The Peace Core
Grace United Methodist Church
May 9, 2009
John 14: 23-29
23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace 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.
28You 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. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
“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.”
Since the beginning of time, humanity has craved peace! Peace of mind, peace of heart, peace among the nations. And this is precisely what Jesus is offering as he speaks to the disciples in this passage! The peculiar thing about peace is this; we are always striving after it, yearning for complete peace in our lives––yet peace rarely reigns in our hearts, minds, or lives. It is really pretty doubtful that the peace we so long for has ever really been there in the first place. The peace we crave is so foreign to our existence that, perhaps, the longing is more of a whim than it is a dream.
Historians and scientists have come up with some startling information about peace in human history. Since 3600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace! During this period there have been 14,351 wars, large and small, in which 3.64 billion people have been killed. The value of the property destroyed would pay for a golden belt around the world 97.2 miles wide and 33 feet thick. Since 650 B.C. there have also been 1,656 arms races, only 16 of which have not ended in war. The remainder ended in the economic collapse of the countries involved.
Sometimes the very thing that we are looking for is covered up in our overzealous searching. Remarkably, or maybe not so, in the last 5,600 years the world may have known peace for only a little over 5% of the time. And the odds are, most of that 5% was probably filled with thoughts and plans for disturbing the peace. Ironically, it has probably been our misplaced longing for earthly peace that has kept us from really finding true peace. A longing for earthly peace has often proven the catalyst for the blooming of war because when we focus on the earthly, God takes second place. It is only the knowledge of the true peace, found in Christ Jesus, that gives us real peace. This is the peace that “passes all understanding,” the gift of the Holy Spirit, which puts our hearts and minds at peace 100% of the time.
So how do we experience such peace? How can we get back on track? Christ’s words in today’s gospel reading point us in the right direction, and it begins with the Holy Spirit, Christ’s gift to his disciples. But the Holy Spirit means nothing if our primary concern is for the things of this world. So we have to begin by focusing less on the world and focusing more on God. Because, you see, the world can never give a peace of the kind that Jesus offers. And once we decide we want to orient our lives to God and pursue more fully this peace offered by Christ, then we have to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Christ didn’t just say to the disciples, “The Father will send the Holy Spirit in my name and you’ll know peace.” What Jesus says is that the Father will send the Holy Spirit, and this Advocate will teach us everything and remind us of everything Jesus has said to us! The Holy Spirit is the key.
The first assurance of peace through the Holy Spirit is the name that Jesus uses, Paraclete. It means comforter or counselor, our Advocate. When we become distraught or confused, the Advocate is the voice inside us that brings us peace and guidance in accordance with God’s will. But even beyond that, Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will continue to teach us, just as Jesus has taught us. If we are to grow as Christians, then we have to be learners, students; and it is the Holy Spirit that leads us always deeper and deeper into the truth of God. We just have to keep our minds opened and focused, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the things of this world.
And when we do perhaps become overly distracted by worldly matters, the Holy Spirit will remind us of all that Jesus has said. When our thoughts wander astray, the Holy Spirit brings us back to the Word of God, saving us from bad decisions or arrogance. We have all surely experienced something like this in life. We are tempted to do something wrong and are on the very brink of doing it, when back into our mind comes the saying of Jesus, the verse of a psalm, words of someone we love and admire, teaching we received when very young. In the moment of danger, these things flash into our minds; that is the work of the Holy Spirit. If we will be attentive to this work, then we will know true peace. Peace doesn’t come just from saying, “I believe in Christ.” Peace comes when we affirm our faith in Christ and then attend daily to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in every place in our lives, reminding us of all that Jesus said and teaching us where we have yet to grow. If we are faithful in this, then no experience of life can ever take from us the peace offered by Christ: no sorrow, no danger, no suffering can ever make it less. What an amazing gift Christ has given us!
Do you all remember 20 or 25 years ago when “talking cars” were the popular thing in the auto industry? I remember my grandparents had this brown station wagon with wood grain paneling on the side. That car sure wasn’t anything pretty to look at, but I thought it was a really cool car because it talked to you. “Please fasten your seatbelt.” she would say. Or the one I remember best, “the door is ajar.” I remember that one because I was still quite young and I didn’t know the meaning of “ajar.” And the nice little lady would say that, and I would think to myself, “No it’s not! The door is a door!”
