Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
March 13, 2016
John 14: 1-4, 15-19, 25-27 (CEB)
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. 4You know the way to the place I’m going.”
15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. 17This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.
18“I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. 19Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too.
25“I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. 26The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.
27“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.
Last Sunday afternoon, I left church and headed home. My plan was to get home, feed Owen some lunch, put him down for a nap, and then start working. Well, you know how the saying goes, “The best laid plans…” I pulled out of the parking lot and headed down East Brainerd Road towards home. Owen was asleep before we got to the intersection with Gunbarrel Road. As I drove the rest of the way home, I prayed that he would stay asleep as I moved him from the car to his crib; as much for his sake as for mine. Thankfully he did, and as soon as I got him settled in his room, I changed clothes, made a quick sandwich, and sat down to get some work done. I had responded to just a couple of emails when Ken got in from a meeting he had after church. I gave him instructions to feed Owen when he woke from his nap, and I headed off to exercise at the gym.
Now, I’ll just be up front in telling you that I exercise because I know I need to, not because I particularly enjoy it. So an hour at the gym always feels like work to me. And I went to the gym knowing that I would come back home to still more work to do. By the time I got home, Owen had awakened, but had not yet eaten, so I made him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and commenced the arduous task of cutting it into tiny, baby bite-sized pieces so he could eat it. I then put together a crock pot dinner for Monday, packed Mary Ellen’s and Owen’s lunches for school the next day, did three loads of laundry, and made dinner. All the while, Owen was following me wherever I went, trying to climb up my leg, and crying for me to hold him every minute that I wasn’t. As you can imagine, or perhaps know from your own experience, it’s hard to do chores with a wriggly baby in one arm. Ken had headed back to church for another activity, and so I had no choice but to simultaneously console Owen and fold laundry, or stir the soup, or whatever. After dinner, I had to bathe Owen and get him through his nighttime routine and in to bed. By the time Ken got home a little after 8, I had been sitting on the couch for a grand total of about 10 minutes. I had quite literally been going non-stop all day, and I was exhausted. I found myself thinking, “Do I really have to be this busy???”
But wait, there’s more! I topped Sunday off with an all day meeting out of town on Monday, and a long day on Tuesday with two morning meetings and one in the evening. I share all this with you not to try to prove anything to you, but because I think this is something we all experience in our lives. Things pile up and we feel like we’re going non-stop; our schedules packed full of meetings, or gatherings, or chores, or projects, or whatever. We barely have time to stop and breathe, but if we do, all we can think is, “This is crazy! Does it really have to be like this? I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off!” Such hustle and bustle in our lives is stressful, isn’t it? Feeling like we are “go, go, go” all the time is part of what keeps us from experiencing real peace in our lives. We get stressed because we are worried something won’t get done, or anxious because we are afraid we won’t have enough time for something else, and it causes us a great deal of strife.
This morning, we return to Jesus’ words to the disciples in the days before his arrest and crucifixion. There is a long segment in John called the “Farewell Discourse.” We heard part of it last week, as we looked at Jesus’ prayer that his followers would be one. That prayer was near the end of the discourse. This passage we heard a few minutes ago is near the beginning of Christ’s “Farewell Discourse.” And here, Christ is speaking directly to his disciples, explaining to them that soon he will no longer be with them. Knowing the anxiety that this might cause these twelve faithful followers, Jesus goes on to explain that they don’t need to be “troubled or afraid” because they will not be alone. The reason they will not be alone, Christ explains, is because the Father is going to send a Companion, an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. “This Companion is the Spirit of Truth,” Jesus says, “whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.”
We are not alone; the Spirit is always with us. Now here’s why that matters when it finding peace in the midst of our busy lives. This word that John uses for Spirit; in the Hebrew it is Ruach, the very same word used to describe the breath of life that God breathed into Adam and Eve. This Ruach is something very different from a person sitting next to you on the couch, or across the table from you in the restaurant. The Holy Spirit is the very life breath of God that is within us, always present with us. This is the presence of God, and the very presence of God is peace! The peace that Jesus gives is nothing less than the effect of God’s presence within us!
We’ve been talking for several weeks now about finding peace in our lives. And I’d say by now that we have all figured out that there are many dimensions to peace and many pathways to experiencing peace in our lives. This is another piece of that puzzle. What we need to hear in Christ’s words this morning is that sometimes we need to stop long enough to breathe and to remember God’s presence not just with us, but within us. There really is wisdom in that teaching that when we are angry, we should stop, breathe, and count to ten. The idea is the same here. Jesus is offering the same type of guidance in these words. Christ tells us that the peace of God is with us. So what we need to understand is that when things are crazy, when we are stressed and running ragged, when we are feeling anxious and worried, the first thing we need to do is pause and breathe, and in that breath to be reminded of God’s breath, God’s presence with us. And there is peace. If we cannot take a moment in the midst of stressful and chaotic times to connect with the life-giving presence of God, then peace will always be elusive. We have to pause in our lives long enough to listen for that “still, small voice.”
One of my professors in college taught me something that I will never forget. Now, let me preface this by reminding you that my major in college was music education. So my professor was preparing us for teaching in what are often noisy and chaotic classrooms as the percussionists are having competitions to see who can paradiddle the fastest on the snare, and the brass players are trying to figure out ways to use their instruments to produce sounds that replicate bodily functions, and so on. So my professor says, “One of your biggest challenges is going to be reigning in the chaos and getting the attention of dozens of students who aren’t paying any attention to you. How do you do it?” The ten or so people in my class started spouting out ideas: yell, clap your hands, whistle, hit a music stand with the baton, and on and on. All the while, my professor is leaned back in his chair with a smirking grin on his face, subtly shaking his head. Finally, he leaned in and he said, “You whisper.” It’s so obvious, and yet, we’re so bad at it. You can’t hear a whisper unless you’re quiet.
Earlier in the service we heard part of the story of Elijah on Mount Horeb. Elijah was awaiting further instruction from God, and as Elijah waited there was a great wind that broke apart stones, but “the Lord was not in the wind.” Then there was a violent earthquake, but “the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake.” Then there was a fire, “but the Lord wasn’t in the fire.” Finally, there was something different; one translation calls it a murmuring, another says a still, small voice, another says a “sound. Thin. Quiet.” Then Elijah knew that God was there, and he wrapped his face and stepped into the Lord’s presence.
The temptation in life is to yell over the noise, so to speak. When things start getting busy, we sometimes feel like there’s more we need to be doing. Or we sit down for a minute and all of a sudden our mind starts going, thinking of all the things we should be doing. Instead of stepping back from the chaos and mess, we step into it, miring ourselves in the stress and anxiety that is so draining. Yet we don’t have to be troubled or afraid because as Christ tells us, God’s peace is with us. Always. But peace is in the stillness, the quiet, nothing more than the sound of a breath; because breath is the very Spirit of God, Ruach, God within us. Peace.
Now, I’m going to stop talking. And what I want all of us to do for the next few minutes is just breathe. Not even pray, because sometimes prayer can be noise in our head. Just get comfortable, close your eyes if you need to, and breathe. Breathe God’s presence. Breathe.