John 14:27-29 – Peace

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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. (NRSV)

Peace. Personal peace. Family peace. National peace. World peace. We all seem to want peace. And, yet, so many of us lack peace so that we must medicate to sleep at all. Avoiding family seems normal, just to keep the peace. National peace almost sounds oxymoronic. World peace is merely wishful thinking for far too many people. Perhaps we are in such a befuddled conundrum because of this reason:

We already possess what we so desperately want.

The search for peace is really the search within. The simplest of observations about Christ’s words in today’s Gospel lesson is that Jesus has left us his peace. He gave it to us. We have it. Perhaps we have misplaced it? Maybe its lost in that huge stack on the desk?  Most likely, we plain old forgot about it. We need to remember that God’s peace is here with us. Right now. This very minute. We have exactly what we want.

The peace Jesus is talking about is far more than the absence of war, conflict, and/or infighting. The peace of Christ is the settled and restful calm and confidence of being with God, of an intimate union with the divine. Jesus has given himself. He himself is our peace. Peace did not just happen by chance, or magically appear. Peace was bought at a price – the blood of Jesus (Colossians 1:20). The gift of peace needs to be unpacked (Ephesians 4:3).  Practices of peace and peacemaking must be acknowledged and grafted into our lives if we are going to experience it on the daily practical level (Romans 14:13-15:7).

Since Jesus gives in a different way than any other gift, it may have thrown us off. Like the delivery guy who leaves a package in an odd place, we could be searching for the ongoing gift of peace somewhere on our property. It’s there – it just seems so darned elusive. Yet, peace, the authentic peace that is harmony and unity, can neither be found in perfect circumstances nor in idyllic families and faith communities. Divine peace is the security of relationship with God, smack in the middle of life’s crud.

The reason Jesus can exhort his disciples to be untroubled and unafraid is because the life of God is within them. As that life grows within us; as our hearts are healed with that presence; as we receive peace from the gracious hand of God; then, we discover, often by happenstance, that perfect love has driven the fear away. Fear focuses on the hard situation in front of me, whereas love directs attention on Jesus. As the Father has loved the Son, so the Son loves us – and we have peace – without trying to miraculously conjure it with positive thoughts.

It is the glorious, gracious, and mystical union between Jesus and the believer which is peace. All obstacles have been surmounted and tossed into the trash for the garbage guy to haul away. And, no, you did not accidentally throw your peace in the dumpster. There really is no need for any dumpster diving with Jesus around. He has already done that work for you and me through the cross.

Yet, peace still seems a pipe dream for some, even with the understanding of the gift. Like a new product packed so tightly in the plastic, we struggle to open it. Maybe the following thoughts may help to unpack peace for us:

  • Stop and breathe. It is no coincidence that the Holy Spirit of God is likened as wind. Pausing to take deep breaths in through our nose, and full exhales through our mouth can become prayers. The ancient Christian practice of breath-prayers can help us here. Some examples: Inhale saying, “More of you,” and exhale saying, “Less of me.” Inhale, “Holy one,” exhale, “heal me.” Inhale, “Abba Father,” exhale, “let me feel your love.”
  • Listen to peaceful music and words of peace. If we continually are in a state of agitation, it could be that we are listening to talk radio or taking in a steady stream of TV and social media that is anything but peace forming. It leaves us perpetually upset about something. Turn it around through paying close attention to your music and your media intake.
  • Identify trigger words or phrases. That is, when you sense fear or the lack of peace arising, have a “go to” word or phrase that helps bring you back to the peace which is within. For me, it is quoting Psalm 23, Romans 6, John 14, or some other Scripture passage from memory. So, the trigger phrase is sometimes, “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need, or “Trust God, trust also in me.”
  • Smell it. I keep candles around with pleasant odors and light them when feeling stressed. I also have found that, for me, burning sage helps to feel unburdened and, thus, peaceful.
  • I have observed that many of the behavioral health patients I work with have little to no peace in their lives due to either resentment toward others or the inability to forgive themselves. Forgiveness brings peace, even if the other party does not want it.

There are many more ways to unpack peace in our lives. Hopefully, these few suggestions are helpful for you. Finally, one of the best ways to experience peace is to be a peacemaker. I leave you with the Peace Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Take the High Road

 
 
            When I was younger I thought my Dad was too wishy-washy when it came to political allegiances.  He was always fiercely independent, never declaring a political party or a particular platform.  His two favorite presidents of all-time were Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, two men that could not be more different and opposite.  Now that I have a few years under my belt (not to mention a few pounds) I am beginning to see the approach and wisdom of my late Dad.  Dad was no stranger to politics and dealing with people.  He served for many years on the local school board and presided as its president through some mucky issues of the school system.  Through it all he was able to maintain his convictions without estranging others.
 
            Within my local congregation there may be very little ethnic and racial diversity, but it is more than made up for in political diversity.  Right-wing conservatives and left-leaning liberals populate the church, with everything in-between.  Within my sphere of social media friends the differences and diversity is even more pronounced.  Just a quick glance at Facebook, I would never know that it is the holiday season where we celebrate peace and goodwill toward our fellow humanity.  Heated polemics and sarcastic rhetoric seem to be everywhere.  It is one thing for the world to act in such a way, it is quite another for people who profess the name of Jesus Christ to act with hate-filled speech.  When unthinking Christians splash their spiritual immaturity in public for all to see, it is time for us to take the high road to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe my Dad was onto something after all – remaining calm and carefully engaging in political talk in ways that are helpful, not hurtful.
 
            It was our Lord Jesus Christ who clearly taught us that it is the peacemakers who are blessed and are called children of God (Matthew 5:9).  Jesus had some strong words for those who would stoop to name-calling (Matthew 5:22).  What is more, Christ our teacher clearly instructed us his followers to love and pray for our enemies, to forgive those who have wronged us, and not to judge them (Matthew 5:43-48; 6:14-15; 7:1-5).  The gospel that Jesus and Paul proclaimed was one of peace, not wrath.  Our Lord did not go to the cross in order to give us ammunition to blast others who disagree with us; Jesus died to bring peace and to completely eradicate any us-versus-them mentalities.  The warped compulsion we have to divide the entire human population into good and bad misses the mid-point of history where Jesus stands to bring peace, having abolished our predilections for separating others (Ephesians 2:11-18).
 

 

            It is time to take the high road.  It is not wishy-washy to pray and work toward peace.  I have come to see that my Dad showed more courage in not taking sides than aligning himself with a certain group of people.  Our focus is more out-of-whack than we probably know.  It is high time we get our heads and our hearts back on the One who will ultimately come and consummate God’s benevolent and peaceful reign upon all creation.  By adopting Christ’s kingdom values we are being faithful subjects in a rule that is meant to transform the world, not through fear and hostility, but by the grace of King Jesus.