Well, there was a man in North Carolina who bought one of these fancy new cars with the voice-warning system. At first he was amused to hear the soft female voice gently remind him that his seat belt wasn’t fastened. Edwin affectionately called this voice the “little woman.” He soon discovered his little woman was programmed to warn him about his gasoline. “Your fuel level is low,” she said one time in her sweet voice. Edwin nodded his head and thanked her. He figured he still had enough to go another fifty miles, so he kept on driving. But a few minutes later, her voice interrupted again with the same warning. And so it went over and over. Although he knew it was the same recording, Edwin thought her voice sounded harsher each time. Finally, he stopped his car and crawled under the dashboard. After a quick search, he found the appropriate wires and gave them a good yank. So much for the little woman! He was still smiling to himself a few miles later when his car began sputtering and coughing. He ran out of gas! Somewhere inside the dashboard, Edwin was sure he could hear the little woman laughing.
People like Edwin learn before long that the little voice inside, although ignored or even disconnected, often tells them exactly what they need to know. And this is what Jesus teaches the disciples as he speaks with them after sharing in the Last Supper. The Holy Spirit did not appear only at certain times at certain points in history, and then withdraw; the Holy Spirit is in the world today. Even when we let things slip, or perhaps even reach over to “pull the cord,” the Holy Spirit will remind us of Christ’s words and his deep abiding love for us! And for all who will stay attentive, the Holy Spirit still teaches, and still guides, and still leads deeper and deeper into all the truth. Oscar Wilde says, “Trust God wholeheartedly, as I have trusted and do trust him; accept unquestioningly his ordering of your life; lay your whole being at his absolute disposal, holding back nothing, making no reservations: and you will have a peace that passes all understanding, garrisoning your heart, and you will come through with honor and in quietness of spirit—calm, steady, unafraid.”
As Christ prepared for the end of his time on earth, he had little to leave. Even his clothes would soon be the property of the squad of Roman soldiers charged with crucifying him. And certainly the disciples were distraught to think how they might continue without Jesus; they had been following Christ and listening to him for three years. He was their guide and teacher, their greatest mentor. But Jesus did have one gift to give, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the assurance of peace, and the guarantee that though he will not be with us physically, we will never be disconnected! Christ was going away, but the peace he offered was very real then and very real now, strong enough to bring us through whatever lay ahead.
For decades, centuries, millennia even, humanity has longed for complete and total peace in the face of uncertainty and strife. A half century ago, Bob Dylan wrote, “The Times They Are A-Changin”, but not much has changed. We still live in a war-torn, troubled world. We stand anxious in the midst of vast natural disasters and economic meltdown. Thomas Merton writes, “Man is not at peace with his fellow man because he is not at peace with himself. He is not at peace with himself, because he is not at peace with God.” We seek peace, but we fail in our efforts to attain peace until we encounter the Source of peace.
Late in his life, 19th century lawyer Horatio Spafford received news from his wife that his four daughters had been killed while en route to England. Their ship had been struck by another and sank, killing over 200 people. His wife was the only surviving family member, and as Spafford sailed to England he wrote these words, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.” With the Holy Spirit as our guide, our lives are filled with an unconquerable peace that enables us, even in the midst of the greatest tribulations, to say with Horatio Stafford, “It is well with my soul.”
There is no peace apart from God. And peace is precisely what God wants for us, no matter what is happening around us. And we have Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to help us find such peace. “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.” God’s peace can be ours. May his peace rule in our hearts.
Let us pray: Prince of Peace, we ask you to bring us peace, first in our hearts and homes, and then in our world. We pray that hard hearts will turn to tenderness, and that evil intentions may transform into mercifulness. Bring our world to its knees, for only there can we find peace. Help us to show that, because we are loved by you, we can love one another. Help us to live peaceably with one another. Make us instruments of our peace, for Your glory—Amen.