Their faith in him hadn’t been in vain after all.
The bad news,
or at least the news they didn’t want to hear,
was what Jesus said to them.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Jesus now was preparing them to come out of hiding.
To proclaim the very same message –
that had gotten him crucified.
Which is why Jesus also said something else to them.
“Peace be with you.”
Not just once, but twice, he says it.
Just in case they didn’t hear it the first time.
Or didn’t quite believe it.
Then he comes back a week later
and says it a third time,
because the disciple named Thomas
wasn’t there the first time around,
and Jesus didn’t want a single one of them
excluded from this gift of peace he offered them.
Actually, bringing peace to troubled places was
something of a lifelong project for Jesus.
Centuries before he was even born,
a prophet named Isaiah spoke of Him
as one who would come as the “Prince of Peace.”
At his birth, the angels shouted words of praise
saying, “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among whom those He favors.”
One of the very last things Jesus said to his disciples
before going to his death was,
“Peace I leave with you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”
Now he is there to deliver on that promise to them.
The first words spoken by Jesus to his disciples
after he is resurrected are about that peace
that passes understanding,
that peace that the world cannot give.
“Peace be with you.”
What is the difference between the peace Jesus gives
and the peace the world gives?
The peace the world gives is when there is absence of conflict.
It’s something we possess when things around us are in harmony.
And it’s something we easily lose our grip on
when life gets messy.
In the Bible “peace” means more than the absence of conflict outside us.
It means “order, harmony, and spiritual well-being.”
The Hebrew word for it is Shalom.
It’s a holistic, organic kind of peace that exists
within a person or a situation
even when everything outside us is falling apart.
It’s a peace that only Christ can give.
It’s the peace that Jesus knew the disciples would need
to begin the work Jesus called them to do.
It was their fear over what they had seen happen to Jesus
and what might happen to them
because of being Jesus’ disciples
that drove them into hiding.
Now Jesus was telling them to unlock the doors
and venture out into the world to carry on his mission.
There are a couple of important conclusions that we can draw
from Jesus’ words about sending the church forth into the world,
just as the Father had sent him.
The first is that Jesus needs the church.
We are the Body of Christ.
Jesus had come with a message for all people,
but now he was returning to Father,
leaving that work unfinished.
His only plan for finishing what he started was the Church.
The Church is the only mouth that was created to speak for Jesus,
the only feet to carry the message,
and the only hands to do his work.
Jesus is dependent on his Church.
On us.
The second truth is that the church needs Jesus.
Now, that might sound like a no-brainer.
But, it’s surprising how often it gets forgotten.
A people who are sent, need someone to send them;
a power and authority behind their message;
someone to turn to in times of doubt and difficulty.
Without Jesus the Church has no message.
Without Jesus the Church has no power or authority.
Without Jesus the Church has not the strength
or even the will to do what it was created to do.
Without Jesus the Church has no peace.
The Church is dependent on Jesus.
Forgetting that, the Church tends toward proclaiming
some other message than the Gospel,
pursuing some other mission than the one Jesus gives it
and doing whatever it does on its own strength
instead of in the strength God gives it.
That’s why, before sending them forth into the world,
Jesus said, “Here, you’re going to need this.”
Then, he breathed on the disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that being the Church is easy.
Jesus never said it would be.
The lives they lived on the other side of those locked doors
were not peaceful – not the way the world defines peace-
Which is freedom from anxiety and strife.
The peace that Jesus gives is not freedom from strife.
It is rather an inner calm in the midst of strife.
Jesus did not send them with a promise that
they would be exempt from troubles.
But he did send them out with the assurance
that they would not face those troubles alone.
Thomas, and actually all the disciples,
doubted the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
When we doubt the presence of
the resurrected Jesus in our lives,
when we lack trust in what is possible with God,
it erodes our sense of peace and opens the doors to fear and anxiety.
The real message here is not the persistence of Thomas’ doubt,
but the perseverance of Jesus’ love
that can uproot our doubt about what is possible with God
and plant peace in its place.
Jesus comes again and again,
repeats himself over and over
“Peace be with you”-
as many times as it takes
until not only Thomas,
but all of the disciples,
including us,
finally let the peace he brings, in.
The night before our five confirmands would be having
their first face to face encounter with urban homeless people,
we talked about whatever anxieties they were feeling about that.
The most common anxiety expressed
was about conversations with the people they would meet.
We didn’t try to talk them out of being anxious.
But we did remind them that they would be bringing
the presence of the Risen Jesus to the people they served.
And that even if they were anxious,
that presence could be their source of peace.
The next day, if there was still any anxiety
about conversing with the people they met,
you’d never know it by the way they acted.
Jesus doesn’t send us with any guarantees of what
the outcome of our efforts will be.
He sends us forth with a mission,
and with a promise that he will be with us always.
Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
Then he breathes new life into our fear-filled souls.
Jesus said that the peace he gives is different
than any peace that the world has to offer us.
That’s because the peace the world cannot give
is the peace of knowing that God is with us always
and that with God all things are possible.
And only Jesus can give us that peace
because nothing demonstrates what is possible with God
better than Jesus’ resurrection.
Someday, the world will know a peace that is absence of conflict.
When swords are beaten into plowshares
and spears into pruning hooks.
When lions and lambs will lie down together.
Until that day, Jesus sends out people
who can carry a peace that is experienced within,
as they take the risks required
to stand for justice and righteousness,
undaunted and undeterred
by the risks that come with that mission,
because he gives us a peace that can
pass through the walls of the fears
that keep us locked up in what feels safe and secure
but which really holds us hostage to our anxiety.
Whatever doubts we wrestle with,
when we face the challenges of being the church
Jesus calls us to be;
whatever walls we have put up
or doors we have locked securely,
Jesus comes to us and says, “Peace be with you.”
As God sent Jesus, Jesus sends us,
into the world that God loves.
That’s where Jesus wants us to be.
That’s where Jesus depends on us to be.
It is there that the Spirit Jesus breathes into the Church will be with us.
Let’s pray: Jesus, you know what a struggle it can be
to work for God’s Kingdom to come.
You have the scars to prove it.
Don’t give up on us when we are doubtful.
Come to us again, reminding us that
the things that make for peace are found,
not in everything being right outside of us,
but in the presence of your Spirit within us. Amen.