Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sunday Sermon: To Be At Peace

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA April 23, 2017
Pastor Robert McCarty

Preaching Texts:  1 Peter 1: 3-9 John 20: 19-31

"Blessed be the G-d and Father of our L-rd Jesus Christ!"  (1 Peter 1:3). "Bless are [you] who have not seen and yet have come to believe."  (John 20: 29b). "Peace be with you."  (John 20: 21b).  Our scripture today grants you blessing and faith, patience and peace.  And you need all of this in the world today.

Peace in your heart differs from peace in the world.  Which I guess is fortunate for us.  We can have peace in our hearts even when chaos and uncertainty surround us.  Today, you hear of Jesus entering into the presence of his followers.  His followers gather in an upper room and lock the door for fear.  Their world has been turned upside down, and to maintain their faith comes with risk.  Their belief in Jesus that inspires them to raise his mantle and follow him comes with mortal risk.  Threats come from those outside the faith, and threats come from the Roman government who will persecute these followers as well.  Confusion and violence reign in the world, and yet Jesus breathes on them a word of peace, a spirit of peace.  

Undoubtedly, Andrew and James gathered in that upper room.  The apostle Andrew would travel and evangelize as far north as Kiev in what is now the Ukraine.  The apostle James, according to legend, went to Spain.  Even the late arriving Thomas would receive Jesus' peace.  The apostle Thomas would travel east to India.  James is the only apostle whose death is recorded in the New Testament, in Acts Chapter 12.  Thomas and Andrew also died for their faith.  Most of the apostles died for their faith.  

This peace Jesus brings does not lessen the confusion in the world.  It does not, at least not right away, make the world a safer place.  Not all of the followers in the upper room are named, but legend has it that only one apostle, John, lives to die of natural causes. Jesus breathes on his believers a word of peace, and only through their actions will the world change, and it will change slowly.  

The Greek word for “peace” is eirene (pronounced "a RRa na" with all long A vowel sounds).  It has a slightly nuanced meaning a bit different from the Hebrew word shalom.  Peace, eirene, for the Christian intimates the way of salvation.  Such peace implies confidence and also contentment.  Your confidence in Jesus' victory that assures your future and contentment with what life sets before you.  This peace rests in your heart and in your spirit. As it rests on you, such peace guides your actions and your life.  

Inner peace exists (confidence and contentment exist) in a world that struggles to understand peace.  That shift between individual peace and global peace often confuses people, because we use different words to define peace globally.  We define global peace by a lack of violence.  If you prefer a positive spin, then we define global peace by a sense of harmony.  Actually, defining global peace (or community peace) by harmony points to our nation’s internal struggle.  We lack harmony as much as the world lacks peace.  

Thankfully, Jesus breathes peace onto you, which creates confidence and contentedness.  You learn to trust with this peace.  You learn patience.  You learn hope.  I know that people struggle with this.  You struggle to practice patience when others get to be rash.  You struggle to say a kind word when others get to hurl around insults.  The rash even get to insult you and those people you respect.  You struggle to be faithful when others use Sunday morning for a leisurely bike ride.  Or they sleep in so they can stay up late and party hard Saturday night.  Faith begins with you, with us, and it begins here Sunday morning.

Martin Luther King Junior and the civil rights movement serves as a modern day reminder of the struggle of the peace of Christ.  He taught non-aggression.  His followers could not hurl insults; they could not fight back.  They were taught ideally love, but loving is hard in the chaos of anger thrown at you.  The movement taught followers patience, but also to crave and sacrifice for justice.  

King gave this definition for faith.  “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  Martin Luther King Junior, and many others took that first step and many more.  And I guess we need to admit they are still seeking out that peace.  We still seek that peace with them.  Voices and actions of hate still push against our desire for racial peace in our country and peace in the world.

April 3 next year will mark the 50th anniversary of King's death.  Another martyr like the apostles gathered in this upper room.  Jesus breathes on them peace and they go out and change the world.

Peace, patience, justice, faith (faith and belief): all of these attributes lie in our scripture readings from 1 Peter and John: gifts for you today.  Peace, patience, justice.  I know it helps to speak of peace as confidence and contentment to make peace more real for you.  Because patience takes confidence that what you do means something.  You need confidence that your faith-inspired actions have a positive result even when you cannot see it.

Confidence, contentment, patience, justice, belief: you too can change the world just like those followers in the upper room.  And that desire and power to change the world begins right here in worship.  The power to change the world begins in this variation of the upper room in which we gather.  And the power to change the world begins especially on this day, when the Gospel tells the story of Christ, your savior, reaching across time and blessing you who believe and yet cannot see.  

Thomas comes and sees the wound.  He wants to touch the wound, but you hear that just seeing his L-rd and Savior (seeing) was enough for him.  And in the affirmation of Thomas, Jesus reaches across time and blesses you.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Jesus knows that belief is a blessing; faith is a blessing.  As that belief rests in your heart, the blessing of peace also falls on you.  The blessing includes confidence and contentment.

You folks have received the blessing of G-d: confidence in Christ, varying levels of contentment.  Although I imagine that contentment ebbs and flows.  You can change the world, and changing the world begins right here in worship.  Changing the world begins in  this our variation on the upper room.  Things may not always be harmonious, but we create a space full of blessing and safety and security.  We work through our differences and change the world a little bit by little bit with our confidence in Christ Jesus.  His peace and presence prepares you for the week in a chaotic world.  Because you do indeed live in a chaotic world.  Do not forget that Jesus works through you in this world.  That itself can be frightening.  Because we mess up.  That is okay, because right now the world needs people willing to admit their mistakes.  And yes, Jesus chooses you to live out his peace in this world.

That Jesus allows patience means we have time to correct our mistakes and get better at living with confidence and contentment.  Because little by little Jesus is changing the world through you and through us.  What you do and how you live this out matters.  Remember, not every marcher in the civil rights movement was able to keep their mouth shut in the face of insults.  But the movement kept on marching.    And they learned, with practice they learned.

Faith you remember is taking that first step even when you cannot see the whole staircase.  "Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen" the end of the staircase.  Faith as that first step includes being here Sunday morning.  Because, believe it or not, your presence here changes the world, even if you cannot see the good you create.  Blessed are those who have not seen and come to believe.  The world needs more people who have Jesus' peace in their hearts.  The world is lifted up by G-d every time someone hears Jesus bless their lives.

Blessed be the G-d and Father of our L-rd Jesus Christ.

Thank you for being here.

Thank you for believing.